In this episode Andrea identifies 11 typical mistakes the candidates make when taking the IELTS Test.
Improve your band scores by checking your writing and speaking against the errors listed during your preparation. Concentrate on avoiding these errors and your IELTS Test band score will improve.
Below is the list of Typical IELTS Test mistakes made by candidates that we speak about in the IELTS Test Prepcast:
IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 15
IELTS Test: Typical Mistakes
I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since. Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS. She has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.
And now for today’s IELTS lesson.
Steve: Hello. Today we’re going to talk about IELTS writing, and in part, we’re going to talk about typical student errors. In total, we’re going to discuss eleven typical student errors. We’re going to talk about each one, and we’re going to give examples which demonstrate what each error is and how students should be thinking about correcting them. So the reason we’re doing this is because we do have planned a review of different standards of written English from IELTS candidates. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to go through the different standards and explain what sort of errors are being made, and we’re going to refer back to this podcast. So for example, we’ll be referring back to basic error number 1. So in the future podcasts, we’ll be saying things like “This student has made basic error number 1, and this is how they should be correcting it”. Okay, so today I have with me Andrea, and she’s going to take us through the lesson.
Andrea: Hello. So IELTS writing and typical student errors. In this podcast, we’ll talk about really basic mistakes that the IELTS candidate makes. It’s important for the student to know which these typical mistakes are as they’re easy to correct, but if you make them, you can easily lower your band score by 1 in both your writing and your speaking. So there are a list of eleven, and I’m going to tell you what they are. These are made—these can be made in writing and speaking. So what I think you should do is have the list by your side so that when you’re doing your own writing or preparing your own speaking, you’ll be able to think about the mistakes I’m telling you about and hopefully start to correct them and start to get higher band scores.
So these are the ones you need to think about. Number 1 is the article, and that’s an article in general and a specific article. When you’re talking generally, as you would in task 2 or in your speaking, you don’t need an article. So for example, we talk about global warming or French people. We’re just talking generally, so there’s no “the” or there’s no “a”. This is called zero article in grammar. Number 2, you use “the” when you’re talking specifically. So for example, I mentioned French people, but if I say “the French people in Paris, who live in Paris” for example, I’m being more specific. Number 3 is “a” or “an”. Obviously, “a” means one. It’s for a singular noun, and you do “a” with a noun that begins with a consonant or an adjective that begins with a consonant. The adjective obviously comes before the noun or an “an” with a noun that begins with a vowel or an adjective that begins with a vowel before a consonant. Then you mustn’t forget your prepositions, number 4. Number 5, think about the correct verb and the verb tense. So people forget quite often to use the past simple tense when they’re talking about time that’s finished. Number 6 is really important, which is your spelling. That’s also very important in listening and reading. Even if your answers are right and your spelling’s wrong, you will lose marks. Your answers won’t be considered to be correct. Number 7 is thinking about the plural noun and the singular noun. Number 8 is thinking about the plural verb and the singular verb. Number 9 is thinking about basic punctuation, really. So do you know when to use capital letters? Do you know when to use full stops? Do you know when to use your commas, your question marks, and your exclamation marks? Sometimes that’s not very important. And number 10 is grammar, and number 11 is word order.
Steve: Okay. I think there’s also quite a lot to remember in there in that list you’ve just given, so what I’m going to do is put that list of typical student errors on the website and to this podcast so that there’s a sort of ready, come-in-handy lookup table for that.
Andrea: Yes. No, that will be really great. Because I’d like the students to have it by their sides so that when they’re writing, they can look at the list and see if they’ve made any of the mistakes, and hopefully, they’ll soon not be—they won’t be making those mistakes.
Okay, basic error number 1 is the zero article or no article. So I would say that in IELTS, there’s a very general rule you can apply, especially in your writing task 2. If you’re talking generally about a topic, you don’t use any articles. For example, “I feel that teenagers nowadays are far too lacking in discipline”. We’re talking about all teenagers, so we’re talking generally about the teenagers—about teenagers, so no “the” is used. We’re talking about all discipline. We’re talking in general about discipline, so no “the” is used.
Basic error number 2. We’ll call this one the indefinite article, which is “a” or “an”, “a” or “an”, and we use “a” or “an” to talk about one thing or a singular noun. When you’re writing, ask yourself if you’re talking about one of something, which is a noun and maybe a noun with an adjective. If yes, you also need to put “a” or “an”. You put “a” if the noun or adjective begins with a consonant. “A child might want to play computer games, but this must be controlled.” “Child” begins with “c”, which is a consonant, so you put “a”, “a child”. You put “an” if the noun begins with a vowel. The vowels are “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, and “u”. “A treat a day could be allowed. For example, an ice cream now and again is not too harmful.” “Treat” begins with a consonant, a “t”, and you’re mentioning one of these, so you put “a”, “a treat”. “Ice cream” begins with a vowel, and you’re talking about one ice cream, so we say “an”, “an ice cream”.
Basic error number 3, which we will call the definite article. The definite article is “the”. When you’re writing, look at the noun you have used and ask, “Am I only talking about a noun that is unique? Is there only one of them, such as the moon?” If yes, you put “the”. I mention the moon because in some languages, it’s not a singular, so in Eng—but in English, it is. “Space research hopes to take travellers to the moon for holidays one day.” If you’ve been talking generally about a topic and then you want to talk more specifically, you put “the”. “Having said teenagers are lacking in discipline, it needs to be said that the teenagers I know are the complete opposite of this.” I’m now referring to a specific crew, the teenagers I know, and I use “the”.
Basic error number 4. IELTS candidates often use the incorrect preposition when they use verbs and expressions of collocation, and this mistake loses lots of points in the grammar assessment of your writing and will certainly stop you getting your band 7. When you’re learning verbs and collocations, remember to learn the prepositions that go with these expressions. Here are some examples. “You need to ensure that you eat healthily and exercise to remain fit.” Think about the way parts of speech change in aspect of grammar. “A lack of discipline may depend on the home environment.” Here, “lack” is used as a noun, and it needs “of” plus another noun, so “a lack of discipline”. If “lack” is used as a verb, it doesn’t need a preposition. It’s just followed by a noun. For example, “Many teenagers lack guidance”. “How often do you communicate with your child about his problems?” “Many young people have the opportunity to do something.” “There is plenty of opportunity for growth.” So you just see that you have to learn the expressions with their prepositions. So “communicate with” and “opportunity to do something”, “plenty of opportunity for growth”.
Basic error number 5, which we’ll call using the verb correctly and in the correct tense. IELTS students often forget that when there’s a past time or a finished time, we use the past simple tense. They put the present simple tense. For example, “In 2010, it rains a lot”. 2010 is finished, so the student should of course have put “it rained a lot”, so “ed” for the past simple or past simple irregular. Or from the influence of their own language, students put the present perfect with the time in the past. For example, “In 2010, it has rained a lot”. In English, we don’t say “It has rained a lot” with finished time. You must use the past simple with finished time. Or students forget how to use the infinitive after a verb. For example, they say something like “It will rains very much in the future”. They think because of the “it” that the infinitive needs to have an “s”, but of course, it doesn’t. It should be “It will rain very much”.
Basic error number 6 part 1 is the spelling. There are many typical spelling mistakes that students make, and this can easily lead to one or two bands lower than the student would’ve achieved with good spelling. In listening, writing down the answers with the correct spelling is very important. If you have the right answer but the wrong spelling, your answer will be marked as incorrect. For that reason, you must make sure that you know the pronunciation of the vowels, which are “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, and “u”, and the consonants “b”, “c”, “d”, “f”, “g”, “h”, “j”, “k”, “l”, “m”, “n”, “p”, “q”, “r”, “s”, “t”, “v”, “w”, “x”, “y”, “zed”.
Steve: Presumably, for those students who prefer to talk with an American English, they’re allowed to use “z”.
Andrea: Yes, they are, yes. Sorry xxx American pronunciation, but yes, of course. I think, usually, in South America, they use American English, and in quite a lot of the Asian countries, they use American English.
Basic error number 6 part 2. Practice understanding the pronunciation of these English alphabet letters as you will be tested on your ability to understand spellings and write them down correctly, especially in section 1 of the listenings. And of course, you’ll be a—you’ll need to be able to spell any other gap-fill answers correctly. In the reading exam, you must make sure you transfer the spelling of the answer from the reading text to the reading answer sheet, or the same applies. If your answer is right but the spelling is wrong, you will not get your mark.
Basic error 7. IELTS candidates often forget to add the “s” onto a verb in what is called the third-person-singular present tense. The third-person singular—I’m sure most of you will know but I’ll just explain—is “it”, “he”, or “she”, and when you use a verb that goes with “it”, “he”, or “she” in the present tense, present simple tense, you need to put an “s” on the end of the verb. This is especially noticeable in the writing task 1, where the student might write “the bar chart”, so there’s only one bar chart, so that should be third-person singular. “The bar chart show”, and the student forgets the “s” on the end of the verb, and so “the bar chart show the number of males employed”. It should be, of course, “The bar chart shows the number of people employed”, but that’s a really typical error. Students just seem to forget the “s” for some reason. Alternatively, the IELTS candidate writes “the line graphs”, plural, so third-person plural, “shows the number of males employed”. “The line graphs shows the number of males employed.” Because “line graphs” is plural, the verb that follows it should not have the “s”, so the correct sentence is “The line graphs show”, “line graphs”, plural, “show”, plural verb, then “number of males employed”. “Line graphs show the number of males employed.” This error appears in the writing task 2 as well and the speaking test. When you’re practicing writing or speaking, think about this error. It’s extremely basic grammar. You will have learned it in your first week of English and will easily lose you 1 or 2 bands in the grammar column.
Basic error 7. Other similar mistakes that IELTS candidates make are when using the expression “one of”. Because the expression says “one of”, it’s clear that what follows is plural, a plural noun, but students often forget to add the “s” to the noun to make it plural or to add the plural noun. So for example, they write something like “one of the problem”, and because you said “one of”, “problem” should have an “s”. It should be “one of the problems”. Another mistake IELTS candidates make is to talk about “Many of the people think that global warming is becoming more serious”. The correct expression is “many people” or alternatively “few people”. “Many people think that global warming is becoming more serious.” “Few people think that global warming is becoming more serious.”
Basic error 8, this is punctuation. In IELTS writing task 1 and 2, the IELTS examiner is also checking your basic knowledge of punctuation—that is, capital letters, full stops, commas, questions marks, and maybe exclamation marks. A common mistake is when the IELTS candidate writes a sentence and ends with a full stop but forgets to start the next sentence with a capital letter. Remember, each sentence begins with a capital letter. Another one that fairly low-level candidates forget is to put the full stop, so that it’s hard to see when one sentence ends and another begins. Remember, at a simple level, each thought needs a full stop or a basic subject noun, verb, and object noun. For example, “he”, subject noun, “plays”, verb, object noun “football”. Or, for a task 1 example, “The bar chart shows unemployment figures”. That’s a whole sentence. A sentence needs a verb. The sentence begins with “The bar chart”. Because it’s the beginning of the sentence, it should have a capital letter to start the sentence, and that’s the end of the sentence. It needs a full stop at the end. And of course, this is really basic, and you wonder why I’m telling you. But I promise you that when you’re writing under pressure, you forget things like that.
Basic error number 8 part 2. Another aspect of punctuation is to remember when to put commas, especially with the linking words. For example, if you use “however” at the beginning of a sentence, there should be a comma after the word. “However”, comma, “not all children are the same”. If you use “however” in the middle of a sentence, there should be a comma before “however” and after “however”. “Not all children”, comma, “however”, comma, “are the same”. Also, with the first conditional, remember the first conditional begins with “if” plus the present tense. This is written “If you drive less”, comma, “you will cause less pollution”. The grammar rule here is that if you begin the sentence with an “if”, you put a comma in the middle of the sentence. “You will cause less pollution if you drive less.” No coma here. If you put the “if” clause in the middle of the sentence, then there’s no comma, but there is if you begin the sentence with “if”. While you are using linking words and expressions and some grammatical forms, also learn where the commas go so that your writing will be more accurate.
Basic error number 9. It’s very important to be accurate with your grammar when writing or speaking because this will give you your band score 7 or higher. Learn how to make conditionals and use them, how to put modals in their past, how to make passives and use them.
Basic error 9. In task 1 and 2, if you can use passives correctly, you’ll boost the score in your grammar column. The passive is often used in the process writing, but you can also use it generally to describe the graphs. For example, “The given process shows how oil is carried from the refinery by tankers to the factory, where it’s divided into categories”. Remember that to make the passive, you need to use the verb “to be” and the past participle. Here, the past participle is “carried”. The “to be” has to match the subject pronoun, so the noun or the subject noun at the beginning of the sentence. Here, the “oil” is the subject noun, and “oil” is uncountable, so it takes a singular verb. So we said “The oil is carried from the refinery”.
Basic error 9 number 3. Another example of the passive. If the subject is plural, it takes a plural “to be”. For example, “These categories are cleaned and made into items for sale”. “Categories” is plural, so the verb used is “are”. Remember, with the passives, you ask yourself, “Is what I’m describing being done by somebody or something?” If the answer is yes, you use the passive. If the answer is no, you can describe the sentence in a normal way, which is called the active. For example, “The drivers take the oil to the factory”. That’s an active sentence.
Basic error 9 part 4. Here are some other examples of more complex grammar, but there will be podcasts on each of the grammatical tenses. A use of modal verbs will encourage higher marks in the exam. “The government might want to impose more regulations in the future.” Present tense modal, which is “might” here, plus the verb, the infinitive verb, but after modals, the verb doesn’t have “to”, so “The government might want”, so not “might to want” but “might want”. So after modals, there is no “to”. “The government might have learned from their mistakes.” This is a past tense modal, and to make the past tense modal, you need a modal verb. And here we’ve used “might” plus “have” plus the past participle, which is “learned” here. “The government might have learned from their mistakes.”
Basic error 10. There are many rules about word order, and the IELTS candidate needs to think about these as he adds examples of each kind of word order to his range of vocabulary. Here are some examples, but again, there’ll be another podcast with more in-depth analysis. The basic pattern is subject, noun, verb, and object noun. For example, “I eat breakfast”. “I”, subject noun, “eat”, verb, “breakfast”, object noun. “I met my friend yesterday.” Some verbs don’t have an object. For example, “I sleep”, “I wake up”.
Basic error 10. Other easy verb patterns to remember are that some verbs take the infinitive, which is the “to” form. For example, “I would like to learn English”, “I have decided to come to England”. So the verb pattern is “would like” plus infinitive or “decide” plus infinitive. Or the verb that takes a gerund. A gerund is the verb form plus “ing”. “Stopping pollution involves changing people’s attitudes”, so “involve” takes the “ing” form or the gerund. Other grammar that changes word order is what are called indirect questions. For example, “Do you think this is a good idea?” So there are two questions here: “Is it a good idea?” and “Do you think?” When you use indirect questions, the first question is a question, but the second question is a sentence. “Do you think”, which is a question, “this is a good idea”, which is a sentence form. “Can you tell me what is needed to change his attitude?” “Can you tell me” is the first question. “What is needed to change his attitude” is the second question but formed like a sentence. Two questions, but the second is written with the verb order for a sentence.
Basic error number 10 part 3. Other typical IELTS candidates’ errors are forgetting to change the word order when making questions. This is a fairly basic error and loses lots of marks. For example, error: “The government should do something about this?” So it’s easy to make it a question when you’re speaking, but of course, when it’s written down, it’s a sentence. It’s not a question. The correct form is “Should the government do something about this?” So remember that you move the verb around to make the question. Error: “Young children eat unhealthily?” So there’s no question form there. The correct form is “Do young children eat unhealthily?” There are also things called indirect speech and questions used in indirect speech. “The government said they would change things after the election.” “The government was asked if there would be any changes.” But this is more complex, and they, of course, will be followed up in another podcast.
Steve: Okay, thank you for that. As we’ve heard, there are some really basic mistakes which the IELTS candidates tend to make, and it’s important that they, if they want to get the higher marks, xxx 7 and 8, that they begin to learn and understand and know what those typical mistakes are. And they’re very easy to correct, as we’ve just heard. So that really was the purpose of this podcast, was to introduce the students to the typical mistakes being made, to list them out, and to explain what those mistakes are and how they can correct them. So just to help, as I’ve mentioned earlier, just to help for this podcast, I shall place a table of the typical student errors on the podcast posting for this episode. So I think we’ve covered everything we wanted to cover today, so until next time. Thank you very much.
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