Talking about a person from history is a really common topic for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and IELTS speaking in general.
It sometimes comes up on speaking part 1 or 3 as well.
This is a sample answer from Nguyen on our YouTube Channel, our first ever customer for Band Scores and Corrections and a current employee.
She lived in Australia for years, which you can tell from her really nice accent and the range of natural vocabulary that she uses.
I’m a former IELTS examiner and I’m going to go over exactly how I would mark her for this section and give you some great vocabulary and grammar to practice to make sure you can get at lease a band 7!
Nguyen’s topic for this section was to talk about a person from history and she chose Leonardo DaVinci.
Let’s let Nguyen talk:
And here is the full tapescript with corrections in magenta:
Ok so a person from history I’m going to talk about today is Leonardo DaVinci. Leonardo DaVinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath whose areas of interest included invention architecture, sculpting, science and there are so many more that I can’t remember them all right now. But in general he was a multi-talented man. Um … and he’s also considered one of the greatest painters of all time. And many historians and scholars regard Leonardo DaVinci as a universal genius or a Renaissance man. And among his works the Mona Lisa is the most famous and duplicated portrait with ‘The Last Supper’ being the most reproduced religious painting of all time. And I think one – there was a historian – that I can’t remember the name – once said that “Leonardo DaVinci went beyond his time” – that he could – he could think of inventions that were so advanced that most of his work and designs weren’t feasible during his lifetime, and most of his designs weren’t recognised or realised until 100 years later. And during his time, which was like 500 years ago, he was able to conceptualise the flying machine, armored fighting vehicle and even concentrated solar power. The reason why I admire him is because I think that he – I agree with all other historians and scholars that he was one of the greatest painters of all time and somehow I think his personality and – his personality was quite mysterious and remote in a way that it has made me more curious to learn more about him.
Ok, back to me.
When examiners are marking, they usually have the band descriptors on the chair next to them (so you can’t see them). They might consult them during or after your test.
Here is how I would mark Nguyen based on the IELTS band descriptors.
FLUENCY – 7
This is the weakest part of Nguyen’s answer so I would give her a band 7.
Here’s why: She hesitates a lot during the answer!
If you look at the band descriptors, there is a difference between hesitating because you are thinking of language and when you are thinking of an idea.
That means if the examiner thinks you are hesitating to think of the English words you will lose marks. If you hesitate to think of an idea, you shouldn’t lost any marks.
Some of Nguyen’s hesitations are related to ideas (and remembering information about DaVinci) but many are language related.
That’s the negative side of her fluency score.
What’s good is that she maintains a flow of speech for the full time and her answer is coherent. She begins by introducing DaVinci, then describes why he is famous and ends by talking about what historians have said about him and his legacy.
Like a movie, her answer has a clear beginning, middle and end that makes it easy for the listener to understand.
I gave Nguyen a band 7 for fluency but I think she will end up with band 8 across the whole test. Part 2 is usually the worst for fluency for most students. It’s hard even for a native speaker to talk that long without a lot of hesitations!
VOCABULARY – 8
This is one of the stronger parts of the answer so I would give her a band 8 for vocabulary. This is a very strong 8.
Vocabulary is based on two things: accuracy and range.
There aren’t any mistakes in terms of accuracy but some additions would make it better: quintessential renaissance man, ahead of his time.
There are lots of examples of high-level vocabulary: Italian Renaissance polymath, multi-talented, of all time, historians and scholars, universal genius, duplicated portrait, feasible during his lifetime, recognised or realised, conceptualise, concentrated solar power, admire, quite mysterious and remote.
What does high-level vocabulary mean? It means that the vocabulary fits the context very well. It is descriptive and rich.
Instead of saying ‘he could do many things’ she says ‘multi-talented.’ Instead of ‘invent’ she says ‘conceptualise’ Because he didn’t produce many things, he merely drew sketches of flying machines for example, the word conceptualise is much more descriptive.
Here are some notes for your reference with some vocabulary that you can use to talk about a person from history:
GRAMMAR – 8
There are enough little slips in grammar that I almost gave her a 7, but in fact it deserves an 8 for grammar.
Grammar is about the same two things as vocabulary: accuracy and range.
Here are some of the mistakes that Nguyen makes: one incorrect preposition, one subject/verb disagreement, a mistake with plurals, one incorrect tense.
It’s not a lot of mistakes but they are clearly there throughout. Luckily she doesn’t keep making the same mistake and that means the mistakes are non-systemic. If you keep using the wrong article then the mistake is systemic and will hurt your score more according to the band descriptors.
For the good, she is comfortable using past and present forms as well as active, passive and subordinate structures.
Because her mistakes are minor and rare and do not affect understanding and she uses a variety of grammar, I have given her an 8. It is very close to a 7, though. Her grammar is not quite as strong as her vocabulary.
For some more information about grammar, take a look here at using modals to talk about possibility.
PRONUNCIATION – 8
Nguyen has a nice accent and only makes minor slips with some words so I think she deserved a band 8 for pronunciation.
Pronunciation is marked on an incredibly complex range of features. Most examiners don’t have any idea of makes up pronunciation!
But some of the common areas that examiners look for include: final sounds, intonation, consonant clusters, linking between words (chunking), and individual sounds (phonemes).
Nguyen makes some mistakes with individual phonemes: science (/ts/), universal (/s/).
And there are some moments where she could link together words more naturally using weak sounds so that her chunking is more natural.
Overall, her accent is really nice and her speech is natural and easy to understand throughout.
With three 8s and a 7 her score for the speaking would be 7.5, but Part 2 tends to be when students lose the most marks for fluency and on the real IELTS she got an 8. You can think of her as a good example of a Band 7.5/8.
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