One way of improving your IELTS score is to eliminate mistakes from your writing. That can be easier said than done though. It can seem that however careful you are, you still make mistakes. This blog post looks at two different types of mistakes and how the book, IELTS Common Mistakes for band score 6.0 - 7.0 can help you recognise and avoid them.
Some mistakes are familiar issues; things we see and think "Oh yes, I always get that mixed up!" Often these are to do with aspects of English that are unpredictable or just work differently in other languages so tend to trip up lots of learners.
English spelling is something that can catch out even the most fluent of English speakers. How many double letters are there in accommodation or committee? What about the barely pronounced silent letters in words like environment and receipt? And when do we write maybe as one word or may be as two?
Some words overlap in meaning but are used in slightly different contexts. These distinctions may be different from your own language making them easily confused. For example, the verbs join and attend often get mixed up by learners. We use join to describe becoming a member of a group or organisation. So, you might join a club, a gym, a team or a company (as a member of staff). However, you can attend an event such as a meeting, a conference, a class or a party.
Exceptions can be tricky too. These are cases where you've learned the rules and then you discover an example that doesn't fit the same pattern. For instance, when we write a name such as Cambridge University or the National Museum, we use capital letters, but when we talk more generally about universities and museums, the words are no longer capitalised.
IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 6.0 - 7.0 draws on data from thousands of IELTS exam candidates to pick out some of the most common pitfalls. Working through the presentations and practice exercises will help you to recognise potential issues to watch out for and understand how to use each item correctly.
The things you thought you knew
We've all had mistakes underlined in our writing that we look at and think "Of course I know that – why did I get it wrong?" These slips of the pen (minor mistakes in writing) are inevitable when you think about the complexities of writing in a second language. It's like a juggling act in which the more advanced you become, the more balls you have to juggle. In an IELTS Writing task, you're thinking about understanding the question, coming up with relevant points, organising your writing, showing off your range of vocabulary, using sophisticated grammatical constructions, as well as spelling, punctuation, word limits, and keeping an eye on the time. It's not surprising then that as we stretch ourselves and become more ambitious with our language, we drop the occasional ball. And sometimes, because we're focused on the fancy stuff, it's the simple things that go wrong.
Four units of IELTS Common Mistakes focus on prepositions and with good reason. Although we've all been using these tiny little words ever since we first started speaking English, research shows that they still constitute some of the most frequent mistakes made by IELTS candidates. It's all too easy when you're focused on the data in an IELTS Writing task 1 to confuse an increase of something and an increase in something.
Similarly, you may be pretty confident about when to use a singular or plural verb form. You learnt he/she/it is and they are back in your elementary class, right? But as you start to produce increasingly complex constructions, those simple rules can get less obvious. Take the following sentence:
The proportion of people walking to work increases in the summer months and decreases during winter.
The subject of the verb, increase, is a long noun phrase (the proportion of people walking to work), so we need to pick out the 'head noun' to determine whether the verb should be singular or plural. In this case, it's proportion, a singular noun that needs a singular verb form (it increases). And we have to pay attention to the second verb too, decrease, which also agrees with the same subject and needs to be in the same form (decreases), a pattern known as a "parallel structure".
The key to noticing and correcting these slips is acknowledging they happen and keeping an eye open for them in your own writing. Don't just skim over the things you think you know. A few minutes working through some practice exercises that focus on using these basic structures in more complex contexts may be enough to raise your awareness and avoid dropping those vital few marks in the exam.