I’d like to share with you some of the common errors candidates make when taking IELTS and some easy ways to avoid them. First and foremost, it is important to follow the instructions precisely. Below is a list of what I deem to be 8 of the most common IELTS errors that cost candidates valuable marks in the test.

Notice the word limits in the Reading and Listening modules

If the task says “Not more than 3 words", answering in 4 or more words will definitely cost marks.

Less is bad

The length of a written task is crucial. When instructions mention a minimal number of words (150 for Task 1 and 250 for Task 2), it means that any work shorter than required will be penalised.

Longer essays may not mean higher marks

Another common misconception is that longer essays score better in IELTS. Writing a long essay can indirectly cost marks, because the chances of making mistakes increase with the number of words and sentences. It is better to spend more time planning before you write in order to ensure a higher degree of accuracy.

Changing the topic is wrong

Every so often a candidate is asked to write on a topic, that he/she doesn’t understand. To avoid the disaster of missing a whole task, they decide to write on a slightly – or entirely – different topic. The fact is that no matter how well-written the submitted work is, writing on the wrong topic means a very low score. Another similar pitfall is to omit parts of the given topic or ignore the task words (agree, disagree, discuss both views etc.) in your work. Every point the topic and task refer to needs to be covered in order to get a higher score.

Memorising can be bad

Having seen that some topics are sometimes repeated, some candidates with good memories decide to memorise essays. This is a terrible mistake to make because, although the topics may be similar, the task words may be different. The examiners are trained to look for memorized essays and have firm instructions to penalise such essays.

The quality of your ideas is not important

Many candidates think that ideas may be judged as bad or good (whether it is in essay, letter or discussion) and this can harm their score. The truth is that no ideas can be bad; they must be related to the topic/task. It is the way they are expressed that is important.

Accent is not important

Pronunciation is.! IELTS, being a test for non-native English speakers can’t penalize people for having an accent. The problem here is that not everyone knows the difference between speaking with an accent and mispronouncing the words. No matter how strong an accent a person has, pronunciation and sentence stress and rhythm are the criteria the examiner is listening for.

Overuse of connective words

Clever candidates know coherence and cohesion are very important in the test, and what better way is there to demonstrate cohesion than to use lots of connective words, right? Wrong. It’s also important to use word of substitution/reference such as "it, this they, their" etc.

In conclusion, a word of advice: to stay out of trouble, it is equally important to be aware of the above pitfalls and to practice enough before the exam. Familiarising yourself with the structure and the procedure of the test will build up confidence and ensure you do your best in the exam.