8 things that could lower your IELTS writing score

Things to avoid in IELTS essays.

Updated: Nov 19th, 2022

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 informally, 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. 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. Examiners are trained to spot these and they will 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 that I found in recent essays I marked.

  • There are a plethora of reasons for the rise in obesity worldwide, chief among those are eating too much fast food and no exercise.
  • To my mind, it is an undeniable fact that global warming is caused by CO2 emissions…
  • One outstanding reason to support my view is that….
  • Contrary to popular belief, I argue that global warming is the primary danger to mankind.
  • From my perspective, health issues come from a bad diet and lack of exercise.
  • Carbon pollution is, without doubt, the foremost reason for the rise in global temperatures globally.
  • The primary factor which contributes to this phenomenon is global warming…
  • This is a highly controversial issue that needs to be tackled promptly
  • To elucidate my point further….

Just use language that you feel comfortable with. Memorised phrases and stock sentences will negatively impact your overall score.

2. 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.

  • At the end of the day, the government needs to raise taxes on fast food.
  • It costs an arm and a leg to use public transport in London these days.
  • The issue of global warming is a hot potato.
  • He landed on his feet and found a good job straight away.
  • I can’t get my head around why governments can’t sort out global warming.

Just avoid them unless your English level is very close to native speaker level and are you very confident when using them.

Slang words are also not advised in speaking or writing as they are very informal and can be misunderstood if not used in the right context. Some examples below.

I’m usually knackered after a hard day’s work

My mate is quite cheeky, he said I was a fat git.

I never eat at McDonalds, the meat is dodgy and the burgers taste like crap.

The sentences above are slang (British slang) and are not advisable in IELTS.

3. Using pronouns such as  ‘you, we, us’ too much

You can use personal pronouns in your writing but be very careful. If you are using the word ‘you or we‘ too much in your writing it comes across as informal as you are personally addressing the reader. See below for an example.

This paragraph is too informal and has grammar/wording issues.

‘In general, therapy and medicine are more expensive than prevention of diseases. For example, if you get a cold and have a high fever, you have to go to see a doctor and you will pay a lot of money for the diagnosis and medicine. However, if you would like to keep yourself from getting a cold, you have to just wash your hands and mouth before you enter the house or eat food. Also, its cost is not expensive it does not cost anything so, you don’t have to pay a lot……’

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. See how I changed it below.

This is how I corrected it

‘In my view, therapy and medicine are more expensive than the prevention of diseases. For example, if someone catches a cold and has a high fever, they would need to see a doctor, which tends to be very expensive for diagnosis and medicine. However, colds and flu can be prevented by simply washing hands and exercising basic hygiene which comes at no cost.

However, you can use I or My to state your opinion because many IELTS task questions ask for 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.

‘It is believed that the consumption of too much fast food causes obesity

The above statement does not clearly show my view, it looks like a general opinion because it is using passive language.

‘In my view, the consumption of too much fast food causes obesity’

This sentence above clearly shows my opinion, it is much better. To see a lesson on when you can use personal pronouns, click this link here.


Use pronouns for referencing

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

Instead of the examples above, use the full form below:

cannot / is not / are not / will not / do not / did not / should not

Example body paragraph from a discussion essay.

‘On the one hand, some people would argue that we shouldn’t ban cars from city centres. Their view is that many drivers need to get to business appointments and buses don’t always go directly to where they wanna go. Furthermore, people with disabilities who can’t take public transport need their vehicles to get around. For example, a 2018 report by the Guardian newspaper stated that private car use in Madrid had risen by 17% in 2017 as many people couldn’t rely on the bus and train network.’

The paragraph is well-developed and uses good vocabulary and grammar but you can see that the short forms let it down

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..

  • I will argue both points and present my opinion.
  • This essay would like to explore reasons for this and offer possible solutions.
  • I will illustrate my view in more detail in the following essay.
  • The following essay will outline more reasons why I hold this view.
  • I will give reasons and argue my opinion in the following essay.

You only need to do 2 things when writing an introduction.

  1. Paraphrase the task question.

  2. Write a thesis statement


To see more detail about outline sentences in IELTS writing click this link here.

Click here for a lesson on writing thesis statements.

6. Cliches in a conclusion

I have seen this quite a lot in the conclusion. The student usually thinks they have to impress the examiner with ‘high level’ phrases such as:

  • The above points illustrate my opinion.
  • As stated above these are the reasons for my view.
  • In a nutshell, I think….
  • All things considered….
  • Last but not least…
  • The crux of the matter is…..
  • To reiterate….
  • In the end…
  • Taking all this into consideration….

Avoid using these as they will make the essay look memorised and these are completely unnecessary. There is no need to complicate things, just choose one of these below to begin your conclusion:

  • To conclude,
  • To sum up,
  • In conclusion,


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 or disagree? / What is your opinion?

Do not use informal phrases to state an opinion in writing task 2 such as:

  • I reckon
  • I’d say
  • As far as I’m concerned
  • To be honest, I reckon
  • If you ask me, I think

These phrases above are fine to use in the IELTS speaking section as that is not a formal test. Just avoid them in the essay writing section.

You can state your direct opinion in an IELTS essay by simply using these phrases below.

  • I think
  • In my view,
  • I believe
  • I hold the view that
  • I agree because… / I disagree with this view because…


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.

The abbreviation ‘eg’ means ‘For example’ so it is much better to use cohesive devices to give examples in your essays. You can use these words below.

  • For instance,

  • For example,

  • To illustrate this,

  • Namely,

  • Such as


Click here to see a lesson on how to give examples in your essays.

By the way, you should 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.


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