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Even though there are no specific spelling or vocabulary tests in IELTS, that doesn’t mean that spelling is not assessed. In the Reading, Listening and Writing tests, not only are you expected to use the correct words (e.g. nouns, adjectives, verbs), but also the correct spelling of these words. In fact, words with spelling mistakes in the Reading and Listening tests will be marked as incorrect, while spelling errors in the Writing test may make it difficult for the examiner to understand and follow your message.  

In today’s post, we have made a list of some of the most common spelling mistakes that often affect IELTS test takers:

Single and double consonants

It is common for IELTS test takers to make spelling mistakes when single or double consonants occur nearby in a word: 

  • Single consonant followed by double consonant: across, process, recommend, necessary 

  • Double consonant followed by single consonant: apparent, exaggerate, occasion, parallel, immediate 

  • Two pairs of double consonants: address, assess, accommodation, possess, success, occurrence

Adding suffixes to words

It is also common for test-takers to make spelling mistakes when adding certain endings to words such as –ed, -ing, -er, and –est, as sometimes the last consonant in the word is doubled. For example: 

  • drop –> dropped, dropping 

  • big –> bigger, biggest 

  • run -> running, runner 

  • begin -> beginning, beginner 

  • regret -> regretted, regretting

Words changing form

A word’s spelling can also change when it changes form, and this is often another spelling difficulty that candidates encounter: 

  • Changing adjectives to nouns: absent -> absence, different -> difference 

  • Changing nouns to adjectives: benefit -> beneficial, influence -> influential 

  • Changing verbs to nouns: maintain -> maintenance, pronounce -> pronunciation 

  • Changing nouns to verbs: excess -> exceed, success -> succeed

Silent letters in consonant clusters

Test takers often struggle spelling words with silent letters in consonant clusters. For example: 

  • nm in environment, government 

  • mn in autumn, column 

  • sc in conscious, discipline, science 

  • xc in excited, exception 

  • kn in know, knee, knob 

  • th in ordinals: eighth, twelfth

Frequently confused words

Some spelling mistakes happen as a result of candidates confusing two words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. For example: 

  • lose ≠ loose 

  • affect ≠ effect 

  • complement ≠ compliment 

  • its ≠ it’s 

  • passed ≠ past 

  • principal ≠ principle 

  • than ≠ then 

  • their ≠ there ≠ they’re 

  • costume ≠ custom

Difficult words to spell

Some words in the English language are simply difficult to spell. Some of the words IELTS test takers often misspell include the following: 

  • hierarchy 

  • entrepreneur 

  • definitely 

  • foreign 

  • grateful 

  • perseverance 

  • rhythm 

  • maintenance

British vs. American spelling

Both British and American spellings are accepted in IELTS. However, it is important that you remain consistent and stick to one or the other.  

Correct spelling is very important and could even be the reason for not reaching the band score you need. If you feel like you need more help with your spelling, become familiar with English spelling rules and test your spelling skills regularly. You can also try creating your own “difficult-to-spell” lists. If you notice that you often misspell a word, check the correct spelling in a dictionary and add it to your list. Go back and look over your new words every week, and try using them while preparing for IELTS.  

By Andrea Castro