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IELTS Test Prep: Common Mistakes

Following on from our discussion in last week’s blog all about IELTS, this week, we focus on IELTS test prep tips.

Teacher Dave has been teaching and examining IELTS for more than 7 years. In his contribution article to 'How to do IELTS', he details the common mistakes that students make when completing their IELTS.

But first, let’s learn a little more about the test itself.

About the Test Score

Although we discussed the test in detail in our previous IELTS blog, here is a basic reminder of how the test is structured.

You will be given a score from 1 to 9 for each part of the test. There are four sections.

  1. Listening

  2. Reading

  3. Writing

  4. Speaking

Test Score

The average of your scores in the above 4 sections, produces your Overall Band Score. You can score whole (e.g., 5.0, 6.0, 7.0) or half (e.g., 5.5., 6.5, 7.5) bands in each part of the test.

The highest score you can get for IELTS is 9 and the lowest score is 1.

This means there’s a lot of room for error and if you’re not adequately prepared, you may be at risk of repeating the same mistakes as countless students before you.

Here are some of the most common ones.

Showing Off or Talking Too Much During the Speaking Test Confidence is great, but it’s important to learn to use it appropriately. When asked a question, answer it but do not provide loads of irrelevant information just to keep talking. If the examiner asks your name, answer with your full name. No need to give your life story. Make sure you’re not talking so much that the examiner can’t even get their questions in. Remember, they have a job to do and that is to get through all their questions. Talking too much also gives you more opportunities to make mistakes which means more reasons to drop your score. You can always add in a little bit of extra information to an answer but do so with thought and discretion. Not Talking Enough in the IELTS Speaking Test Now that you know not to talk too much, it’s important to remember not to talk too little either. One-word answers are NOT a good idea as the examiner needs to know how well you speak English so they can give you an accurate score. Confidence is key. Give the examiner a chance to see that you are able to maintain 'long turns', 'speak at length' and have a decent vocabulary as well as good use of grammar and pronunciation. Remember, you want a score above 6. Not Constantly Improving Examiners often see students who spend a lot of time studying IELTS but for some reason, they seem to stay at the same level. There are two main reasons a student may plateau.

  1. If students only focus on test strategy, they are not putting the emphasis on actually improving their English. It’s like learning to do one dance instead of learning the art of dancing itself.

  2. Once students reach the intermediate level, the rate of learning new English skills slows down. This might demotivate some students as it seems like they are not improving when in truth, they still are – just at a slower rate than before. If you allow yourself to get demotivated and stop practicing, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you do indeed stop improving.

Not Learning the Band Descriptors in IELTS Writing and Speaking Band descriptors are EVERYTHING when it comes to IELTS. Students who don’t know them backwards will not perform as well as they could. Print them out, put them on the wall, study them all the time and they will be your guide! Leaving out Data in IELTS Writing Task 1 Silly mistakes like this one cost valuable marks. If you leave out important data from the graph provided, your score will be limited to a 5 for task achievement. If you leave out some less important information you can still get up to band 6 for task achievement. Make sure you include all the data in the graph. Don’t describe it mechanically – you can group it together and that still counts as including it. Too Many Main Ideas in IELTS Writing Task 2 Some students tend to introduce lots of new main ideas. This leads to a bad score. Stick to 1 main idea per paragraph and make sure it is well-developed. Make use of a good example. This will score you a band 7+. Not Improving Pronunciation Enough Pronunciation is crucial!!! It doesn’t matter if your grammar and vocabulary are perfect if no one can understand you! Think of pronunciation as training the muscles inside your mouth. Like any exercise, it requires constant training and practice. Without improvement, students tend to get stuck with bad habits of poor pronunciation. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes to change. Unclear Overviews for IELTS Writing Task 1 This is the biggest problem for all students who take IELTS. Unfortunately, it is a very, odd and specific sentence that only exists on IELTS but it has a huge impact on your score. Students have to find a way to improve their overviews to avoid letting this affect your score unnecessarily. Misunderstanding the Question for IELTS Writing Task The biggest problem for Task 2 writing is misunderstanding the question. Although this is actually mostly a reading skill, students need to focus on this more than anything else. The reason is, if you misunderstand the question, depending on how badly you do it, you will get a band 3, 4, 5 or maybe 6 for task achievement.

The great Warren Buffet is quoted as once saying, "It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from the mistakes of others." By seeing the common mistakes and pitfalls of other students, you can better fortify yourself against making them yourself. Good Luck!


"I have been studying in ME Education with Mr Raymond and Ms Julie for a few years. They are so experienced and professional. They gave me so many helpful tips for the IELTS and provided me with all the guidance I needed. My skills improved so much from their lessons! In fact, I actually received 9 marks for listening and 8.5 marks for reading. My parents were so proud!"



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