By IELTS Expert

14 June 2023 - 12:25

A teacher help his students in the classroom
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IELTS assesses the full range of English skills needed to succeed in a new job or study placement abroad. It’s made up of four sections: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. You can take either of the two IELTS tests depending on your requirements – IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training.

No matter which test you’re taking, grammar – that is, the structure of the English language and how we use it – is an essential component.

Book your IELTS test with the British Council

Why you need grammar for IELTS

Grammar is a big part of how we speak, read and understand language. While there is no specific grammar section on the IELTS test, you will need to understand the fundamentals of grammar in order to succeed on the IELTS Writing and Speaking sections, and a good grasp of grammar will be important for Listening and Reading as well.

Grammar for IELTS Academic

The IELTS Academic test measures if your level of English proficiency is suitable for an academic environment. Academic language tends to be more formal than everyday English, so it is important that you understand the basics of academic writing.

Some tips for grammar in academic writing:

  • Make sure you understand how and when to use the active voice and the passive voice. The active voice is more concise, but sometimes formal writing requires the use of the passive voice. 
  • Proper punctuation is essential for academic writing. Make sure you understand how and when to use colons, semicolons, apostrophes, parenthesis and other forms of punctuation.
  • Using the correct verb tense is very important in order to properly communicate what has happened, what is going to happen, and what might happen – which can be essential in academic texts.

Grammar for IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training test measures your English proficiency in a practical, everyday context. The tasks for this test will reflect both workplace and social situations.

Some tips for everyday grammar:

  • Sentence structure can be difficult to master, but varied and natural sentence structures can make a big difference in how comfortable you seem with the language.
  • Make sure you understand the order in which words should come in a sentence, as that’s important in everyday speech.
  • Pay attention to idioms – these are expressions that people use often in everyday communication, such as ‘get the ball rolling’ or ‘touch base’.

See grammar basics for more details.

How is grammar marked for IELTS?

The Writing and Speaking sections are each assessed according to four different descriptors, including grammar.

Writing band descriptors

The Writing section of IELTS is marked on four descriptors:

  1. Task achievement (how well your response covers the task requirements) 
  2. Coherence and cohesion (the flow and layout of your text)
  3. Lexical resource (vocabulary and spelling)
  4. Grammatical range and accuracy (your grammatical ability)

You can find the details of how the grammar section is assessed below.

Band Grammatical range and accuracy
9
  • A wide range of structures within the scope of the task is used with full flexibility and control.
  • Punctuation and grammar are used appropriately throughout.
  • Minor errors are extremely rare and have minimal impact on communication.
8
  • A wide range of structures within the scope of the task is flexibly and accurately used.
  • The majority of sentences are error-free, and punctuation is well managed.
  • Occasional, non-systematic errors and inappropriacies occur, but have minimal impact on communication.
7
  • A variety of complex structures is used with some flexibility and accuracy.
  • Grammar and punctuation are generally well controlled, and error-free sentences are frequent.
  • A few errors in grammar may persist, but these do not impede communication.
6
  • A mix of simple and complex sentence forms is used but flexibility is limited.
  • Examples of more complex structures are not marked by the same level of accuracy as in simple structures.
  • Errors in grammar and punctuation occur, but rarely impede communication.
5
  • The range of structures is limited and rather repetitive.
  • Although complex sentences are attempted, they tend to be faulty, and the greatest accuracy is achieved on simple sentences.
  • Grammatical errors may be frequent and cause some difficulty for the reader.
  • Punctuation may be faulty
4
  • A very limited range of structures is used. 
  • Subordinate clauses are rare and simple sentences predominate. 
  • Some structures are produced accurately but grammatical errors are frequent and may impede meaning.
  • Punctuation is often faulty or inadequate
3
  • Sentence forms are attempted, but errors in grammar and punctuation predominate (except in memorised phrases or those taken from the input material). This prevents most meaning from coming through. 
  • Length may be insufficient to provide evidence of control of sentence forms.
2
  • There is little or no evidence of sentence forms (except in memorised phrases).
1
  • Responses of 20 words or fewer are rated at Band 1.
  • No rateable language is evident.

Speaking band descriptors

The Speaking section of IELTS is marked on four descriptors:

  1.  Fluency and coherence (how well your meaning can be understood)
  2.  Lexical resource (correct use of language and idioms) 
  3. Grammatical range and accuracy (the types of sentence structures used)
  4. Pronunciation (how well your speaking can be understood) 

You can find the details of how the grammar section is assessed below.

Band Grammatical range and accuracy
9
  • Structures are precise and accurate at all times, apart from 'mistakes' characteristic of native speaker speech.
8
  • Wide range of structures, flexibly used. 
  • The majority of sentences are error free.
  • Occasional inappropriacies and non-systematic errors occur. A few basic errors may persist. 
7
  • A range of structures flexibly used. Error-free sentences are frequent. 
  • Both simple and complex sentences are used effectively despite some errors. A few basic errors persist.
6
  • Produces a mix of short and complex sentence forms and a variety of structures with limited flexibility. 
  • Though errors frequently occur in complex structures, these rarely impede communication.
5
  • Basic sentence forms are fairly well controlled for accuracy. 
  • Complex structures are attempted but these are limited in range, nearly always contain errors and may lead to the need for reformulation.
4
  • Can produce basic sentence forms and some short utterances are error-free. 
  • Subordinate clauses are rare and, overall, turns are short, structures are repetitive, and errors are frequent.
3
  • Basic sentence forms are attempted but grammatical errors are numerous except in apparently memorised utterances.
2
  • No evidence of basic sentence forms.
1
  • No rateable language unless memorised.

Find out more about how IELTS is assessed here.

Five grammar basics to know for IELTS

If you study the band descriptors above, you’ll notice a few key requirements that stand out. While it’s a good idea to have a firm grasp on English grammar in general, there are a few specific areas you may want to focus on to perfect your grammar for IELTS.

1. Sentence structures and forms

There are four types of sentence structures:

  • Simple sentences.
  • Compound sentences.
  • Complex sentences.
  • Compound-complex sentences.

You should aim to use a variety of these structures in your IELTS test, so it’s a good idea to make sure you understand what they are and how they work.

2. Word order

Putting your words in the right order will make a big difference in your mastery of English.

Here’s a guideline:

  • For sentences: subject + auxiliary verb + main verb + object + adverb of time

    Correct: They studied student behaviour for five years.

    Incorrect: They for five years studied student behaviour. 

  • For questions: auxiliary verb + subject + main verb + object

     Correct: Have you studied student behaviour.

     Incorrect: You have studied student behaviour?

3. Know your tenses

Tense refers to when an action takes place. There are three major tenses in English: past, present and future. Your ability to use all three correctly will have a big impact on how well you score on your IELTS Writing and Speaking tests.

  • Past tense – I took my IELTS test yesterday.
  • Present tense – I am taking my IELTS test today.
  • Future tense – I will take my IELTS test tomorrow.

In addition, there are different types of each tense according to when and how they are used – make sure you are familiar with these:

  • Simple past, for when the action happened before the present. E.g.) I studied for my exam yesterday.
  • Past continuous/progressive, for when the action was continuing in the past. E.g.) I was studying for my exam yesterday. 
  • Past perfect, for when the action completed in the past. E.g.) I had studied for my exam yesterday.
  • Past perfect continuous, for when the action was a long time ago. E.g.) I had been studying for my exam.
  • Simple present, for when the action occurs regularly. E.g.) I study for my exam every day.
  • Present continuous/progressive, for when the action is continuing. E.g.) I am studying for my exam.
  • Present perfect, for when the action has been completed in the present. E.g.) I have studied for my exam today.
  • Present perfect continuous, for when the action shows a time frame from past to present. E.g.) I have been studying for my exam.
  • Simple future, for when the action is in the future. E.g.) I will study for my exam.
  • Future continuous/progressive, for when the action will be in progress in the future. E.g.) I will be studying for my exam.

4. Punctuation

Correct use of punctuation is particularly important for the Writing section and can make a very big difference in the meaning of a sentence.

 Watch out for common mistakes such as:

  • Not using enough commas. Not using commas to separate items in a list or sentence clauses can drastically change your meaning.

     Correct: Susan enjoys cooking, her cat and her dog.

     Incorrect: Susan enjoys cooking her cat and her dog.

  • Using too many commas. Putting commas where they’re not needed can make a sentence confusing and hard to understand.

     Correct: Susan studied for her exam, then went for a walk to clear her head.

     Incorrect: Susan studied, for her exam, then went for a walk, to clear her head.

  • Its/it’s and their/they’re

     Use 'its' or 'their' if the pronoun is possessive – e.g.) the dog wagged its tail, they studied for their exam.

     Use it’s or they’re if you can replace the word with two words – e.g.) it is raining – it’s raining, they are walking – they’re walking.

5. Passive and active voice

The active voice is direct and engaging, while the passive voice is more formal. The active voice tends to be used more in speech and communication, while the passive voice is often appropriate for academic or professional writing. Using them correctly can lend the right tone to your writing and speaking.

  • Active: The dog chased the ball.
  • Passive: The ball was chased by the dog.

In the above example, the active voice is more direct, concise, and engaging.

  • Active: Susan will present the final results tomorrow.
  • Passive: The final results will be presented tomorrow.

In the above example, the passive voice is more neutral and formal.

Grammar for IELTS Writing

There are two tasks to complete for the IELTS Writing section. Task 2 is longer than Task 1 and worth twice as many points.

Academic

  • Task 1 involves describing or summarising a graph, table or diagram in your own words.
  • Task 2 involves writing an essay to argue a point of view, argument or problem. 

 General Training

  • Task 1 involves writing a letter related to a specific situation.
  • Task 2 involves writing an essay to argue a point of view, argument or problem in a fairly personal style.

Practising your grammar for IELTS Writing

The best way to practice your grammar for either the IELTS Academic or the General Training Writing tests is to take the online IELTS practice tests. After completing your test, go through your answers with the band descriptors above and evaluate your grammar on each point. 

Underline or circle areas where you don’t feel confident that your grammar is correct. This can help you identify grammar rules that you need to study further, such as proper use of punctuation or varying the length of your sentences. Try re-writing your answers to see if you can improve your response.

Grammar for IELTS Speaking

The IELTS Speaking test involves talking to a certified Examiner to answer a variety of questions. The content for this test is the same for both the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests.

In Part 1 of the test, the Examiner will ask you some general questions about familiar topics such as home, family and interests. In Part 2, the Examiner will ask you to speak uninterrupted on a particular topic and will then ask further questions about that topic in Part 3 of the test.

Practising your grammar for IELTS Speaking

The best way to practice your grammar for the IELTS Speaking test is to take the online IELTS practice tests, preferably while recording yourself and/or with a partner.

If you’re able to record yourself, review your responses and make note of when and where you stumble or say something that doesn’t sound right. See if you can identify why it doesn’t sound right by listening to your grammar. If you’re not able to record yourself, ask someone to make notes for you to review afterwards.

If you can identify where you’ve gone wrong with your grammar, then you can practice further to improve your skills in that area.

Grammar for IELTS Listening and Reading 

In the IELTS Listening section, you will listen to four recordings and then answer a series of questions. In the IELTS Reading section, you will read three different passages and respond to questions. The content for the Listening section is the same for both the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests, but the content for the Reading section will differ.

Practising your grammar for IELTS Listening and Reading

The most important element of grammar for the IELTS Listening and Reading sections is comprehension. You need to be able to understand nuances of meaning in what the text and recordings are saying, which can be largely influenced by grammar.

As with the Writing and Speaking sections, the best way to practice for the Listening and Reading sections is to do the online IELTS practice tests. However, you can also practise your listening and reading skills by engaging with content and media from native English speakers.

Some practical ways to study include:

  • Listening to audio books, radio programmes or podcasts in English
  • Subscribing to newspapers or magazines in English
  • Reading books in English

Remember, if you’re taking the Academic test, make sure to look for reading materials at an academic level.