Grammar for IELTS Writing

IELTS grammar

Grammar is important for IELTS writing exams. If you are able to use a suitable range of grammatical structures to express your ideas you will enhance your score. However, it is equally important that you use these structures in the correct way. The two words to bear in mind are “range” and “accuracy”. The examiner is looking for both of these elements in your writing. You should avoid falling into either of these camps:

Overdoing it: high range, low accuracy.

This describes a writer who has tried to make sentences as long and complex as possible, resulting in error. The writer has probably tried to cram as many obscure synonyms into the text as possible. Some of these will be inappropriate or unnecessary and the reader has trouble following the argument. Remember, to succeed in the IELTS writing exam, you must communicate your ideas clearly and effectively. If your goal is to “impress” the examiner, you might compromise this.

Playing safe: high accuracy, low range. 

On the other hand, this describes a writer who has made almost no grammatical errors, but the vast majority of the sentences are very simple. This writer has seldom added multi-word linking phrases (on the other hand, another reason for this). Also, the writer has ignored many opportunities to add more detail. Adjectives and adverbs are two easy ways of adding meaning. You should use opportunities like this in the IELTS writing exam.

Here is a breakdown of what range and accuracy mean in practice:

Grammar for IELTS: Grammatical Range

You must different structures to express your ideas. However, the choices you make should always come from the idea you wish to express, and not the other way around. It is not a good idea to use a highly complex sentence where a simpler one would fit more naturally. Here is an example of what this looks like in practice:

The data conclusively demonstrates both that computer ownership has increased steadily for the entire period for which we have statistics and the most appreciable growth is attested in the university graduate cohort.

What’s the Problem Here?

This writer has included active and passive voice, present and present perfect tenses and a variety of adverbs. While these are all good, the sentence runs on too long. The ideas would come across more effectively as three complex, interrelated sentences, like this:

The data conclusively demonstrates two facts. The first of these facts is that computer ownership has increased steadily for the entire period for which we have statistics. Furthermore, the most appreciable growth is attested in the university graduate cohort.

Notice that this second version loses none of the variety or descriptive precision of the first one, it’s just easier to read and follow. Sentence length is not the only way, or even the best way, to embed rich meaning in your writing.

Grammar for IELTS: Accuracy

Your writing does not have to be flawless. In fact, you might benefit from taking risks. You can achieve a good score even if your writing has a small number of minor grammatical errors. This is important in our times because most of us don’t write by hand very often. In an age in which we type most of our written communication, we all have to be careful when we are writing by hand because errors can easily sneak in. If you take some time to become aware of these common errors, you will be better able to see them in your own writing. Consider the sentence below. Can you see the very common mistake that it contains?

In today’s world, old-fashioned virtues like honesty, hospitality and kindness is becoming less common.

The mistake is small but quite jarring to the reader. “Old fashioned virtues” is a plural subject. This means that the sentence should read like this:

In today’s world, old-fashioned virtues like honesty, hospitality and kindness are becoming less common.

The confusion here comes from the fact that “kindness” is a singular noun. This is the last word that the writer wrote before moving on to the verb. This is clearer if we substitute “honesty, hospitality and kindness” for names:

John, James and Jack is coming.

It’s important that you finish your writing with a minute or two to spare, so that you can go back and reread what you have written. When you do this, you will almost always spot mistakes. Proof-reading texts (your own or someone else’s) is a good way to improve your grammar for IELTS.

Becoming Aware of Grammar for IELTS

One aspect of grammar that you can use to your advantage is the difference between active voice and passive voice. Consider the following statement about poverty, said in two ways:

(i)                  Many people believe that poverty causes crime.

(ii)                It is widely believed that poverty causes crime.

Statement (i) is in the active voice, while statement (ii) is in the passive voice. How can we tell the difference? Ask yourself this question: Who believes that poverty causes crime? In statement (i), we can answer: many people. In statement (ii), we don’t know who believes that poverty causes crime. A good writer will use a mix of active and passive sentences. Sometimes this can give slightly different meaning. Consider these two sentences from an essay about advertising:

(a)    Advertisers have convinced many people to buy useless products (active)

(b)    Many people have been convinced by advertisers to buy useless products (passive)

What Difference does it Make?

The person who writes sentence (a) is more likely to ascribe responsibility to the advertisers, not the people who buy the products. The writer of (b) will probably lean towards holding the people who buy the products more responsible.

Another factor that you can practice in the run-up to your test is sentence complexity. Remember, you are communicating, so you should not aim for complexity for its own sake. However, complexity can enhance communication, if you manage it well. Consider this sentence from the conclusion of an essay about public education:

(1) I think state-funded education is a good thing.

Always? Generally? In some cases?

(2) I think state-funded education is generally a good thing.

Under what conditions?

(3) I think free education is generally a good thing, provided that it covers the skills that the country needs.

How does this Help?

Sentence (3) is actually quite complex, but it is clear and easy to read and understand. Your writing should contain sentences like this. This demonstrates two important facts: that you can manage complexity (accuracy) and that you know when complexity is necessary (range).

The good news is that it is possible to improve your grammar in order to make your writing more varied and sophisticated. With enough time and focused practice, you can increase both the range and the accuracy of your written grammar. Our writing course will help you to achieve this. Also, if you build a habit of reading critically, you will be better able to write with a critical eye. This in turn will make your writing more accurate, without losing variety.