The aim of this post is to help you to improve your grammar for IELTS. However, before we get to that we first need to consider two more questions:
- Why is grammar important for IELTS?
- What is grammar?
Why is grammar important for IELTS?
You are marked on your grammatical range and accuracy in the speaking and writing test. It is important to remember that you are marked on both range AND accuracy – not one or the other. So, it is no good being very accurate but using only simple sentences, or using every kind of grammatical structure you can think of – but with a very high number of errors. You need to balance both – range AND accuracy.
In fact, it’s probably best to focus on mostly simple but accurate sentences, with a few longer, more complicated sentences where needed. This is because students often ‘over complicate’ their language during the IELTS test. They think they have to show off and use big, complicated words and sentences ALL THE TIME. This is just not true, and often leads to low scores because these students make so many errors. It is far better to use simple language MOST OF THE TIME, with a few more complex examples where needed. Remember, good language use is about communicating clearly, so that the listener or reader can easily understand you.
What is grammar?
Grammar is an ability that you can practice and improve. It’s a skill – not a list of rules to remember. For this reason, it’s better to think of it as ‘grammaring’ (a skill) rather than ‘grammar’ (a thing). Grammaring is just like learning to ride a bike – you don’t sit down and read a ‘bike book’ with rules like ‘Sit on the saddle’, ‘Turn the handlebars’ and ‘Pedal with your feet’. You learn by doing it – and by making mistakes. Falling off, getting back up and trying again is the only way anyone ever learns how to ride a bike. It’s the same with grammar – you have to make mistakes in order to improve. But you do need to learn from your mistakes – to notice when you make them or get feedback from someone else.
That’s the key skill – noticing the mistakes you often make, remembering them, and trying to correct yourself. If you have a teacher or someone else who can correct your use of English, make notes of any corrections you get and review them often. As you review your notes, look for any common mistakes (E.g. Do you forget to use have or has when using the present perfect? Do you confuse when to use ‘a/an’ with ‘the’? Do you struggle with conditionals?). You need to know what your common mistakes are, only then you can start improving. If you don’t have someone to correct you, here is an activity you can do to find your own errors:
How can I improve my ‘grammaring’ ability?
Find a short text, around 4 to 6 sentences, related to a common IELTS topic and read it once to get the general meaning. Read it again and write down a list of keywords from the text. Now, cover / hide the text and try to rewrite it using only your list of keywords. Finally, compare the original text with your own and note any differences.
Here’s an example:
Looking firstly at the advantages, I believe the most significant benefit of taking a gap year is personal development. While working or travelling for a year young people will inevitably have many new experiences which will help them to develop in various ways. Travelling internationally leads to increased understanding of other cultures and of the world and their place in it, while work experience will enable students to make better-informed decisions about their future studies and career options. A further benefit of work experience is a greater appreciation of money and a degree of financial independence that earning it will create.’
Topic = advantages of taking a gap year.
- advantages, significant benefit, gap year, personal development
- working or travelling, inevitably, new experiences, develop
- travelling internationally, increased understanding, other cultures, world, work experience, better-informed decisions, future studies, career options
- further benefit, work experience, greater appreciation, money, degree, financial independence, earning, create
Looking firstly at advantages, I believe the most significant benefit of taking a gap year is personal development. While working or travelling for a year young people will inevitably have many new experiences and will develop in various ways. Travelling internationally will lead to increased understanding of other cultures and of this world and their place in it, while work experience will help students to make better-informed decisions about their future studies and career options. Further benefit of work experience is greater appreciation of money and a degree of financial independence that earning it creates.’
Compare the two versions of the texts. What differences can you find?
Areas of grammar to improve:
- Articles: ‘the advantages’, ‘the world’, ‘a further benefit’ and ‘a greater appreciation’
- Relative clauses: ‘which will help them to …’
- Present simple vs will: ‘… that earning it will create’ vs ‘that earning it creates’ (Actually, both are fine – very little difference in meaning).
This example text is actually from an IELTS Writing Task 2 essay, so doing this activity can help you improve your grammaring ability and your writing ability at the same time. Try doing this activity every day for a month and see how much your writing improves!
How to Choose a Text
- You can choose any short text you want though – maybe part of a newspaper or magazine article.
- Try starting with shorter / simpler texts if the example in this lesson was too hard and then build up from there.
- However, if you can rewrite a text perfectly than either the original text was too short / too easy or you wrote down too many keywords.
- Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to find areas of your grammaring ability that you need to improve – there is no benefit if you complete it perfectly!
- You can also use spoken texts – either get a friend to read to you or use an audio recording.
- The activity works the same way, listen as many times as you need to get a good list of keywords down.
- But again, don’t listen until you can remember the whole thing.
That’s it for grammar. Remember, ‘grammaring’ is a skill that you need to practice, not a thing you remember. Also, mistakes are an important part of the learning process. Developing the ability to notice your own mistakes is the best way to improve your grammar (and increase your IELTS score)!