In this post I will focus on two areas where it is easy to lose marks in both IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic Writing. The first is the word count, and the second is spelling and punctuation.
1. How many words do I need to write?
There’s really no excuse for getting this wrong. Task 1 states that you need to write 150 words, and Task 2 requires 250 words. Yet fully 23% of written answers are under the word count. If you do not write the required number of words, you will lose points, so it’s really important to get this right.
I suggest you make this easier for yourself by finding out approximately how much space 150 and 250 words of your writing takes up. Find an essay you have written by hand, and count 150 words and look at the number of lines it takes. Then add another 100 words and look at the space 250 words takes. When it comes to the test, this will give you a good idea of whether your word count is about right. However, it’s still sensible to count when you are checking over your work.
2. How important is spelling?
Spelling is important not just in IELTS Writing but in IELTS Reading and IELTS Listening too. If you spell a word wrongly in the Listening test, you will not get the mark. In the Writing test, you will be judged on your ability to spell correctly. Let’s look at some of the marking criteria for spelling in IELTS Writing and you can judge your own ability to spell correctly against them:
So, as you can see, spelling is important.
The problem is that spelling in English is notoriously difficult. The only effective way of improving your spelling is to learn words one by one. Start by looking at the written work you have done in the past, and which has been marked by a teacher. Look for the words you misspelled and write them in a column on the left hand side of a piece of paper. Then try this simple and effective four-stage method to learn the spelling of each word:
- Look at the word.
- Cover the word with a piece of paper.
- Write the word.
- Check whether your spelling is correct.
If your spelling is incorrect, repeat the process.
The first seven sentences below contain ideas for essay writing. The last three come from a student’s essay. Each sentence includes a mistake. See if you can find the mistake and correct it. (The answers are below.)
- There are some logicial steps that every writer seems to follow.
- Rewritting your essay is almost always necessary — unless you are in an exam.
- A third draft of an essay is usually unecessary. Two should be enough.
- Write down every idea you have — even the ones that seem stupid or irelevant.
- Sit down in a quiet and confortable place.
- If you don’t write down your ideas imediately, you will forget them.
- Try using different sistems to record your ideas.
- The world would be a better place if we all spoke the same langage.
- Doing business is easier if there is no language barier.
- A common language can make travelling to other countries more convenience.
We looked above at how you can use the Look-Cover-Write-Check system to learn individual words. But how do you know which words to learn? For your IELTS Writing test, the most important words to learn are the ones you get wrong most frequently. Go through previous essays that have been marked by a teacher. Make a list of the words you spelled wrongly. Are there any words that appear on the list more than once? Those are the priority. Are there words that you would expect to use frequently? They are also a priority.
Two more pieces of advice. Firstly, when you are writing practice essays, switch off the spell-checker. Then, when you have finished, proofread the essay. Read through it once looking only for spelling mistakes (ignore other types of mistakes, like grammar). When you have finished, switch the spell checker back on. How did you get one? Did you find everything?
Secondly, read as much as possible. Reading will help your IELTS Reading and your IELTS Writing. The more you read, the more your vocabulary will improve — and one of the key things about learning a new word is knowing its spelling.
3. What about punctuation?
Punctuation can be especially difficult for those whose first language is not based on Roman script, for example Chinese, Arabic or Amharic. It is easy to forget to write a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence. The examiner will probably let you get away with this once, but if it is happening frequently, you will lose marks. So if your language has a different writing system, punctuation is one more thing you must be aware of.
- There are some logical steps that every writer seems to follow.
- Rewriting your essay is almost always necessary — unless you are in an exam.
- A third draft of an essay is usually unnecessary. Two should be enough.
- Write down every idea you have — even the ones that seem stupid or irrelevant.
- Sit down in a quiet and comfortable place.
- If you don’t write down your ideas immediately, you will forget them.
- Try using different systems to record your ideas.
- The world would be a better place if we all spoke the same language.
- Doing business is easier if there is no language barrier.
- A common language can make travelling to other countries more convenient.
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