How To Check Your IELTS Essay…and Why You MUST Do It!

The final few minutes of the IELTS Writing Test can make all the difference between getting the band score you deserve…and having to take the test yet again.

Because in the final few minutes you need to check your essay. Here’s why…

IELTS error checking

When writing, it’s very easy to make mistakes with your vocabulary and grammar. Even native speakers do this when writing. But these errors will affect your band score.

To get Band 7 in Lexical Resource, you should only produce “occasional errors” in word choice, spelling and word formation. If the examiner thinks that you have more than occasional errors, Lexical Resource will be limited to Band 6.

To get Band 7 in Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you should produce “frequent error-free sentences” along with “good control” of grammar and punctuation.

So it’s really important to minimise the number of errors you make with word choice, spelling, word formation, grammar and punctuation if you want to get Band 7 overall.

So how should you check your writing?

2 Types of Language Error

First of all, it’s important to understand that there are basically two types of language error:

  • knowledge errors: errors resulting from lack of knowledge
  • forgetful errors: errors resulting from forgetfulness

Knowledge Errors

The first type of language error is when you DON’T know the correct language, or you’re not sure about it.

For example, if you’re not sure which tenses to use when forming the second conditional, then all you can do is guess. So you might guess:

If businesses will provide exercise bikes, their employees would take more exercise.

whereas the correct form is:

If businesses provided exercise bikes, their employees would take more exercise.

In the exam, there’s not much you can do about these errors, because they are the result of a lack of knowledge, so you won’t be able to correct them. The only way to reduce errors like these is to learn more English before taking the exam.

Forgetful Errors

But you CAN do something about the second type of language error. The second type of language error is when you DO know the correct language…but you forget about it when writing your essay.

This often happens in the language classroom:

Teacher: “What did you do yesterday?”
Student: “Yesterday I go to the museum.”
Teacher: “Go?”
Student: “Oh, no! ‘went’. Yesterday I went to the museum.”

In this example, the student can correct their error as soon as it is pointed out to them. The fact that student was able to self-correct immediately shows that the error wasn’t the result of a lack of knowledge. It was simply forgetfulness – maybe they weren’t concentrating, or they were tired, or they were thinking about the museum, or they were thinking about how to pronounce “museum” correctly. In other words, their brain had too much to do, so it forgot about tenses.

When you write, it’s also very easy to forget the language you know because you also have to think about generating your ideas, the organisation of your ideas, how to link your ideas, what vocabulary to use, what grammar to use, what punctuation to use, how much time you have left, and maybe you’re also tired.

Of course, if you plan your essay, then you won’t have to think about your ideas and how to organise them as much, giving you more brain power to think about your vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. But you may still make errors from forgetfulness.

So it’s important to spend a few minutes at the end of the exam checking your writing. Once you see these “forgetfulness” errors, you should be able to quickly correct them, and this often can make the difference between getting a Band 6 and a Band 7 in IELTS writing overall.

So what kind of “forgetfulness” errors do test takers typically make?

Well here are some sentences. Each sentence contains one error. Can you spot the errors and correct them yourself? Click on the errors.

(You can find the correct sentences at the bottom of the page.)

So in these sentences, there were errors with:

  • word formation
  • verb tenses
  • word choice
  • spelling
  • articles

Other common errors include

  • word order
  • conjunctions
  • subject-verb agreement
  • incorrect preposition in a phrasal verb
  • punctuation


Spend around 3 to 5 minutes at the end of the test looking for these forgetfulness errors. Your goal is to REDUCE the number of “forgetful” errors you make. Remember, this can make the difference between a Band 7 and a Band 6.

How to Check for Grammar Errors

Be aware of the grammatical mistakes you frequently make – check for these first. If you make errors with articles, check these first. If you sometimes forget to use correct punctuation, remember to check this.

How to Check for Spelling Errors

Start at the end of your essay and scan your writing BACKWARDS rather than forwards. Or, if time is short, scan words at random. This will help you to focus only on spelling, not on meaning, so you will see spelling mistakes more quickly.

Ask yourself if the word ‘looks right’ – i.e. see each word as a picture

Checking for Other Errors

Also check for any unclear referencing and significant repetition of particular words. as these can also limit your band score. For example, I know that I use the words “can“, “often” and “so” too much in my own writing! I’m aware of this, so I can…oops!!…I’m aware of this, therefore I make sure I check for these words in my own writing.

What You Should NOT Do!

Here are FIVE things you should NOT do in the final few minutes of the IELTS Writing Test.

  1. Don’t try to change individual words to “more advanced” words – i.e. using synonyms
  2. Don’t add in extra words – this may lead to unnatural collocations
  3. Don’t rewrite whole passages of text – you don’t have time
  4. Don’t try to squeeze in new transition signals – this can often lead to unnatural cohesion
  5. Don’t change your arguments / ideas – you don’t have time

These things are unlikely to improve your band score. Worse, they may actually reduce your band score, but in any case, it’s better to use the final few minutes reducing your forgetfulness errors.

Also, don’t check each sentence as you write your essay – wait until you’ve finished the whole essay before you check. This is a more effective use of your time.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your IELTS preparation!

Correct Sentences

Here are the correct sentences from the activity above:

1. Young people still seem to have enormous problems finding work.

2. Young people are very interested in environmental issues.

3. In recent years, juvenile crime has been a serious threat to society.

4. Accommodation in inner city areas is usually of poor quality and very expensive.

5. More money needs to be spent on finding a cure for cancer. (no article needed)

6. Although the proposal has been put forward before, it should be examined again.  (no “but” in this structure)

7. Apart from buses and trains, there are other forms of public transport that could be used.

About the author

Charlie is a former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 100,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

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