Today’s post is the first in a four part series about the most common mistakes IELTS candidates make in each of the four papers of the IELTS exam.
The purpose of the IELTS exam is to test your mastery of the English language and your band score will reflect your ability in each language skill, with an overall score that reflects your level. However, even an advanced level student can get a lower band score than they expect as the result of making errors in the exam which are nothing to do with their level of English. These mistakes are often small and students might think they are unimportant BUT they cost you marks. Being aware of these kind of mistakes before you attempt the exam is very important so you can avoid them.
Today’s post is about common mistakes candidates make in the Reading paper.
- Not using reading strategies
There are 3 sections in the Reading test and only 60 minutes in total to answer 40 questions. In order to locate answers in the texts quickly and successfully, it is CRUCIAL that you use strategies such as skimming and scanning, underlining topic sentences and searching for synonyms. Trying to read and understand a text from start to finish, or not underlining key words as you read will mean that you are wasting time – you could even run out of time before you’ve finished answering the questions.
- Not writing answers on the answer sheet
In the test, you are given a question booklet and an answer sheet. You can write down the answers in the booklet if you want but the examiners only look at answers you write on the answer sheet. Many students forget that IELTS Reading test does not give you 10 minutes to transfer answers to the answer sheet, as the Listening test does and as a result, they do not have enough time to transfer answers to the answer sheet.
- Copying wrongly
A lot of students copy the answers incorrectly from their question paper to the answer paper, especially if they are in a rush. Make sure you put the answer in the correct place and take care with your spelling.
- Going over the word count
It is important to pay attention to any instructions that say ‘no more than 3 words’. This means you can write one, two or three words but if you write more, the answer will be marked wrong.
- Not reading the instructions carefully
Candidates often throw away marks by skipping instructions. In the IELTS exam, you must do exactly what the instructions tell you so, for example, if the question asks you to choose two answers but you give only one, then that is incorrect. If you write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ instead of ‘true’ or ‘false’, that is also wrong.
- Not reading the question carefully
You can make mistakes by not focussing carefully on the exact question. It is easy to miss important words, especially if you are in a hurry. For example, the difference between “always” and “often” can change the meaning of a question and therefore an answer.
- Spending too much time on one answer
Each question is worth the same so it is not worth spending a lot of time on a question you find difficult to answer. Don’t spend more than 1.5 minutes on any one question. If you don’t know the answer after that time, guess.
- Looking for exact words rather than synonyms
Underlining key words in the question can help focus your reading when trying to locate the answer in the text but don’t assume that you will find the exact words. Usually the sentence will be paraphrased and the words in the text will be synonyms of the words in the question. If you know this, you will save yourself a lot of time searching for words that aren’t there.
- Answering questions before reading the text!
Sometimes students are confident that they know a lot about the topic of the text so they start answering the questions before they’ve read it. This is a mistake. The IELTS exam is testing your language ability not your knowledge. You must use the words from the text to answer the questions, so by answering questions without reading the text, you have a high risk of getting an answer marked wrong. It is fine to read the questions before you read the text but don’t start answering them straight away.
- Question order
Many students waste a lot of time because they forget that in general the questions are in the same order as the text. This means that if you have correctly underlined answer 2 and answer 4 in the text, then you know where to focus to find answer 3. The exception to this is the paragraph matching exercises where the questions will be jumbled.
So as you can see, these errors are not language problems, rather they are exam skills problems which can be easily prevented and overcome, whatever your level. Remember to keep them in mind on the day of your exam!