The following article is intended to help you understand the meaning of Grammatical Range and Accuracy, which is a criterion on which IELTS candidates are judged in certain parts of the exam. I will discuss the ways that this can be used to determine your score and then try to clear up some misunderstandings that people have about this difficult part of the test.
What is Grammatical Range and Accuracy?
Put simply, Grammatical Range and Accuracy is one of the four criteria by which IELTS writing candidates are judged:
From one perspective, this is actually the easiest of the four criteria to understand. It just means that the examiner is looking at your writing to see how good you are at grammar.
However, there are some misunderstandings about this and of course grammar is generally considered the hardest of these four areas to improve in, so I’ll say a little more in the following sections that will hopefully be helpful for you.
How is Grammatical Range and Accuracy Scored?
In the IELTS writing test, you will be given a score of between 0 and 9 according to the examiner’s assessment of your grammar skills. To get a band 9 here means that you have excellent abilities. Getting a band 0 would mean that you did not write anything and a band 1 means you cannot write even a simple sentence.
You can read all about the criteria for Grammatical Range and Accuracy in the band descriptors that are published by the British Council. Here’s an example of the criteria for band 5,6, and 7, which are the most common results:
The band descriptors can be hard for people to understand and in fact even many IELTS tutors around the world misinterpret them. (I’ll come back to that later.) However, the most important thing to take away is this:
- You need to make few errors whilst at the same time showing a range of grammatical skills.
That’s about the simplest that I can put it and, if you think carefully, it aligns perfectly with the name: “Grammatical Range and Accuracy”!
I would normally put this at the end of an article, but actually it is very important to mention it here.
The main misunderstanding that people have when it comes to Grammatical Range and Accuracy is that they think they must write really, really complicated sentences. Actually, being overly complicated is bad for a number of reasons.
To put that another way: Don’t show off! Instead, just write accurate sentences and use a natural range of structures. You don’t need to check off all four sentence types or use every verb tense, for example, but you should vary your sentences a little.
The next misunderstanding is one I just alluded to: You don’t need to use any particular grammatical forms in order to impress the examiner and there is no special structure that would guarantee you a band 7, 8, or 9.
Don’t listen to any teachers who promise this sort of thing. IELTS examiners will simply read your essay, weigh the correct grammar against the incorrect, and then assign a score according to the band descriptors.
There are no secrets or tricks that could help you get a better score.
Grammar is hard. We all know that. However, don’t worry about getting everything perfect. I’ve marked over 10,000 essays and I’ve never seen one that didn’t have at least a few errors. Even a native speaker would make one or two. You can still (theoretically) score band 9 and make some mistakes.
The most common mistakes are:
You can read a longer list of grammar problems for IELTS writing here.
It is worth checking common grammatical errors in your country or region because these do vary. In Russia, for example, articles are the biggest problem. In Germany, it is adverb order. Throughout much of East Asia, people struggle with pluralisation. Knowing this can help you focus your energy on the areas that need the most improvement.
How to Improve your Grammatical Range and Accuracy Score
Again, there are no tricks or shortcuts here. Whilst you could probably boost your Task Response or Coherence and Cohesion score by 1 or 2 bands in just a day or two of intensive studying, it takes months and even years to improve your score for Grammatical Range and Accuracy.
Again, grammar is hard. I cannot overemphasise that. Everyone struggles with it. However, you simply need to learn as much grammar as possible so that you can make as few errors as possible.
Here are some approaches you can take:
- Actively learn grammar by using textbooks and online courses.
- Passively learn grammar by reading and listening often in English.
- Practise your grammar by speaking and writing.
- Find out your strengths and weaknesses and focus on solving the latter. (Try my writing correction service if you want to do this quickly and effectively.)
- Take regular grammar tests to see where you are lacking.
During all of this, make sure to go back to the basics occasionally and brush up on those. The reason is simple: If you make a very basic mistake, it will have a big impact on your score. In fact, it will lower your score more than using a complex structure correctly would increase it.
Here’s a book I wrote about grammar:
How Can I Score Band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy?
According to the band descriptors, in order to score band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you must:
- use a variety of complex structures
- produce frequent error-free sentences
- have good control of grammar and punctuation (but you may make a few errors)
This is in addition to achieving the criteria for band 6 and below.
Although the band descriptors can be confusing, I think these are quite clear. I’ll paraphrase them to help you understand more clearly:
A band 7 essay should:
- feature a range of structures
- have many sentences without mistakes
It may, however:
- include a small number of errors
How many errors would that be? Some IELTS examiners say that a maximum of three grammatical errors could be made in order to score band 7, but of course it really depends on the severity of the mistake. Very small mistakes can be overlooked but big ones cannot.
Still, the point is the same: Aim for a range of structures and try to make as few mistakes as possible. A successful balance will help you to get band 7 or higher.
This part of the marking rubric often seems confusing but actually it’s quite simple. You will be given a grade based upon your grammatical skills. To get band 7, you must have good grammar. To get band 8, it must be very good. There are no shortcuts here. You cannot fool the examiner into giving you a higher score. Instead, just study hard until you are ready.