Four common mistakes candidates make in IELTS Writing

In this brief article, I would like to share the 5 most common mistakes I see in the IELTS essays I correct for students online:

Common mistake 1 – Misunderstanding the instruction portion of the essay question

All IELTS essay questions include a sentence that tells the student precisely what they are expected to do in their written response.  Typically, this sentence will include words like discuss, analyze, argue, support or refute and the student is expected to respond accordingly.

Let’s look at an example IELTS essay question to illustrate.  I will highlight the instruction sentence in blue:

The Internet is replacing many traditional forms of communication.  This brings with it more negative than positive ramifications for humanity.  Discuss this and state your opinion.

Here, you can see the instruction sentence is directly telling the student how they are expected to formulate a response.  The problem many students run into is that they misinterpret what this instruction sentence is really asking them, and this in turn causes the overall relevance of their essay response to suffer.

If you have found this is a problem for you, let’s go over a few sample instruction sentences and state clearly what they are asking:

Discuss both sides of this argument.  (Phrases like this ask students to analyze the opinions of others.  Thus, students would be best to follow a discussion essay format and analyze the merits, or lack thereof, of the topic or position presented in their essay question.)

What is your opinion on the subject?  (Here, the essay question is asking you to respond directly with your opinion.  The most effective way to do this is by responding in an argument essay format.)

What is your opinion on the subject?  Analyze both sides in your essay.  (Now we are being faced with 2 instruction sentences.  Here, we would respond in a discussion essay format, sharing our personal opinion at the end.)

Do you agree or disagree?  Share personal examples to support your response.  (This question instructs the student to include examples from their life while arguing one side of a particular position.  Thus, responding in an argument styled essay would be best.)

(If you are unfamiliar with how to properly write an argument or discussion essay, please refer to the videos available here.)

Common mistake 2 – Writing a thesis that does not respond directly to the essay question

In the event you are given an IELTS question that requires a response written in an argument essay style, it is imperative you compose a clear and relevant thesis.  Nothing ruins an argument essay faster than a problematic thesis.

Don’t be afraid to repeat words that appear in your essay question in your thesis.  All too often, students try to paraphrase important keywords and phrases from their question in their thesis and this typically alters the original meaning to a certain degree.  Repeating words from your question will help ensure your examiner sees a direct link between it and your essay.

Thus, an essay question that reads:

Do you agree or disagree that students should be required to study a language in high school?

…could be responded to with the thesis:

I agree that students should be required to study a language in high school.

Common mistake 3 – Using ambiguous examples in your IELTS essay

It is important to remember that when including an example in your IELTS essay, you want to use something that can show your argument in action.  This is best done by referring to a real-life event, person, company or place.  Thus, a student who writes:

For example, GDP growth in China has led to the improving of living standards throughout the country.

…is setting the stage for a much stronger argument than a student who writes:

For example, income growth among developing countries has the led to the improving of living standards in many areas.

As you can see, the second example’s broadness makes the example seem less tangible and thus lowers its overall quality.

Common mistake 4 – Writing with grammatical accuracy

The last mistake in our list is basic grammatical accuracy.  The most common errors I see in the essays I correct are sentence fragments, run-on sentences, improper preposition usage, verb tense issues and mistakes in a student’s lexical selection.  The best tip I can offer those students struggling with nagging grammar issues is to compose your essay entirely of short, concise sentences and to link these sentences with cohesive phrases.  Having a writing coach can also be immensely helpful.

About Ryan

I have been developing online IELTS training resources for over 10 years. For more information about me and how I can help your preparation for the IELTS, please email me:
This entry was posted in Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Four common mistakes candidates make in IELTS Writing

  1. Adnan says:

    Hi Ryan,
    thank you so much for you help, after all I have received 7 in each module and i improved from 6 to 7 in my writing, I got L 7.5 / R 7.5 / W 7.0 / S 7.5 >>>> thanks you soo much for explaining in such a easy way.

    best wishes,

  2. hardik says:

    hi ryan !! i read this note of yours first time today. it has proved to be of great importance.i recently gave three ielts exam as i need 7 in each modules before july. i was ableto get 7 in writing in first two exams but scored 5.5 in the last exam which was held in melbourne . i now can judge where i made mistakes .more importantly the question i was asked was abt to write a letter to the local newspaper editor ,(the one which was asked in phillipines in early october)i finally could find its model answer on your website. i believe your website is immensely helping me to acheive my desired band score .Lasty, i want to know if i can submit my writing and that u can check it. thus, i will be able to figure out what are the things that need my attention. thank you very much 🙂

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Hardik,

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I do do online corrections. I will be posting more information in a video about this shortly. You can sign up for this service at my blog.

      Good luck,

  3. Malik says:

    Hi Ryan , first of all thankz for all effort you have put on helping students to achieve their goals. I am new here and i must say your website and youtube videos are very useful.
    I took IELTS 3 times and noticed that my weakness is more on the writing module and reading as well. I am too slow to write band 7. I got 6-6.5 in both reading and writing.
    Also i noticed that i feel more afraid of writing. Even though it is practicing i can feel stressed and nervouos to get thinks i have in my mind to the paper. What is your best advice to me,I am going to take IELTS in 3rd Dec…maybe too soon, but i need some self confident booster by you.
    Regards Malik

  4. jc23 says:

    hello RyAN.

    Since 2009 i am already aware of your youtube channel. That was the first time i took the ielts exam. Just this June and August i took the tests again and unfortunately i got 6.5 in writing on all my exams since 2009.

    I really could not trace on whats wrong with my writing. It is at this module that i have been having difficulty with ( S = 7.5, L = 9, R = 7.5).

    During the past few days, i have been watching your youtube clips and really praying that this will be the key for my writing to have a better score. Any tips that i need to keep in mind Ryan?

    I will be taking my 3rd examination this Dec 10. Fingers crossed that IDP will give me the break i really needed for a long time.

    thanks so much.

  5. Siruisa says:

    Hi Ryan

    I got band6.5 in November exam in Cape Town, I will try again January 2012. I have 40 days left to prepare the exam and I need to get band 7 in all 4 componets. your site will help me tremendously. ( why I only find your site today!!) thank you so much for hosting such wonderful site.

    My problem is with spelling, I got band 6.5 for listening, I knew right way after the exam that I spell wrong at least 6 questions. this cost me lose lots of mark, I can understand everything in the listening exam but I just can not spell the vocabulary correctly.

    do you have any ideas to solve this problem?

    Thanks very much

  6. Dora Elena Harris says:

    Hello Ryan

    I am please I have found this site today. I was worried that about taking this test in Jan.

    Useful site for those who want to improve your score in the IELTS test.

    Thank you for all your help. tips and useful info.

  7. setareh says:

    I was confused with writing essay . I really did not know how can i write efficiently but when i watched your videos i think i am better .I need more time and practice to write for score 8.
    That is very kind of you to help us to improve.

  8. krystal says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Does it matter if I forgot to write the word count?

  9. AMAN says:

    Useful site for those who want to improve your score in the IELTS test.

Comments are closed.