Common Errors to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing

July 16, 2018 by Angela Rutherford Angela Rutherford

If you are preparing for the IELTS General Training exam, you probably know that you will be given a short (150 word) letter writing assignment. The letter will have a general purpose such as making a complaint or thanking a friend for something. The task is very straightforward, but, sadly, some people make simple errors that significantly lower their scores.

It’s great that you are taking the time to read this and hopefully what follows will help you feel more confident on test day as I am about to highlight 3 common mistakes that could have been avoided with just a little preparation.

Let’s start with a quiz using a sample of a writing prompt that might appear on the exam (find this practice exercise and sample marked responses here).

After you read the prompt, say whether the statements are true or false.

letter errors

True or false?

You should:

  • Close the letter with “Best regards”.
  • Describe a problem and why it makes it difficult for you to work.
  • Request a refund for the rent.

To answer these questions let’s discuss some of the mistakes that people make.

Forgetting or using inappropriate openings and closings:

Some people completely omit the closing or improperly start and end their letters which is unfortunate because it lowers their score. Always begin and finish your letter with a salutation and closing that fit the tone of the situation. In this case, the letter above should be written in a formal style because it is a complaint. The opening that has been given to you as “Dear Sir or Madam” confirms the formality and the letter should thus be finished with “Yours Faithfully”. Therefore, the answer to (a) is FALSE because “Best regards” is used for semi-formal correspondence such as when you are writing to a friend or someone you know well. You can find a more detailed discussion about tone and style here.

common errors letter writing blogNot completely covering all the bullet points:

Make sure you respond to each of the bullet points in your answer. In addition, watch carefully for plurals. In the above example, you have to describe at least two problems that you are having as well as explain how these problems are impacting your ability to study. If you only write about one OR forget to explain how they make your life difficult, you will be penalized. So, the answer to (b) is also FALSE.

Including irrelevant or incorrect information: 

The answer to (c) is FALSE as well. Be sure that you clearly understand the purpose of the letter and stay focused on it. The bullet “say what kind of accommodation you would prefer” implies that you would like to change rooms. If you, instead, request a refund of the money for rent as a solution to the issue, it seems that you have misunderstood the task. Read the question completely and underline keywords so that the function of the letter stands out as you are writing. That way, you will be less likely to include information that digresses or contradicts the bullet points you are covering.

Once again, I congratulate you for taking the time to do a little preparation for your exam. If you are careful to avoid these errors, you will be more likely to end up with the score you need.



Angela Rutherford

Angela Rutherford is an experienced English teacher and exam preparation coach who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. After a career teaching in Ontario public and international private schools, she established her own tutoring business and enjoys working exclusively with IELTS candidates who want to do their best on the exam.

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