Tips and tricks to overcome typical mistakes in IELTS essays

Typical mistakes students make while writing an IELTS essay

Typical mistakes students make while writing an IELTS essay

14.02.2024

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  • Writing
  • IELTS
  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

In the challenging terrain of IELTS essay writing, aspiring candidates often face a multitude of hurdles that can impact their scores. The IELTS exam opens doors to many opportunities, but it requires good skills in expressing ideas clearly. 

Yet, many students make the same mistakes in their essays, which can hurt their chances of success. 

In this article, we'll look at these common mistakes and give tips on how to avoid them, making the path to success in the IELTS exam easier.

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Using the wrong tone

No matter what IELTS version a student is taking, keep it formal and avoid slang and informal words.

The tone of the writing refers to the level of formality and the attitude the learner conveys through the language.

In the IELTS exam, essays are expected to be written in a semi-formal to formal style, depending on the task.

Some students may use a tone that is not appropriate for the specific type of essay task. For example, a discursive essay requires a more balanced and formal tone, while a personal opinion essay should still be formal but allow for a more personal voice. 

Consequently, failing to adapt the tone to the task can result in an essay that does not fulfill the requirements of the prompt.

Steer clear of slang, contractions, and overly informal expressions. Stick to a clear and precise language suitable for academic writing.

For example:

A bunch of  → a number of

Call the shots  →  to make decisions 

Pocket all the dough  → to receive the revenue.

Stating an unclear position

When guiding your students in Writing Task 2, emphasize the significance of presenting a clear stance as it directly impacts their final band score. Encourage them to decisively choose and consistently maintain their position throughout the essay.

It's crucial for the examiner to easily grasp their viewpoint. A strong essay often involves analyzing and supporting the stated position with relevant examples, explanations, or evidence.

If the position is unclear, the depth of analysis may be compromised, affecting the overall strength of the argument.

Why do we need to teach writing?

Let's look at a possible situation with this mistake.

Topic"Should governments impose higher taxes on sugary drinks to reduce obesity?"

 

Unclear Position Example:

“While it is important to address the rising rates of obesity, there are various factors to consider before implementing higher taxes on sugary drinks. On one hand, such taxes could discourage excessive consumption and potentially reduce obesity rates. On the other hand, there are concerns about the impact of these taxes on low-income families and the economy as a whole. Therefore, it is crucial to weigh the pros and cons carefully before making any policy decisions.”

In this example, although the essay discusses both sides of the argument, it fails to clearly state the writer's position.

The examiner may find it difficult to determine whether the writer supports or opposes imposing higher taxes on sugary drinks, leading to a lack of coherence in the argument.

Not studying the band score descriptors

The band score descriptions provide detailed criteria for each level of proficiency in the writing section. This includes aspects such as task achievement, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy.

Many test takers overlook the importance of understanding these band score descriptors. They may focus solely on practicing writing essays without familiarizing themselves with the criteria by which their writing will be assessed. 

As a result, they may inadvertently neglect certain aspects of their writing that are crucial for achieving a higher band score.

What problems can you face while teaching IELTS essay?

Not following the structure

In Writing Task 2 it is crucial to stress the need for a simple structure with an introduction, body, and conclusion. If they don't stick to this structure, their essays might be confusing, and their scores could suffer.

Encourage your students to always write a straightforward and well-organized essay. Recommend your students to take a few minutes to plan the essay before starting to write and outline the key points and how they will be organized within the structure.

Let's take our topic again and make a possible plan for it.

Topic "Should governments impose higher taxes on sugary drinks to reduce obesity?"

 

Introduction:

  • Introduce the topic of taxing sugary drinks to tackle obesity.
  • State your position on whether governments should impose higher taxes on sugary drinks.

Body Paragraphs:

  • Support higher taxes on sugary drinks due to health risks and potential reduction in consumption.
  • Address economic concerns but emphasize long-term health benefits and cost savings.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize arguments supporting sugary drink taxation.

Overusing cohesive devices

Cohesive devices are expressions like ‘For instance‘, ‘To conclude‘, ‘despite this‘ and ‘in addition‘. They tell the reader what we are doing in a sentence and indicate what the relationships are between the different clauses, sentences, and paragraphs.

One of the biggest misconceptions about cohesive devices is that ‘the more you use them, the better.’ 

They do have a purpose but they should only be used when necessary. If you look at Band 9 answers or academic writing in a journal or textbook you will notice that they are used far more sparingly than you would expect.

Make sure that every sentence does not begin with a cohesive device and try to limit yourself to only 2-3 per paragraph.

Types and structure of IELTS essays

Writing about the topic NOT the question

Grading an essay becomes exasperating when the writing displays excellent grammar and vocabulary but fails to grasp the essence of the question.

The main problem is when students write about the broader subject without focusing on the exact question they're asked.

Let’s look at an example question:

“Computers are being used more and more in education and so there will soon be no role for the teacher in education.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?”

The overarching theme is centered on computers in education, but the specific query requires an examination of how this influences the teacher's role. Merely discussing computers in education in a general sense does not constitute a proper response to the question. 

A satisfactory answer should distinctly delve into the ways computers specifically impact the role of the teacher.

Remember, the aim is not to showcase knowledge about the topic broadly; instead, the examiner is evaluating the candidate's ability to precisely answer the given question.

Not addressing BOTH parts of the question equally

Many Task 2 questions have two parts and some have two separate questions.

A question could ask a candidate to ‘discuss both views’, ‘discuss the advantages and disadvantages’ or ‘discuss the problems and solutions’.

If a test taker writes 8 sentences about one question  and only two sentences about the other, both parts of the question haven’t been really covered.

Tell your students to remember that a good way to think about writing is that the person reading can’t ask you any questions like they would if you were speaking to them, so you need to explain each of your ideas fully to make sure they are clear and easy to understand.

Is it enough to have a good vocabulary and grammar to get a high mark for an IELTS essay?

Article authors & editors
  • Yuliia Fedochenko

    Yuliia Fedochenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & Business English

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