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Why Is My IELTS Writing Score So Low?

On Facebook and Reddit, I often hear a similar complaint: “Why is my IELTS Writing score so low?” Many IELTS candidates sit the exam and do well in reading, listening, and speaking, but then get a comparatively low score for writing. 

ielts band scores - Why Is My IELTS Writing Score So Low?
Mostly 8 and 9, but a 7 for writing

They feel frustrated. They ask, “Why did this happen?!?!” Their friends tell them that the IELTS exam is unfair or that they should appeal the result because they have made a mistake. 

I usually have the same response, and it’s not an easy thing to say: “Maybe your writing just isn’t that good.” 

Why are our writing skills weaker than our other language skills? 

To tell someone that they aren’t very good at writing can be difficult. The candidate has trained for years at improving their English and IELTS skills, and they obviously have a very high level at both. They simply don’t want to hear any negative comments about their writing skills.

ielts score poor writing - Why Is My IELTS Writing Score So Low?
Another low writing mark

Yet there is a good read why most candidates score lower in writing than any other part of the IELTS exam: it is the most difficult. 

I am a native English speaker and I have been working as a writer, an editor, and a teacher for many years. I have, in fact, been writing since I was a child. I wrote my first book when I was 16 and studied literature at university for my Master’s degree. This has given me a keen eye for writing, and so when I look around at my friends’ emails and Facebook posts, I see a lot of mistakes. 

You see, writing is hard. Even native speakers make mistakes in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. We do it all the time. 

However, for the IELTS writing exam, there are certain criteria you must fulfill in order to get a good band score. To put it simply, you must:

  • have good grammar
  • make few spelling mistakes
  • vary your language
  • have a logical structure
  • be consistent in your ideas

You don’t need to be a professional writer in order to do these things. You just need to be competent with language. 

Why is my writing score lower than my speaking score?

It seems logical that someone would have similar scores for speaking and writing. After all, that same brain is producing language on similar topics. 

However, students almost always get a higher score in speaking. Why is that? 

There are a few reasons. Here, I shall try to explain them carefully: 

There is MORE to do in writing

Ok, this sounds strange. In writing, there is just MORE that you have to do. You have to spell words and punctuate sentences, for a start. Usually when we learn a language, we have the sentence in our head. It is easier to bring it out through our mouth than our hand. 

Spelling is difficult. Even native speakers have trouble spelling certain words. This is especially true for people who spend a lot of time listening and very little time reading. There are some commonly misspelled words that trip us up, like those ending in “-ce” or “-se” and words that gain or drop a letter when changing form: “argue” -> “argument”. 

Punctuation is something that many native speakers really struggle with, too. You don’t need to punctuate your essay perfectly to get a band 7, though. You just need to know the basics. 

You can find out the basic rules of punctuation in my book, Grammar for IELTS Writing. I make it really, really simple. 

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Grammar for IELTS Writing

In speaking, you don’t think about spelling or punctuation. You also don’t think about structure, necessarily. (Although for part two and three, you should be logical in how you order your answer.) Being able to put your ideas into paragraphs is essential for IELTS writing success

Practicing writing mistakes is harder

When you are learning a new language, you need to practice. In English, we always say, 

Practice makes perfect

However, in writing this is not always true. If you practice writing IELTS essays over and over, you might not improve at all. Without feedback, you will only get quicker at writing. 

Practice makes us better at something through repetition. If you are making mistakes, you will simply embed those mistakes deeper, and it is harder to fix them later. 

When we are speaking English, we can see and hear whether our speech elicits the desired response. When I was learning Chinese, I could tell whether the person I spoke to understood me. However, this is not the case with writing. 

Sitting alone at home, writing an essay, it is impossible to know whether or not you are actually making progress. You need someone to correct your essay for you. You need an expert to give you feedback, or else you will simply make the same mistakes again and again. 

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Thankfully, I offer a writing correction service for IELTS candidates. I will mark your essay (general or academic; task 1 or task 2) and let you know all of the problems you need to address. I can help you get your target score by showing you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong

Some common problems in writing for IELTS

I have already mentioned spelling and punctuation because these are the biggest issues that IELTS candidates face. However, there are other problems that perhaps hold you back in writing. 

Timing is one issue. When it comes to the IELTS writing exam, students must write quickly to get the necessary word count in the allotted time. This is a challenge, and it can cause you to make mistakes. 

Memorized answers are another big issue. Often, students will use IELTS phrases that they learn in training centers. Examiners hate these phrases and you will be penalized for using them. 

Misreading the question is also quite a problem. Sometimes you see a question that relates to education and you begin writing. However, did you actually answer the question? Make sure to analyze the question fully before you start writing. 

Finally…

The IELTS writing exam is by some measures the most difficult part of the exam. It is hard to prepare for and it can really seem unfair. But please don’t get discouraged. You can work on your writing skills and improve to a huge extent if you practice in the right ways. Here is how I recommend you try to write the perfect essay:

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. He has worked as an IELTS tutor since 2010, has completed both TEFL and CELTA courses, and has a certificate from Cambridge for Teaching Writing. In 2018, he wrote the popular IELTS handbook, Grammar for IELTS Writing. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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