Top Tips for IELTS

Band score 8.0 – range of grammar

This lesson looks at the idea of range of grammar. If you are aiming for a high band score, it is not simply enough not to make mistakes, you also need to show that you can use a number of different grammatical constructions. First of all, I talk you through some principles and then I give you some practical suggestions on what sort of grammar can help and, just as importantly, how to use it.

Test yourself first

Before you read on. You might want to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I going to impress more with longer sentences?
  2. Do I have a strategy for when I use simpler grammar and more complex grammar?
  3. When and why do I use complex grammar like relative and conditional clauses?

Understanding range of grammar

1. An essay should combine simple with complex grammar

This is the starting point. A well-written essay should be relatively easy to read. This means that you need to combine the simple with the complex. Where you have straightforward to say, you should not try and show off your grammar by making it seem complex – indeed, that’s a very common mistake.

Typically, you should aim for:

  • simple structures when you are making main points – often in the opening and/or closing sentences of your paragraphs
  • more complex structures when you are explaining/developing  those main points  in the body of your paragraphs
  • a movement from the more simple to the more complex

When you have something simple to say, say it simply. Only use complex structures for more complex thoughts.

 

An example of the simple and the complex

This paragraph expresses some complex thoughts, but it starts off simply to make the main point.

The major argument against hosting international sporting events is financial.Typically, it can cost several million pounds to build the arenas and modernise the infrastructure so that it can cater for the athletes and the spectators. This money, it is argued, would be better spent on welfare and education programmes that provide direct support for the population.Indeed, some governments have incurred so much debt through hosting the Olympic Games that they have had to reduce spending on other social programmes.

 

The first sentence of this paragraph is simple. All I want to do is make clear that the main reason is financial. I use simple clear English so that reader gets the main point. The grammar is “It is financial”.

The next sentences are more complex and use complex structures to express more complex thoughts

so that because I am talking about results

would be better spent because I am talking conditionally

that provide direct support for the population because I am defying my terms

 

2. An essay should combine longer and shorter sentences

In many ways this is the same point. It is absolutely not the case of long sentences good, short sentences bad. There will be times when a short sentence is more effective than a long sentence. In general, though, you should avoid the extremes of very long and very short. Also, you need to ask yourself how complex your sentences are. Shorter sentences can work:

  1. if they are used in combination with longer sentences, or
  2. if they are relatively complex
Longer sentences can work:
  1. if they are used with shorter sentences, or
  2. if they are simpler in structure (using “and” and “but”)
Be careful of too many long, complex sentences and too many short simple sentences

 

A paragraph with different sentence lengths

None of the sentences in this paragraph are particularly long for short.

Another way in which free public transport could improve our quality of life relates to congestion. Currently, the trend is for increasing numbers of people to choose to drive to work. This means that in many cases the rush hour is several hours long and it is sometimes almost impossible to travel across a city.It is probable that this level of congestion would be reduced by making public transport free.

The first sentence is shorter because it is the opening sentence of the para and it also includes the complex “in which” construction.

The second sentence is shortish again because it is merely stating a fact – no need to make it more complex 

The third sentence is a longer sentence, but it is simply linked using “and”

The final sentence is again relatively short/simple sentence but it does contain a conditional “would” and a “by” structure.

 

Examples of grammar that can work

This is not intended to be a list of advanced grammar points that will guarantee you a band score 8.0. Rather, the idea here is to show you grammar connects to meaning. You should never just use a structure because it is “good” grammar. Instead, you need to ask yourself what is the best way I can express this point.

The best writers use these structures when they need to, not because they think they have to

1. the passive

I start with the passive because it is so often misused. It is not the case that the passive is an academic structure that should be used in essays. We use it all the time in all sorts of contexts. Here, though, is one way you might find it helpful in writing:  to avoid repeating words – especially nouns/pronouns. You may want to avoid using some words too much – especially words from the question. Here the passive can help you. In a question about government action, rather than writing:

The government should introduce measures to

you can try

Measures should be introduced

so that you don’t repeat the word “government”.

2. Relatives

This is another piece of grammar you need to feel comfortable with and can help you. You should be careful, however, not to overuse relatives as they can make your writing both confusing and confused. One tip I would give you here is to try and restrict yourself to one relative per sentence and to try and avoid them in already complex sentences. Look at this example:

There is a real danger that allowing people to travel for free would deprive transport authorities funds which they need and lead to a  lower standard of service.

The relative can be avoided by changing it into an adjective phrase:

There is a real danger that allowing people to travel for free would deprive transport authorities of much needed funds and lead to a  lower standard of service.

When you do use relatives though is to define terms and add detail. Here is an example in action:

More than that, if the authorities plan carefully, they can use the occasion of the sporting event to help finance public works which benefit the whole population in the long term.

I want to say what sort of “public works” I am referring to so I define them in the relative which benefit the whole population in the long term.

3. Conditionals

Here is another piece of grammar that can help you out. Provided that is, you see how and when to use it. One of the best ways to use these conditionals to explain and give examples. This means they are likely to come in the body of your paragraphs and not the introduction/opening sentence. Try this example:

There is also, however, a strong argument not to implement this proposal. This argument is based on economic competitiveness. If a company was forced to employ more workers to produce the same amount of goods, then its wage bill would rise and its products might become more expensive and less competitive compared to companies with longer working weeks. In this case, it is possible that the company either might become insolvent or it would have to make some employees redundant. As a result, the intended benefit to the personnel would not happen.

This time around I have given you the whole para so that you can see the context. I use a conditional because I am explaining a point. You should also see that we use “might” and “would” in the following sentences even though there is no “if”.

Do you want to show off? Then you might consider using conditionals that do not use if. So you could use:

Were a company to be forced…

4. Parallel structures

There are a number of different parallel structures we have in English. They come in useful when we are combining, comparing or contrasting points – again something that you are likely to do in your essays. This is a useful piece of grammar to focus on, as when used well they make your writing more cohesive. For example

Not only would unemployment be reduced, but the working conditions of employees on very long shifts would also be significantly improved.

You may think “not only..but also” is too easy to impress. Don’t. Simple things done well impress too and this sentence is complex enough as it is.

5. Verb tenses (of course), impersonal structures and modals

The point to remember here is that it is not difficulty of grammar that is important, rather it is variety of grammar. This means that some bits of grammar that you think are rather simple (e.g. tenses) are still important. The point I want to make here is that the one tense you are going use most is the present simple. Checking my essays, I find that easily the most common tense I use is the present simple. That’s how it should be – it is easily the most common tense in English.

You do want some variety though, and here is how I get it. I use a lot of impersonal structures”

There are several reasons why

and I also use a large number of modal verbs:

It can also be argued that

The point here is that I use them to make impersonal points or sound academic. They too have their meanings and uses.

6. And and but

Never be afraid of keeping it simple. I do. My essays work. You will also find that I almost never use “moreover” and “furthermore”. More to the point, neither do band 8.0 candidates typically. When all you want to do is add a point say “and” and if you want to make a contrast, you are most likely to use “but” or “however,”.

Test your own writing

The best advice is of course always to find yourself a teacher, but if you are working by yourself, here is something you can do. Find an essay you have written and go through it:

  1. Do you use different grammatical structures? (You should have at least some of the ones I have mentioned)
  2. Can you see why you have used any of the more complex structures?
  3. How long is your average sentence? (around 15 words is about right I would suggest)
  4. Do your paragraphs combine longer and shorter sentences and simpler and more complex sentences?
  5. Do you use “and” and “but”?

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52 Responses to Band score 8.0 – range of grammar

  1. Jiss January 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    HELLO SIR,

    TODAY’S LESSON IS REALLY EXCELLENT….THANKS A LOT.

    I NEED TO CLARIFY SOME DIFFERENT IDEA.

    ”MANY STUDENTS CHOOSE TO WORK PART TIME DURING UNIVERSITY STUDIES DO U THINK IT IS A GOOD OR BAD IDEA”for this question why should i want to write both sides in each para . as per my understanding ‘my task is whether i consider it as bad or good idea.please guide me what happen if i support only my thought as per task.i am bit confused..i referred on your lesson on introduction.your introduction on this is certainly good…..my doubt is about content paragraphs(can i write my thought about the issue in both paragraphs) the task words are confusing me…………..once again thanks for ur amazing blog…..

    • Dominic Cole January 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

      There is always more than one way to skin a cat. You can say it is a good idea, you can say it is a bad idea and you can say that it is both a good and bad idea.

      • Jiss January 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

        SO IF I SAY IT IS A GOOD IDEA THEN I CAN WRITE IN BOTH PARA WHY I CONSIDER IT IS GOOD…AND IF SAY IT IS A BAD IDEA, I CAN WRITE BOTH PARAGRAPH ABOUT ITS REASONS…SIMILARLY IF I CONSIDER IT IS BOTH GOOD N BAD I CAN THEN WRITE ACCORDINGLY…………

        AM I RIGHT SIR..??????????????..PLEASE GIVE A COMMENT ATLEAST…..YES OR NO….

        HOPE IAM NOT IRRITATING YOU WITH MY QUESTIONS……

      • Simon January 30, 2016 at 10:54 pm #

        Thank you for all your teaching. You are a really qualified teacher.

      • Simon January 30, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

        By the way, is there any opportunity that we can cooperate with each other. I am doing my master degree in UCL, and meanwhile doing on-line teaching for Chinese students.
        Look forwards to your reply.

  2. Dominic's Fans January 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Your fans come here again.

    Well, I got one sentence from Cambridge IELTS (model writing), Here it is:

    “To sum up, modern technology has a great impact on the way people live now. It is creating a new single world culture where old traditions and distances are no longer of that much importance.”

    Could you explain to me about the “of” in above sentence? that could be “no longer important”? or….

    Cheers

    • Dominic Cole January 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      Hmmmmm. You are quite correct. You could say “are no longer that important” instead. If you say something is “not of much importance” you are just saying that it is not important. This is just a way of varying word form: noun for adjective.

      • Md.Doulat Khan June 28, 2016 at 6:47 am #

        I did not agree with you.

  3. Jiss January 12, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    SO IF I SAY IT IS A GOOD IDEA THEN I CAN WRITE IN BOTH PARA WHY I CONSIDER IT IS GOOD…AND IF SAY IT IS A BAD IDEA, I CAN WRITE BOTH PARAGRAPH ABOUT ITS REASONS…SIMILARLY IF I CONSIDER IT IS BOTH GOOD N BAD I CAN THEN WRITE ACCORDINGLY…………

    AM I RIGHT SIR..??????????????..PLEASE GIVE A COMMENT ATLEAST…..YES OR NO….

    HOPE IAM NOT IRRITATING YOU WITH MY QUESTIONS……

  4. rene January 12, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Hi Dominic
    Thank you so much for the useful content you put up…
    Can you please provide more material for achieving a band 8.0 and above for both the letters and essays

    Cheers

    • Dominic Cole January 13, 2012 at 12:48 am #

      Will do – but it may take some time. For the moment I am concentrating on essays. However, the same principles apply for all the writing skills. There are no separate marking criteria for the different types of writing.

  5. Jiss January 13, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    thank you sir for your valuable reply…………..

  6. marveltracker January 14, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Quite a good explanation why i didn’t get my 7 for writing. 🙁 Thank you very much for providing such an ample resource.

  7. marveltracker January 14, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    Thank you very much for providing such an ample resource.It, however, provides Quite a good explanation why i didn’t get 7 for my writing.

  8. Dinaz January 14, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Thank You for explaining the different type of grammatical structures one can use.

    Its very enlightening !

  9. Dinaz January 14, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Dominic – you say find yourself a teacher – but honestly there are very few really professional teachers on the net – most are there only to make a buck !!

    • Dominic Cole January 14, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      Hi

      I’ve sent you a personal email in reply. There are some good teachers out there!!!

      • rene January 16, 2012 at 4:52 am #

        hi Can you please send me some as well..I am in Melbourne and would like IELTS Examiners …so that they can help me from an experienced examiners perspective in grading my writing.
        Cheers

        • Dominic Cole January 17, 2012 at 1:15 am #

          Hi I will be posting details of Tish Kirkland from Brisbane tomorrow. She is if you read her profile extremely experienced and maybe just what you are looking for.

      • Emma August 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

        Hi Dominic,
        I am struggleing with IELTS writing now.I have taken several tests and failed to get 7 for writing. So far,most important thing for me is to find a good teacher to review my essay and let me know what is going wrong.Would you please also send me any contact details of excellent teachers? I do appreciate your help.

        • Emily May 4, 2016 at 4:16 am #

          Dear Dominic,
          I’ve been struggling with IELTS writing for over one year. Five tests have been taken and still failed to obtain a 7 in the writing section. The highest score I obtained in Listening and Reading, Speaking and Writing are 8,5; 8.5; 7; 6.5 respectively. And, It is not just ielts, but my dream school and major I am talking about. I feel desperate and sincerely wish I could find an IELTS Examiner to help review my essay and let me know what is going wrong. Would you please also send me any contact details of excellent teachers? I am willing to pay for their help! Thank you so so so so so much!
          Best wishes!
          Emily

      • miit June 2, 2014 at 9:11 am #

        Dear Sir

        Please providing me task1 or task2 sample paper and reading task. so i camplte my ielts course…..

        thanks

      • Anthony Osei October 10, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

        Dear Dominic,
        I am an international student from Ghana,I have applied to do a masters in Australia but I have been asked to write IELTS.
        I have been reading some of your tips,very helpful though.
        Can you please send me some information and more tips to help me prepare in a couple months,am targeting band 8 or 9.
        Please help me to make it possible

        • Dominic Cole October 10, 2016 at 7:32 pm #

          I’m updating my site on a daily basis at the mo so you should get lots of help. Band 8 is quite achievable once you have the right range of language. IELTS is to tell the truth quite a simple exam – it’s language that is the hard bit

  10. Menou January 14, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    Thank you very much for this “gift-website”, very useful!
    I am aiming 7, but this article helps me a lot
    My biggest problem is the poorness of my vocabulary.. People advise me to read a lot. I do.. But, I notice that even if I learn a new word I don’t know how to use it 🙁

    My questions are:
    what is your advice concerning the best use of the words?
    Shall we memorize complete sentences to know how to do it?
    And do you think we should keep our essay simple with short sentences if the vocabulary is weak?

    Thank you for your time 🙂

    • Dominic Cole January 14, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      I don’t know about complete sentences, but phrases yes. Sentences can be dangerous to “learn” if you use then wrongly. But no if you are aiming for a 7.0, you need more complex sentences too. Typically, the more complex your grammar, the more understanding the examiner will be when you make a mistake. You can only get so far with simple structures.

    • Mandy September 28, 2016 at 2:26 am #

      hi i want to find a teacher speacializing in teaching IELTS writing, can you help me?i can pay for that.Thank you!

  11. Menou January 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Thank you very much,
    So I will do my best with a simple stucture first, than try to learn more complex grammar.. And finaly attack combining simple + complex with different lenght ..
    Thank you again for your valuable blog.. We, learners, are lucky to have it 🙂

  12. Lolle July 12, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    Sorry, isn’t it “WAS a company to be forced…” instead of “Were a company to be forced…” in the example above? I am just thinking about that…

    • Dominic Cole July 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

      Excellent question. This is a “subjunctive were”. Try Grammar Girl for a better explanation,but my (idiot) explanation is that “were” means that it is much less likely that it will happen – I’m saying “Just imagine if…”

  13. Li December 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    Should I write “if a company were forced” instead of “if a company was forced” or both are ok? I have a vague memory that it should be “were” in my old grammar book, though I don’t have it with me now. I notice native speakers use either of them, more often “was” in normal conversation.

  14. sim June 12, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    if we writing a task 1 then it should be in past tense i mean for example ……………………………..ihe pie graph illustrated ……like this or we can write the first paragraph as the pie graph shows…?

  15. Ruwanmali Ariyarathne June 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    It is really useful.. thank you…

  16. misec July 21, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    i was practicing for general IELTS test writing section task 2.

    Task 2: The world is experiencing a dramatic increase in population. This is causing problems for not only poor, undeveloped countries, but also for industrialized and developing nations.
    Describe some of the problems that overpopulation causes and suggest at least one possible solution.

    My essay is below:

    The dramatic rise in population across the world has become a burning issue for all the countries, be it under-developed, developing or developed nations. Over-population is mainly because the common mass of people are not aware about the repurcussions of it. This has led to arising of multiple issues in our society.

    Crime-rate is on the upside in many cities. This is due to mainly two reasons, both of which are implications of uncontrolled growth in population – illiteracy and unemployment. This is evident because there are not enough schools to provide education to the increased number of children. Similarly, there is no proportionate increase in number of jobs as compared to the tremendous rise in count of youths, who are seeking employment. Consequently, to make their living, youths turn towards unethical activities of stealing and robbing. Currently, the state of Bihar is a live example, exhibiting the increase of criminal activities due to over-population.

    In addition to above, the growth in the number of people puts tremendous extra burden on the government. The availability of medical facilities to all reaches a bottleneck, inevitably leading to many being deprived of the basic health facilities. An aftermath of it is the rise of epidemics in slum areas. Moreover, corruption and inflation indirectly gets boosted due to over-population, since demands are way above the supplies. For instance, the price of onions and potatoes in last month were sky-high throughout all Indian states.

    To conteract this demon of over-population, which is creating a chaos and crumbling our social and financial structures, the general masses should be educated about its consequences. The people should be made acquainted with the methods pertaining to family planning. For this, media should broadcast more advertisements related to it. This shall definitely help in nailing down the issue of rising population.

    Please review the essay and please provide your feedback on it. Your effort is much appreciated. Thanks.

  17. Fredo August 18, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Band 8 :”uses a wide range of structures”

    Band 7:”uses a variety of complex structures”

    Band 6: “uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms”

    To me this scale implies that simple sentences should be avoided to achieve Band 7/8 : there is no reference to them at all in Band 7 marking criteria.

    • Dominic Cole September 2, 2015 at 10:15 am #

      I think you’ll find that a wide range of structures can include simple structures too.

  18. Sumbal March 13, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    Please tell me that I can use idioms in General Ielts writing essay?

    • Dominic Cole September 2, 2015 at 10:14 am #

      Idioms are difficult if only because they vary so much. We do in fact use idioms in writing very frequently – they just tend to be the “clearer’ ones. My advice is that if you are doubtful about an idiom in your writing – avoid it. there’s always another way of saying it.

  19. Anonymous June 24, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    I would like to say thank you for the lesson because found it really useful.

  20. sabz August 4, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    I want my essay’s to be checked by a teacher because I need an 8 band .I want to ask if you can provide any service like that then I would prefer you to b my teacher

  21. European Overseas September 24, 2015 at 8:23 am #

    please suggest me how to improve my writing as well as speaking skills.

    Work and study
    Study visa

  22. Ronald November 2, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    Hi Domnic,

    I would like to know whether it is good to write …. “This essay is about/ or I will discuss the view … ” Personally, I feel the reader knows what the essay is about so why to emphasize…. Moreover, since the statement is but understood …. does the examiner consider the word count?

  23. komal December 30, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    hello dear..

    i also gave ielts exam bt scored 6 in writing.please advice me what is the best format n other things to score 8 bans in writing.is it compulsory to write adjective sentences to get 8 bands.
    Your rply will be appreciated.

  24. Moni January 29, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Hi everybody. I want to know How can I increase my writing skill? I want to get band score 7? so What should I do? Please, recommend me

  25. ANISH GEORGE February 2, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    Sir could I get my essays corrected online. and please let me know how would I get it done.

  26. Shivani Sharma February 22, 2016 at 6:09 am #

    Hi,dominic

    I have given IELTS exam thrice…i got 7.5 in listening 7.0 in reading but always i get 6.5 in writing and in speaking as well.I think i am quite good in these too.But don’t know where i lack behind what to do?

  27. gurkamal April 8, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    With the shifting of job , children have to compromise with their parents throughout living at many other place . Although it has certain pros and cons on children .

    With regards to merits , children will become more experience as compare to other as an earlier age child have an opportunity to explore various place by living there. Thus , children likely to become more familiar with one’s culture, rituals and tradition . child may adopt some different language or culture when child learn some basics of it. In addition, child definitely become more extrovert in future because of having a chance of living different place more than a twice time.

    It has many demerits as well, firstly , child willnot remain stable in future if child working anywhere than after few months child may change job or do different place as it become habbit for it. Secondly, disturbance in education another problems associated with moving another place in childhood so child cannot concentrate on academic programme and it effect on its performance . Finally , up to some extent children donot try to make more friend as child know very well child needs to go another place .

    To sum up , I think it has many negatives than positive may impact on children’s life in inadequate manner.

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