IELTS Common Mistakes

Common Mistakes focuses on mistakes test takers make in the IELTS test and how to avoid them. We have a printed book available at intermediate (target band 5.0–6.0) or advanced (target band 6.0–7.0).

Our authors study the Cambridge English Corpus to see how English is really used, and to identify typical learner mistakes. This means our materials will help you to avoid mistakes, and you can be confident that the language taught is useful, natural and fully up to date.

Are there any special times I should use the?

  • With countries or places where the name refers to a group of islands or states: the United States, the Middle East and the UK.

Common spelling errors:

  • Some words are spelled incorrectly because they are similar to another word:


I want to go to the park.


I wanted a computer but ended up with a printer too.


Your book is there.


Students must buy their books.


Several students chose Russian though they had never studied a language before.


The tour guide led the group through some areas of ancient rainforest.

Using apostrophes in contractions: (mostly used in informal writing or to represent spoken language)

that’s (= that is)
Anna’s (= Anna has)
we’ll (= we will)

Common spelling mistakes:

  • accommodation
  • environment
  • benefit
  • percentage
  • country
  • proportion
Common IELTS mistakes and how to avoid them – trying to do too much

If you’re taking the IELTS test soon and you’re feeling overwhelmed about everything you need to do, follow Greg’s top tip to help make everything feel more manageable.

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Avoiding common spelling mistakes

The spelling and pronunciation of a word are some of the first things we learn about new vocabulary, so it can be frustrating when we make basic spelling mistakes with words we've probably known for years. You shouldn't feel too embarrassed though, spelling mistakes are the most common type of error made by IELTS candidates at all levels. There are several reasons why English spelling can be tricky. In this post, we're going to look at one key issue and some ideas for remembering problem spellings. Sound and spelling: using word parts to understand spelling One common reason for spelling mistakes is that words don't always sound as they're spelled. Take a basic word like because, it's the most commonly misspelled word across all English learners! We see learners using all kinds of spellings, especially for the vowel sounds: becouse, becose, becaus, beacause, beacuse, becase. This is probably because when we say it in fluent speech, the vowel sounds are weak: "We didn't go because it was raining." (Listen to the recording of the sentence below) Even when we emphasise the word, the sounds don't seem to match the spelling: "Why didn't you go? Because it was raining." (Listen to the recording of the sentence below) One easy way of remembering the correct spelling is to break the word down into parts. We use because to introduce the cause of something so imagine the word as: Some longer words have a silent or barely pronounced letter in the middle that leads to common spelling mistakes. Two very common IELTS spelling mistakes are: Government - /ˈɡʌv.əm.mənt/ Advertisement - /ədˈvɜː.tɪs.mənt/ Government: often misspelled as goverment with the missing NAdvertisement: often misspelled as advertisment with the missing E With these words it helps to break them down and think about the verb form where the final letters are pronounced: "People are questioning the president's ability to govern." (Listen to the recording of the sentence below) "They advertise their products online." (Listen to the recording of the sentence below) Thinking about the verb + ment will help you remember the correct spelling.   Which words do you often misspell? Can you break the word down into parts to help you remember the correct spelling? What about these other commonly misspelled words: how can they be broken down to remember? (Click image to enlarge)

Julie Moore

9 September, 2021

Common mistakes: nouns that can be countable or uncountable

Take a look at the two examples below – what’s the difference in meaning and usage of the word experience? Previous retail (the activity of selling goods to the public, usually in shops) experience is essential for this job. I visited the US as a child and again recently for work. Both experiences were interesting, but very different. Countable and uncountable nouns: We all know that some nouns in English are countable - car/cars, person/people, book/books - and some nouns are uncountable – water, information, happiness – and that countable and uncountable nouns behave in different ways. Just a quick recap: (Click image to enlarge) (Click image to enlarge) Nouns that can be countable AND uncountable: Going back to our first examples though, we can see that in the first sentence, experience is being used as an uncountable noun to talk generally about all the experience a person has working in retail considered together: (Click image to enlarge) Look at some more examples of experience as an uncountable noun. Notice the common collocations. Which other words in the sentences are affected by the form of the noun experience? Students gain work experience through internships. Her extensive experience in software design has been really useful. They have limited knowledge and experience of working in China. In the second sentence, experience is a countable noun which refers to particular events which the person has experienced, i.e. two separate visits to the US: (Click image to enlarge) Here are some more examples of experience as a countable noun. Which other words are affected by the form of the noun experience here? I had a bad experience on a flight once and it put me off flying. It was an amazing trip and I had some wonderful experiences. his whole experience has changed the way I see education. Some other common nouns which are used as both countable and uncountable nouns in different contexts include: Uncountable: Hurry up, we don’t have much time before our train. Countable: I’ve called her several times, but I just get her voicemail (time = occasion) Uncountable: We went out for a long walk in the country (country = countryside) Countable: The graph shows average working hours in four countries; the UK, the US, Japan and France. Uncountable: For my graduation, my parents wore traditional Nigerian dress (dress = clothes in general for men and women) Countable: Ana was wearing a lovely yellow dress (dress = an item of women’s clothing) Reminder: (Click image to enlarge) I hope you found this blog post useful.  

Julie Moore

1 September, 2021

Common Mistakes students make when talking about appearance

What does 'appearance' mean? What a person looks like. What a thing looks like. Both A and B. The correct answer is C – the word appearance is used to talk about both a person’s looks and also the look of a thing. But how do we use them in context? Let’s take a look. Thing(s) Art can have a considerable effect on the appearance of public spaces. It’s amazing how a little paint can make a difference to the appearance of a room. Artificial ingredients are sometimes added to enhance the taste or appearance of food. Notice the collocation regarding things – the appearance of … Person Some people spend hours on their appearance. He caught sight of his appearance in the shop window. When you’re asked to describe someone’s appearance you would use vocabulary to describe their face, body, hair and clothes. More on this later. Appearance Vs Looks Have you heard the expression ‘good looks’ before? This is used to talk about how attractive a person is but does not include their clothes. Choose the correct word. 1. He got the acting job based on his good appearance/looks not his talent. 2. She’s a bit scruffy and doesn’t really pay attention to her appearance/looks.   The answers are: 1. He got the acting job based on his good looks not his talent. The correct answer is good looks as it is talking about how attractive a person is. 2. She’s a bit scruffy and doesn’t really pay attention to her appearance. The correct answer is appearance as the sentence is talking about everything about her including her clothes.   Here’s a worksheet that focuses on the vocabulary used to talk about a person’s appearance. How did you get on? Check your work against the model answer. In the IELTS Speaking test you may be asked to talk about a person. The vocabulary in this blog is designed to help you in answering a question like that. If you’re aiming for a band score of 6.5 and above in your Speaking test here’s a worksheet with some more advanced language on the same topic. A bit of fun Can you guess the idiom related to appearance? You can’t👨🏾‍⚖️ a 📖 by its cover. You can’t judge a book by its cover. This means you can’t know what someone is like by only looking at a person’s appearance. So true! But here is a book that you can judge from its cover. IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6-7 is a book which looks at the real errors made by students in actual IELTS tests and explains how to avoid them. Hope you found this useful, Liz   Listen to my recent podcast episode, Emma and I discuss words students use incorrectly both in the classroom and in the IELTS test:

Liz Marqueiro

23 March, 2021

Episode 12: How to learn collocations for IELTS

In this episode, IELTS teachers Liz and Emma are talking about collocations. When learning vocabulary it’s important to not just learn individual words, but also the verb, adjective or preposition that it goes with. Learning collocations will help you to avoid common mistakes in your IELTS test helping you achieve a higher band score.

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Episode 11: Commonly confused words in IELTS

In this episode, IELTS teachers Liz and Emma are looking at words students use incorrectly both in the classroom and in the IELTS test. Being aware of these common mistakes will help you perform well in the IELTS test.

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Episode 10: Common mistakes to avoid in IELTS when using adjectives

In this episode, IELTS teachers Liz and Emma are focusing on adjectives and some of the common mistakes IELTS test takers make when using them.

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