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Improve Your IELTS Writing Grammar Score – Video

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In this lesson, you can learn how to improve your grammar for the IELTS writing exam.

You’ll see exactly what resources you need to improve your IELTS writing grammar score. You’ll also get a practical plan which you can follow.

Here, you’re going to see a three-step plan to improve your IELTS writing grammar score. First, we want you to understand two things. One, do you know how the IELTS writing grammar score works? You can read the IELTS score scheme, which is available online, but here’s a summary. Your grammar score depends on two things: range and accuracy. ‘Range’ means the variety of sentence patterns which you use. If you only write in short, simple sentences, or if you repeat the same sentence patterns, you’ll get a lower score. To get a higher score, you need to use a wide range of sentence patterns.

Accuracy includes the quantity of mistakes you make, where you make them, and whether your mistakes affect communication or not. What does this mean for IELTS scores? If you only use simple sentence structures, or if you make a large number of mistakes, then you’ll get band five or lower for grammar. If you try to use more complex sentence structures, and if your meaning is clear in spite of your mistakes, then you’ll get band six. To get band seven, you need both good range and good accuracy. You need to use a wide range of sentence patterns without making many mistakes. Above band seven, it’s a question of degree: you need wider range and better accuracy.

Our second important point before you see your three-step study plan: you need the right resources to practise. You need: a good reference book, a source of IELTS writing tasks, an understanding of how to learn grammar in context, a memorisation tool, and a source of feedback. Let’s look at these one by one. You need a good grammar reference book. The best is the most popular: English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy. This is the intermediate version, which has a blue cover. The elementary and advanced versions are also useful.

Improve your IELTS writing grammar score - English Grammar In Use books

You need a source of IELTS writing tasks. Cambridge publish books with past exam papers; you can also type ‘IELTS writing tasks’ into Google or another search engine, and you’ll find plenty of results. You need to know how to learn grammar in context. This means you need to learn grammar by understanding and producing full, meaningful sentences. We explained how to do this in our Grammar Lesson 1 Video, which you should watch now if you haven’t already.

You need a memorisation tool. Language learning partly depends on memorisation, and memorisation is often slow and inefficient. We’ve also talked about this in other videos, but the best solution is a digital flashcard app such as Anki. Invest some time and learn how to use Anki or a similar tool, because this will save you time and frustration later.

Finally, you need a source of feedback. This probably means you need a professional teacher. I know many of you want to study independently, but it’s extremely difficult to improve your grammatical accuracy without feedback. To put it simply: if you don’t know when you make a mistake, then there’s no way to correct it. You need someone who can show you where you’re making mistakes, and explain the reasons why. Once you have these four things, you’re ready to start with our three-step plan to improve your IELTS writing grammar score.

For more resources, visit the Oxford Online English ‘resources’ page.

Let’s look at step one!

Step One: Building Accurate Simple Sentences

The IELTS scoring system differentiates simple and complex sentences. Here, ‘simple’ means that a sentence only has one clause, with one main verb. For example, these are simple sentences:

  • Fruit is good for you.
  • I am writing to ask for three days off work next month.
  • People from different cultures and backgrounds can have very different attitudes towards the role of marriage in a society.

Note that ‘simple’ relates to sentence structure, not length. ‘Simple’ sentences can be shorter or longer. The important point is that simple sentences have one and only one main verb. In your IELTS writing exam, the first step is to learn to write simple sentences accurately. If you can’t do this, your grammar score will be limited to band six maximum.

So, how can you practise this skill? Find an IELTS writing task; write your answer, but you need to follow some rules.

One: you can’t use any conjunctions. That includes simple words like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, as well as subordinating conjunctions like ‘although’ or ‘because’. No conjunctions!

Two: you can’t use commas. That doesn’t mean that you need commas but you don’t use them, it means that you never need a comma. Commas in the greeting of general task one are OK.

Three: you can’t use the words ‘that’, ‘than’, ‘which’ or ‘if’. What’s the point of these rules? Can you work it out? The idea is to write your answer using only simple sentences. A common problem for IELTS students is that they try to use complex sentence structures, but they can’t write simple sentences accurately. If you can’t form simple sentences without making mistakes, then you can’t form more complex sentences without making mistakes. So, write your answer, and get feedback, for example from a teacher. See how many mistakes you make, and where they are.

What next? You’ll probably find that you made more mistakes than you expected. That’s fine; don’t worry about it. Think about what you can do next. First, you need to learn and practise any grammar points which you don’t understand well. Look through your mistakes, or ask your teacher, and see if you repeat similar mistakes. Use your grammar book to read and do exercises on any topics which are weak. Secondly, you need to practise again. Find a new IELTS writing task and write your answer. As a first step, aim to get 50% of your sentences error-free. That means zero errors, including small mistakes. Once you can do this, aim to get 75% of your sentences error-free.

Next, work on the total number of errors. If 75% of your sentences are correct, and you make a total of ten errors in the remaining sentences, try to write an IELTS answer which only has five errors total. The exact numbers are flexible. What’s important is that you set yourself a target which represents progress for you. If you make 50 mistakes in your first attempt, then making 30 mistakes would be progress. It depends on you and where you’re starting. This step might take you a long time. Although we’re talking about ‘simple’ sentences, you need a lot of grammar knowledge to get through this. You need to be able to use all common English verb tenses, modal verbs, prepositions, articles, and more. However, don’t be impatient! This step is the foundation of your preparation.

Remember: if you can’t write simple sentences accurately, then you can’t do anything more complex. If your target score is IELTS Band 7 or higher, you need to work on this step until you can do it consistently. When you can write an IELTS answer using only simple sentences and without making many mistakes, you’re ready to move on to step two.

Improve your IELTS writing grammar score - checkmark

Step Two: Building More Complex Sentences

At step two, you’re going to do the same things, but the rules are different. Here are some suggested rules: for step two: One: you can use any coordinating conjunctions. That includes ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ and ‘or’. Two: you can use two or three subordinating conjunctions. We suggest you start with ‘because’, ‘although’ and ‘in order to’. Three: you can use ‘when’, ‘if’ and ‘than’. Just with these simple rules, your range is now much wider. You can now connect simple sentences using coordinating conjunctions. For example:

  • Social media allows us to connect with others more easily, but it can also lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

You can form complex sentences with subordinate conjunctions. For example:

  • Although social media does not normally cost money to use, its numerous disadvantages mean that it should not be considered ‘free.’

You can make conditional sentences with ‘if’; for example:

  • If social media is used responsibly and moderately, it can be a great tool for meeting new people.

You can also make comparatives, using ‘than’, as in:

  • Some people argue that social media has made face-to-face communication less important than in the past, but I do not agree.

So, you have more tools to use when writing. However, your general task is the same: find an IELTS writing task, write your answer, and get feedback. During this step, you need to make sure you’re using ALL of the language in the rules. We said in the rules that you can use these things, but actually, you should try to use every rule at least once. That means that your answer should have at least one sentence with a coordinating conjunction, at least one sentence with a subordinating conjunction, and at least one sentence with ‘when’, ‘if’ or ‘than’. If you can do that, then set yourself a new target: make two sentences for each rule, then three sentences, and so on.

If you did the work on step one, then your writing should be quite accurate. However, you also need to think about accuracy. Set yourself targets like you did in step one; for example, aim to get over 75% of your sentences error-free, or aim to make less than ten errors in total. The idea here is to start using more complex sentence patterns, but in a controlled way. There are still rules and limits, making it easier to focus on accuracy. However, your writing is hopefully now closer to natural writing, with a wider range of sentence forms. During this step, you can be flexible with the rules to make this easier or more difficult for you. If you find it difficult, then just use one or two rules at the beginning. If you find this step easy, then you can make the rules more complex, for example by using a wider range of conjunctions.

You can also add more rules. When you start doing this, you’re ready for step three.

Step Three: Extending Your Grammatical Range

Step three is similar to step two, but you need to add more rules, so that you need to use a wider range of structures in each piece of writing. Remember that the rules are not just what you can use; you must use each rule at least once.

Here are some possible rules you could add: Use a relative clause with ‘which’ or ‘that’. Use a passive sentence. Use a second conditional sentence. Use a comparative with ‘as…as…’ These are just suggestions; there are other possibilities! Continue practising as before: find a task, write your answer, and get feedback. If you can write your answer with a high level of accuracy, add another rule. If your accuracy gets worse, then practise with the same rules until you can write an accurate answer. You may need to work on specific grammar points if you have weaknesses. That’s the system; follow these steps and your grammar will get stronger, and this will improve your IELTS writing grammar score.

We imagine it would be useful for your speaking score, too. However, we imagine some of you have questions or objections, like: ‘How long will all of this take?’ ‘This seems like too much work! Do I need to do all this?’ ‘Do I really need a teacher to get feedback?’ To answer these: it will take a long time. The exact amount of time depends on you, but expect to spend several months working on this. Do you need to do all of these things? It depends on your score target, and how much time you have. Here’s the key fact: if you can’t use a wide range of sentence patterns, and if you can’t write simple sentences accurately, then you’ll struggle to get more than six for your grammar score. This is the exact situation which many of the IELTS students we meet find themselves in.

Finally, you need feedback from somewhere; it’s essential. Feedback can come from a teacher or from elsewhere, but it’s difficult to get from other sources. If your IELTS result is important to you, then we recommend finding the best teacher you can. Without a teacher, your potential progress will be much slower.

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