IELTS One Skill Retake is now accepted in all Australian states!


Test takers, centre staff and examiners may wear a face mask covering their mouth and nose during the test as a precautionary health measure. Test takers are welcome to bring their own mask. However, you may be requested to uncover your face temporarily for some security checks. If you sit a test, you are required to wear a face covering when you’re not outside. That also applies to your IELTS Speaking test. Test centre staff and examiners will also be wearing a face mask to cover their mouth and nose during the test. So, does wearing a mask affect your Speaking test score? Read more below.

Will using a mask affect your IELTS Speaking test?

IELTS relies on trained and certificated examiners to assess writing and speaking. All examiners are qualified English language specialists, with substantial and relevant teaching experience. They work to clearly defined, publicly available criteria and are subject to extensive quality control procedures. This, coupled with routine standard analysis, ensures that the test is fair. The IELTS Speaking test is carried out face-to-face with a real, human examiner, ensuring no machine bias like when your Speaking is scored by a computer. 

Can wearing a mask affect my IELTS Speaking score? 

No, wearing a mask during your IELTS test does not necessarily affect your Speaking score. Our trained language experts are able to distinguish subtleties of the English language and linguistic features necessary for effective communication, even when you wear a mask. The IELTS Speaking test asks for coherent responses, ensuring that ideas and arguments relate to the given topic in a related manner. Humans can understand how examples relate to a question, but machines cannot always do this. With IELTS, you can always check how the test is marked

An IELTS examiner can make allowances for muffled sound when you wear a mask, just like when there’s a little bit of background noise. Besides, you can always ask your examiner to repeat or rephrase a question. That’s the benefit of speaking with a real person.

Will using a mask affect your PTE Speaking test?

According to the official information provided by Pearson PTE Academic, “if you wear a mask, then please be aware that it may affect your speaking score if your voice is muffled or not clear in any way.” 

In Melbourne, just like with IELTS, the PTE test centers require you to wear a face mask at all times during their PTE academic test. That’s a legal requirement as of November 2020. 

Can wearing a mask affect my PTE speaking score? 

Yes, wearing a mask can affect your PTE Speaking score according to information available from various online sources. They say “it really depends on the type of face mask you wear at the time of your PTE exam. If it is one with a filter, it will definitely affect your voice clarity and, consequently, lower score in pronunciation.” Others have also shared their experience online: “it is going to affect your scores of speaking during the PTE exam. As the mic is ultra-sensitive, it picks up the surrounding noise, the voice from your mouth is not going to be very clear due to the mask.” 

Assessing English language proficiency can become problematic when tests are not just IELTS on computer, but also computer-scored. This is where algorithms of Artificial Intelligence (AI) take over from human language experts. Computer-scoring can even be biased. That’s why IELTS tests use real people for your Speaking test. They can understand you, even if you wear a mask.

Speak to a real person in your face-to-face IELTS Speaking test

At IELTS, we believe a face-to-face Speaking test is the most effective way of assessing your speaking skills. Why? It prompts a more lifelike performance. So, don’t struggle to be heard over the noise and distraction of others. At IELTS, we hear you! 

Benefits of the IELTS Speaking test 

  • Private Speaking test rooms, free from noise and distraction 

  • Video call Speaking tests available at some centres 

  • We can repeat and rephrase a question for you 

  • We can match your pace and level of English 

  • We won’t ‘time out’ on you 

  • We hear your accent 

  • We have the largest range of IELTS Speaking test preparation materials

The science of talking through a face mask

In an article on The Conversation, a researcher on Forensic Speech Science from the University of York in the UK took a look at talking through a face mask. 

Dr Watt explains that there are several sources of potential miscommunication when listening to speech through facewear. One of them is the muffling effect masks can have on the sound signal itself. 

In earlier research, they looked at a range of different mouth coverings. In effect, they questioned if a wearing a paper surgical mask, a motorbike helmet, two types of balaclava (one with a mouth hole, the other without), a niqab, a scarf-hoodie combination, and a whole-head rubber mask would have an affect on speaking. The researchers analysed the speaker’s articulation of sounds, as well as whether masks would affect the stream of air emanating from the speaker’s mouth during speech. Lastly, these experts considered the mask’s influence on how listeners perceive speech. That last question is very interesting from an IELTS Speaking test perspective: a face mask’s influence on how an examiner can perceive speech. 

The results 

This research found that none of the face masks interfered very much with articulation. And, they had surprisingly small effects on speech clarity. The study showed that the listeners “could identify speech sounds more accurately simply by being able to see the video image of the talker.” Additionally, that was even true when the mouth was effectively invisible and no lip or jaw movements could be seen, as in the case of wearing a face mask. 

So, does wearing a face mask affect your IELTS Speaking test? The research shows that masks had a surprisingly small effect on speech clarity. And, even when people wore a mask, being able to see the person means you can identify speech sounds more accurately. With IELTS an examiner, they can see you, even if you do a Video Call Speaking Test. You can be confident in the examiner being able to understand you while you wear a mask. 

Why is it better to speak with a person than a computer?

Improve your Speaking score 

Practice your speaking skills with one-on-one coaching with a qualified IELTS expert from IDP. In that way, you’ll know where you can improve. 

Speak with a person, not a computer. 

Some other English tests use computers for the speaking section. Here’s why the IELTS Speaking test is with the real person. Last time I checked, I was not a machine and I’m pretty sure you are not a robot either. The good thing is neither is IELTS. The all speaking tests have always been one-to-one and face-to-face. Unlike some other English tests, where you have to speak into a computer, the IELTS test is structured more like a conversation between the examiner and the test taker. 

English is a spoken language 

English is a spoken language between two or more people, with an exchange of words and ideas. The most accurate way to judge a person’s ability to speak in English is to allow them to talk naturally and listen to them, just as we do in our natural environments. Speaking to a computer doesn’t mimic the real-life experience of speaking English to a person. A person doesn’t timeout if you take too long to respond. If you don’t understand or don’t hear a question, a person can clarify it for you. It’s totally natural not to be able to understand some of the questions the examiner might ask you. Think about how many times a day you have to ask someone to repeat or explain something in your own language. 

The benefits of a person 

In the IELTS Speaking test, you can ask the examiner to repeat a question if you don’t understand. Just make sure you ask politely. You could say something like, "I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that, could you say that again please?" You can also ask the examiner to explain the meaning of a word if you don’t know it. By using a person and not a computer, the IELTS Speaking test more closely reflects the everyday environment of speaking English, giving you a better chance to do your best.

What’s happening during your IELTS test with COVID-19?

Are you heading into your IELTS test? We are here to support you. 

There is a lot happening in the world right now. We want to show you the additional precautions we have put in place to help protect your health and safety, so you can take your test and get on with pursuing your goals. Please know that IDP’s global community is in this together as we navigate the restrictions and frequent changes in place due to COVID-19. 

Changes to IELTS Test arrangements 

We have been following the advice of the World Health Organisation and relevant local governments to help create a healthy test day environment. Here is a summary of some of the additional precautions we have introduced for you and your fellow test takers: 

  1. Ask you to sign a health declaration 

  2. Test takers and staff may wear a mask 

  3. Hand sanitisers readily available 

  4. Test room disinfection & deep cleaning 

  5. Additional spacing for test takers and reduced group sizes 

  6. Partitions in IELTS on computer test rooms