Top Tips for IELTS

An editing checklist for IELTS

One problem in IELTS is that there are only 60 minutes to produce 2 pieces of writing. As a result many candidates do not have time to edit their writing, or if they do edit, they do it inefficiently.

In this lesson I give practical suggestions on how to check your writing efficiently, so that you can do it in the 60 minutes and improve your score.

The idea is that any editing checklist for IELTS should include when to check, how to check and what to check.


When to check

The first step is to decide when to check. There are 3 options here. The conventional advice is to leave 3-5 minutes at the end, but there are other choices. The best advice is to try them all and see what works for you.

1. Check at the end
The conventional advice is to leave 3-5 minutes at the end to review your writing. The reason to do it this way is that you can see read the whole essay and check it for coherence as well as grammatical problems.

One problem with this approach is that sometimes you run out of time and do not check. Another problem is that it is more difficult to find mistakes when you check a longer piece of writing.

If you are a higher level candidate and you have few problems with grammar, this is possibly the approach for you.

2. Check as you write
An alternative option is to check as you write: either at the end of each sentence or paragraph. This idea may surprise you, but there is a very significant benefit to this approach: you are much more likely to find grammatical errors if you look at a sentence of 15 words than an essay of 250 words.

If you know that you have consistent problems with grammar, you should certainly consider this approach. It really is much easier to find mistakes this way.

You should also note that examiners check how many error free sentences you have. To get to band score 7 you need to have a majority of sentences with no mistakes. A good reason perhaps to check at the end of each sentence.

3. Check as you write and at the end
This is probably the ideal choice as it allows you to find grammatical errors as you write and problems with coherence after you have written. The one difficulty is that it probably takes more time.

How to check

Here I have two very positive suggestion to make:

  1. Check with a pen in hand so that you make sure you look at every word. It’s very easy to see what you think you have written and not what you actually wrote. Reading with a pen is a good way of slowing yourself down and making sure you read every word.
  2. Read in complete sentences and not word by word. Very often mistakes happen because all the parts of the sentence are correct, but those parts of a sentence do not fit together.

What to check for

This is the big one. There are a number of different items you can check for and what follows is a longish list. The key advice is to make a checklist of your own personal mistakes and check for those mistakes. If you look for everything, you may find nothing; if you look for something, you have every chance of finding it.

The main point to note here is that not all mistakes are equal. You will be penalised more heavily for basic mistakes than more complex ones, therefore you should check your basic grammar most carefully. In the same way, you are penalised more heavily for “systematic” errors: these are errors that you make consistently.

  1. Verb tenses: make sure they are consistent and in task 1 that your tenses match the time frame in the graph
  2. Articles: this is something for everyone to check for. Articles are the most common words in English and often go wrong. To get band 7 or over most of your sentences need to be correct: this means your articles need to be correct.
  3. Subject-verb agreement: this means “he does” not “he do”. Even to quite a high level this is a relatively common mistake. The problem being that it is also a basic mistake that examiners will penalise more heavily
  4. Parts of speech: this is another relatively low level mistake that is also quite common – particularly with Asian language speakers. Check that you use nouns, verbs and adjectives when you need. This is particularly an issue in task 1 when using trend language (a sharp rise, but to rise sharply).
  5. Range of sentence structures: this one may surprise you, but it is important if you want band 6 or above to vary your sentence structures. It is not enough always to use simple but correct language.

I suspect that this is something that few candidates bother to check. A mistake. Vocabulary is as important as grammar and in a way it is easier to correct.

  1. Repetition: under exam conditions looking for repetition is perhaps the area where a candidate can most improve their writing. It is relatively easy for a candidate to see that they have repeated words and to correct this mistake.
  2. Repetition (2): check that you have not repeated whole phrases and sentences from the question
  3. Spelling: check that you get at least the basic words right

Again, this is another area that sometimes does not get checked. You do need to think about this as it accounts for a large part of your mark.

  1. Topic sentences: each paragraph starts with a topic sentence that clearly relates to the question
  2. Paragraph development: each paragraph is developed with explanations and examples of the topic sentence. In task 1 this includes having enough detailed information and facts.
  3. Connecting words:make sure that the connecting words you use are accurate. A frequent mistake is to overuse connecting words.

Answering the question
If you don’t answer the question, the examiner is likely to penalise you very heavily. Really speaking, it is too late to check this at the end, this is something more for the planning stage.

  1. Introduction: check that your introduction addresses all parts of the question
  2. Conclusion: check that your conclusion gives an answer to the question

What not to do – draft and redraft

There is an essential difference between IELTS and academic writing. Academic writing involves drafting and redrafting: IELTS is an exam that takes place in 60 minutes, you do not have time to draft and redraft – you need skills that are specific to an exam situation.


  1. Make a checklist of your personal mistakes: you need a teacher/expert user for this
  2. Practise how and when you are going to edit your writing: try different ideas, see what works best
  3. Have an exam strategy for timing: the reason candidates don’t check is they run out of time.


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43 Responses to An editing checklist for IELTS

  1. martin April 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm #


    If students don’t count the words they might fail by not fulfilling the ‘Task Response’ requirement of 150/250 words – don’t you think this is more important? Or do you think that if it’s roughly the right length the examiner will overlook it?

    • Strong Evan March 26, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      If you are worried, count how many words you write in one line and then count how many lines your writing is. (Words like “a” and “an” still count as words).

  2. Martin April 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Hello Dominic

    I recently left a comment querying whether your advice about “Whatever you do, don’t count the words” conflicts with the possibility of failing the ‘Task Achievement’ criteria.

    It seems that my question has now been removed and remains unanswered – can you let me know your thoughts on this and whether you think the point was valid?

    • Dominic Cole November 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Yes, it is a major crime to write too few words. Typically, examiners only check if they have reason to doubt the length of the writing. My suggestion is not to aim to write 150 and 250, rather aim at 170 and 280. Don’t leave any margin for error. one reason I say this is because examiners will delete any passages directly copied from the question or which they think are irrelevant.

      On the counting of words, how long does it take to count the words? How many more words could you have written in that time? The number of words per line method is normally very reliable.

  3. rajeewa January 9, 2011 at 5:22 am # Good Dictionary to use

  4. Lasam Ola September 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Dear Dominic, thank you very much

  5. Lasam Ola September 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    Your tips are very helpful. Kind regards

  6. Sana December 11, 2011 at 6:43 pm #


    Thanks for the resourceful website , I really relied on your website for my writing preparation and it was great help , your essay outline is commendable it saved me loads of time on my writing task. I had to take my test in a week’s time and i was just relied on your tips to sail me through and it certainly worked .Hopefully the result will be in agreement with my expectations.
    Thanks again !!

    I want to share my exam experience

    task 1:
    a form completion .
    A dialogue between a police inspector and a lady reporting a burglary at her residence.
    task 2:
    match the locations with activites
    a tourist guide reporting the sequence of tour.
    task 3:
    can’t recall
    task 4:
    A lecture about child psychology comparison between current research and the past



    Choices in life and how it has an impact on happiness, then the two categories of people as in maximisers n satifiers .

    task 2:
    Tulips and its popularity in Holland the 17th century.

    task 3:
    Bitterness and how bitterness can be removed by usind AMD compounds..why bitterness is of special interest commercially.


    task 1:
    A pie chart about water consumption in Australia by various sectors bar graph indicating the water usage for a typical household.

    task 2 :
    (Ii don’t remember the exact words but in on the similar lines )
    Richness is an important factor in helping people. to what extent to you agree or disagree.

    Speaking :

    a basic intro followed by a set of questions regarding
    1) a newspaper or a magazine that i recently read?
    2)what was in the paper that I liked?
    3)how many people would agree about the same ?
    4) how important in the newspaper in influencing peoples opinions?
    5)how about other media?

    1) what is the popular dish in your country
    2) do you have your meals together

    • Dominic Cole December 12, 2011 at 4:50 am #

      Thank you for sharing

      • puranjan mishra August 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

        thanku sana .It seems very usefull for my upcoming exam.

        actually i have some problem with assy and i munable to conlcudemy topic. once again thanks

  7. Sana December 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    I totally forgot to mention that I took my test in Edinburgh . ( 10-12-2011)

  8. Aman December 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Thanks Sana for sharing your IELTS examination. I really agree with you that this site is the best for IELTS preparation. I have my examination on 7th January in Chandigarh. And now i come to find this site. It is going to be really helpful for my preparation.

  9. Aman December 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    I want to ask something. Please tell me the strategy for a agree or disagree task, whether we need to specify our decision just after introduction and follow the same by providing the reasons or discuss for both positive and negative points of the subject.

    • Dominic Cole December 29, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      It’s always sensible to identify your position to the question in the introduction. This is something that examiners do look for.

  10. Taylor February 1, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    Hi Dominic
    I am going to write the exam next week. Can you give me some suggestions from reading my essay. Thank you!

    Human beings do not need to eat meat in order to maintain good health because they can get all their food needs from meatless products and meatless substances. A vegetarian diet is as healthy as a diet containing meat. Argue for or against the opinion above.

    In nowadays, people do care more in their health condition more than the days before. Not only they care about delicious food but also the balance and moderate eating which as a result of vegetarian population being increased. Having a vegetarian diet not only benefits one’s health and mental but also the environment which leads people to believe a vegetarian diet is as healthy as a diet containing meat. As the benefits, health, mental and environment are being discuss in this essay
    First, health is considered the most benefits from having a vegetarian diet. There have proofs being shown that people who has vegetarian diet as a lifestyle will have less chances of receiving and suffering from diseases such as cancer, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and heart diseases. Vegetarian diet also prevents people from stomach type diseases since one receives lots of fiber. Fiber can be considered as the most important source in order to let the digestive system function well.
    Now come to the topic of mental, people also do believe that one who adopts vegetarian diet will be less violent than the people who adopt meat as the diet. These thought come from people has to kill animals in order to get the meat. One of the most violent examples is in China; people will tie up the monkey underneath the table, and then open the monkey’s skull to eat the brain while they are in the live condition.
    As for environment, cows produce methane which is one of the green house gases. People trust that the less meat being needed, the fewer cows need to be grown and less farms need to be created which allows the carbon dioxide to decrease and increase the oxygen. As a result of, it helps slowing down the problem of global warming.
    From the examples above, in conclusion, having a vegetarian diet is as healthy as a diet containing meat. Not only because it benefits the person itself but also the whole world.

  11. vivian February 15, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    May I ask for the argument question, do I just need to state the arguments favor for my sides or explain the disadvantages of another argument. Because some say that we say outline both and give our opinion at the end, otherwise we will loose mark for not competing the task?

  12. danial February 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    hy i want to know that that which tenses are used in writing task 1 and 2 .

    • Dominic Cole July 12, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      The answer to this is that you need to look at the question very carefully and decide which tense you need to answer the question, This particularly applies in task 1 when you have a chart/graph with a particular time frame. if the chart applies to the a past time, then clearly you eed to be using past tenses etc. You are though asking a very good question, this is a mistake many candidates make.

  13. meme August 24, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    hi sir,

    thnQ for this info , but i’m little bit worry about doing them in fact . i’m arabian girl so my English language anit so good i won’t notice if there is something wrong or nt ( maybe bcuz i think its the right thing ) ,,
    and i have only three weeks to be ready for the exam , what i can do ??? btw i have to get band 5 or more , but i think i can’t get more than 4.5

    thanx again and i wish u could reply as soon as u can

  14. Mr. E February 23, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Wow. Tips?

  15. Anwer April 10, 2013 at 3:59 am #

    how can i improve my writing essay , iam worry about that…

    • Dominic Cole April 10, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      The first step is to understand how writing is graded. Take a look at these pages to help you. The idea is that if you don’t know what to do, you may not do it. Then of course you need to practise. This is where it really helps to have a teacher to help you.

  16. edwin October 3, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Just would like to ask if you have any or suggested website that would help us to check writing skills in preparation for writing part of IELTS .

    • Dominic Cole March 3, 2014 at 7:08 am #

      This really requires the help of a personal tutor. I suggest you contact one of the tutors on the tutor page.

  17. Anonymous October 26, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Thanks for your kind sharing

    • mike March 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      thanks bro. this is very nice. keep it up.

  18. Marina March 27, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful blog.

    I am not sure if this is the right place to ask about passive voice?
    Still would really appreciate your comment.

    Which sentence is more correct:

    1. Schools supposed to be a place of education both academically and psychologically.

    2. Schools are supposed to be a place of education both academically and psychologically.

    • Dominic Cole March 28, 2014 at 7:18 am #

      number 2 is better. The passive needs a form of the verb “to be”

  19. Saeed March 31, 2014 at 4:02 am #

    How to check

    Here I have two very positive suggestion to make:

    Check with a pen in hand so that you make sure you look at every word. It’s very easy to see what you think you have written and not what you actually wrote. Reading with a pen is a good way of slowing yourself down and makeing sure you read every word.

    I was checking I found this mistake your article..

  20. mojtaba April 7, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    thank you for information…

  21. maryam April 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    if we write 300 words then if we lost marks or may we will create a bad image on examiner?

    • Dominic Cole April 25, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

      No not necessarily but here’s the problems. The more you write the less time you have to check and probably you will just write less. Also the examiners are paid by the paper and not the minute. They don’t want to have to read lots and lots.

      • Anonymous December 12, 2014 at 10:35 am #

        Hi, Dominic,
        I had my speaking test two days before, I didn’t practice much but all I did it grab tips and ideas from dcielts and YouTube video and it was good but all I want to ask is one second part of speaking to certain topic for 1,2 minutes I kept on going smoothly but at the end she stopped me and had another question, is it good to keep on talking or she stopped me does it mean I’m going wrong?? Can you please explain.

  22. maryam May 22, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Thanks a million for your professional and resourceful website. I highly appreciate your effort to help students online free. I have found your useful website yesterday and I am really happy now. The exact date of my exam is 21st of June. I am sure that your information and tips help me to getting a better score.

  23. Ashish September 15, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    Hey Dominic,

    I would like to thank you very much for the wonderful IELTS material you have put on this website for free.

    For me achieving a 7 band was a big achievement. I had always received a 6.5 in writing countless times. However, after spending a significant amount of time in learning and understanding your material, I managed to achieve a maximum score of 7.5 in writing.

    There are lot of other IELTS website out there, but the different is that you provide a detailed information about each point which an examiner looks for in the essay or letter. Before I found your website, I event didn’t know that how writing exam are marked and what are the marking criteria.

    I am so happy that I finally passed the exam with a 7 bands in each module.

    Again thanks very much for helping everyone with the IELTS exam. It is not a fun exam but when you pass you feel like a major achievement in your life.

  24. Shivani November 19, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    First of all thanks a lot , i had my test on 1 Nov , and did all preparation from your website.
    I am working in software industry in India , and have good english skills.

    But your website gave me all the tips and quivers to prepare.

    My result is L -8 , R- 8 , S-7 , W – 6.5

    Writing section is where i have lost the battle. I required 7 each. Although i applied all tips from your site .
    I made 4-5 paras … one for intro , one for conclusion opinion ….for and against the topic.
    Only mistake i did is i wrote around 360 words…

    Do you recommend filling revaluation , does exceeding word limit to such an extent is also penalised?

    Kindly suggest me what shall i do?


    • Dominic Cole November 19, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      If you have the money this is the sort of case where EOR can work.

      There is no penalty for writing too much but the chances are that you write more than 300 words you just write less effectively and 360 is a lot. There’s a good chance that the examiner thought you went off topic and of course your error count will be higher than it need be. One sensible choice would be to go again and only write around 290 words- your best words.

      My real doubt is that you only got 7 in speaking. Speaking and writing tend to go together and my guess is that your “true” writing score is only around 7 anyway. A guess as I say.

      Let me know how it goes if you do go for EOR.

  25. Vidya July 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    Dear Dominic,

    Thank you so much for such an informative website. It really helped me to score my required score of 7.5 overall in General Training. My score is L :7.5 R:8, S:7, W:7. i wrote only 240 words instead of 250 words in Task 2. Your writing tips honed my skills a lot.

  26. tithy September 17, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    who is important student or teacher ? Today i have faced this question,in my speaking test.

  27. German October 19, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

    Hello, teacher! How many complex/compound sentences should i include in essay in order to respond “Range of sentence structures” requirement? I suppose that every “reason/supporting” sentences in body paragraphs have to be complex/compound and may be one in intro and one in conclusion. Am i right?

  28. Katy July 12, 2016 at 5:26 am #

    I have sat for IELTS exam 3 times now and every time I got 6.5 in writing. my latest score was R: 8.5, L:7.5, S: 7.5 and W:6.5. I am unable to understand where I am going wrong. After a lot of practice, I have written this latest essay. Could you please look at my task 2 and advise me?

    Question:In many countries there has been an increase in social problems involving teenagers in recent years. Many people believe that this is due to modern lifestyle because parents spend more and more time at work and have less time to supervise their children. To what extent do you believe this is true?

    With the time, everything has undergone change; so do our perceptions and priorities. Unlike the past, in most of the families nowadays, both parents are working and do not give sufficient time to observe and guide their children. Some people argue that this recent change is responsible for the latest increase in the issues concerning the teenagers in our society. To some extent, this is true but I believe this change is not solely accountable for the increased social problems.
    It is a proven fact that minds of children are impressionable and highly receptive. Teenage is a very tender age as they are always influenced by people around them and hence, they subconsciously imitate behaviour of others. For example, most juveniles today are dropping out of school at the age of 16 due to the increased trend of earning money and not been questioned by anyone about their expenses. Due to the lack of maturity at this age, they do not know how to spend money. Consequently, this leads to them being involved into harmful activities like smoking, drug and alcohol abuse.
    Another significant factor to be considered is the technology. Although it has become an essential part of our lives; it comes with a lot of drawbacks for our society as well. For example, teenagers have easy access to everything on internet and inappropriate contents on internet like violence and obscenity can negatively impact on teenagers. At this age, teenagers do not have the maturity to make correct decisions about their lives and therefore, parents need to ensure they spend quality time with their children and make sure they are not indulged into activities that could lead to problematic consequences.
    On the other hand, it is not only the parents who are to be held responsible for these problems. It is the fundamental duty of not only parents but also teachers to evolve their kids and students into responsible human beings by imparting them the lessons of limitation.


  1. [General] IELTS Writing - ESL Forum - December 6, 2009

    […] not waste time counting words in the exam: there are far more valuable items to check for. Much better is to count the words on one or two lines and then multiply that by the […]

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