Top Tips for IELTS

Common mistakes: word formation and task 1 writing

This is a vocabulary/grammar lesson on how to avoid one of the most common mistakes in IELTS writing – getting the right word, but the wrong form of it. It should be useful for candidates who find that their scores are not improving. If that is the case, it almost certainly isn’t your exam skills which are the problem, it is your core language skills. The suggestion is to take some time out from “learning” the exam and focus on English.

Worried about the exam? This is particularly important in writing task 1 and you will find a challenging exercise at the end to test your task 1 skills.

What word formation is and how it can help you

Put simply, this is taking one word and making another word from it. Learning how to do this can help you in 2 ways. Firstly, you will avoid making mistakes. Secondly, it should make it easier to write, as you can say the same thing in more ways: you can write about “significant rises” and rose significantly”. To see what I mean, take a look at the exercise at the end of this lesson.

Test yourself first

Read this sample task 1 writing and try and find how many different mistakes are in it. They are all the same type: word formation.

It is clear from the line graph that there is approximate twice as much demand for electricity in winter as in summer. Demand in winter fluctuation around 40,000 units, while demand in summer is typically just under 20,000 units. Another main point is that the time of day affects how much electricity is used. In both seasons, there is less demand between 10 pm and  7 in the morning and there is a significantly fall in the units consumed; although during winter, there is a sharply rise from 32,000 to 38,000 units between 1am and 2 am. It should also be noted that there is a slight peak in summer time around lunch time where it reaches a high of just over 20,000 units.

See the mistakes

It is clear from the line graph that there is approximately twice as much demand for electricity in winter as in summer. Demand in winter fluctuates around 40,000 units, while demand in summer is typically just under 20,000 units. Another main point is that the time of day affects how much electricity is used. In both seasons, there is less demand between 10 pm and  7 in the morning and there is a significant fall in the units consumed; although during winter, there is a sharp rise from 32,000 to 38,000 units between 1am and 2 am. It should also be noted that there is a slight peak in summer time around lunch time where it reaches a high of just over 20,000 units.

 

Why it matters in task 1 especially

This is an important skill for all parts of IELTS, but it is especially important in task 1 simply because when you are describing a chart or graph there are not many words you can use. That means that you need to be able to vary the form of the words you do use.

Tip 1. Try learning fewer words, learning them better

One reason why candidates make mistakes with vocabulary is that they concentrate on learning new and complex words to impress the examiner. That is not always the right approach. Complex words are hard to use and are often used wrongly. The alternative is to concentrate on using fewer words, but using them accurately which means learning all their different forms. This is really what my series of lessons on the Academic Word List is about. The AWL is not 570 words: it is 570 word families – over 2000 words in all. That’s a lot.

Tip 2. Learn the different forms of the word

The best way to avoid mistakes is of course not to make them in the first place. One way to do this is to make sure you learn different forms of the word and not just one word. For example, in my class this week we had the word “product”, this meant learning these words as well:

produce

production

producer

Knowing these different forms of the words allows you to say more things.

Tip 3. Make sure you write down phrases, not just words

Another vocabulary learning tip is to write down phrases and not just individual words. This should help you remember how the words are used. This is important because sometimes different forms of the words are used differently:

produce results

the production of chemicals

a film producer

Tip 4. Learn a little grammar

Part of what I mean here is that you need to understand what verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs are. The more important point though is that you also need to know how we tend to use them in English. Here are some of the more common patterns:

adjective – noun (“a rapid rise“)

adverb – verb (“rise rapidly“)

adverb – adjective (“significantly lower than”)

noun – noun (production costs)

The difficult one here is probably the noun-noun combination. However, you should also note the adverb – adjective combination. It is very idiomatic and useful in task 1 writing in particular, eg

significantly lower

The one to be careful of is not using an adverb before a noun, here we need an adjective, eg:

a rapidly rapid increase

Tip 5. Learn how different forms of words are made

This is a tricky one as English has lots of different ways of making nouns, adjectives and verbs and there are very few “rules”. This brief outline may help you out though. If you look at the ends of words, you can often tell what form of word they are, So, typically:

nouns: –tion, -ment, -er/-or, – ity, -ness, -age, -ist

adjectives: -ic, – al, -ive, -ous, -ble, -ful, -ant, -ent, -less

verbs: -fy, -ise/-ize, -ate

adverbs: -ly

Exercise  – task 1 writing

This is quite a challenging exercise. You will find a short description of a task 1 line chart. Your challenge is to rewrite it using the correct form of the words.

exercise on line graph 1: You need to change the form of the words in a short task 1 report to describe a line graph

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4 Responses to Common mistakes: word formation and task 1 writing

  1. unsure December 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    “it is clear from the line graph that there is approximately twice as much demand for electricity in winter than in summer.”

    Shouldn´t that be ” …AS in summer.” ???

    • Dominic Cole December 12, 2011 at 4:55 am #

      Hmmmm. Thank you.Been doing some research here. At first glance, you are completely correct and it should be “as” and I have changed the passage.

      However, there are some people out there who say that where you are talking about numerical quantities and making unequal comparisons it is possible to go “twice as much than”. Indeed, a brief internet showed me that this is relatively common usage. The idea being that the meaning is “more than”. I suspect that in a few years time, this will be accepted as good usage. That’s the way English works – it tends to follow usage and not rules.

      For now though, I firmly suggest keeping to “twice as much as”, it’s safer and almost always the right choice.

  2. faezah December 12, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    I learnt that adverbs can be used anywhere in a sentence even before a noun. However, you opposed the opinion. Could you please clarify it?

    • Dominic Cole December 12, 2011 at 10:08 am #

      The first point is adverbs are hard because there are many types of them and so they can go in many different places. My point here though is that they do not qualify a noun, only verbs and adjectives. The mistake is to choose a “ly” adverb instead of an adjective.

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