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.

You can also use our resource finder to help you find the best study materials for you.

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Making progress in small doses

'I didn't know. Now I know.' This is a comment on one of our Facebook posts. It was an answer to one of the riddles posted there and after I read it, I couldn't get the comment out of my head. To me, it represents the joy of learning and the transformative power of knowledge. So, I thought I’d try a little experiment. I looked at an area of my life where I’m trying to acquire new knowledge and I wrote down three things I didn’t know. I am currently teaching myself how to use a particular architecture software for fun – I have weird hobbies, I know.   Here’s my list of three things I didn’t know:  I don’t know how to create double-height ceilings.  I don’t know how to import a particular flooring material into the software.  I don’t know the difference between a CMU stem wall and a concrete stem wall.  I then spent the next two hours researching the answers to the questions and practised applying my new knowledge to a model I’m creating. At the end of the two hours, I was able to say: ‘I didn’t know. Now I know.’ That was deeply, deeply satisfying.  Since I got the idea from one of our followers, I thought it was only fair that I would consider how IELTS test takers might benefit from this method, which is not all that new, I’m sure, but it’s new to me so I guess some of you might not have considered this either.  So here’s an IELTS example: I don’t know the difference between ‘when’, ‘if’ and ‘whether’.  I don’t know how to use apostrophes.  I don’t know the difference between ‘number’ and ‘amount’.  A while ago, I talked about the importance of SMART goals, and I guess, whatever we put on theses lists would have to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, otherwise we’d never get this ‘Now I know’ moment, but other than that, this list could contain anything you fell you need. If you don’t quite know where to start with this, you might want to look at Common Mistakes at IELTS Intermediate. The learning points in there are highly relevant to the exam and focused enough to give you lots of little success moments. You might even be able to extend the quote to say: ‘I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Now I know’.   Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

9 December, 2020

Common Mistakes: -ed or -ing for adjectives describing feelings

As you may know, in addition to writing this blog, I also teach English at University. I recently had an interesting conversation with a student after class, and it went like this: Student: ‘I’m so boring.’ Sophie: ‘I’m sure that’s not true. You do lots of interesting things and you always say interesting things in our class discussions.’ Student: ‘Yes, but that is because I like you and I want to help you with the lesson, but I’m really just boring all the time.’ Sophie: ‘Well, thank you! But I don’t think that you can describe a kind person as boring and I certainly think you have a lot to offer. Student: ‘What are you talking about?’ Sophie: ‘What are YOU talking about?’ Student: ‘I want to change class because I’m boring. I want to go to a higher level.’ Sophie: ‘Oh!!! You mean you’re bored?!?’ Student: ‘Yes!’ Sophie: ‘Well, ok, maybe we can talk about you changing levels, but not before we have fixed your problem with adjective forms!!!’ I remembered this conversation a few days later when I started planning this blog and was looking for ideas on the theme of ‘common mistakes’ because my student isn’t alone in getting confused about the difference between ‘bored’ and ‘boring’ and similar words such as ‘excited’ and ‘exciting’, ‘interested’ and ‘interesting’, ‘exhausted’ and ‘exhausting’. My student has now moved up a level and we found an explanation that helped her remember the difference between -ed and -ing for ‘feeling’ adjectives very easily. So, if you have the same problem, let’s see if we can fix it now! Here it is, our rule-of-thumb which works for most feeling adjectives with an -ed and -ing form: -ed = have the feeling -ing = cause the feeling So, for example: ‘I am bored with this song now, I have heard it ten times today.’ (I have the feeling.) ‘This class is boring.’ (It caused boredom. It makes me feel bored.)   ‘I am completely exhausted! I’ve just spent 2 hours in the gym!’ (I feel tired.) ‘Long distance journeys are exhausting.’ (They make me feel tired.)   (Click to enlarge) Want to find out more about common mistakes at IELTS and how to avoid them? I can recommend the common mistakes books for intermediate or advanced depending on your intended band score. Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

28 August, 2020

3 mistakes to avoid with IELTS test practice

Test practice is an essential part of your IELTS preparation if you want to give yourself the best chance of getting the band score you need. But to make IELTS test practice effective, there are three common mistakes you’ll need to avoid: Not using authentic IELTS test materials Not reviewing your performance properly Not planning your IELTS test practice Read on to find out how to avoid making these mistakes and how to make the most of your test practice. Mistake 1: Not using authentic IELTS test materials Not all IELTS Practice tests contain the types of questions that you’ll get in your real IELTS test, and so it’s important to use test materials from trusted websites/books. Here’s an example of some IELTS Speaking Part 1 questions from IELTS Trainer Academic 2 that are based on the types of questions you may get in your IELTS Speaking test. Let’s talk about what you do. Do you work or are you a student? Work What’s your job? Why did you choose this kind of work? What do you like most about your job? Study What are you studying? Why did you choose this subject / these subjects? What do you like most about your studies? If you do a search online for ‘IELTS Speaking questions’ (as I just did), you may well find examples that look like authentic questions but are not. I found examples of IELTS Speaking questions on topics you wouldn’t get in a real IELTS test and examples containing grammar mistakes! If you use these to practice, you may get the wrong idea about possible IELTS Speaking topics and become confused about what grammar to use in your answers. So, how can you tell if a practice test is authentic or not? The bad news is you may not be able to, and that’s why it’s very important to check who the test was written by. These authentic practice tests are from Cambridge University Press. Mistake 2: Not reviewing your performance properly After doing an IELTS practice test, you’ll obviously want to check how many answers you got right and/or get an idea of your IELTS band score. But if that’s all you do before doing another IELTS practice test, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your performance. To make your test practice more effective, it’s important to think about what you did well, any problems you had and what you can do differently next time. After doing an IELTS Speaking practice test, for example, you could ask yourself the following questions and then make a plan for next time. (I’ve included some examples of what your plan might involve below).   Why not practise now by recording yourself answering the IELTS Speaking Part 1 questions above, and then answering the reflection questions when you listen back? Mistake 3: Not planning your IELTS test practice Let’s say you practised the IELTS Speaking Part 1 questions above but didn’t review your performance, how would you know what you can do better next time? If, on the other hand, you reflected on your performance, you’d have a better idea of how to improve and could then plan what to do when (or before) you practise again. For example: if you noticed that your answers to the speaking questions were very short, arrange for someone to practise with you and ask you follow-up questions to help you give longer answers. if you didn’t understand a particular question, plan and practise what you’re going to do in your Speaking test if this were to happen again (i.e. learn and practise how to ask the examiner to repeat a question or explain what a word means). if you realised you didn’t know enough vocabulary to talk about your work or study, learn more words/phrases to talk about the topic before practising it again. So, now that you’ve seen how to avoid some common mistakes with test practice, you’re ready to do some IELTS test practice and get better results! Pete

Pete Jones

2 June, 2020

Episode 9: How to manage IELTS test anxiety

In this first episode of our second series, IELTS expert Pete Jones shares some tips on how to reduce any anxiety you might have regarding the IELTS test to help you make the most of your preparation time and perform better in the test.

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IELTS Writing: When to use the comma

Our research into common mistakes shows that many IELTS test takers forget to use a comma with linking words like 'firstly' and 'for example' in the IELTS Writing test. Find out how to use it correctly with IELTS expert, Pete Jones.

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IELTS Vocabulary: How to talk about time and money

This video features a common mistake made by IELTS test takers when talking about the important topics of time and money. Let IELTS expert, Pete Jones, show you how to avoid this common mistake.

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