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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More on Common Mistakes ...

Misusing linking expressions (Grammar)

Welcome back to the third and final part in my blog series on common mistakes in using linking expressions. In the first blog we looked at the importance of understanding the exact wording and meaning of linking expressions and in the second instalment we considered the importance of understanding the logic behind the expressions. We’re now going to have a look at the importance of studying how a linking word fits into a sentence grammatically. If the word ‘grammar’ makes you want to scream and run away, please don’t: I promise it’s not so bad. Let’s look at these two examples: Because Because of They look pretty much the same, right? Wrong! (Sorry!) So why is that? Let’s look at them again, this time in example sentences: Because of the bad weather, we stayed at home. Because the weather was bad, we stayed at home. After because of we need a noun, or something that looks like a noun (a noun phrase or -ing form), after because, we need a full clause with a noun and a verb. ‘A noun phrase is a group of words that can be replaced by a pronoun: “the bad weather” = “it”.’ This was a pretty simple example. So let’s try something a little bit more ambitious. Before you read on, think about how you would use the expression ’as well as’ in a sentence. You may have opted for something straightforward like: I play the piano as well as the violin.✅ Or you may have tried something like this: She plays the piano. As well as she plays the violin.❌ Don’t worry if you got this wrong. A lot of my students do. It’s a very common mistake. Look at this example and see if you can work out what the linking expression as well as needs in this example. As well as playing the piano, she plays the violin. So, the linking expression usually needs a noun or, in this case, a verb that pretends to be a noun (-ing form). So, even though it looks more complicated, it’s really the same rule as ‘because of’. So far so good! However, when we use the infinitive, we can also use the expression like this: I have to do a practice writing test as well as finish the grammar exercises. So: infinitive + to / as well as / infinitive - to I have hundreds of examples of common grammatical mistakes with linking words, but I’m not going to share any more with you here, because we’ve already looked at two and that’s more than enough for one day. We often say that it is quality and not quantity that matters, and to a certain extent that is true in IELTS: It is better to be able to use fewer linking expressions well than to use a lot of different ones incorrectly. However, that should not stop you from building your knowledge of linking expressions right up to the day you take the test. Just go at a speed that allows you to invest the time that learning the wording, logic and grammar of each linking expression requires. Language activity: Download our activity worksheet to practice: Worksheet download   Once you have completed the worksheet, download the answer sheet to see how well you’ve done. Answer sheet download Best of luck! Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

26 May, 2020

Misusing linking expressions with examples (Logic and Syntax)

Do linking expressions drive you bananas? Welcome back to my blog series on linking expressions! If you haven’t seen my previous blog, take a look after you’ve read this blog post. Today I’m going to outline typical examples of common mistakes students make in logic and grammar and I’ll give you a few tips on how to avoid them in the exam. Once you have understood the meaning of a linking expression, it’s really important to study how it links ideas logically and grammatically. For example, just because ‘although’ has a similar meaning as ‘however’, it doesn’t mean that we can use them the same way in a sentence. That’s why it’s important to study linking expressions through short, simple examples. I really love fruit. However, I don’t like bananas. ✅ I really love fruit. Although I don’t like bananas. ❌ Although I really love fruit, I don’t like bananas. ✅ As you can see, sometimes a linking expression connects ideas across two separate sentences and sometimes it combines two sentences into one. It’s important to notice whether to use one or two sentences. The words ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘also’, for example, combine sentences, which is why they shouldn’t be used at the start of the sentence. I like apples. And I like peaches.❌ I like apples and I like peaches. ✅ Many linking words can be used in more than one position in the sentence, as you can see in these examples. I really like fruit. However, bananas are not my favourite. I really like fruit. Bananas, however, are not my favourite. I really like fruit. Bananas are not my favourite, however. The problem is that you can’t just insert any linking word into these positions in the sentence because what is possible for some might not be possible for others. Therefore, it is really important to study possible positions for each linking expression within the sentence and only use them where you know they work. In some cases, you also have to be careful about how you arrange the ideas around the linking expression. Due to an allergy, I cannot eat strawberries. ✅ OR I cannot eat strawberries due to an allergy ✅ I am allergic to strawberries, so I cannot eat them. ✅ BUT NOT So, I cannot eat them, I am allergic to strawberries. ❌ Both ‘due to’ and ‘so’ link reason and result, but while ‘due to’ needs to be in the same half of the sentence as the reason, ‘so’ needs to be with the result. ‘So’ may be a very simple example, but it illustrates the point that it is very important to understand the logical relationship linking expressions created between the different ideas in your writing. As a consequence of my strawberry allergy, I cannot drink strawberry milk. OR I cannot drink strawberry milk, as a consequence of my strawberry allergy. BUT I have a strawberry allergy. Consequently, I cannot drink strawberry milk. As you can see, ‘as a consequence of’ and ‘consequently’ look very similar and have the same meaning, but they are used very differently within the sentence: ‘As a consequence of’ usually combines two ideas in a single sentence and is placed with the reason while ‘consequently’ links ideas across two sentences and is placed with the result. Finally, remember that in the written exam, you should use formal language, so you’ll need to consider style when studying linking expressions. For example, the word ‘though’ has the same meaning as the word ‘although’, but it is not really a formal way of linking ideas. Figuring all of this out and remembering it takes a lot of time and effort, but there’s good news, too: For the writing part of the exam, you don’t need to know hundreds of linking expressions. It’s much better to study a reasonable number of linking expressions for each situation (e.g. reason and result, contrast, addition) in detail and arrange the ideas you are trying to express accordingly. Top Tips for studying linking expressions:  Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

20 March, 2020

Misusing linking expressions

Linking expressions can be confusing – not only to those preparing for the IELTS test, but also to the examiner, because a linking expression used incorrectly can have serious effects on the reader’s understanding of a text. You don’t want any loss of meaning to negatively affect your writing mark. For the Writing section of the test, it is important to study the exact wording used in linking expressions. Look at the two expressions below. Only one of them is a linking expression. Which one is it? ‘on the other hand’ OR ‘on the other side’ If you chose ‘on the other hand’, well done! This is a linking expression used for contrasting two ideas. ‘On the other side’ is not a linking expression. You would use this to say something like ‘the other side of the street’ or ‘the other side of the room’. Here’s another example of a common mistake: We can say ‘in spite of’ or ‘despite’ but not ‘despite of’. Examiners will definitely notice these kinds of mistakes, so it's worth going over the linking expressions you currently use to make sure you know their meanings and use them correctly in sentences. Just because two linking expressions look similar, it doesn’t mean that they have the same meaning. Top Tip: Always make sure you have thoroughly understood the meaning of a linking expression. Memorising an easy and clear example sentence might help with this. On the contrary ... What do you think the expression ‘on the contrary’ means? When I ask this question in class, the vast majority of students immediately respond with ‘on the other hand’. Unfortunately, that is a very common mistake. Look at the two expressions again in these examples: Building playgrounds for children is not an unnecessary expense. On the contrary, providing children with a safe environment is vital to their mental development. 'I thought you said you hated school.’ ‘On the contrary, I love it.’ ‘On the contrary’ can be used to emphasise a previous sentence by the same writer or speaker (1), or to strongly contradict something that was said by a different speaker (2). On the other hand ... ‘On the other hand’ usually contrasts two different ideas (swings and trampolines in the example below): Swings are relatively safe. Trampolines, on the other hand, are often considered to be dangerous. It’s OK not to be confident with linking expressions in your writing. Focus on the ones you know you can use accurately and slowly build up more as you go along. Having a good understanding of a wide range of linking expressions will still be useful in the Reading and Listening sections of the test. However, accuracy is less important here as you can usually work out the meaning from context. Top Tip: If in doubt, use an easier linking expression instead of one where you’re not 100% sure of the meaning. Language activity: Download our activity worksheet to practice your linking expressions.   Worksheet download Once you have completed the worksheet, download the answer sheet to see how well you’ve done.   Answer sheet download Hope you found this useful, we’ll be covering more common mistakes in later blogs so please come back for more. Sophie  

Sophie Hodgson

28 February, 2020

IELTS Writing: When to use percent and percentage

IELTS students often confuse the words 'percent' and 'percentage' in the IELTS Writing test. Find out when to use each in this short video with IELTS expert Pete.

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IELTS Grammar: How to use ‘recommend’ and ‘suggest’

Many IELTS test takers use the wrong grammar after the words 'recommend' and 'suggest'. Find out the correct grammar to use in this short video with IELTS expert, Pete Jones.

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IELTS Vocabulary: How to use ‘there have’, ‘there is’ and ‘there are’

A really common mistake IELTS test takers make in their IELTS Speaking test is using 'there have' instead of 'there is' or 'there are' when talking about something that exists in their city or country.

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