Words and phrases to avoid in IELTS essays.
The essay writing section of IELTS is formal. This is the same for the academic writing task 1 reports, so you must use the right register. You could lose marks in vocabulary or grammar if you are writing in an informal way, using idioms, or using memorised stock phrases.
In IELTS general writing task 1 you will sometimes get an ‘informal’ letter to write, so obviously in that specific case, you will write the letter in an informal register.
You may not lose a band score if you are doing just one of these things below but if you are making a combination of errors then it could be the cause of being stuck at band 6 or 6.5.
1. Using idioms or slang
Idioms are set phrases that native speakers often use in conversation. Do not use any idioms in the writing section, as they are far too informal and are often used in the wrong way by English learners.
You can use them in the speaking section but they must be used accurately. Make sure you know how to use idioms 100% or they could lower your score in speaking.
If you are memorising them in the speaking part then the examiner will notice it and that too will lower your score.
Here are some examples of idioms below.
2. Memorised sentences and ‘show off’ phrases
I see these a lot in essays. Many IELTS students think they have to show off to the examiner with set phrases. In fact, examiners are trained to spot these and they could lower your score.
These are easy to spot because the rest of the essay may have issues with faulty wording and grammar and suddenly there is a ‘native speaker’ academic type phrase that just seems out of place.
I have highlighted some I found in recent essays I marked.
3. Certain types of personal pronouns: you, we, us
You can use personal pronouns in your writing but be very careful. If you are using the word ‘you‘ too much in your writing it comes across as very informal as you are personally addressing the reader. See below for an example.
From the above example, you can see how informal it sounds, this student would need to work on using the passive to give it a more academic feel.
However, you can use I or My to state your opinion because in many cases an IELTS task question is asking your opinion directly, such as: ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree’ / ‘What is your opinion?’
It is very hard to give your opinion without using I or My, but don’t use the passive voice to state your opinion, Click below for examples.
You can, however, use ‘they‘, ‘it’ and ‘their’ to reference people or things in your essay as the marking criteria mentions ‘referencing’. To see a lesson on referencing click here.
4. Shortened words and short forms
Shortened words are words such as ‘info’ for information, ‘uni’ for university or ‘asap‘ for as soon as possible. Other shortened words which are informal in writing are ‘till’ for until, ‘gonna’ for going to, ‘thru‘ for through
Do not use these as they are seen as sloppy in writing and are mainly used in speaking. In addition to this are ‘short forms’ these are words such as :
can’t / isn’t / aren’t / won’t / don’t / didn’t / shouldn’t …etc
Again, too many of these short forms in an essay could hurt your score in vocabulary or grammar. Instead, use these below:
cannot / is not / are not / will not / do not / did not / should not
5. Outline sentences in the introduction
It is easy for a lower Band score candidate to just memorise these phrases and plug them into the essay. I have seen so many variations of these when I mark writing. Click below to see examples..
To see more detail about outline sentences in IELTS writing click this link here.
6. Cliches in a conclusion
I have seen this quite a lot when marking essays mainly in the conclusion. The student usually thinks they have to impress the examiner with ‘high level’ phrases such as:
Click here to see a lesson on how to write conclusions in writing task 2.
7. Using informal phrases to state your opinion
All IELTS essays are asking for a position, check the instruction words first as some ask for your direct opinion.
If the question asks you or your then it is asking clearly for your opinion such as: ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’ / What is your view’ / Do you agree? / What in your view is….?
Click here for more detail on when to give an opinion in an IELTS essay.
8. Using ‘and so on, etc, like, eg, i.e ‘ when giving examples.
For formal writing, words such as ‘and so on’ are not acceptable. This is seen as lazy writing, so you will need to explain what you mean. It’s the same with ‘etc’ or ‘eg’ .. avoid these and give a clear explanation of your points.
It’s ok if you are writing an email or a memo to someone in your office but not in IELTS writing. In IELTS speaking you can use ‘and so on‘ or ‘like‘ to give an example as the speaking test is informal.
Click here to see a lesson on how to give examples in your essays.
By the way, you must give examples in your main body paragraphs for a higher score in task response as you need to support and extend your ideas.
Any Questions? , Leave a comment below.