We all make mistakes, especially when we get nervous, but it’s easier to stop yourself from falling into a trap if you know what problems to look out for.
Here are some most common things that people do wrong during their IELTS tests – and how to make sure you avoid the same problems. Good luck!
1. Memorizing Answers
Whether you’re preparing for your writing or your speaking exam, It’s tempting to try and learn a “perfect” answer that you can simply repeat in your exam. The trouble is, your examiner has been trained to spot this, and you will lose marks.
Remember that the point is to have a natural, flowing conversation (in your speaking exam) or to write a well thought-out response to a question (in your writing exam). You can’t do either of these things by guessing what your examiner is going to ask you in advance.
Of course, it’s a good idea to learn some useful phrases, sentences or expressions that you can use in your exam – just don’t try to memorize entire answers!
2. Changing the Subject
You must make sure that you answer the question the examiner asks you, rather than something else that you are more comfortable talking about!
Trying to change the subject to a topic you like better will make it look like you didn’t understand what the examiner said to you. After that, it won’t matter if you give a grammatically perfect answer with lot of interesting vocabulary, you will still score low marks, because you didn’t answer the question you were asked.
In your speaking exam, if you really have no idea how to respond, just say something like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything at all about that subject”. Or, better, clarify the question or try to get a slightly different question from your examiner by starting with, “So, do you mean that…” or “Are you asking me whether….” This helps to keep the conversation going, demonstrates your understanding and buys you a little bit of time while you think about how to answer.
3. Long Silences
If you leave long silences in your speaking exam, you may give the impression that you did not understand the question or have forgotten how to say what you want to say.
If you need to think for a minute about your answer, don’t just go quiet. Say something like, “that’s a tough/interesting question”, “let me see…”, or “I’m not sure, let me just think about that for a moment.” This will make the next few seconds of silence less uncomfortable.
4. Writing Too Much or Too Little
Make sure you stick to the word count! If you are asked to write 250 words, don’t write 100 or 500. If you are asked to give an answer in 5 words, make sure it’s 5 words. You must follow the instructions or you will score a very low mark, even if what you’ve written is in perfect English.
5. Parroting the Question
The students that get the best marks in their IELTS tests are the ones who are able to paraphrase the question they’ve been asked. If you make your answer sound too much like the question it doesn’t show off your language skills.
For example if someone asks “Do you like playing sports?” parroting the question back to them would mean saying “Yes, I like playing sports”. Not very impressive! It sounds much better to reply with something like “Yes, I really enjoy team sports. I played football at school and last week I joined a volleyball team.”
6. Overuse of transition signals
Using words like first, for example or on the other hand while making a transition in your speech is quite normal; but if you overuse such signposting words you are actually damaging your score. Sounding natural should be your goal in IELTS Speaking. Using words which are hardly used in speech such as – furthermore, moreover, and in addition could make you sound all the more less natural if you use them.
7. Answering the wrong question
You will lose the marks if your answer is completely irrelevant to the question asked. You must attentively listen what has been asked and understand it completely before answering or replying anything.
8. Saying ‘I don’t understand’
Instead of using ‘I don’t understand’ too frequently in your speech, you can use a straightforward request like Could you say that again, please? or ask a checking question such as Do you mean…? that shows you have at least partly understood the question.
9. Saying too much or too little
If you say too little, you miss the opportunity to show off your ability and if you say too much, you risk sounding less coherent and making more mistakes. You must ensure an appropriate balance is maintained in your speech.
10. Poor pronunciation
Pronunciation accounts for 25% of the score in IELTS Speaking and that’s because it’s fundamental to spoken communication. You must find an opportunity to practice with native or native-level speakers and get an honest feedback on your pronunciation and work towards wherever necessary.
11. Flat intonation
A varied intonation, pitch, volume and speaking speed is always used in a speech in order to maintain the listener’s interest and direct attention to our important ideas. Even IELTS examiners, who are trained to listen carefully to everything a candidate says, will find a flatly-intoned response difficult to follow and your response may be marked down for both pronunciation and coherence as a result.
12. Asking for the examiner’s opinion
You are there to answer the questions, not ask them. The examiner will politely redirect the question back your way if you try to stall for time by saying I don’t know, what do you think? If you really don’t have any ideas, just say I’m afraid I know nothing about this topic and wait for the next question.