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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Common Mistakes: Verbs about money

Do you want to avoid making the same mistakes others have made in their IELTS test? I'm sure you do. This blog looks at common mistakes made by students when using the following verbs related to money: buy vs spend. IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 5.0-6.0, is a book which looks at the real errors made by students in actual IELTS tests and explains how to avoid them. This blog is based on page 46 of the book. Which verb do we use to emphasise the actual thing we bought or where we bought it? If you’re shouting the word ‘buy’ at your screen, then you’re absolutely right. Here are some example sentences: I bought a new phone last week. (what was bought) I bought it online. (where it was bought) We use spend to talk about the money involved. Example: I spent over one thousand rupees on it. I’ve never spent that much before. (This sentence doesn’t mention the money at all. When spend is used like this on its own, the idea of money is automatically understood.) Here are some sentences for you to try. Use the correct form of buy or spend to complete the gap. She was saving up to ___ a new laptop. How much did you ___? Imran ___ his wife some flowers for her birthday. We’ve recently ___ a fortune updating our network. Listen to the answers.     More formal language If you’d like to push yourself and your band score a little more, instead of using the verb buy, you could use the more formal – purchase / acquire. A bit of fun Here are some fun idioms using the word money: (You might say this to someone who has just asked you to lend them some money. This tells them that the answer is No!) (Usually said about someone who has too much money and spends it on silly things) Which of these two expressions would you be more likely to use😉? Liz

Liz Marqueiro

2 February, 2021

Avoid Common Mistakes to achieve IELTS Writing 6.0-7.0

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.   Familiar pitfalls 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. Julie

Julie Moore

27 January, 2021

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 IELTS Common Mistakes for bands 5.0-6.0. 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

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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