Does punctuation matter in IELTS? Yes. You bet it does. It can make all the difference to your writing. Indeed, if you learn some basic punctuation, you may find your score shooting up from 5 to 7 almost overnight. So boring as it is, it does deserve some attention.
Start with an exercise
Try to see if you can recreate my sample IELTS essay on Books and Newspapers. You will find that I have divided it up sentence by sentence. You should be able to put it back together again. As you do so, think how each sentence is a complete thought that links to the sentence before and after it. The aim is to show you how the sentence is the basic building block of an essay and that to write an essay you need to learn first to write sentences which means using punctuation.
The problem – punctuation is not international
The problem with punctuation is that different languages and cultures use punctuation differently. In some languages sentences can go on for lines and lines and there is no very big difference between a sentence and a paragraph. In English, we normally choose to keep our sentences fairly short – even in serious academic writing. It is not necessarily a sign of good English to write very long and complex sentences. The aim is clarity.
Some very simple guidelines on punctuation and sentences
Here are some simple guidelines to how the English tend to use punctuation. There is of course much more detail you may need, but if you follow these guidelines you will at least write in sentences. I should also emphasise that these are not rules, they are just ideas to help you think about punctuation and sentences.
- The full stop is the most important piece of punctuation
- Don’t forget to use capital letters to start sentences
- Aim for sentences that are around 15-20 words long
- If you find yourself on the 3rd line without having used a full stop, something may be wrong
- If your sentences are usually less than one line long, something is probably wrong
- If you use too may connectors (and/but/because/which etc) in one sentence, something is probably wrong
- Good writers tend to vary the length and type of their sentences
The first step is as always to know the problem. Take a look at these two paragraphs and ask yourself which one you prefer:
The principal reason why some people believe that newspapers and books are outdated is because newspapers are much less up-to-date than modern technology such as the internet or even the television which are able to show events as they are happening and people prefer them because by using Google or some other search engine on the internet or even by turning on the television where you can see instantly what is happening in the world by watching the latest news bulletin which is almost certainly more current than the news that you can read on the front page of a newspaper which was published the previous day and which only contains what happened the day before.
The principal reason why some people take this view is fairly clear in the case of newspapers. It is generally much easier and quicker to discover what is happening in the world from the internet or the television than from a newspaper. If you use Google or another search engine or simply switch on the television, you can instantly get the latest news bulletin. A newspaper, by contrast, is out of date the moment it is published because it contains yesterday’s news.
I’m hoping you chose the second one. While they both contain the same information and the first one has the better words, the second is far more coherent and is better English. The first one is in fact so bad that it may only get a 5 for lack of coherence.
Take some video lessons
These two video tutorials do not explain anything too technical about punctuation. Rather they concentrate on how and why punctuation can help you to write sentences. This should help make your writing more coherent and like the good example.
Video 1 – Why punctuation matters
Before you watch, here are some questions for you to consider. If you listen and watch, I hope the answers are obvious.
- Who does punctuation help?
- When do you know when you need to use some punctuation?
Video 2 – how punctuation helps you write better paragraphs
This video concentrates on full stops, sentences and paragraphs:
- What is the connection between full stops, sentences and paragraphs?
- What is a complete sentence?
- When should you start writing a sentence?