The IELTS exam is obviously very difficult and people frequently take it only to find that their score is not what they had hoped for. There are many possible reasons for this and the usual answer is simply that their English level was not high enough. However, there are a few possibilities that could trip people up and cause them some problems in attaining their desired band score.
In this article, I am going to show you the four most common IELTS mistakes made in each of the four sections of the IELTS exam, then suggest ways to avoid making them.
Let’s start with the most difficult part of the test. This is what people struggle with the most and statistically you are likely to get your lowest score in this section. But why? Here are some common IELTS mistakes in writing test:
- Straying off topic. It is really common for people to quickly read their IELTS writing question, jump to a quick interpretation of it, and then begin writing. Either they immediately go off topic or they stray off topic halfway through. However, the problem is that you need to devote a little more time to analysing the question and planning your answer. If you do these things, you will be more likely to write an essay that gets a high score for Task Achievement.
- Long introductions. Don’t write too much for your introductory paragraph. Keep it short and simple, then spend more time developing the ideas in your body paragraphs. That’s where the important stuff should be, so focus your attention there and just use the introduction to inform the reader of what comes next.
- Writing too much. Everyone knows that you should avoid writing too few words for IELTS essays, but did you know that the opposite is true, too? Whilst it is bad to write fewer than 250 words for task 2, you could really cause yourself problems by going over 300 words. That’s because you’ll have more mistakes and less time to check them at the end.
- Being too personal. Ok, sometimes the question asks for your opinion, but you don’t need to always say “I think… I believe… I contend that…” Instead, keep it impersonal and state your opinion more carefully as part of a formal structure: “This essay will argue that…” As for task 1, you should keep this much more impersonal for the academic test and only in the general test (writing letters) should you use personal pronouns.
IELTS listening is easy for some and challenging for others. It all depends on how much you practise in your free time. Here are some common problems in the test that you should avoid at all costs:
- Dwelling on difficult questions. Imagine that you encounter a very difficult question. You just can’t find the answer. You wait and wait for it to appear, but then you realise that you have missed it. In fact, you missed four answers whilst waiting. Now, instead of losing one point, you have lost five points. You need to accept that some answers just won’t come easily, then move on to the next question quickly.
- Leaving questions unanswered. In IELTS, you don’t get deducted marks for incorrect answers, so you should always take a guess. This is doubly true if there are a limited number of possible answers. For example, if you have to choose from a list of options or give a number or letter, you should definitely pick something when you have to fill in the answer paper at the end.
- Panicking at unknown words. In IELTS listening and reading, you will almost certainly encounter unfamiliar vocabulary. What should you do? First of all, don’t worry! If you can guess the meaning from context, that’s great. Otherwise, just leave it. Panicking will only slow you down and make you miss correct answers. Besides, the difficult word might not be important.
- Making spelling mistakes. You don’t have much to write in IELTS listening, but you may have to copy down some words. These won’t be unusual words, but you still have to spell them correctly. Do some practice IELTS tests before the real IELTS exam and see if you struggle with this. If so, spend a little time working to improve your spelling.
Ah yes, the dreaded IELTS speaking test! It brings lots of worries for candidates because they have to face a real-life examiner! But don’t worry too much. Just avoid making these common errors:
- Speaking too quickly. You probably think that the biggest mistake you could make when speaking English is going too slowly, but actually it is much worse to speak too quickly. There are various reasons, but fundamentally speaking fast can cause you to make more errors and run out of things to say. This is especially a problem in part 2 of the speaking exam because you would speak for less than one minute.
- Over correcting yourself. It is a good idea to correct yourself if you make a mistake because this shows the examiner that you understand well enough to fix your errors. For example, you might say “Last week, I go to… I mean, I went to…” This is good, but if you do it constantly, it can actually lower your fluency, causing more problems than making a few small mistakes.
- Using memorised phrases. When we learn languages, we naturally rely upon memorised phrases in the early stages. We learn chunks of words like “Hello, how are you?” but later on we need to use it more intuitively. Still, many IELTS candidates memorise phrases and these become obvious and unnatural. Examiners have heard them all before. You might think that saying “It’s a double-edged sword” is clever, but actually it is an annoying cliché.
- Repeating yourself. It is easy to become self-conscious during the IELTS exam. Especially when you are facing an examiner, you might panic and repeat yourself out of nervousness. You think your answer is too short, so you need to say more… but this repetition is not good and can lower your score. Instead, try to draw your answers to a natural conclusion.
Finally, we come to the reading test. This part of the exam can be a real headache, partially because it requires candidates to answer so many questions in such a short period of time. Just remember to avoid these common IELTS mistakes and you’ll be on the path to success:
- Reading every word. The IELTS exam is not about reading for pleasure and you don’t need to know every little thing that is said in a text, so don’t waste time by reading each word. Instead, practise the skills known as skimming and scanning. This will save you a lot of time.
- Looking for exact words and phrases in the text. You might look at a question that says, “In what century were the pyramids built?” but you will not find the words “century” or “built” in the text. Instead, you will have to locate a specific year (or rough period of time) and also a synonym for “built,” such as “constructed.”
- Making assumption with T/F/NG questions. One common question type in the IELTS reading test is known as TRUE / FALSE / NOT GIVEN. A problem that emerges here is that sometimes a stated sentence is logically true or false, but in fact it is not given in the text. You might know the answer to be true, but unless it is explicitly stated in the passage, you must choose NOT GIVEN.
- Only reading first sentences. The first sentence of a paragraph is called the topic sentence because it usually gives you the topic of a paragraph. Some teachers say that you should only read these when skimming, but actually that can cause you to miss some important details. You need to read a little more carefully, even though you should still aim to read quickly.