Do Discourse Markers get you a higher score in IELTS Speaking?

IELTS speaking is unique in many ways. For one thing, it is taken separately from the other sections. Another, it induces the most anxiety because you need to sit face to face with an examiner and engage in a conversation to prove your English-speaking skill. Every word you say matters, and the context of your response should be easily understood. You must be clear in what you are trying to say and be articulate in your intention. That is where discourse markers can help you!

This article will explore discourse markers in IELTS speaking, so you are armed with the most effective tool in getting a high band score.

What are discourse markers?

Simply put, discourse markers are filler words or phrases that might have no specific meaning of their own, but they can connect two sentences to make the delivery of an idea easier and more natural. They are sometimes called signposts that bring order and structure to your sentences, so your attitude is clear.

They are essential for speech fluency and coherence so you can communicate your thought process and feelings, and the examiner can understand them effortlessly. Fluency is the rate of your speaking that should be natural and uninterrupted. Coherence is the organization and presentation of the concept you are speaking about that should be flowing and relevant.

Although their primary function is to orient your speech, different discourse markers can create different logics or emotions:

  • Revealing sequence: firstly, lastly, then, first of all, subsequently, finally
  • Indicating your opinion: I think, to be honest, frankly
  • Expressing your feeling: luckily, thankfully, unfortunately
  • Comparing: similarly, in comparison, likewise, in a similar fashion, like
  • Contrasting: but, whereas, however, although, on the other hand, actually
  • Adding information: I mean, you know, in fact, because, also, and
  • Stalling: well, oh, okay, that’s an interesting question
  • Generalizing: in most cases, generally, naturally, basically, broadly speaking
  • Emphasizing: for example, for instance, such as, to illustrate, especially
  • Concluding: as a result, so, because of this, then, accordingly

How to use discourse markers in IELTS speaking?

IELTS speaking test is an interview with a certified examiner that lasts between 11 and 14 minutes. The purpose of questions is to evaluate your fluency which is mainly revealed by the flow of your speech. The flow is often achieved with how connected, and relevant your sentences are without requiring effort from the examiner to understand.

Discourse markers are the best tool you have to initiate that flow and let it unfold. However, you must use them intelligently to prove your fluency:

Use them relevantly

Discourse markers are only helpful if they are related to the attitude you are trying to establish. Otherwise, they sound out of place and might even get you opposite results!

For example:

If you are trying to express your sorrow over an event that happened in your life, you could say:

“When I was 5, unfortunately, I lost my grandmother, who was really close to me.”

But if you say:

“When I was 5, generally, I lost my grandmother, who was really close to me.“

you communicate a different message which has no meaning!

Another example:

If the question is “what causes the air pollution in your city?”, You could say:

“Well, I think the excessive number of vehicles is the leading cause. I mean, it is not proportional considering the geographical position of my city, which is at the base of a mountain range.”

By using “well”, you stall the conversation intelligently to give yourself time to think and by using “I mean”, you clarify your response with more detailed information.

As you can see, discourse markers must be relevant to the logic and emotion of your statement.

Do not use them repetitively

Discourse markers shouldn’t be noticeable in your sentences. They must blend perfectly with other words. One thing that makes them stand out is repetitive use.

For example:

If you are talking about your educational background and you say:

“Firstly, I studied math. Secondly, I realized I don’t like it. Thirdly, I changed my subject to arts.”

Although you are trying to show the sequence of your decision-making process, it is boring! Instead, you could say:

“First, I studied math in high school. Then, I realized I don’t like it. So I changed my subject to arts.”

This way, the flow of information is fascinating.

Another example:

If you want to give your opinion about the COVID-19 pandemic in the world, you might say:

“I think the WHO and health officials made the mistake of telling people that masks are not required for the general public when the CORONA virus was beginning to spread. I think they lied. I think they could have done a better job.”

As you can understand, repeating one specific discourse marker, “I think”, in your statement is annoying. But replacing the second instance with “I mean” and the third one with “to be honest” makes your message easier to follow.


Discourse markers definitely get you a higher score in IELTS speaking if you use them intelligently. They are the key to speech continuity and a fluent and coherent conversation with the examiner.

Discourse markers help you articulate your intention and clarify your information. They make your response comprehensible for the examiner by having a natural flow.

Use them smartly to impress the examiner with your fluency and coherency but resist the urge to over-use them!

If you find yourself unhappy with your speaking skill, you can take an online IELTS mock test with us to have your speaking skill assessed by a certified IELTS examiner, and receive detailed feedback on your performance. has five years of immense success in preparing IELTS candidates worldwide and can help you succeed in the IELTS exam too.

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