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What 'Grammatical Range and Accuracy' Mean on the IELTS Speaking Test

What 'Grammatical Range and Accuracy' Mean on the IELTS Speaking Test

Grammar is important to doing well on any standardized test, including IELTS. In fact, grammar – or what IELTS calls "grammatical range and accuracy" – counts for 25% of your total score on the IELTS Speaking Test!

Today, we'll explain what grammatical range and accuracy mean and share our top tips for getting a good score in this category.

What IELTS means by “grammatical range and accuracy”

To better understand "grammatical range and accuracy," let's look at each part of the term in detail.

Grammatical range

"Grammatical range" refers to how much grammar you're able to use to express yourself. For example:

Let's check out a few examples from IELTS's public scoring guide to see what examiners expect at different levels or "band scores." As the IELTS website explains "IELTS results are reported ... as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest)."

Band scoreWhat IELTS saysWhat IELTS means
3"attempts basic sentence forms but with limited success, or
relies on apparently memorized utterances"
You struggle to form basic sentences. Or you mainly use sentences that you've memorized before.
5"uses a limited range of more complex structures, but these
usually contain errors and may cause some comprehension
You try to speak in complex sentences but you make mistakes, which make it hard for the examiner to understand what you're saying.
7"uses a range of complex structures with some flexibility"You are able to use many kinds of complex sentences without too much trouble.
9"uses a full range of structures naturally and appropriately"You are comfortable using a wide variety of grammar and you know when and how to use them.

Grammatical accuracy

"Grammatical accuracy" refers to whether you're able to use grammar correctly. Your accuracy will be graded based on two main factors.

  1. How often you make mistakes
  2. How serious your mistakes are – Are they minor mistakes that native English speakers make too? Or are they big mistakes that make you hard to understand?

As you make fewer and fewer grammar mistakes and those mistakes become less and less serious, your score increases.

To give you a clearer idea of what the IELTS score looks for, here's what the public scoring guide says about grammatical accuracy at a few different band scores.

Band ScoreWhat IELTS saysWhat IELTS means
3"makes numerous errors except in memorized expressions"You make grammar mistakes whenever you try to go beyond phrases and sentences that you memorized before the test.
5"produces basic sentence forms with reasonable accuracy"You can say basic sentences without too many mistakes.
7"frequently produces error-free sentences, though some
grammatical mistakes persist"
Many of your sentences are grammatically correct. You still make some mistakes but not a lot.
8"produces a majority of error-free sentences with only very
occasional inappropriacies or basic/non-systematic errors"
Most of your sentences are grammatically correct. You don't always use the most suitable grammar for what you're trying to say, but at least you do not consistently make the same mistakes.
9"produces consistently accurate structures apart from ‘slips’
characteristic of native speaker speech"
The only mistakes you make are ones that native speakers also make.

Notice that the guide mentions a few kinds of mistakes: systematic errors, basic errors, and slips. We'll go into what these mean later, so you know what kinds of mistakes to avoid.

How to get a good score

Tip #1: Fix mistakes that cause comprehension problems first

Since the point of IELTS is to see how well you can communicate in English, grammar mistakes which cause comprehension problems will cost you the most points. These are mistakes that make it difficult for the examiner to understand what you're saying.

You'll see that this type of mistake is mentioned in the descriptions of bands 4-6:

Band scoreWhat IELTS says
4"errors ... may lead to misunderstanding"
5"more complex structures ... usually contain errors and may cause some comprehension problems"
6"may make frequent mistakes with complex structures though these rarely cause comprehension problems"

So if you want a band score of 6 or higher you'll want to avoid making grammar mistakes that cause comprehension problems.

These types of mistakes are more likely to involve incorrect sentence structure and word order. For example, sentences like "I gave book him" (instead of "I gave him a book") or "It is thirty students" (instead of "There are thirty students") are pretty hard to understand.

Some smaller grammar mistakes like incorrectly using pronouns can make you hard to understand too. For example, "I gave he book" is just as difficult to understand as "I gave book him."

So make sure you know your basic grammar, sentence structures, and word order. Here are some grammar lessons to get you started:

Make sure to master the grammar covered in these lessons, since they are the building blocks of English communication – whether or not you take IELTS. Practice using them in writing exercises, look for them in reading passages, and try using them in conversations.

Tip #2: Fix systematic errors next

Once you've fixed mistakes that cause comprehension problems, try to fix your systematic errors.

Systematic errors are mistakes that you make over and over again. For example, if you keep confusing words like "embarrassed" and "embarrassing" or "amazed" and "amazing," the examiner might see this as a systematic error and assume that you don't understand the grammar behind it.

This will have a bigger effect on your score than "non-systematic errors" or one-off mistakes. For example, let's say you forget to pluralize a noun (e.g. "There were three dog") or you misuse an article (e.g. you say "I like the dogs" instead of "I like dogs").

If you only make each of these mistakes once, your examiner might think you made these mistakes as a result of stress or other factors instead of assuming that you don't understand some aspect of the grammar.

Since it's hard to figure out what systematic errors you make, we recommend taking lessons with a professional English tutor. For example, at Engoo, our tutors are trained to focus on students' most common grammar mistakes and they will be able to let you know if you keep making the same mistake again and again.

For reference, here are the other types of mistakes mentioned in the scoring guide. If you are able to fix your systematic errors, you can also try to fix basic errors.

  • Basic errors: These are minor mistakes that learners make at all levels, such as pluralizing uncountable nouns (e.g. "hairs," "furnitures") or forgetting the -S at the end of third person singular verbs (e.g. "He walk a lot").
  • Slips: These are grammar mistakes that educated native speakers make too. They don't affect your score, so you don't need to worry about them. For example, don't worry if you say "There's some ducks in the pond" (instead of "There are some ducks") – native speakers say things like this all the time.

Tip #3: Learn to form complex sentences

Take a look at the following table and think about the main differences between the sentences on the left and the sentences on the right.

Simple sentencesComplex sentences
I don't like pickles.I don't like pickles, because they are sour.
Sally listens to music.Sally listens to music while she exercises.

You probably noticed that the sentences on the right have an extra group of words: "because they are sour" and "while she exercises." These groups of words are called "dependent clauses," because:

  • They are clauses – groups of words with a subject and a verb.
  • They are dependent, which means they are not a complete sentence on their own.

Other examples of dependent clauses include: "Even though I liked the restaurant," "To improve my English," and "If he wants to graduate." None of these are complete sentences on their own.

They all need to be attached to an independent clause, which can be a complete sentence on its own. And when a sentence has both independent and dependent clauses, it is a "complex sentence."

Complex sentenceIndependent clauseDependent clause
Even though I liked the restaurant, I gave it a bad review.I gave it a bad reviewEven though I liked the restaurant
I take classes every day to improve my English.I take classes every dayTo improve my English

Knowing how to form complex sentences is key to grammatical range. On the IELTS scoring guide, you'll see it mentioned as "subordinate structures" and "complex structures." For example:

  • At a band score of 4, "subordinate structures are rare."
  • At a band score of 6, you "may make frequent mistakes with complex structures" as long as "these rarely cause comprehension problems."

So you need to be able to correctly form a range of complex sentences to score a 5-6 or higher in the grammar category.

To see why, compare the difference between the following two responses to the question "What's your favorite type of food?"

I like fruits. I especially like mangos and kiwis. I also like watermelon. It's a great fruit to eat in summer.
I like fruits, because they're sweet and they smell great. I especially like mangos and kiwis, but they can be expensive in my country, so I only buy them when they're on sale. I also like watermelon. It's a great fruit to eat in summer, since it's so juicy and refreshing.

As you can see, Sam's response only uses simple sentences while Meg's uses both simple and complex sentences, which make her response sound more interesting and natural.

Thanks to all the dependent clauses, her response also has more details. And notice that she only uses the most basic types of dependent clauses starting with "because," "but," "so," and "since."

Think of all the possible things she could say if she used a wider range of dependent clauses! The most common ones are covered in the following grammar lessons:

Bonus tip: Take an IELTS Speaking course designed by an IELTS examiner

As a bonus tip, we recommend you take a course that was made by someone who is actually an IELTS examiner.

At Engoo, our own IELTS Speaking course was made by an examiner with over 15 years of experience teaching IELTS. To learn more, read this introduction to the course or check it out yourself!

Make sure to take this course with a professional English tutor. Many Engoo tutors have experience teaching or have taken the IELTS themselves. You can find them by typing "IELTS" in the search bar. Good luck!