By Anna Hasper

29 January 2024 - 03:00

Girl looking at her laptop screen and smiling

In this article you can learn about the most common mistakes that test takers make that impact their IELTS band scores, and how to avoid them.

Every learner has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their English skills. However, there are some mistakes in IELTS that a lot of test takers make. When you’re preparing for the test, it’s a good idea to try and develop an awareness of these common mistakes in IELTS to help you avoid them and achieve the highest band score possible. 

So, let’s look at an overview of some common mistakes in IELTS that test takers make to help you avoid them when you take the test. 

Learn more about IELTS and download the Quick Guide to IELTS Success 

Common mistakes in IELTS for advanced English learners

If you’re using English proficiently, you might be feeling confident about taking the IELTS test. But even expert English learners can make mistakes if they’re feeling nervous or tired. Here are some common mistakes in IELTS some advanced English learners do:

1. Complicated writing

For a higher band score you need to show you can use a variety of grammar structures and a wide range of vocabulary. Long, complicated sentences with too many clauses are one of the common mistakes in IELTS many English learners do. These types of sentences can make your writing difficult to follow, and it’s easier to make grammatical mistakes. 

IELTS Examiners are looking for well-written sentences that present the message clearly and correctly. Before your test, read model answers and check how they write sophisticated sentences that are clear. Then, practise writing answers in the same style. 

2. Overuse or incorrect use of idioms

Using idiomatic language, such as fixed expressions, in the Speaking test can make you sound more proficient and improve your Speaking score but be careful, overusing idioms is a common mistake in IELTS. It makes you sound unnatural, and using incorrect idioms is seen as a mistake. If you are unsure about using idioms, it is better not to use them at all. You can still get a high score without using a lot of idioms. 

3. Incorrect use of mixed conditionals

One way of showing a wide variety of grammar structures in your writing or speaking is by using mixed conditionals. Because this area of grammar can be confusing, mistakes are common. If you want to use a mixed conditional, make sure you know how to use them correctly. Check here for an in depth explanation with examples and practice exercises. 

4. Loss of focus

Some common mistakes in IELTS are not really about English! For good results in the Listening and Reading sections in specific, you can only make a few mistakes, so focus and concentration are essential. Some test takers don’t get enough sleep before their test day or don’t eat well before the exam which makes focussing during the test challenging. 

In preparation for the test, do some exercise the day before, eat healthy food and get a good night’s sleep to make sure you’re in good form for the test. During the Listening section, take notes to actively engage with the recording and remain focused. You can even take notes in your own language if you want. 

Common mistakes in IELTS for learners at upper-intermediate level

If you’re learning English at upper-intermediate level, there are some common mistakes in IELTS  to watch out for. Let’s take a look: 

1. Repeated grammatical errors

 The frequent incorrect use of certain grammatical structures, for example the misuse of articles, is a common mistake in IELTS that some test takers make. If you are aiming for a band score of 8 in the Writing section, you must make sure that your grammar is as accurate as possible. 

So, check your common mistakes and practise writing model answers before the test. That way, you’ll have the chance to catch habitual errors before the exam and avoid making the same mistakes multiple times. 

2. Odd collocations

The use of correct collocations helps make your writing more sophisticated. However, inaccurate use of collocations is still a common issue. For example, “to give a distraction”, instead of “to provide a distraction”. 

So, how can you avoid making this common mistake in IELTS? Develop your awareness of common collocations by underlining them in IELTS reading texts and checking possible verb-noun collocations in a dictionary.

3. Over-generalisation

Part 3 of the Speaking test, the two-way discussion with the Examiner, requires you to speak more about the topic discussed in Part 2. Hedging is a useful language skill, but some test takers make a common mistake in IELTS Speaking and use limited hedging. Some examples of hedging language: 

  • As it seems that… 
  • It might well be that.. 
  • It could be… 

These expressions are used when we want to express that we are not 100% certain, so they come in very useful when you are generalising or speculating. Listen to some examples of Speaking Part 3 and note down the expressions you hear.

4. Lack of synonym knowledge

The Reading and Listening texts always contain the information you need to answer the questions. However, the text will most likely use different words (synonyms) to talk about a single thing or concept. 

A common mistake in IELTS is looking for one single word as a synonym. However, synonyms come in many different forms. They can be multiple words, or even short phrases. Compare the answers of a Reading test to the text to help expand your awareness of what synonyms can look like.

Common mistakes in IELTS: common mistakes for learners at intermediate level

Learners at Intermediate level can sometimes feel extra nervous before the test, but careful preparation can boost their confidence. Avoiding common mistakes in IELTS can help you do your best in the test. 

1. Unclear position and paragraphing

A common and costly mistake in Writing Task 2 is the lack of clarity when it comes to your position or opinion. In Writing Task 2, it’s important to state your position or opinion about the task topic clearly first, then elaborate. There are different task-types so make sure you understand exactly what the task asks you to do. You can read more about this here. 

Paragraphing mistakes are also common. Remember to address only one topic per paragraph. 

2. Stopping too soon in Speaking Part 2

In Speaking Part 2 you need to speak for one to two minutes. A common mistake in IELTS Speaking that test-takers often make in this task is to stop speaking after one minute. It’s important to extend your speech as much as possible, but it can be challenging to keep producing language in this context. 

As always, lots of practice makes a difference to your performance in the test. So, when you’re preparing for this task, set a timer and challenge yourself to keep talking for two minutes on whatever topic you’ve chosen. You could talk about the topic in the past, the present and the future, and even discuss advantages and disadvantages to extend your speech. 

3. Getting the gist

Often test takers at this level make mistakes in the Listening and Reading sections with questions related to the general or main idea. This is mostly due to a limited vocabulary range, which also affects the ability to read and comprehend the text at speed. In cases like this, finishing the reading text on time is a challenge! 

Building your vocabulary will help you understand more quickly what you read and enable you to glance over the text to get the gist faster.

How preparation can help with common mistakes in IELTS

Mistakes are a natural part of learning and can show you what you need to work on to get your skills to the next level. The speed of improvement will depend on how much time you spend studying. But remember, your most common errors are the ones you need to focus on the most in your IELTS preparation.

If you want to find out more about how to prepare for IELTS, check IELTS Ready.

Learn more about IELTS and download the Quick Guide to IELTS Success