Today, we will focus on the importance of using the correct spelling in the IELTS test. Why is spelling so important?

  • Words with spelling errors in the Reading and Listening tests will be marked as incorrect

  • Words with spelling errors in the Writing test may cause misunderstanding and may make it difficult for the examiner to follow your message

For example, if the word you hear is 'library' and you write 'libary', the answer will be marked as incorrect. You heard it correctly, but you couldn't write it correctly.

If you write: 'Unclear power is uzed in most contraies in the golbal wirld', this message is unclear, and is difficult for the reader to understand.

Correct spelling is very important and can be the reason for not reaching the band score you are aiming for.

Read on to learn some tips and tricks to improve your spelling.

Can I use British or American spelling?

Test takers often ask if they can use British or American spelling. Yes, you can, as long as you spell the words correctly and stick to one or the other.

For example, this table shows the same words written with either British, or American spelling.


The US versus UK spelling rule is - stick to one country, don't mix them up, be consistent.

This is a consistent example using US spelling : 'My favorite movie is on at the local theater.'

This is a mix of US/UK: 'My favourite (UK) movie is on at the local theater (US)'.

So, choose to use one or the other, and not both, to be consistent. It is not a 'spelling error' as such, however, from a stylistic point of view, it is inconsistent.

Learn some spelling rules and don't forget them

Spelling rules are often taught in primary school to help children become better spellers. These rules stick in our heads and we remember them forever. If you haven't learned these rules before, it's a good idea to learn them now!

There are dozens of clever rules to be found on the internet, so spend some time looking them up to see which ones would help you. The following rules are some of the most useful rules to remember.

I before E, except after C and only if it rhymes with BEE

This rule helps to spell words like [receive, ceiling, science, ancient].

i before e - is the correct order in words like [believe, friend, parties, alien].

except after c - e before i is the correct order after the letter C [receive, ceiling, deceive, receipt]. All of these sounds after the letter C, rhyme with BEE (ceev/ceel).

Q is followed by U

When you use the letter, Q, remember that it is always followed by U. Think of words like [queen, quarter, earthquake, equal, quality, quiet].

Naughty 40 lost its U

We all know how to spell the number 4 - four. Remember that we lose the U when we spell 40 - forty. 'Naughty' and 'forty' rhyme, so it's easy to remember this rule.

The FLOSS rule

In one syllable words, if the word ends with F, L or S, you must double it. Think of words like [fluff, stiff, loss, call, toss, fall, floss].

Drop the E when adding ING

A suffix comes at the end of a word to form a different word class (ing). If your word has an E, drop it. Think of words like [come/coming | love/loving | sneeze/sneezing]

If ALL is a prefix, drop an L

Prefixes appear before words to change them into other words. If you use ALL, drop one of the Ls. think of words like [always | also | almost | altogether].

If FULL/TILL is a suffix, drop an L

When FULL appears at the end of a word, drop an L and only use one. Think of words like [till/until | beautiful | cheerful | useful | hopeful].

Add 'es' to words ending in ch, sh, s, ss, x or z

When making one of these words plural (adding an s or and es), follow this rule. Think of words like [box/boxes | church/churches | fox/foxes | wish/wishes | glass/glasses].

Contractions are used when a letter is missing

When you write with contractions, you are leaving out a letter. If you use an apostrophe ('), this means there is a letter missing. Think of words like [it's/it is | can't/cannot | doesn't/does not | aren't/are not].

So, if you are using 'it's' to talk about something that belongs to 'it' the correct spelling is 'its'.

S is a verb, C is a noun

We know the difference in word meanings by the use of a C or an S. If I want to give you a piece of advice, the word 'advice' is a noun, so needs to be written with a C. If I want to advise you about something, this word is a verb and should be written with an S.

Think of words like [advice/advise | practice/practise | licence/license].

However, in the US, words like, 'practice' and 'license', are always spelled like this, and you will notice that your Word spellchecker will underline 'practise/licence', if your keyboard is set up to be 'American'.

If you are using British/UK spelling for 'practice', your sentence should look like this:

'I practised (verb) using practice (noun), as practice (noun) makes perfect!'

Whether you are using UK or US spelling, advice is always a noun and advise is always a verb, so don't mix them up.

'I would advise (verb) you to listen to this advice (noun).'

So, now you know why one is written with an C and the other with an S! 

Typos are errors!

Beware of typing errors (typos). If you choose to do a computer-delivered IELTS test, you must be very careful with your typing. We all know that you would never write 'teh' or 'adn' for 'the' or 'and'. However, when typing quickly, you could easily make this mistake. You must become a proof-reader and read through your writing to check that you haven't made typing errors. Each of these errors are actual errors and will be looked at as spelling mistakes, so take care and practise typing accurately.

Spelling tests really help

We all know that practice makes perfect. Practising to spell words that you might need, or new words that you have learned, will ensure that you remember how to spell them.

We live in a world where spellcheck fixes most of our errors, so if you really want to become good at spelling, disable this function in Word. Write out a list of words that are difficult to spell and then turn on the function. You will then see if you have made mistakes or not.

Saying the word, writing it, checking it, and then repeating the process, will help you to remember how to spell words correctly.

If you think you are good at spelling, try and spell all of these commonly misspelled words to see if you can score 60/60.


Practice makes perfect

How did you go? If you made errors, remember to keep checking these words and any others that you find difficult.

Read through the rules again and try and remember the ones that will help you. Hopefully these tips will give you more confidence in your ability to spell correctly.

If you feel you are ready to practice, why not try an official IELTS practice test, IELTS Progress Checkexternal icon. These practice tests are available for Academic and General Training test takers and include a Speaking test. The test is not a face-to-face test as in the real IELTS test; however, it is realistic in terms of test questions, timing and delivery. The test is delivered online, so you will get a chance to practice typing on a key board, just like a computer-delivered test.

With targeted practice like this, you will soon be able to achieve the goals you have set!