How important is eye contact in IELTS Speaking?

Recently, one of my students asked this:

“Will my IELTS band score be affected if I don’t make eye contact with the examiner? The book says that if you show a lack of confidence, you will not get a high score.”

Quite often, candidates rely on information that may get lost in interpretation if this information is not explained clearly. Evidently, my student was a bit anxious as he was under the impression that he had to make eye contact with the examiner. This can be a bit worrying for candidates who are introverts and are particularly nervous around people they have not met before.

The good news is: no, you will not lose any marks if you do not look at your examiner. Your speaking is not marked on eye contact or any physical gestures you make throughout your interview. So, you can rest easy, knowing that you can talk to your hands or to your examiner’s clock if you want to. It will NOT influence your IELTS band score at all.

Having said that, it would be a good idea to look at your examiner in the eye because not only is it polite to do so, but it would certainly help in building your confidence, especially if you see your examiner smiling at you. You will not get a high score if you lose your fluency and coherence, keep making grammar, vocab and pronunciation errors. But certainly not if you do not look at the examiner!

If looking somewhere else will help you to gain more confidence in replying to questions and giving your talk, then by all means, look somewhere else! If you feel braver using your hands while you speak, go ahead and do it. Your assessor is only interested in what you have to say, that’s all. Everything else is irrelevant.

Until next time!

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2 thoughts on “How important is eye contact in IELTS Speaking?

  1. I disagree because I always tell my private students preparing for an English language proficiency examination to maintain eye contact with the examiner throughout the oral examination.

    1. I am not sure which “English language proficiency examination” you are teaching your students to but if the assessment criteria does not mention penalising the candidate for not maintaining eye contact, then you would be wrong to tell your students that they will be. Avoid increasing any more anxiety in your students about the test. The simple fact is: they will not be punished for not looking at the examiner while speaking.

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