common IELTS grammar mistakes

Do you know what most IELTS students have trouble with when it comes to their writing? … It’s articles (the, a, an) and countable/uncountable nouns.

Over many years of marking IELTS essays and listening to students when speaking, I have noticed the same mistakes, most commonly they are articles (the’, a, an) and countable/uncountable nouns.

Correct use of grammar in IELTS Writing and Speaking accounts for 25% of marks in the exam. If you have more than one grammar mistake in each sentence then the chances are that you will get a Band 5 or 6 in grammar in the writing section. Also in the Speaking test grammar is important. For articles (the, an, a) there are a lot of different rules in English regarding these.

With some knowledge on this, you can learn to avoid making these common errors in your writing and speaking. Try the exercise at the bottom of the page and see how well you do.

What does the marking criteria say?

Grammatical range or accuracy

Source: British Council

Band 7 grammatical range and accuracy: ‘produces frequent error-free sentences, has good control of grammar and punctuation but may make a few errors

What does this mean?

The essay shows that the candidate has an overall good ability with grammar but there are still some small errors here and there. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe there are small mistakes with articles or plurals and prepositions but overall it is not a serious issue and most of the essay or task report will seem grammatically strong. Using grammar accurately is quite important here.

Band 6 grammatical range and accuracy: makes some errors in grammar and punctuation but they rarely reduce communication.

What does this mean?

The examiner can still understand and follow the essay but there will be more mistakes, most probably in every two sentences there is an error such as a wrong article, preposition, countable / uncountable noun or subject verb agreement issue. There might be a problem with a run-on sentence, punctuation, or mistakes in some of your sentence structures. Accuracy will be weaker here.

Band 5 grammatical range and accuracy: may make frequent grammatical errors and punctuation may be faulty, errors can cause some difficulty for the reader

What does this mean?

Here the examiner will have real trouble following your ideas and will get confused because the grammar is frequently inaccurate. There could be issues with tenses, articles, plurals, sentence structure, punctuation, word order and so on.  This will also have a negative impact on your coherence and cohesion band score as the essay will be hard to follow or understand.

Trying too hard

Some people think they have to use all sorts of grammatical tenses to impress the examiner, such as the future, the past, conditionals, relative clauses and so on. To be honest, this is not necessary, just use the grammar you are familiar with and keep it natural. Actually, you are probably using the appropriate range of grammar already without even knowing it.

I have seen many task 2 essays and writing task 1 reports where the student has tried too hard to use different grammatical forms that they are not familiar with, which ends up ruining their task 2 essay or task 1 report.  One reason for this is that they are trying too hard to make a good impression on the examiner. You should be thinking of the reader when you are writing.

The confusion with complex sentences.

You will notice in the marking criteria it mentions ‘complex sentences’. There seems to be a confusion with complicated sentences and complex sentences. Many IELTS candidates think they have to use ‘high level’ or ‘Band 9’ sentences and complicated structures to get a high score.

This thinking will negatively impact your writing and will end up in a convoluted essay, which loses a band score in coherence cohesion as well as grammatical range and accuracy. In fact, a complex sentence is not complicated at all.

Here are some useful lessons on this:

How can you fix your grammar?

The best way to develop your grammar is to follow these steps below:

  • Find your weak areas. What exactly is the issue you are having with grammar? get feedback on your writing first before you pick up a grammar book.

  • Learn the rules for the grammar that you are struggling with, there are many free websites online where you can learn the rules of grammar and do exercises. Two good books are ‘Raymond Murphy: English grammar is use’ or ‘Martin Hewings: Advanced grammar in use’.

  • Practice making sentences with the newly learnt grammar, add these sentences to your essays. Be prepared to make mistakes and experiment.

  • Get more feedback from someone who can tell you what to you need to adjust or work on more.

Only focus on the grammar that you are having issues with. So if it’s articles and plurals then just focus on those. Maybe you are having trouble with prepositions and countable uncountable nouns, then just focus on those. Do not try and fix everything at once.

Click here to see a lesson on Articles and countable uncountable nouns.