About Grammar and Why It’s So Important in IELTS

September 5, 2017 by Andrea Castro Andrea Castro

Nowadays, it’s common to hear that the kind of grammar we use is not what really matters for everyday English; the important thing is whether or not other people understand what we say or write. Even though this is a popular belief, which is true to some degree, there's no denying that using correct grammar leads to better communication: the more accurate the grammar, the clearer the message, the greater the likelihood of understanding the message. This applies to getting your message across on the IELTS, too.

Because of its great importance, grammar is one of the four categories that you will be assessed on in the Writing and Speaking modules of the IELTS. However, there are many differences between speaking and writing, including the way we use grammar. Writing is not simply speech written down on paper. So, let’s take a look at some of the differences between the two and how grammar is assessed on the IELTS test:

Speaking Versus Writing
Speech is usually spontaneous and used immediately. Writing is usually planned and permanent.

Speakers can correct themselves and change their ideas and/or grammatical structures as they go along.

Written text can be corrected and/or changed through editing and revision before it is read by an audience.
Speech tends to have simpler sentences linked together. Writing is usually more complex than speech with longer sentences and more complex structures*.

It’s not just the words that give meaning. Body language, eye contact and other things also communicate ideas. As well, speakers can use their voices (tone/volume/speed) and pauses to communicate their message.

The reader can only see what's on the page. Writers also use punctuation to make their writing clear and effective.

* A complex structure is a sentence that has a main clause and one or more adverbial clauses [e.g. My brother left the country (main clause) + when he turned 18 (adverbial clause)].

How is grammar assessed?

When it comes to assessing grammar on the Speaking and Writing modules of the IELTS, here are the two main areas that examiners focus on:

1) Range      If you are aiming for a band 5 or higher, you are expected to show confidence using simple and compound sentences and at least a limited range of more complex structures. Flexibility (how easily you can use different structures) is also important, especially at higher bands. Because speakers tend to use simpler sentences in everyday interactions, it’s important that you make a conscious effort to use a variety of more complex grammatical structures during your interview. Additionally, make sure you don’t leave anything unsaid or indirectly implied. Take every opportunity available to show off your skills.

2) Accuracy      While using a range of structures can increase your chances at achieving a higher score, a high level of grammatical accuracy is also expected from more skilled candidates. For example, for a candidate to be awarded a band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy (in Speaking and Writing), frequent error-free sentences must be produced. Keep in mind that for the Writing module, grammatical accuracy also includes having good control of punctuation.

Improving your grammar


By the time you begin to prepare for the IELTS, there shouldn’t be any significant areas of grammar, relative to the band score you want to achieve, that you haven’t already learned and practiced. In other words, the period of exam preparation does not mean being introduced to large amounts of new language. Instead, it’s a time for reviewing and consolidating what you already know. It’s a time for developing your accuracy and for learning from your mistakes. Keeping a learning record or diary can be an effective way to achieve this. However, if there is a particular grammatical structure that you would really like to learn and intend to use on the IELTS, make this a part of your study plan. Treat it as something to be investigated and discovered – grammar is easier and more enjoyable to learn this way!



Andrea Castro

Andrea is an experienced English teacher who has worked since 2009 in Costa Rica, Dubai and now Canada. When not working for IELTS, she spends her time with her little girl and her two canine siblings.

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