Today’s post is the third in a four part series about the most common mistakes IELTS candidates make in each of the four papers of the IELTS exam.
In the previous posts we discussed how your band score could be lowered by making careless errors and avoidable mistakes that have nothing to do with your language ability. Even advanced level candidates are susceptible to this if they are not aware of the things they should take care over in the exam.
Today’s post is about common mistakes candidates make in the Writing paper, specifically on Task 1.
- Underachieving on the 150 word count
The writing task instructions expressly state: Write at least 150 words. This means that if you write fewer than that, you have not followed the instructions and therefore you have not “fully satisfied all the requirements of the task”, as stated in the Examiner’s assessment criteria. You should aim to write between 160-180 words, although you will not be penalised for writing more. However, the more you write beyond 180 words, the more chances you have to make mistakes and to ramble, ie. to lose your focus.
- Taking more than 20 mins
Writing Task 2 is worth twice as much as Writing Task 1, which means you should spend twice as much time on Task 2 as on Task 1. In a 60 minute exam, this means it is not worth spending more than 20 minutes on Task 1. In the exam, you are responsible for managing your own time so be careful to ensure you do not get so engrossed in task 1 that you forget to move on to Task 2 in time.
- Repeating/copying not paraphrasing
The examiner will be assessing you on your ability to rephrase the question task in your own words. Not only will you not get any marks for repeating the question task, you will be penalised. You need to demonstrate your ability to paraphrase, which is considered a crucial skill for IELTS. Don’t waste your precious word count of 150 words by copying the words already given to you.
- Incorrect tense
This is probably the most common of all problems that candidates have with Writing Task 1. They either choose the wrong tense or use it inconsistently. Look at the title of the chart/graph and the x/y axes to see what dates are used there, then use that information to choose an appropriate tense. Check that you use this tense consistently throughout the report. If the chart spans the past and present/future times, you will need to use a variety of tenses and should take extra care that you have used them appropriately in each case.
- Writing about everything on the graph
It is not necessary to include every single piece of information that you can see in the chart or diagram. In fact, this will be penalised because it negatively impacts on Task Achievement, which requires you to “present, highlight and illustrate key features/bullet points clearly and appropriately”.
- No clear overview
You have not written a “fully developed response” unless you have written a short paragraph which summarises the information on the chart or diagram. This should be the second paragraph of your essay because it influences what you write in the rest of your report. Remember to choose the key information only and try to look for links that you can describe. Don’t use numbers and figures in this part.
- Reporting features separately
There is a tendency for some candidates to describe the things they notice on the graph in isolation. The trouble with this is that the report then sounds more like a list of data and this will negatively impact your marks for Coherence and Cohesion. You need to “indicate a logical relationship between ideas” so you should look for patterns and trends on the graph and try to describe and compare the data.
- Reporting data inaccurately
Try to avoid describing data too precisely. If you can’t tell exactly what the figures are from just looking at the graph, use expressions like ‘approximately/around 1400’ or ‘just under 1400’. Don’t waste time doing complicated calculations. With diagrams, make sure you know how the process/equipment works and where the process starts and ends. Make sure you include all aspects represented on the diagram.
- Writing in the first person
Task 1 is a report so it needs to sound objective. Using phrases like “I think..” or “In my opinion…” make it personal and will lose you marks.
- Adding own information/interpretation
Candidates have been known to write detailed descriptions using their own knowledge or suggesting reasons why the data is what it is. This is a big NO-NO in the IELTS exam. You should only write exactly what you see and don’t give reasons for the data unless explicitly stated in the diagram or you will lose marks. You should also not add any new information or draw any conclusions from the data presented.
The key to success with IELTS Writing Task 1 is to prepare well before the exam by practising Task 1 style question tasks. By the time the exam comes around, you should be confident that you can draft and complete a report in 20 minutes, organise your ideas logically and choose appropriate tenses to describe the data.
Use the handy guide available below as a free download to help you with your preparation.