One of the most frustrating things for an IELTS tutor is marking the work of a student who has thrown away marks, not because of mistakes due to their language ability, but simply by not following the instructions properly. Too often, candidates are in such a hurry to get on with answering that they neglect this crucial stage. Sometimes they misread the task or they make assumptions about what the task actually requires. Sometimes there are several parts to a task and the candidate only addresses some of them, leaving the task only partially completed. Being careless with instructions can seriously impact your score!
Below are some other examples of ways you can lose marks if you don’t follow the instructions EXACTLY.
Reading and Listening exams
Writing more than you are supposed to
When the instructions say, WRITE NO MORE THAN ONE WORD, it means one word is the most you can write. If you write two or more, your answer will be marked wrong. If the instructions say, WRITE NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS, you can write one or two words, but no more. If you write three words, your answer will be marked wrong.
If the instructions say, WRITE NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER, you can write three words or less, and a number if it is required. If you write more than three words, your answer will be marked wrong.
It is a good idea to circle or underline this part of the instruction as a reference for checking your answers later.
Making one mistake when putting things in order
If you are asked to put 5 sentences/statements, etc, in the correct order and you get one wrong, you will lose 5 marks, even if the rest follow the correct consecutive order. This is because you will have all the answers aligned with the wrong question numbers.
The correct answers to questions 1-5 are A, B, C, D and E in that order.
However, you write the answers as follows:
Even though you have the consecutive order of most of the answers correct, due to your mistake with statement A, none of the rest of your answers match the question numbers and would be marked wrong. So for one error, you will have lost 5 marks!
Check your answers VERY carefully because this is a lot of marks to lose for one small mistake.
Writing answers in full when it says WRITE THE LETTERS A-G
In matching tasks, eg. matching headings to paragraphs, you will be asked to give the letter of the paragraph or the number of the heading. If you write the heading in full, not only will you waste time, but your answer will also be marked wrong even if you have chosen the correct one, because you have not followed the instructions explicitly.
Using your own words when it states USE A WORD FROM THE PASSAGE
This is self-explanatory. If the answer you write is not in the passage, it will be marked wrong even if the meaning is the same as the correct word from the passage. Although during parts of the Reading test it is expected that you will have to look for synonyms and examples of paraphrasing, these instructions above make it very clear that the answers for this task should be taken directly from the text.
Writing YES and NO instead of TRUE and FALSE
The True/False/Not Given tasks refer to facts and the Yes/No/Not Given tasks refer to opinions. If the task asks you to write one set of words, you cannot substitute them with the other set. You can write just the letter instead, eg T/F/NG or Y/N/NG, but you cannot use Yes for True or No for False.
Task 1: Not doing exactly what the instructions say
The instructions for Task 1 (Academic) will state ‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant’. “Reporting” means “describing”; it does not mean “interpreting”. So, you should choose the main features on the chart, graph or diagram and describe them. You should not add your own opinion or suggest reasons for the data as in the example below.
For example: “China, New Zealand, and Samoa all experienced significant growth in forest coverage during the years 1990-2005. This is probably due to increased awareness of the importance of forests to the environment. These countries likely had campaigns and laws created in this time period to protect and restore natural areas.”
The first sentence reports the data, which is what the instructions tell you to do. The second and third sentences are subjective and would lose you marks.
Task 2: Not doing exactly what the task asks for
There are a variety of ways the Task 2 Academic instructions might be worded and you must respond appropriately.
For example: The instructions might say ‘Discuss both sides and give your opinion’.
This means that you should follow the essay structure for a discursive essay and you must mention arguments on both sides AND state your opinion too. If you fail to do any one of these things, you will score lower than you should.
Part 2: Not covering all the points on your instruction card
The card that the examiner gives you in part 2 (the long turn) will have one main instruction and then there will be up to four points that you must mention during your speech.
For example: The task card might say: ‘Describe your favourite book’ (main instruction). ‘You should say who wrote it, what it’s about and why you like it so much’ (three detail points).
Be very careful in the preparation stage that you have thought what you will say in response to each point. During your talk, you can cross them off with your pencil to be sure that you have covered each of them.
So in conclusion, whenever you start a new set of questions, and particularly at the start of each new section on the Reading and Listening exams, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. Do the same in the Writing exam, remembering to underline the various parts of the task and the key words. It may take you a minute or so but it will save you valuable marks.