I have a very embarrassing story to tell you about the IELTS writing test. I just received my IELTS Academic results after a 13-day wait and around 32 years of preparation. But before I tell you what my results are, let me tell you a bit about myself.

A little bit about Jay from E2Language (me!)

My name is Jay and I’m a native English speaker; I was born and raised in an English speaking household in Australia.

IELTS Writing Test
This is me!

I have always had a passion for language. I read hungrily as a child. When I graduated from high school I was top of my class in English. I studied English literature in my undergraduate degree where I read the classics. I received a teaching diploma in English and last year I graduated with a masters degree with first class honours in applied linguistics from the University of Melbourne – a top-ranked university with a top 10 linguistics program in the world – where I now give annual guest lectures. While studying for my masters degree I also published peer-reviewed academic literature on English language learning.

Importantly, I have taught English for nine years at high schools and universities in Australia and overseas and now I teach online for E2Language – arguably the world’s most sophisticated online English test preparation website. Some of my IELTS and PTE Webinars have reached over 100,000 viewers, received excellent reviews and have helped thousands of people from around the world pass their English exams.

I failed the IELTS writing test

Despite all of my training, education and passion for the English language, I failed the IELTS writing test. (Well… that’s not exactly true because you can’t really ‘fail’ the IELTS, but I feel like I’ve failed.) I scored 6.5. While I was very surprised I was not that worried because luckily for me — and perhaps unlike you — my immediate future does not depend on this result. I took the IELTS because I am an English teacher who wanted to have the experience of doing the test, to gain valuable insights into the test and to ‘put myself in your shoes’, so to speak, so I can help you to pass your test more easily and more quickly.

Hmmm, that’s awkward.

It would be even more awkward had I not taken the PTE Academic three months earlier. In that test I scored a perfect 90, or 100%, in writing, which I consider to be a true reflection of my abilities.

Here’s my PTE-A report card:

My PTE Academic report card where I scored a perfect 90 in all the skills including writing:

IELTS Writing Test
My PTE Academic Scores

How the IELTS writing test affected my confidence

If the IELTS Academic were the only measurement of my English abilities then I think my confidence would now be destroyed. Could I continue to teach English, for example? I can only imagine the damage a disappointing English grade would do to a non-native English speaker’s self-confidence especially if they were planning to move to an English speaking country to start a new job or to enter university or to speak with the locals. To learn a second language is to always be unsure because it’s unnatural. And to be told that you are substandard would hurt a lot, I imagine, because we trust the validity of the results we receive from credible institutions such as Cambridge University or Pearson.

I don’t want you to think that the PTE Academic is the better or easier test though. That’s not my point. Indeed, my colleague, who is a native English speaker with a native Canadian accent scored poorly on the speaking section due to – we believe – a technological fault, which you can read about in her PTE speaking test article. She has since taken it again and scored a perfect PTE 90 but there was certainly an issue there.

By now you’re probably thinking that perhaps Jay didn’t prepare properly for his IELTS or that Jay probably doesn’t understand the IELTS marking criteria. Firstly, I did prepare; as I said, I’ve been preparing for 32 years and I understand full well what the IELTS writing test criteria are.

Hmmm, the criteria are actually a great place to begin to understand what may have gone wrong and I’m sorry to bore you but this is absolutely critical. If you don’t understand the criteria, you should – they are what the examiners look for in your writing.

Here are the criteria and why I struggle to accept that I scored so poorly on each:

Task Achievement: This means “Did you describe the graph accurately (in Task 1)?” and “Did you write about the essay topic (in Task 2)?” The answer to both of these questions is without a doubt. I am utterly convinced that my graph description was very accurate and my essay was completely on the money.

Lexical Resource: This means “word choice”. I believe that I was articulate and meaningful throughout both tasks. My word choices were precise and purposeful.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: This means “grammar”. I have always thought – at least until now – that my grammar was perfect. How could I possibly have lost a single point here? After all I am acutely aware of subject-verb agreement, prepositional phrases and unclear antecedents. I wrote both short, simple sentences and longer, more complex sentences.

Coherence and Cohesion: This means “Did you structure your graph description and essay well?” While my graph description was perfectly structured (I am supremely confident of that), I must admit something to you…

My IELTS Writing Test Confession

In the essay, I wrote below the word count and I sat there for ten minutes thinking how easy it was to write that essay. 10 minutes before the hour was up, I glanced at the piece of paper which I had filled from top to bottom and thought my job was done. Then I looked more closely and saw the instruction “You must write at least 250 words.” I assumed that my essay was over 250 words but I thought I’d better check. My blood pressure shot up as I did some rough math. My estimate came to 187 words. I needed at least another 63 words! And I only had ten minutes left! I needed to write another paragraph and I needed to do it fast. All of a sudden the fact that I was a native English speaker with extensive experience studying and teaching English became completely irrelevant. I were one of you and the test became very real.

However, I’m good under pressure. Strangely, I’ve always liked exams. Where some people freeze, other people fly and that’s what I did. I whipped up another relevant and logical paragraph that fitted neatly into my essay and I drew a big arrow to it on the other page.

Could this formatting issue have been my downfall? Did the examiner see a big arrow and presume that I was a 6.5 despite the fact that my essay was entirely logical from beginning to end, paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, word to word, first capital letter to final full stop? Did the examiner see the arrow and then doubt my Task 1? Did the examiner see the arrow and lose faith in my grammar, vocabulary and topical relevance?

There are some other broader possibilities of why I failed that are worth considering:

Illegible handwriting – the examiner couldn’t read your writing.

While my handwriting is not particularly “neat”, it is legible. In fact, I tested it on my colleagues at E2Language and they could all read my writing easily. (Mind you, I have not written with a grey-lead pencil since I was twelve!)

IELTS Writing Test
It’s possible (but highly unlikely!) that my handwriting was illegible to the IELTS examiner.

Word count – you didn’t write enough words.

After my little mishap, I counted every single word and both tasks were definitely within the word limits.

Formality – you wrote too informally “dude”.

That’s ridic’ ‘coz I know what’s right and wrong talkin’ in particular joints. (Actually, I took a socio-linguistics class on this.)

Too wordy – you wrote such verbose, turgid and academic prose that the poor examiner could not decipher it.

Did I? I thought it was clear and meaningful. And even if it were “verbose”, it should never be indecipherable because one would hope that the examiner were an absolute expert in the English language, right?

Incomprehensible ideas – you wrote such profound and “other-worldly” nonsense that the examiner didn’t know what you were going on about.

But… no. No. No! My ideas were straightforward and relevant.

Your ‘style’ was off – you did not write using short and long sentences or use discourse markers such as ‘however’ or ‘therefore’.

Well, this is an interesting point because what constitutes ‘good writing’ is debatable. I am indeed a lover of short sentences. I am not a fan of long winded sentences that make absolutely no sense but look incredibly amazing. And I am certainly not a fan of the overuse of discourse markers such as ‘however’ and ‘moreover’; I think they should be used sparingly. To wit, my style of writing, which is to use short sharp sentences, is backed by research in cognitive science (or so says Harvard professor Steven Pinker, the premier linguist in the world, in his most recent book).

You can find IELTS writing test lessons like this one on the E2 IELTS Youtube Channel:

My Conclusions

In conclusion… I have no idea why I scored 6.5 in IELTS writing considering that what you are reading now is how I write in real life and how I wrote in my IELTS exam. But I will say this: Let complacency be a lesson to you. Count your words! One thing that may have resulted in my 6.5 could have been that cursed arrow, which, if the case, I believe to be unfair. Subtracting 28% off an overall mark because of formatting seems over the top…

Listen: if you scored poorly on the IELTS writing test, then don’t feel bad about it. ‘It happens to the best of us’ as they say. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. But before you try again, come and speak to us about what we can do to help you out. The IELTS is an incredibly complex and challenging test. Language is a complex and challenging phenomenon! While we have our cracks, that is where our light gets in. As far as I know, we are the only organisation that requires its teachers to take these tests. We are real where others are not.

Note: I applied for an IELTS rescore and my IELTS writing test score was increased from a 6.5 to a 7.5. I plan on taking IELTS again soon so I can have another shot at an IELTS 9 on the writing test!

 

Written by Jay Merlo.



60 thoughts on “The Impossible IELTS: My IELTS Writing Test Disaster”

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Personally I believe IELTS test is very subjective, subjective from the point of view of examiner. Their personal biasness and feelings sometimes reflects on your score card, when you think you have done well but you get unexpected results.

    It really crush the confidence of test takers who work so hard and end up with demotivating results and many times its not even their mistake as well. Luckily we have PTE now, where there is no place for personal biasness, may be a small room for technical error but that can be tackled next time.

    But on the other hand, IELTS sometimes get too diificult to crack due to of its very subjective nature. I know some people who gave IETLS 20-30 times but still couldnt get 7 band each. Not because their english is bad but because some other reasons.

    I am very grateful to E2 Lanuage as I applied all your tips and strategy and got my desired results. God Bless you guys 🙂

    • Kaia Myers-Stewart says:

      Hi Rajesh,

      Thanks so much for sharing your insights! We’re very glad to hear that you got your desired results and that we were able to help along the way! 🙂

  • Hi,

    Just my 2cents opinion.

    I’ve studied with 2 IELTS ex-examiners and two have different opinions on how to approach an IELTS essay. Since you’re a native speaker, I dont think grammar and lexcal resource are the issue in your essay. I think it’s the task achievement. For the question “… do you agree or disagree?”, the first ex-examiner told me that it’s alright to write “although…, it is argued that…” in the introduction. However, the second ex-examiner said I need to write “In my opinion, I believe or I agree that” and didnt hesitate to give me a low score on that task achievement, the same with conclusion. Therefore, I conclude that even though it’s an academic test, writing an IELTS essay is a bit different to writing a university essay. It should be more direct to the point. I think it’s more as business writing rather than argumentative university writing.

    I’m studying to get an 8 so wish me luck 🙂

  • Hi Jay,

    You know, reading your blog post kind of gave me some form of comfort. Not that I carry any sense of Schadenfreude (I don’t!) but because I’ve been in similar situations as you have.

    I consider myself a native English speaker, with an excellent grasp of grammar (I’ve taught English and Literature and have done formal language assessment for adult learners!), but I’ve taken both the IELTS general and the Academic, and have found both tough, challenging and complicated. My weakness, like you, lay in the writing. I scored 7.5 for both tests, whereas everything else was near perfect. To this day, I still wonder why. But the Academic scores mattered for me more at that particular point in my life, and 7.5 in academic writing was sufficient to get me through.

    I’ve still never felt more embarrassed about my inability to get these straight.

    My english test hurdles are far from over though. I’ve a test to take tomorrow (!) and find the PTE Academic problematic in different ways. It’s exhausting having to get used to different methods when you’ve been looking the IELTS way for a while.

    No matter how things go for me, I’m glad I found E2 language. While the teaching methods are excellent, I love reading about your (and your colleagues’) experiences as native speakers going through such tests. I empathise. I probably feel as you’ve felt. But above all, I admire your dedication to helping others in English.

    All the best!

    • Kaia Myers-Stewart says:

      Hi Dusty,

      Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences with IELTS and I’m glad that you could read about the experiences of someone who can relate to your difficulties! I had my own difficulties with PTE Academic and certainly can sympathise with your frustrations there as well. Please let us know how it went, I hope you passed with flying colours!! We will certainly never stop helping everyone we can reach their English test goals, and I’m happy you found us, too!

      Best of luck to you, I hope you can soon (or already have) put your test hurdles behind you! Take care 🙂

  • I have the same issue with IELTS. I score 6.0 for writing (which is not the reflection of my true abilities) when I considered myself as an English native speaker myself but the twist for me is I am bilingual plus having dyslexia. I didn’t take the extra time option as I could manage myself.

    But I am trying PTE-A this time, and see if there is a difference if I could really make a different with that. I really need a boost of my ego since it was such a downer on my ability with English.

  • I’m a medical doctor from Spain and recently took the IELTS for immigration purposes.
    I’ve been familiar with English and other languages ever since I was a toddler so I though that taking this exam was going to be a piece of cake.
    I didn’t prepare the first time and got these results:
    -speaking 8
    -listening 8.5
    -reading 7.5
    -writing 6.5
    -overall 7.5

    I needed a 7,5 on each area and a 7.5 overall.

    After I got the results I was very depressed, I was running out of time and needed to retake the test on the next available date. So I did, I read about the test and focused on the writing part.
    Finally the day arrived and I was ready to it give my all ( and so I thought I did).

    Today I got the results from this second test, which are the following:
    -speaking 8.5
    -Reading 8
    -listening 8.5
    -writing 7
    -overall 8

    I don’t have time to take it for a third time since the deadline to present this document is the 31st of June and I obviously can’t ask for a second correction since it takes around 8 weeks for the results to be released…..

    What are my final thought?
    This test sucks big time…. I’m going to have to reject the offer I’ve been made to start my specialty training because of these ridiculous minimums set by who-knows-who and also because of these teachers that correct these tests in an automatic and unpersonalized way…
    We should be warned to write exactly and only what they want to read, otherwise they won’t consider marking it fairly with the mere excuse that they correct too many exams that they can’t be bothered to actually read what you wrote.
    I’ve paid more tan 400 euros so far to have my exams marked by a computer-like teacher.

    • Victoria Fernandez says:

      Hi Xeb,

      My name is Victoria Fernandez and I’m a student journalist from the University of Technology Sydney. I’m writing a story regarding the unfairness of the IELTS test, the negative experiences people have had, and the financial hardships it encompasses. If you would like to contribute with your story, please send me an email to: victoria.fernandezjones@blog.e2language.comstudent.uts.edu.au

      I was also born in Madrid and speak fluent Spanish at home, so if you would like to exchange emails in Spanish so you can better explain the story, I am able to do that 🙂

      Regards,

      Victoria Fernandez

      • Hi Victoria,
        My email to you bounced. Do you have another address I can contact you through? I am interested in your article as I believe I have been unfairly marked 3 times.
        Thanks,
        Megan.

  • I cant believe you’re letting IELTS off the hook. Consider your experience… and you initially scored 6.5 on the writing paper? It’s a joke! I achieved an initial score of 7, re-marked to 7.5, and that’s a joke, too! IDP needs to be held to account, so many people are getting ripped off!

  • Jawad Naeem says:

    my score on GT, 9-R, 8-L, 7-S, 5.5-W…my friends & colleagues use to laugh at me :(, I was reappearing for the 3rd time today. but yesterday night, while navigating randomly, I reached on Jay’ videos…watched all of them back to back & realized how much I was messing with my writing. I wished I had some time more. now let’s see how the result turns up, I will for sure take proper E2 classes incase i am going to reappear. thanks Jay & E2 training for the best coaching on online.

  • Jay,

    Thanks for the article; it provides me with some reassurance that it wasn’t just me that had a complete failure to use my words right.

    I’m similarly a native English speaker from birth, masters level educated and lived in England for the first 30 years of life. There must be a skill to answering the question, but after reviewing my answers during the test I was sure they both addressed the question, were well structured and used appropriate depth of language to score highly. This too scored a 6.5 – which left me questioning the validity of the test as I score 9 in all other sections.

    Frustrating as the IELTS purpose was for immigration, so this added 3 weeks to the process and $330 in cost.

    Karl

  • Victoria Fernandez says:

    Hi Jay,

    My name is Victoria Fernandez and I’m a student journalist from the University of Technology Sydney. I’m writing a story regarding the unfairness of the IELTS test, the negative experiences people have had, and the financial hardships it encompasses. I would love to get your point of view as an academic having ‘failed’ the test – this is a very interesting notion which puts into questioning the validity and accuracy of the exam. If you would like to contribute please email me at: victoria.fernandezjones@blog.e2language.comstudent.uts.edu.au

    Regards,

    Victoria Fernandez

    • Hello Victoria,

      Could you please reach out to our support email (hello@blog.e2language.come2language.com) so that we can work this out?

      Best,
      Abhiram

  • I scored S 8.0 L 8.5 R 9.0 and only 7.0 on the writing task (GT), and I share the general feeling that the IELTS grading process is generally unfair. Most importantly, in my opinion the absolute lack of transparency of this process should lead to question the test at its core. In my specific situation, I would have been fine with the writing mark being the lowest mark in my assessment, as I think that writing is probably the least honed skill when it comes to my English language competence, but I don’t think my actual mark reflects how I really performed on the test. I am fairly sure my grammar and spelling were ok, I’m confident I answered according to the task, and I’m 99.9% sure the length of the two essays was correct (if anything, task 1 might have been a little
    too long.) What’s infuriating to me is that there’s no way to have a report on the test that highlights EXACTLY what lead the examiner to mark the test the way he/she did. The report card is filled with generic mumbo jumbo that does nothing to address how I actually performed in my specific exam.

    • SASIKANTH GOTETI says:

      Very similar experience, my score line reads as : 9,9,8.5 and a 6.5 in writing. Clearly I can’t be that bad with both grammar and vocab, otherwise I wouldn’t have scored a 9 in speaking. Its an agree-disagree question in the writing essay, I can’t go badly wrong with paragraph and structure either, since there is only almost one way to do it. I have certainly counted my words go well over 300 in essay and 170 in the letter, that leaves few options for interpretation, 6.5 is a very safe score you can throw at any candidate. Most examiners wouldn’t probably even bother to read through the answer sheets, when they are running out of time, or feeling too lousy and unmotivated at work. They would be like :”let me give 6.5 to the next 10 guys and then i’ll pack my bags and go watch a movie”, I can totally picture that happening in a non transparent system where you have no accountability for your actions.

  • I consiser myself to be bilingual to some extent. I used to teach English casually to my colleges and family. That’s why it Crushed my to get a score of 6 in writing, while ive got 8.5 in listening and 7.5 speaking in the same exam (which i considered embaressing too, not to mention unjistified), it felt like IELTS has hurt my feelings (LOL), till to point i would rather give up my dreams of immigration or studying abroad than to attempt the ielts again. The thing is; i really have no idea what I should do more to score higher in writing, as i have undertaken the infamous ielts exam of 8th of July, wich was horrible, but had the easiest writing task anyone can hope for. I am trying now with PTE, but i feel immensely insecure to attempt it, moreover, i feel exhausted now when i think about another test, or even study for it.

    • I consiser myself to be bilingual to some extent. I used to teach English casually to my colleges and family. That’s why it Crushed my to get a score of 6 in writing, while ive got 8.5 in listening and 7.5 speaking in the same exam (which i considered embaressing too, not to mention unjistified), it felt like IELTS has hurt my feelings (LOL), till to point i would rather give up my dreams of immigration or studying abroad than to attempt the ielts again. The thing is; i really have no idea what I should do more to score higher in writing, as i have undertaken the infamous ielts exam of 8th of July, wich was horrible, but had the easiest writing task anyone can hope for. I am trying now with PTE, but i feel immensely insecure to attempt it, moreover, i feel exhausted now when i think about another test, or even study for it.

      consiser = consider /
      colleges = colleagues /
      Crushed my = crushed me /
      while ive got = although I got /
      i = I /
      embaressing = embarrassing /
      unjistified =unjustified /

      , it felt like IELTS has hurt my feelings =
      . It felt like IELTS had hurt my feelings /

      till to point I = up to the point that I /
      ielts = IELTS /
      is; = is, /

      The thing is; i really have no idea what I should do more to score higher in writing, =
      The thing is, I really have no idea what more I can (should) do to score more highly in (the) writing, /

      I am trying now = I am now trying /

      as i have undertaken the infamous ielts exam of 8th of July, =
      as I took the infamous IELTS exam on (+ date, but NO “of”) /

      wich was horrible, but had the easiest writing task anyone can hope for. =
      which was horrible, yet I had the easiest writing task anyone could hope for. /

      but i feel immensely insecure to attempt it, moreover, I feel exhausted now =
      but I feel immensely insecure about attempting it. Moreover, I feel exhausted now /

      when i think about another test, or even study for it. =
      when I think about another test, or even about studying for one. /

  • Hi,
    I am a native English speaker who went to medical school in Pakistan. To apply for training in the UK you need a 7.5 in each component. I got 9, 9, 7.5 in listening, reading and speaking respectively and only 7.0 in writing. I have a keen interest in literature and have written both academic papers and articles for magazines. I also had an A in sociology A levels so I feel I am able to construct arguments. Needless to say, my score left me devastated as there is no guarantee that they drop my score in some other way if I retake it. It also costs money to retake the exam. Apart from all that, it’s demoralising in the extreme and my confidence would be low in a repeat exam. I have given my paper to be rechecked and am praying that it reaches 7.5. i firmly believe that the IELTS is a money making business, and they tend to score you lower rather than otherwise.
    I am glad you shared this as it helps me realise that this exam is not a reflection of my abilities. I think this is especially true above 6.5; the criteria for marking gets dubious in writing. Below that the answers have obvious grammar and tense mistakes.

  • Hi Jay,

    I’m also an English teacher and I have just taken the new IELTS computer-based exam in Melbourne. Like you, I was shocked to receive my writing results.

    My overall score: 8.5
    S: 9.0
    R: 9.0
    L: 8.0 (I recognise that I might have messed up two questions here)
    W: 7.5

    I came out of the exam with a sense of having written an excellent essay and a pretty good part 1. My initial thought was ‘oh well, if I don’t get 9.0 I won’t be disappointed’. However, when I got 7.5, I was gobsmacked.

    During the exam, I used complex grammatical structures, high level LR and tried my best to develop cohesive and informative arguments.

    I have tried to replicate my essay, below. In actual fact I believe my essay was much better in the real exam.

    ____________________________________
    Public museums and art galleries are no longer needed because people can access historical objects and art works by using computer. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

    Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own experience.

    Museums and galleries play a pivotal role in most countries around the world. This essay will argue that computers can never replace the experiences that visiting a museum or gallery brings.

    I strongly disagree with the fact that public institutions such as museums and galleries are redundant since these institutions provide visitors with the means through which to experience works-of-art that a computer simply cannot. When standing in front of a painting, one can see first-hand the fine details of the brush strokes, thus allowing the viewer to gain a deeper understanding of how the artist was thinking and feeling at the time. The proximity of a user to an object also allows them to visualise it in many different ways – up close or from a distance. This adds to the user’s overall experience; a 2D computer picture could never replicate this.

    Despite this, computers have certain benefits in that they allow visitors to learn about specific pieces of art or the creator before viewing. When visiting New York’s MOMA gallery, I was first able to learn about the cultural significance of the work “The Scream”. In doing so, it provided me with a better understanding of the work’s cultural and historical significance.

    While computers can assist people in learning about the history and background of an art, nothing can replace the wealth of experience that visiting a gallery brings. Therefore, these institutions are invaluable.
    __________________________________________

  • Hi

    I’m a native English speaker and scored a 6.5 in the writing too and also have no idea why. I scored a perfect 9 in Listening, Reading and Speaking.

    One theory which I believe may be true, is that IELTs is fraud. I need at least a band 7 in all components of the test to gain at least 10 points towards and a skilled independent visa. This was the purpose of me doing the test.

    They know this and intentionally give me a mark below 7 in the writing component so I have to resit the test and therefore pay more money. Because writing is subjective this is the area of the test they can get away with marking a lower score.

    What do you think?

  • Hi,
    My name is Harry and i am living in USA since the past 10 years. Before that i was in Canada for about 6 years. I have studied in English throughout my life. I am applying for Canadian PR and hence i had to write the IELTS General exam. I was super confident after I wrote my exam. If anything i was more confident on my writing than other aspects. I just receive my score today. I scored L-9 R-8.5 S-8.5 and guess what 6.5 in writing. I was really mad at myself and very embarrassed as well. On top of that i needed a 7 in writing. I called the IDP (IELTS) examiners in Canada and they said that since the difference in the band from the lowest score to the next higher score 2 or more another set of examiner checks your writing test. It means that my test was checked by 2 different sets of examiners and still i got a 6.5. I am in a dilemma, my ego wants me to contest the test and it costs $185 for contesting the score, however i am now unsure on what to do. I pay $300 to write a new test. Moreover, if 2 different sets of people have checked my test, logically, it means that my essay was really not up to the standards.
    I am confident that i wrote more than 250 words. Yes, my topic was a little different but i wrote logical ideas and structured them well. My first letter was pretty good as well. Since i only need another 0.5 mark i am inclined towards rechecking. What would you all suggest?
    Thanks,
    Harry

    • Hello Harry,

      Oh no, that is definitely disheartening. I can only imagine what you are going through.

      Unfortunately, having your scores checked again would be of little help. Students have attempted to do this in the past and it hasn’t paid dividends. It looks like you will have to take the test again.

      Best,
      AC

  • Hi Jay,

    The same exact thing happened to me too. I’m not a native speaker of English but I have been an English teacher for more than 12 years both in my home country and also in Malaysia where I’m currently based. I love the English language and read on a daily basis. I also have a master’s degree in linguistics.
    I took IELTS with British Council; the written parts were in the morning followed by the speaking test in the afternoon. After the morning session, I felt positive that I did really well in my listening, reading and especially writing but I was hugely disappointed when the results were out. While I scored 8.5 in both listening and reading, I received a score of 6.5 in my writing! I simply could NOT believe it! Words can’t describe my shock and disappointment! It was a biter pill to swallow, especially after years of teaching English to students of many different nationalities in a variety of English programs (academic writing, IGCSE, Cambridge English…). I’m sure I was to the point in both writing tasks. Grammar is my strongest suit and I’m sure I used a variety of words and sentences (simple, compound and complex).
    The only way I could have gotten a 6.5 in my writing would be to have my writing papers graded carelessly and haphazardly by examiners who are either indifferent or unprofessional or both!

  • I have felt the same similar shock on the day I received my IELTS score. I, also scored a heart breaking 6.5 when I was expecting 8.5. It just devastated me. I was the essay champ back in high school. My teachers in schools branded my English level to be of high standard and that is perhaps why I was asked to write articles for the news letters and such in school.

    Going into the IELTS test for my oversees university application, you can say I was least bit tensed. I didn’t take any preparation or any practice classes for it. I just went in and sat for the exam. In fact coming out of the exam room, I was most confident on my writing and least on the listening test (pardon me but the British accent gets heavy sometimes) and sadly enough, I scored the least on my writing. I’m thinking again and again to why this was a miss. I’ve seen sample writings which scored 6.5 and I can confidently claim my piece was far better than that. I rarely make grammatical errors and I’m emphasizing on the word “rarely”. And to be honest in a test venue where I had my sweet time to recheck every grammar and spelling, I don’t think I did poorly there.

    Then again, coming to analyse where I went wrong, it was the word limit. Much like the writer; after I completed my writing I found out that I was about 80 words short. This happened to me on both task 1 and 2. So I spent some time erasing off some of the paragraphs to rewrite them in more elaborate way. And yes I wrote with a pencil which- as much as it was a life saver but it was also a downfall.

    The pencil left smudges everywhere and I worried if the examiner will be able to see my writing clearly. Nevertheless I submitted my work without much improvement on the smudges.

    I also think my writing lacked some “ornamental words”. The thing is, I’m not really good at writing on argumentative topics. So it was more about laying down facts to reinforce on my opinions than to sugar coat a sentence. Besides I didn’t feel like the examiner would care for such things. I have displayed enough use of vocabulary and coherence and that is what should matter.

    Anyway, the result sunk my self confidence. And I couldn’t even have the courage to write for any newsletter even though writing is something I absolutely adore. I wanted to be a published writer but since the test score was out, I didn’t know what I want to be anymore.

    The bottom line is, they assess the test based on criteria I’m not fulfilled for. For example to write on an argumentative topic. I’m more of the story teller. And the fact that I willingly chose to present my points in a more direct way than to embellish them, maybe it showed poorly on my place. It’s not everything and I’m sure we will be fine.

  • Hello Jay E2
    I took the ielts writing test today and got my ID taken and a malpractice form filled against me for writing a little bit after the time was up.
    I am very fearful about this. Please what are your thoughts?

    • Sorry to hear about that!

      Yes, I’ve heard of this before. The exam locations are all very strict about this.

      Wish you the best!
      The E2 Team

  • Thank you for sharing your story. Here is a summary of mine so far:

    I am a native English speaker, an admitted attorney in South Africa and an admitted lawyer in Australia (New South Wales).

    I am a partner in a respected firm. I am also an author of several legal products for an internationally recognised company which specialises in legal content.

    The use of the English language is how I make a living. Being an attorney requires constant attention to detail, an efficient use of words from a respectable vocabulary, the ability to decipher subtleties in meaning, e.t.c.

    I did the IELTS General test earlier this month and found errors in the listening and reading sections – I digress. Anyways, I counted my words for the two very basic writing tasks and was spot on. I used intro, paragraphs, argument, conclusion – all there. Checked the questions against my answers like a good lawyer and all seemed good.

    Today I received my scores: S8.5, L9, R9 and writing……. 6.5! Overall 8.5 – not good enough – pay up – try again. I have to score 8 on each band on the IELTS for immigration purposes.

    I was surprised I did not get 9 for speaking. To get 6.5 for writing has left me gasted with flabber.

    Yes, it is possible I made mistakes but thinking about paying to do the whole thing again has a pungent smell of skulduggery all about it.

  • It’s just ridiculous that a well-educated native speaker should receive a writing score lower than that of a foreign student who probably doesn’t speak much English, but I refuse to believe this was done deliberately to rip you off or that the examiners were so ignorant or dumb as not to be able to tell good writing from bad ones. Instead, I suspect this may have something to do with the logistics of paper handling. Not sure if you’ve noticed this, at the bottom of the answer sheet, there are many boxes the examiners need to fill up, including the ones where the examiners need to transcribe your candidate number. Now, I don’t know what their official flow looks like, but I believe the “marking an essay” part wouldn’t be too off the mark for any person in their right mind. In fact they could be half-drunk while doing this and should still be able to tell a native speaker’s writing from a foreign student’s. But the “transcribing candidate number” part can easily go wrong especially during a mid afternoon caffeine crash.

  • Hi All, my personal take on this: I believe IELTS give you less score than you deserve, so that you reregister and they make more money. I have spoken to lot of test takers, many of them with Masters degree in English language, who second this view.
    IELTS give you less in atleast one of the sections, so that you don’t get the score required for immigration; and so then you register again. My personal experience has been with Reading section, where I got measly 7.5. I had reviewed my answers twice. In Reading comprehension section I have always got a perfect score, in TOEFL, in practice tests etc. I believe TOEFL is much fairer test. I have not yet given PTE, so can’t comment on that.

  • I’m a non native English Teacher and I’ve had ghe same problem too. My writing score has always been the same 6.5 and never increased! I’m glad to hear that a native English teacher has the courage to share his experience! Just to show the whole world that the writing and speaking modules will always be subjective!

    My scores writing : 6.5 after remarking 7
    Speaking 7.5 after remarking 8
    Overall score 7.5

  • Satyam Reddy says:

    Dear Jay,
    I am from India, and I tool IDP IELTS last month from Hyderabad,I followed all your tips to crack IELTS, but I ended up wit S/L/R/W with 7/8.5/7.5/6.5. I am thought I would get more than 7 in all sections except listening.
    Now, I am thinking to go for revaluation, as I need 7 in writing.
    Please suggest, whether revaluation is good idea or should I take IELTS one more time.

    Regards,
    Satyam,

    • It’s hard to say! If you really feel you did far better than a 6.5 you should. But remember the IELTS Writing is known to be very tricky! If you are a paid member you can get access to 95% more preparation material and resources! If you keep getting stuck on 6.5 you may want to consider!
      GOOD LUCK!

  • I am thoroughly convinced IELTS is only out to make money. It is a poor test of “real” English (most students struggle in actual English-speaking academic settings despite the 6.5 or 7 requirement) and despite myself being an IELTS teacher of 8 years and a native speaker myself, I only scored a 7 on writing! I had 163 words for Task 1, and 258 words or Task 2. TR/CC/LR/GRA and that all on point. The only thing I can think of besides the money-making scheme is there may have been an over-worked examiner.

    As it is, they now scan and send up to 100 papers per week for examiners to mark online. I was a speaking examiner for a while and saw first-hand what a shit-show the whole thing is.

    In all honesty, I will not pay another bunch of money to get my score (potentially) changed. I think it is all a big scam.

  • Hi Jay
    Nice to know that you tried and got 7.5 after a rescore. I am not a native speaker but I have been speaking english since childhood and i teach science subject in a university in english. I have done a lot of research papers in English, of which 3 are published in scholarly journals.
    I remember taking ielts academic in 2015 and getting the following score;
    Speaking 6.5
    Writing 7.0
    Reading 7.0
    Listening 7.5
    Then i realized i needed to do general for immigration purposes and took another test in 2016 with the following score;
    Speaking 7.0
    Reading 8
    Writing 6.5
    Listening 7.5
    Then again with study material in 2017 i scored ;
    Speaking 7.5
    Reading 7.0
    Writing 7.5
    Listening 7.5
    But i needed 8 in listening and reading so i worked hard to achieve that and along the way did CELPIP which also didnt give me the score. Now this june i did score:
    Speaking 8
    Listening 8.5
    Reading 8
    Writing 6.5
    Rescore for writing: unchanged
    August 2
    Listening 8.5
    Reading 7.5
    Writing 6.5
    Speaking 7.5
    Then August 18
    Listening 9
    Reading 8
    Writing 6.5
    Speaking 8
    Rescore; unchanged!
    For the last try i did watch all your videos and improved on the English and whatever ielts requires. Clear and to the point. Whenever i sent for revaluation i was sure that i did well word count and grammar and topic coverage. It’s not like i never scored 7.5 before but now when i improved my listening and reading I’m getting this 6.5 which is not helping me and letting me down. I just have no clue what’s wrong. I am highly doubtful of the ielts examiners. They know the score i need so if a screw up listening or reading they will be lenient in writing otherwise no. I am 100 percent sure that i did the following for writing;
    Word count was good
    Paragraphs clear concise and inclusive of topic sentence
    Grammar check
    Long and short sentences
    Topic relevancy.
    Why am i still receiveing 6.5 and even after a rescore. I will not be doing this test again.

  • Hi everyone! It seems like the same thing has happened to me. I recently took an IELTS test and got the results just today.

    R9/ L9 / S7.5 / W6.5

    I can’t really argue on the speaking part as I’m someone who gets incredibly nervous for tests like this. But for the writing part, that one I just can’t understand how I got that result!

    I read the “Your score explained” section on the report card and can’t help but feel somewhat insulted by it. I truly don’t think those apply to my writing.

    Do you think it’s worth it to ask for a revision?
    I mean, I did score enough for me to apply to the Master’s I’m interested in and a request for a revision is incredibly expensive. I just can’t help but feel frustrated and disappointed by that 6.5.
    Is my written English simply not good enough?

  • Hi! So, I wrote my IELTS on September 8th 2018; got my results and here they are: Reading: 7; Speaking: 8.5; Listening: 8 and writing 6.5 :(…. I’m sure I didn’t do that bad. Does it make sense to go for a re-scoring?
    To give you some background, while I’m not a native English speaker, i speak fluent English and write considerably well, too. Both my essay and the letter went well. Speaking was best as the examiner smiled all through out while I was speaking. Reading this time was hell difficult but managed getting a 7 there. Please advise

  • abulfaz Isayev says:

    Hello everybody,

    I am planning to start a petition against IELTS. IELTS is a fraud. I have experienced this exam more than 10 times working harder and harder on my English after each try. Unfortunately, each time I took IELTS I scored 6.5 in writing. I do not understand how it is possible to score same score in every single attepmt? I have scored 9,9 and 8 in all bands excluding writing. I am a dentist with PhD, passed with high scores very difficult board examinations internationally, won awards, honors etc. I have published papers in most respectful medical journals, I have given lectures to many people around the world. IELTS general writing is the only thing in my life I am continuously failing.

  • *Sigh* Add me to the growing list of people who have great writing credentials as evidenced by publications, past work etc but scored a 6.5 in IELTS writing. I have given the TOEFL in the past and scored a 30/30 in the writing section. I think I wrote a great letter and essay on the day. The only two things I can think of that were less than optimal were that I ended up writing way above the minimum word requirement for both task 1 and 2 and therefore had to ask for extra sheets. Second, my handwriting is quite poor but still, very legible. I can conceive an overworked examiner not being happy about having to read three pages for task 2 but it’s horrible to think they might have penalised me for that out of spite. I needed a 7.5 for immigration and despite scoring R-9, L-8.5, S-7.5, the floor fell out from under my dreams because of of the inexplicable 6.5 score in writing.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog post Jay. While this whole experience has been incredibly frustrating, reading that others have had similar experiences has given me some of my strength back. I will have to try again.

  • Just got my IELTS results and was disappointed to see a score of 6 while all other sections had 8-9. I am a doctor in business and have over 25 years of education in british english language, mostly writing thesis and white papers. Moreover, the low scores came as a surprise because after carefully balancing grammar, word count, covering up all the pointers that the question required and the formatting, I saw no room for improvement in my writing. Spoke to a few colleagues and they had similar experiences. Shattered confidence? May be not but what I heard and now I believe it too that human error and bias is a big factor in your scoring. IELTS body makes hundreds of millions each year and re-tests are just a cherry on top in this greedy empire.

  • Amali De Silva says:

    Thanks for this post. It helped me to console myself at least a little bit. I was so upset after I received my ielts score. I’m an ELT teacher and have been teaching for years. Though I’m not sure native speaker I’m confident whole using English and have been all my life. I scored a 7 for writing and as far as I know I adhered to all the ‘rules’ of writing… Oh well… At least my overall score (8) is enough for me to apply for my post graduate studies abroad.

  • How to start a petition against IELTS which is Totaly Fraud.
    They only want to get money.

    Can anybody share, to whom we need to escalate this matter at the Higher level?

  • These stories are somewhat comforting to me, but also infuriating the IELTS is getting away with fraud.

    I am also a native English speaker from Canada, with a PhD in Sociology who teaches academic writing at university.

    My score:

    R – 9
    L – 9
    S – 9
    W – 6.5 !!!

    What can we do about this? I am down for any sort of action against them, whether it is widespread journalistic coverage or a government inquiry…

  • Hi,

    I appeared for my IELTS on Oct 13, 2018, result was expected to be released on oct 26, 2018, however BC kept my result on hold due to quality purpose and expected date to receive the result is by Nov 06, 2018…..
    I have appeared for graduation, post-graduation and Chartered Accountants exams and have never seen any sort of investigation being conducted post declaration of result. I have worked as an invigilator also for one of the exams held in India and in case if any suspicious activities were found, we were supposed to report immediately and candidate was not allowed to write an exam.

    I am unable to understand the basis of the investigation, is this not responsibility of test taker, invigilator to report and hold the candidate from writing exam in case he/she finds that any sort of malpractice happened??? Was there a video recording at exam center by which BC will investigate??

    Please guide me what shall I do….and will they release my actual result/or will modify or will cancel and what is the timeline…???

    Ayush Modi

  • A message to each and every person reading/visiting this blog- Please do not take the IETLS test -if you need a 8.0 score (as you will rather spot an unicorn in your lifetime than receive 8.0 on your writing component) Learn from my mistake (s) and save yourself a lot of money. Take the PTE test AND subscribe to E2learning (follow their methods meticulously). I finally received my desired 79+ in all sections (88 in each section).

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