IELTS writing exam: The three biggest mistakes

IELTS writing exam: The three biggest mistakes

I have graded thousands of papers for the IELTS exam. The purpose of this article is to tell you the three major mistakes that candidates keep making in order that you may avoid them.

PROBLEM 1: poor time management. About 30% of my students who write IELTS exams under timed conditions fail to complete both Task 1 and Task 2. In this case, their score for Task Response (one of the four grading criteria) is reduced, and to make matters worse their score is penalized for being under length. Therefore, this is like a double penalty and so you should make sure you can write sufficient words for both tasks by controlling your time. This means 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2.


  1. Do lots of writing practice to build up your writing fluency. Fluency here refers to your ability to write without having to spend too much time thinking of ideas, vocabulary, and grammar.
  2. Memorise essay templates for the three main types of essays that get asked. This will mean that large chunks of your essay can be written fluently and without errors.
  3. Time yourself when writing and practice writing by hand unless your test centre requires you to type your essays.
  4. Learn to control the length of your essays so that you don’t write too much. You can look at my model answers to see how I do this
  5. Work out how many words you write per line so that you can quickly assess how much you have written when in your test. Download the official writing paper to achieve this.


PROBLEM 2: not understanding the task requirements. This problem occurs when you start to write the task without properly reading the question. Again, also about 30% of my students will write an essay that is off-topic, which again lowers their score for Task Response and not only this it makes it difficult to score well in the grading category of Cohesion and Coherence because often the essay does not make sense to the reader who is looking for a response to the question. A common example of this is with a question like “To what extent do you agree or disagree.” This requires YOUR opinion, and therefore saying things like “some people believe that….” is off-topic, unless you state whether you agree with them or not. Also this question asks the extent,  which means you must say how much you agree or disagree.


  1. Read and watch my video on task analysis so that you know how to establish the topic and also the type of question that you must answer about the topic.
  2. Read and watch my video on task planning to see how the analysis of a task leads to the plan of writing the essay
  3. Look at past tasks, analyse them, and then see if you did this correctly by looking at my model answers.

PROBLEM 3: high frequency of errors. In order to get above a six for vocabulary you may only produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and word formation. For a grammar score of 7 you must produce frequent error-free sentences.


  1. Try to allow time to proofread what you have written. The biggest error is the singular/plural form of words, so always check your nouns and verbs to see if they should have an “s” ending. Another common error is with articles (a, an, the), so look at each noun and think about whether its needs an article.  In other words if you can proofread your writing and cut-down the number of errors you stand a better chance of getting over the level 6 hurdle for vocabulary and grammar.
  2. Work on any of your common errors with grammar. I have links for the most common grammatical errors.

Getting your IELTS writing corrected by a professional is one of the most effective ways to improve your writing and check that you are avoided the common mistakes described above. I will check your writing and give you feedback on errors and ways to improve your writing. My correction service includes task 2 essays, task 1 academic reports, and task1 general letters. Receive valuable feedback on your mistakes from an IELTS examiner.

ielts common writing mistakes

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