There seem to be lots of IELTS myths going around about IELTS writing. Let me tell you that in my experience (and I’ve been teaching IELTS at bands 7 and 8 for well over 20 years) there are no short cuts, tricks or quick solutions to writing. The best way to improve your IELTS writing is to do it! You can read, watch YouTube videos, speak to teachers, ask friends and even contact examiners and they will all give you lots of advice all of which might be very good BUT unless you put your pen on to a sheet of paper and write that task none of it will make the slightest bit of difference to your writing. It’s a fact. It’s rather like trying to learn to drive from a book or manual and then expecting to take a driving test having never been inside a car.
Here is another fact about writing – it’s the last skill you master in your own native language and to write at the level you need for IELTS band 7 and 8 you will probably have spent around 10 years at school doing it!
OK, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you already have a system in your own language that you can apply to English so you won’t need another 10 years to master IELTS writing. Having said that, it is very unwise to expect to develop the right level of writing for band 7 or 8 in IELTS in a matter of a few weeks, especially if you only write one to two tasks.
Reverting to grammar, which is the title of the post, I often hear IELTS students say that if their ideas are really good and well expressed then a few grammar mistakes are not a problem. WRONG! If your grammar is not good then the examiner will not even be able to follow your ideas well let alone understand what you are trying to say. The fact is grammar is FUNDAMENTAL to language, it is part of the ‘language system’ and so bad grammar = bad writing.
So, does that mean that you can’t make any grammar mistakes? Not necessarily; some slips are tolerated (I sometimes even make them myself – though through typing rather than error) and the odd grammar mistake will not prevent you from still getting a high band but what you have to realise is that each grammar error counts and if you have many then once the examiner counts up other mistakes such as spelling, lack of vocabulary, too few complex sentences, not enough linking words, any problems with cohesion and coherence and your overall answer to the question, you can see how it is possible for these to stop you getting band 7 and 8. Moreover, grammar is in your hands.
You will have no idea what your question will be in the exam so you cannot pre-prepare your ideas. You cannot know what vocabulary you will need (although you can prepare various vocabulary banks), what linking words you might want to use or how you will organise your tasks but you CAN be ready to avoid grammar mistakes by and large and this is because you should know which grammar mistakes are the ones you make. If you don’t, then it’s time to find out.
If you have a teacher, then ask them. If not then go through any writing that has been corrected (if you have never had any writing corrected then I urge you to make sure you do this because if you don’t then it will be very difficult indeed for you to improve your writing effectively). Write down a list of all the mistakes you make regularly (these are the ones to eliminate).
The most common mistakes in IELTS writing (for those who are trying to get band 7) are:
- Missing articles (a/the)
- Agreement of nouns and verbs
- Countable and uncountable nouns
There are others and you may have different ones but these are common and also very elementary mistakes and therefore you need to remove them.
Make sure that you have a grammar book to check what these mean and also how to use these grammar areas correctly. Once you have checked this then you should know how to correct any mistakes you make.
As you write, think about these and try to avoid them. After writing use your grammar check list as part of your checking process to correct errors (you should try to memorise this list for use in the exam). The more you do this the more the errors will decrease until you will make them only rarely. In order for this to happen, you must practise the technique, and therefore write, regularly at least once a week.
If you are making very few grammar errors you can focus more on the other factors that make up band 7 and 8 such as complex sentences and a good range of linking words.
Focusing on things makes them improve and so it will be with grammar in your writing.