Tuesday, June 7, 2016

About Writing and Speaking Criteria






So what are the Writing and Speaking criteria?
Writing and Speaking criteria are similar: both include a judgment on a candidate's vocabulary and grammar. In Writing, candidates must also describe, analyse, and argue well. In Speaking, pronunciation plays a major role. To achieve a high band in IELTS, it's important to understand exactly what marking criteria are.

Writing criteria 
There are four criteria for Writing. They're the same for Task 1 and Task 2. In brief, the criteria are:
  1. Task Fulfilment [Also called Task  Achievement or Task Response: Answering the question fully]
  2. Coherence and Cohesion [Word, sentence, paragraphs joined smoothly; a logical order throughout]
  3. Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  4. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar)
Each criterion carries the same weight. This is significant because, when asked, most candidates believe grammar is the most important thing in writing.
While each criterion is worth the same, a large amount of research has shown that one criterion-Lexical Resource, called Vocabulary in the book-is most difficult. 
This is because English vocabulary is vast. The most common problem IELTS candidates have is that their vocabulary is limited. 
It is boring, repetitive, childish, or inaccurate. Perhaps the tone of their language is also inappropriate. Essentially this is due to their not ever reading much in English. 
Reading exposes you to vocabulary most quickly. Probably, learners need to do three times the amount of work on vocabulary than they do on any of the other criteria to improve. This book reflects this necessity with a large number of activities on Vocabulary.

As previously mentioned, candidates don't have a breakdown of criteria on their report form. But let's look at a typical score sheet an examiner has. This is for Writing for Task 1:
Task Fulfilment                     
  6
Coherence & Cohesion          
  6
Vocabulary                             
  5
Grammar                               
  6

The candidate gets 5.5 for this task.
(By the way: there are no half bands within criteria.)

Here is Writing score sheet for Task 2:

Task Fulfilment                     
  7
Coherence & Cohesion         
  6
Vocabulary                            
  5
Grammar                               
  6

The candidate gets Six for this task.
Task 2 is worth 60% of the final mark; Task 1, 40%. The candidate above ends up with a Six as a Writing band.

Basically, Vocabulary was this candidate's weak point, and if it had been a Six anywhere, he or she would have ended up with 6.5 for Writing. 
Now perhaps it's a small difference between Six and 6.5, but let's say you're from Nepal, and you want to do an MA in Canada. 
The university you've applied for asks for 6.5 for IELTS Writing for direct admission. If you get a Six, then you need to do an eight-week English-language course first. 
That's another two months of your life you have to pay for and live through before starting your MA. If you're from Nepal, that could mean a lot of money.

Speaking criteria 
There are also four criteria for Speaking. Unlike Writing, where the tasks are rated separately, there is only one score given for the candidate's whole Speaking test. In brief, the criteria are:
  1. Fluency and Coherence [The ability to keep speaking; accurate use of linkers; sound logic]
  2. Lexical Resource (Vocabulary)
  3. Grammatical Range and Accuracy (Grammar)
  4. Pronunciation
You can see that there's no Task Fulfilment criterion. This means the examiner doesn't judge the content of the candidate's answers-the candidate can say pretty much anything he or she likes. If you want to say your mother's an astronaut on the International Space Station and your father's Bill Gates' best mate, that's fine, as log as your English is correct.
Like Writing, each criterion is worth 25%.
Generally, candidates still find Vocabulary problematic. Fluency is also a challenge because it's possible the candidate has never spoken for so long in English. Also, almost no teachers or textbooks focus on fluency. ( Is it anywhere in the table of Contents of your best mate's IELTS book?) Depending on what your first language is, pronunciation may be difficult. If you're German, it's not so hard; if you're Vietnamese, it's hell. Let's say you're from Ho Chi Minh City, and you want permanent residence in Australia. Currently, the Department of Immigration requires a Seven as a minimum for Speaking to get any points towards residence. Frankly, that's going to be extremely tough because time and time again even if you're really good, you'll get :

Fluency & Coherence 
  7
Grammar                     
  7
Vocabulary                  
  7
Pronunciation              
  6

Overall Band = 6.5

Hopefully this book will give your pronunciation a boost.
If you've read this far, you've realised that IELTS is not just a matter of learning the question types (any old book deals with those), but more importantly understanding the marking criteria for Writing and Speaking. If you look at the table of Contents of this book, you'll see how each criterion is pulled apart and practised here. Then we put them all together for the practice test.

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