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IELTS Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them


  1. More is less. A very common mistake is to answer in more words than instructed. If the task says "Not more than 3 words", answering in 4 or more words will definitely cost marks.
  2. Less is less. The length of a written task is crucial. When instructions mention a minimal number of words (250 for essay, 150 for report or letter), it means that any work shorter than required will be penalized.
  3. Longer essay doesn't mean better mark. Another common misconception is that longer essays score better in IELTS. Not only is this a myth, but also a dangerous one. Writing a long essay can indirectly cost marks, because the chances of making mistakes increase with the number of words and sentences.
  4. Changing the subject is unacceptable. Every so often a student is asked to write on topic, that he doesn't understand. To avoid the disaster of missing a whole task they decide to write on a slightly – or entirely - different topic. The sad fact is that no matter how beautiful the submitted work is, the wrong topic means zero score. Another similar pitfall is to omit parts of the given topic or ignore the guidelines in your work. Every point the topic refers to needs to be covered because the examiners will be actually counting them.
  5. Good memory can get you in trouble. Having seen that the topics sometimes repeat, "smart" students with good memory decide to memorize essays. This is a terrible mistake to make because the examiners are trained to look for memorized essays and have firm instructions to disqualify such works on the spot.
  6. Accent is not important. Pronunciation is.! IELTS, being a test for non-native English speakers can't penalize people for having an accent. The problem here is that not everyone knows the difference between speaking with an accent and mispronouncing the words. No matter how strong of an accent a person has, the words are to be pronounced correctly or it will cost marks.
  7. It is not the ideas that are important, but the way they are described in. Many students think that expressing the wrong ideas (whether it is in essay, letter or speaking) can harm their score. The truth is that no idea can be wrong and the ideas are not important on their own, it is the way they are expressed in that important.
  8. Connective words: the more is not always the better. Smart students know that one of the essay marking criteria are coherence and cohesion, and what better way is there to demonstrate cohesion than to use lots of connective words, right? Wrong. Overuse of connective words is a known problem, which is easily recognized and penalized by the examiners.
  9. Don't copy the question for your introduction. You should rephrase the question (i.e. rewrite it using some different words)
  10. Don't forget to separate your paragraphs clearly. 
  11. Don't forget to write a good summary/overview of the information. A quick one-sentence conclusion is not good enough. You won't get a high score if you don't write a good overview.
  12. Don't describe items separately (e.g. 2 lines on a graph). You should always try to compare things if it is possible to do so. Instead of describing 2 lines separately, compare the 2 lines at key points.
  13. Don't try to describe every number on a chart or graph (unless there are only a few numbers). A key skill in task 1 is being able to choose the key information and describe or compare it well.
  14. Don't spend longer than 20 minutes on task 1. Stop yourself after 20 minutes
  15. Another mistake that students commit is they misunderstand the question. Also they start writing the essay before understanding the question asked. So read the question very carefully and get very clear about what is being asked.
  16. Sometimes students use words in wrong context. So improve your vocabulary and avoid using words whose meaning are not clear to you.. Regularly read a quality newspaper in English.
  17. Incorrect use of tenses, idioms and phrases. Understand the correct usage of these.
  18. Missing and sometimes wrong use of definite and indefinite articles "a","the", "and".
  19. Incorrect spelling of common words. Practice spellings of common English words with the help of your tutor or a good dictionary. 
  20. In Reading, looking for synonyms and not for the exact words mentioned in the question would be advisable. To avoid running short of time in the end always transfer answers to the answer sheet directly after every passage. Try answering the paragraph summary questions as you read it will save a lot of time.
  21. In Speaking, Make sure you include some quote or idiom in your 2 minute speech. It would sound impressive in your introduction or conclusion.

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