IELTS Speaking Band 8: everything you need to know

In this lesson, you will learn what you need to do to get a Band 8 for IELTS Speaking – in other words, you will learn exactly what you need to give the IELTS Examiner in return for IELTS Speaking Band 8.

I will also mention Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking Test, which is a crucial part of the test for anyone aiming for Band 8.

In order to decide your IELTS Speaking band score, examiners use the official IELTS band descriptors. These descriptors describe how an IELTS candidate speaks at different bands. (You can download these descriptors from the IELTS website.)

There are 4 different criteria in the band descriptors. Let’s look at each one, and what you need to do to get Band 8 for each of the 4 criteria:

IELTS Speaking Band 8

Fluency and Coherence

What Is Fluency And Coherence?

Fluency and Coherence is about your rate of speech, and whether you can continue speaking without stopping too much. It is also about how well you organise and sequence your ideas, and how well you connect your ideas (e.g. with words like ‘next’, ‘secondly’, ‘because of’, in order to’).

What do you need to do for IELTS Speaking Band 8?

You speak English at a normal speed, about the same speed as a native speaker.

  • You might sometimes repeat yourself.
  • You make an occasional mistake with language, but you correct yourself.
  • You usually keep talking, but you do hesitate at times in order to think about your ideas (e.g. by looking at your notes) or language (but this is rare). This is really important in part 2 of the IELTS speaking test.
  • Your ideas are well organized and the IELTS examiner can understand your ideas easily.
  • Everything you say is relevant to the questions or topic – this is REALLY important! I remember a candidate who had to speak about a dangerous incident, so he told me a story (in excellent English) about a visit to a zoo in Part 2 of the Speaking Test. It took him over a minute to get to the dangerous incident, so this time was not relevant to the topic. This stopped him from getting a Band 8.

Lexical Resource

What Is Lexical Resource?

Lexical Resource is about the range and accuracy of your language, how appropriate is your language, and how well you can get around a gap in your language knowledge by using alternative words.

What do you need to do for IELTS Speaking Band 8?

  • You use a wide range of vocabulary, and you sometimes use words with a precise meaning to put over your ideas.
  • You use language in a flexible way, not a rigid way (i.e. you don’t sound robotic)
  • You use some idiomatic language, and some less common phrases, but you might make a few errors (e.g. with collocation).
  • You can paraphrase language used in questions, especially in parts 2 and 3 of the test (i.e. you can change the language used by the examiner).

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

What Is Grammatical Range And Accuracy?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy is about the length of  your sentences and if you are using a wide range of language structures, such as relative and subordinate clauses, and noun phrases. Accuracy is measured by the number of grammatical errors you make and the effect of those errors on communication.

What do you need to do for IELTS Speaking Band 8?

  • You use a wide range of grammatical structures to put across your ideas.
  • Most of your sentences are error free.
  • You make a few basic grammatical errors but these don’t get in the way of communication.

Pronunciation

What Is Pronunciation?

Pronunciation is about how understandable your speech is to the IELTS examiner and the range of pronunciation features you use in your spoken English.

What do you need to do for IELTS Speaking Band 8?

  • The IELTS Examiner can easily understand you.
  • You have good stress and intonation, and words that run in together (e.g. best time) can be easily understood by the examiner.
  • You don’t speak too fast – in my time as an examiner, I found that many students tried to speak as quickly as possible. This is a mistake, as it will limit your band score. (This is a common problem amongst Indian students.) You shouldn’t speak too slowly either!

You do NOT need to sound like a native speaker, even to get a 9.0. An accent is fine, as long as you can be easily understood.

IELTS Speaking Test: Part 3

For students aiming for Band 8 in IELTS Speaking, Part 3 is probably the most important. In Part 3 of the IELTS Speaking Test, you are being tested on your ability to talk about topics in a more abstract way, and if the IELTS Examiner thinks you may be a Band 8 student, they may ask you some slightly more difficult questions.

These might require you to:

  • evaluate
  • speculate
  • predict
  • give an opinion

In my time as an IELTS Examiner, I found that most students were really well prepared for Part 2 of the Speaking Test but really under-prepared for Part 3. But a candidate’s responses in Part 3 will determine if you are going to get Band 8 or Band 7.

So you need to practise Part 3 if you are aiming for Band 8.

IELTS Speaking Band 8: Part 3 Tips

  1. do NOT speak about your own personal experiences. Part 3 is designed to test your ability to speak about topics in a general, slightly abstract way (e.g. about society or people in general, not you). If you speak about your own experiences, the IELTS Examiner will interrupt you and ask you to speak more generally.
  2. do NOT use too many discourse markers (e.g. “to be honest”, “moreover”, “on the one hand”). These may be ok if you are aiming for Band 6 or 7, but they sound unnatural, especially in spoken English, and will probably prevent you from getting to Band 8
  3. DON’T use too many idioms (e.g. “it was raining cats and dogs”, “I was feeling blue”). Too many of these can make your spoken English sound unnatural, which can limit you to Band 7 or lower.
  4. THINK about your answer – DON’T start talking as soon as the examiner has finished their question. To get Band 8 your answers should be relevant, so it’s better to think about your answer first. If need a few seconds thinking time, you could say something like “that’s a strange question! I’ve never really thought about that before.” or “well, I think it depends.”
  5. Part 3 is designed to be a CONVERSATION. (Part 1 is more like an INTERVIEW). So be prepared for follow-up questions. The examiner WILL ask you to explain your answers in more detail, so be ready to do that!
  6. If you don’t know a word, try to get your meaning across by saying something else: e.g. if you have forgotten the word “funeral”, say “the ceremony where you bury someone”. Being able to get around vocabulary gaps like this is a high level skill and will help you reach Band 8.
  7. If you can’t think of anything else to say, DON’T keep speaking! Many candidates think they need to keep speaking, so they start repeating themselves or they talk rubbish! Instead, just tell the examiner that you can’t think of anything else to say, or simply stop talking and wait for the next question.
  8. If you don’t understand the question, ask the examiner to either repeat it or explain it again. In Part 3, examiners will often rephrase questions when necessary. (They are not allowed to do this in Part 1 or 2.)
  9. If you don’t understand a particular word, ask the examiner to explain it, e.g. “Sorry, what does _____ mean?” Asking for clarification is perfectly acceptable, and is better than talking off-topic because you didn’t understand the word.
  10. Practise Part 3!

I hope this helps you in your goal to get Band 8 in IELTS Speaking. If you found it useful, please share.

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Charles Cornelius is a former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds a MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 80,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.