In the last posts, I introduced the issue of memorising answers as a strategy for the IELTS Speaking Test, and gave the very obvious (isn’t it?) opinion that it is a bad approach. So, let’s continue examining the …

‘Just memorise this’ syndrome.

In the last post, I mentioned that memorising speaking answers (which is a form of lying) seems to be perfectly acceptable in Asian culture, both among teachers and learners [or is this just stereotypical thinking? I wouldn’t think so, given my experience in the field of IELTS].

But, and it’s a big ‘but’, lying/memorising is not the western way, and your IELTS examiner is a product of Western culture. Let’s try to get into the mind of the IELTS examiner. Let us try to speak the thoughts of this person as he or she listens to a spoken answer. Remember, I’m a westerner also, and I’ve taught IELTS for over 20 years, so I have some credibility here.

Question       Are there many factories in your country?

Answer       Oh yes, there are a multitude of such industrial locations in my country, since the government has instituted plentiful stimulus packages in order to promote economic recovery in depressed areas. Furthermore, such gainful incentives have provided employment to a considerable number of people.


Listener’s Thoughts

  • Is any of this stuff true?
  • Unlikely.
  • Sounds weird.
  • It simply can’t be true.
  • So, a memorised answer.
  • Right, this candidate is another one of those.
  • Just like my third candidate this afternoon.
  • Wow, so blatant!
  • Thinks he can trick me?
  • I suppose I have to give him a high mark for that answer.
  • But I know, deep down, that he is not a good speaker (but just a good memoriser).
  • So, it’s really hard to give him a good mark when I have to listen to this guff.
  • But I have band descriptors I must follow when deciding on the mark.
  • Some of these descriptions can mark the candidate up.

IELTS 7 Fluency = speaks at length without noticeable effort or loss of coherence*

[Did the candidate do that?]

IELTS 7 Vocabulary = uses vocabulary resources flexibly to discuss of variety of topics*

[Did the candidate do that?]

  • But there are also some descriptions that legitimately allow a candidate to be marked down.

IELTS 5 Fluency = may over-use certain connectives and discourse markers*

IELTS 5 Vocabulary = uses vocabulary with limited flexibility*

  • But if all of this speaking is not even true, should the message and the words be considered …

coherent (=IELTS 7) and flexible (=IELTS 7),

or over-used (= IELTS 5) and limited (= IELTS 5)?

  • Or maybe a mark in between?
  • Hmmm, it’s all my judgement but …...
  • that memorisation produced strange pronunciation, so that’s already limited. No question.


*Source = the public version of the IELTS Band Descriptors

So, when your school, teacher, or IELTS book writer begins teaching you the ‘memorisation approach’, just remember that the one who has to actually judge your speaking is NOT that teacher – it is someone else. You can never know what goes through that person’s mind as they listen to the performance.

(To be continued in the next post).


Find the meaning of the underlined words, also repeated below.

  • stereotypical (adj)
  • guff (n)[informal]
  • blatant (adj)
  • coherence (n)
  • legitimate (adj)
  • flexibility (n)




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