Writing, Speaking, Listening Reading: IELTS scores
IELTS scores: Writing tasks 1 & 2
The writing paper usually results in the lowest IELTS score. Why is it so difficult to get a band 7.0 and above? Well, let’s look at the most common reasons that Writing IELTS scores tend to be so low:
Very often scores much lower than task 2, usually because candidates don’t plan – they start writing their answer before they have even read the question properly! As a result, the vast majority of them make at least one of the following mistakes: missing or failing to mention key points, misreading information, reporting incorrect facts and copying chunks of language from the rubric. Task 1 is marked on your ability to report important facts, notice patterns, and highlight key features. Imagine that you are explaining a diagram to your blind granddad who has a limited attention span. What are the main points he needs to know? How can you illustrate them (with data, but don’t overdo it!) and how can you make the most important points stand out (put them at the beginning, use emphatic language and superlatives (eg. It is important to note that, the highest)? Don’t “hide” important facts from examiners in the middle of a lot of irrelevant or repeated information or else your IELTS scores may suffer.
Task 2 tends to score slightly better, but you still need to consider how thorough and balanced your answer is. The writing task 2 IELTS scores will reflect how well you answer the question, so make sure you read it properly. Your mark will go down if you just notice a keyword and write a few opinions on the general topic. This is an extremely common mistake. Examiners will reward you if you think of one or two good examples to illustrate the problem and solution, explain yourself effectively and discuss cause and effect and offer explanations for your arguments.
Of course, English language skills make up 75% of the IELTS marking criteria. High IELTS scores indicate that a candidate has used a wide range of “WOW words” – accurate, advanced and idiomatic language throughout the task. 2 or 3 examples of good language are simply not enough. If you think your vocabulary, grammar and cohesion are at 7.0+, please give examples of it on the exam paper! The best way to do this is to think of a range of useful, accurate structures and include them in your plan. Make a list of appropriate, relevant vocabulary and include these words and phrases too. For example, if you are writing about work, include phrases such as work-life balance, over time, shift-work, colleagues, commute, hand their notice in, be sacked, rush-hour, lunch-break, salary. Show the examiner that you can guide your reader and signal how the argument is developing, with words such as although, despite, not that that, but… Then make sure you transfer all the great language from your plan into your report and essay.
Always remember that the number one enemy of a high IELTS score is confusion. If you find yourself writing a huge sentence and you feel slightly lost, it’s almost guaranteed that the examiner will not understand what you are writing, and your score will fall dramatically.
Planning carefully will help you avoid making the common mistake of repeating your favorite structures over and over or starting every sentence the same way. Examiners want to see a range of tenses and include passives, noun phrases, relative clauses, defining and non-defining clauses etc. watch out for the most common mistakes – plurals, articles and subject-verb agreements. You should really check every verb and ask yourself why you have selected that tense and whether you have formed it correctly. Most candidates fail to plan, and as a result write an essay, which contains lots of mistakes, uses basic language and is slightly off-task. One more obvious point – check what you’ve written. Does it make sense? Is it full of mistakes with verbs, articles, and plurals? Have you changed your argument halfway through (or most commonly, in the conclusion?)
IELTS scores: Speaking
Speaking is probably the most frightening aspect of the exam, as it’s a live test, so there are no second chances. You can self-correct, but if you do so too often, you spoil your fluency. Your IELTS speaking score will reflect how easy the examiner found your conversation. If you make them work really hard to extract information, understand your pronunciation or wait for you to formulate your next sentence, you score will be lower. Practice speaking very clearly and smoothly – not too quickly. Examiners often feel like they’ve been shot with a verbal machine gun. It’s also hard for them to remain focused if you sound like a computer – use intonation, stress and timing to add interest to what you’re saying – keep them listening and engaged. Everyone’s Speaking IELTS scores could be improved by onboarding these methods. Another obvious point that is easy to forget in the heat of an exam – it’s a conversation! A lot of candidates either give very short answers, which cut a conversation dead, or talk for too long and repeat themselves. If you know there are sounds which you pronounce badly, make yourself a massive tongue twister and say it over and over in the days approaching the exam. You will be marked down for mispronouncing individual sounds.
IELTS scores: Listening and Reading
IELTS scores reflect how wide your vocabulary is and how well you can recognise linking and referencing language. Can you cope if the word order is not what you expected? Are you able to identify negatives (eg.otherwise, failure to do so) and understand that they change the meaning of a sentence? Are you confident in your understanding of link works and how they subtly or dramatically change the meaning or emphasis of a sentence?
In the listening test anticipate the word you will need – is it likely to be a number, disease, game, name of a place? Then check your spelling, and check your answer makes sense in the context. ALWAYS stay on the current section and ALWAYS check your answers. Never skip this step by reading ahead. It is a fatal error as silly mistakes made under pressure often cost people the grade they need.
The reading tests your ability to “navigate” a text and locate information. Never fall into the trap of spotting a word in the text that you’ve seen in the question and thinking that means that’s the correct answer – sadly it’s not that easy! Always re-read and check your answers and be prepared to change your mind. Watch out for other traps such as qualifiers, comparisons, and negatives too. They are all set deliberately to distract you. More tips on IELTS Reading here!
And one final word – handwriting! It’s a sad fact that a lot of people get far lower IELTS scores than they need because their handwriting is almost impossible to read.
This is particularly important for the listening and reading tests, as short, one word or one letter answers provide no context for guessing. Sometimes examiners cannot even tell the difference between the letters A and D – if you’ve gone to the trouble of getting the answer right, make sure the examiner can read it.
Good luck! If you apply all this advice, I’m sure your IELTS scores will improve across the board!
Written by: Cath Leyshon