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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Commonly confused verbs: join and attend

The verbs join and attend are both used to talk about taking part in events and activities, but IELTS candidates often confuse them and lose marks as a result. In this blog post, we’ll see how to use these two useful verbs correctly. Key collocations When you join something, you start to be part of it. When you join a club or group, you start to be a member: When you join a company, you start working there and become a member of staff: When you join a conversation, you start to take part in it: When you attend something, you are present and take part, usually for a period of time. When you attend a particular meeting or event, you take part in it: When you attend a place, such as a school or university, you go there regularly: When you attend a ceremony, you go to it: Remember that attend is quite a formal verb. It’s appropriate in an IELTS Writing task, but in conversation, you’d more likely say go to (a meeting, workshop, wedding, etc.). I went to my cousin’s wedding last weekend. Naomi goes to college 3 days a week. (Click image to enlarge) Online meetings and events In the online world, we also use join and attend. When someone clicks on a link or logs in to start taking part in an online meeting or webinar, they join the meeting or webinar: After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. When you stay online and take part in a whole meeting, class or webinar, you say that you attend it: I attended a webinar about using online dictionaries. The grammar Both join and attend are transitive verbs and they’re always followed by a direct object. You attend + something: Everyone attends a 2-week training course. You join + something: She joined the school football team. You can also join + someone, when you start to do something or take part in something with them: Several of us go for a run at lunchtime – why don’t you join us? I hope others will join us in our campaign. Used in their main meaning, join and attend aren’t followed by a preposition: A new designer is going to join to our team. Chinh is busy this morning, but she’ll join with us after lunch. Students from across the country attended on the event. Phrasal verbs However, join and attend do form part of phrasal verbs with different meanings: (Click image to enlarge) Join or attend? So, to sum up, use join to talk about taking the first step to become part of something and use attend to talk about spending time at an event or going somewhere regularly.

Julie Moore

8 December, 2021

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

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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