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Common Mistakes In Ielts Essay Writing

How to avoid the most common mistake made in IELTS essay writing.

I have corrected over a 1000 essays, I am not joking, first I did it PDFs, then I started making video corrections.

And practically ALL the essays I’ve seen have this one problem.

Hopefully in this podcast I can give you a technique to overcome this problem.

All examples given are sentences that could easily be used in IELTS essays, this will make the tutorial more valuable.

The most common mistake I see in Task 2 is…

 

The, A, An!!!!!! Articles

In this podcast you will learn how to use articles correctly. You will also learn an easy to use system that makes article use EASY.

We will start by reviewing the basics, then I want to describe a system we can use to determine whether to use A / AN / THE / ZERO.

Then we’ll do a few examples to make it crystal clear.

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns or count nouns are easy to recognise, they are things that we can count.

The three largest cities in England are London, Birmingham and Manchester…

Most international students have completed more than three tests.

There are 20 buses in Oxford Street.

Uncountable nouns

Accommodation, cash, travel, weather, work,

There is no electricity.

A single concept that is hard to divide, (but in other languages it is sometimes possible).

Uncountable nouns are (materials or concepts) we cannot count.

If we need to quantify or count them, we use ‘quantifiers’.

The lecturer gave threepieces of advice, first hand in your coursework on time, second participate in class, and third punctuality is fundamental.

Scotland, Wales and England have too much rain.

He gave a lot of information.

In nature there are predominantly two types of electricity, static and current electricity.

PLURAL UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS

These are less common, and have no singular form with the same meaning. Neither can they be used with numbers.

Some uncountable nouns are plural. They have no singular forms with the same meaning, and cannot be used with numbers.

Other plural uncountable nouns include trousers, jeans, pyjamas, pants, scissors, spectacles etc.

goods, customs, clothes, thanks, regards, police etc.

International trade facilitates the movement of goods and services.

Studies show an increase of demand of Asian goods from all corners of the world.

The police in most countries are considered incorruptible, especially in Scandinavia.

The police in the north of England are known for their pleasant and cheerful attitude.

THE PROCESS

STEP 1

The first step is to determine countability of the noun, but this is more a GRAMMATICAL CATEGORY rather than a practical category.

So therefore it makes sense to probably learn them by heart, memorize them.

Example 1 – singular noun

A scientist in Melbourne has discovered various new plant species in the suburbs of St Kilda.

Example 2 – countable noun

Numerous studies from The University of Salamanca, Spain, prove that students participating in international exchange schemes had superior grades.

Example 3 – plural uncountable noun

Goods from Russia are now exempt from tariffs, quotas and trade duties.

Example 4 – uncountable noun.

Information related to the discovery of a vaccine for dengue fever was withheld by the authorities.

STEP 2

After classifying the noun by determining countability, we determine if it is definite or indefinite.

Here we have two very useful explanations.

DEFINITENESS: Presumed known to the reader.

INDEFINITENESS: Presumed unknown to the reader.

We can be sure it is definite (known to the reader) if it is the second time we mention it.

A scientist in Melbourne has discovered various new plant species in the suburbs of St Kilda. The scientist later found the new varieties were poisonous and informed a laboratory in the UK.

Here we will work with some common errors:

ART

The art is considered one of the most noble of past times and the disciplines range from sculptures, music, dance and even selfies. ( :-)! )

Correct or incorrect?

Art is considered one of the most noble of past times and the disciplines range from sculptures, music, dance and even selfies.

EVIDENCE (uncountable noun)

-Section of writing found half way through an essay.

Numerous evidences found by police transport departments offer an irrefutable explanation to prove the link between drink driving and road accidents.

Correct or incorrect?

The numerous evidence found by police transport departments offer an irrefutable explanation to prove the link between drink driving and road accidents.

STUDY

Recent studies by Harvard University clearly showed the Philippines as one of the leading countries in Asia regarding IT qualifications. The studies also identified Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea as strong competition in the future.

STUDY a study / studies

RESEARCH

Near the beginning of an essay.

Research from the US confidently proved governmental links between three countries, Scotland, France and the Netherlands. THE research clearly identified, without any doubt that these governments had communicated with each other on numerous occasions.

Correct or incorrect? Assume it’s the first sentence of the essay.

There was research from the US which confidently proved the governmental links between the three countries, Scotland, France and the Netherlands.

It’s correct because it has no article, it is an uncountable noun, and indefinite (presumed unknown to the reader).

 
Click to read transcript

You’re now listening to the IELTS Podcast.
How to avoid the most common grammar mistakes seen in the IELTS writing task. 

Now this episode is all about the writing task and this is the single problem I see every single day when I correct essays (except Sundays). And I’m not joking. I’ve corrected over 1,000 essays. And I’m quite surprised myself that if you do 3 or 4, 5 every single day, in a year it’s very easy to reach over a thousand. 

Now then, all of these essays particularly have this one problem I’m going to describe and hopefully solved in this episode. And of course we’re going to look at a very practical technique to help you overcome the problems. And not only are we going to explore it then explain the theory, but I want to go a little bit further and give you a technique that you can use (a practical one) so you can really incorporate and apply all the knowledge that you’re going to learn in this episode. 

Now you may have guessed that the biggest single problem I see in practically every single essay is to do with the articles. And although articles is a problem for usually every single student who is learning English, and this may seem like a general English lesson, it’s actually not going to be so general. Because every single example I give you to demonstrate what I’m saying, will be from a sentence or possible sentence that could have been written in an IELTS Task 2 essay.

So it’s extremely practical this podcast. Lots of value. So let’s get cracking. 

First of all, we’ll start by reviewing the basics very quickly and then I’ll go into details about how to use a system (basically a diagram). And that the diagram helps us to determine whether it’s “a,” “an,” “the,” or “zero” article. Okay? Zero article means no article involved. 

So first of all, what we need to do is determine whether it is a countable noun or uncountable. Very briefly, countable nouns (or “count nouns” as they are known in American English) are the nouns that are very easy to recognize and these are the ones we can count. 

For example in this sentence, “cities” is the count noun/countable noun: The three largest cities in England are London, Birmingham, and Manchester. 

The next sentence: Most international students have completed more than three tests. 

So two countable nouns in that sentence. And they’re quite easy to recognize (like I said). Usually it’s with an “s” on the end. Occasionally you’ll have to change the spelling. But generally speaking those are you countable nouns. 

Now, your uncountable nouns are words like “work,” “weather,” “travel,” “cash,” “accommodation.” And these are a single concept that is hard to divide. And like I said before, this is a grammatical category, not a practical category. Because in other languages these exact same words can be divided. So just bear that in mind. So when we are learning these, remember that it’s a grammatical category rather than a practical category. 

Now there is another type of uncountable noun which is probably easier to remember. And these ones are the… still call them countable noun but it’s a single concept that’s hard to divide. For example: materials, water. In the English language you cannot have three waters. That’s just impossible. Another example would be concepts, advice. You cannot have three advises. No, it’s impossible. 

So if we do need to quantify them or count them, we use quantifiers and we can say “The lecturer gave three pieces of advice.” And then we’ve quantified it. Another one. “Scotland, Wales, and England have too much rain.” This is a single concept and it’s difficult… it’s impossible to divide it. You can’t divide rain in the English language. 

So far we have countable nouns and we have uncountable nouns. Now that’s reasonably simple, I hope. 

The next stage is plural uncountable nouns. These are less common and they have no singular form. And they cannot be used with numbers. Now then, let’s see. I’ll give you some example because it’ll just make it ten times easier: trousers, jeans, pants, scissors, spectacles, customs, clothes, regards, police. 

And I’ll give you some sentences: “International trade facilitates the movement of goods and services.” Here, “goods” refers to like the merchandise. The stock in an economical sense. I’ll say that again: “International trade facilitates the movement of goods and services.” 

Next one: “Studies show an increase of demand of Asian goods from all corners of the world.” Hopefully you recognize that idiomatic expression from a previous podcast. I’ll say it again. “Studies show an increase of demand of Asian goods from all corners of the world.” So plural uncountable nouns. No singular form. So just bear that in mind. 

Now here we’re going to get the process of determining whether or not it will have an article and what type of article it will have. So if you go to the actual website and find this post, then you’ll see a diagram that is extremely practical. And I strongly recommend you copy this diagram and try and memorize it. If you know that articles are a challenge for you then this article will be of immense value to you, especially if you master how to use it. 

Now that brings me just to an important side note: How do you know if articles are a challenge for you? How do you know if you’re losing points from your use of articles or not? Well, it’s quite simple. You get your essay checked. Not getting your essay checked is a mistake. And you can argue that it’ll save you money but that’s not entirely true because at the moment, if you’re part of the mailing list you get the opportunity to get your essay checked for one Euro (which is the equivalent of $1.50 more or less). It’s pennies… Australian dollars, sorry. So it’s pennies. It doesn’t cost anything. A Starbucks coffee probably cost more… Unless you’re in India, or Thailand, or somewhere else. But in the west, Australia, Europe, and the U.S., Canada (of course), generally speaking it’s cheaper than a coffee.

And I strongly recommend you do this because if not, you’re not going to discover your errors and it’s difficult for you to improve. Okay? And final point, it will be me personally checking your essay. And I’ll give you some good feedback and lots of advice. 

So when you do sign up, have a look and you’ll see the little advert “Want your essay checked?” I strongly recommend you do that. You’ve got nothing to lose, and like I said before, it will save you money. Because if you find out all your errors before paying $300 for your exam then it has been an incredible investment. 

So let’s carry on…
So the first step was to determine countability. Determining the countability basically means: Can we count it? I’ll give you a sentence now. “A scientist in Melbourne has discovered various plan species in the suburbs of Saint Kilda.” Watch this. Is this a singular noun? Is this a countable noun? Is this plural or is it just uncountable? “A scientist…” Of course it’s singular noun. 

Next one: “Numerous studies from the University of Salamanca, Spain, proved that students participating in international exchange schemes had superior grades.” Here the noun was countable noun: studies. And another one (if you’re really enthusiastic) would be students. Two countable nouns. 

Next one: “Goods from Russia are now exempt from tariffs, quoters, and trade duties.” These of course is an uncountable noun: “Goods.” Okay? Goods.

Next one: “Information related to the discovery of a vaccine for dengue fever was withheld by the authorities.” The first word you want to classify here is “information.” I’ll say it again. “Information related to the discovery of a vaccine for dengue fever was withheld by the authorities.” Of course this is an uncountable noun. Okay? An uncountable noun. 

So hopefully those examples have helped you classify it. That’s the first step we do. We determine countability. Can we count it or not? 

Then we go to Step Two. And in step two, we have to determine whether it’s definite or indefinite. Now that doesn’t mean much to many people: definite or indefinite. So here’s a very concise explanation of what definite means: If it’s definite in a grammatical sense it is presumed known to the reader. Definiteness. Presumed known to the reader. Write that down. There’s some good value there. That’s a lot of value actually, if you’re learning English. Indefinite: presumed unknown to the reader. 

So indefiniteness is presumed unknown to the reader. And definiteness is presumed known to the reader. So hopefully you wrote those down.

Let’s go…
So we can be sure it’s definite (known to the reader) if it is the second time we mention it. 

So I’ll give you a brief example: “A scientist in Melbourne has discovered various new plant species in the suburbs of Saint Kilda. The scientist later found the new varieties were poisonous and informed the laboratory in the U.K. (or informed a laboratory in the U.K… depending whether we’ve mentioned it or not before). So here, we’ve said “A scientist,” because it was presumed unknown because we’ve never spoken about it before yet. Then the second time we mentioned it, we said “The scientist” because presumed known. We presume it’s known because it’s the second time we’ve mentioned it. So therefore, it changes from “A scientist” to “The scientist.” 

So now, just to quickly review. First step is we determine countability. Is it singular countable? Or is it plural? Or uncountable? After that, we ask the question: Is the noun definite? 

Now if it’s definite we will use… Alright this is where it gets a little bit complicated because it’s really a diagram that I am trying to describe. So let’s see… So if it’s definite and singular countable, then we will use “the.” If it is singular countable and not definite, we use “a” or “an.” Now if it’s plural or countable and definite, we use “the.” And if it’s plural or countable and not definite, we use the zero article which basically means no article. Okay?

Now then, let’s work with some examples to hopefully bring it home and make sure that it’s completely understood. And as before, I’d strongly recommend that you write down (pen and paper) these sentences because they are useful sentences that you could very easily find in your Task 2 Essay. 

So these sentences, some of them are going to be incorrect, some of them are going to be correct. I would like you to listen carefully, perhaps write it down, perhaps pause the recording and then determine whether it is correct or incorrect. Let’s go.

“The art is considered one of the most noble of past times and the disciplines range from sculptures, music, dance, and even selfies.” Correct or incorrect? Here, we wouldn’t say “The art” because it says a concept that we cannot really divide. We cannot have two arts or three arts.

Example 2: Evidence. So the noun here is “evidence.” Is this countable or uncountable? Let’s go through it first. And just a point of reference, this section of writing that I’m going to say now is a section that would have been found half-way through an essay. That hopefully should ring a few bells there. 

“Numerous evidences found by police transport departments offer an irrefutable explanation to prove the link between drink-driving and road accidents.” So write this down. “Numerous evidences found by police transport departments offer an irrefutable explanation to prove the link between drink-driving and road accidents.” So is that correct or incorrect? Hopefully you said that was incorrect. And the reason being is because… Let’s work through our diagram.

It’s an uncountable noun to start off with. So we can’t have “evidences” and then we are presuming it’s known to the reader. So we are presuming it is definite. And my presumption is based on the fact that this fragment of this sentence was found half-way through the essay and therefore I’m probably referring to some evidence already mentioned. So in this case, it’s fine. We should have used “the.” “The numerous evidence…” “Evidence being uncountable and then “the” because it is definite. 

So “The numerous evidence found by police transport departments offer an irrefutable explanation to prove the link between drink-driving and road accidents.” 

Let’s go to the next one. Okay, next example: Study. And we’re going to use the word “study” as a noun, not as a verb. So listen to the sentence, tell me if it’s correct or incorrect. And this would be at the beginning of an essay. Okay?

“Recent studies by Harvard University clearly show the Philippines as one of the leading countries in Asia regarding qualifications. The studies also identified Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea as strong competition in the future.” 

One more time: “Recent studies by Harvard University clearly show the Philippines as one of the leading countries in Asia regarding qualifications. The studies also identified Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea as strong competition in the future.” 

So let’s have a look at the first one. We’ve got “Recent studies.” Should this be “The recent studies,” or “Recent studies?” Well here it is zero article. And the reason is because (first of all determine countability) “studies” it is plural. So if you’re looking at Dave and that means you go to the right-hand side. Is it definite? Is it known or unknown to the listener? Well, because it’s the beginning of the essay, like I said, then it is presumed unknown to the listener. So therefore, we will use the zero article (no article). Okay?

Later, in the next sentence, we’re still talking/we’re still writing about the same study or the same studies. So once again, singular, or countable, or plural and uncountable? Well, it’s plural. So it goes to the right. It’s plural. And now, is the study presumed known to the listener, or presumed unknown to the listener? Well, it’s presumed known to the listener because it’s the second time we are discussing it. Okay? So that’s why in the second instance, we have to say “The studies.” 

So hopefully you got that right. I’ll just say it again. “Recent studies by Harvard University clearly show the Philippines as one of the leading countries in Asia regarding I.T. qualifications. The studies also identified Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea as strong competition in the future.”  So “The studies in the second one because now it is presumed known. So therefore, it is a definite article. 

Final one and then we’re going to go onto the final part. Okay? Let’s see… Research. Now I specifically chose all these words because they are words that are commonly used in a good IELTS Task 2 essay and I see them used incorrectly on a daily basis. So now we’re going to deal with the word “research.” And this fragment of text would have been found near the beginning of an essay. Okay? 

So let’s go. “Research from U.S. confidently proved governmental links between three countries: Scotland, France, and the Netherlands. The research clearly identified without any doubt that these governments have communicated with each other on numerous occasions.” Is this correct or incorrect? 

Well, it is correct. Okay? We have “Research from the U.S.” and it’s practically the same as before. Okay? Let’s run it through the diagram. So first of all, we determine countability. Is “research” a countable noun? No, it’s not. It is completely uncountable. Afterwards we determine, is it definite? Well, as I said before, it is near the beginning of the essay so we can presume it is unknown to the listener. So therefore, zero article. So it is correct: “Research from the U.S.” Okay? 

Later in that text we refer to the exact research the same research we’ve mentioned earlier. So in this case it is definite because now it is presumed known to the listener. So starting from the beginning, again, it’s an uncountable noun as determined earlier. Is it definite? Is it known, or unknown? Is it presumed known or presumed unknown to the listener? Well, in this case we can presume it is known because it is the second time we are mentioning it. 

So I’ll just say it one more time. “Research from U.S. confidently proved governmental links between three countries: Scotland, France, and the Netherlands. The research…” “The research,” now I’m using “the” article because it’s the second time I’m referring to it. “The research clearly identified without any doubt that these governments have communicated with each other on numerous occasions.” 

Now in the next podcast we’re going to look at some general rules. I think you’ll find them very useful because it’s going to look at some of the exemptions. Also some of the most common nouns and common mistakes again. Okay? So please, I strongly recommend you go to the website. Go to ieltspodcast.com, sign up. Why not try that 1 Euro check? You’ve got nothing to lose, incredible investment, and the return in your investment is quite high if you do end up saving yourself 300 Euro if you do end up passing the exam. You don’t have to shell out, you don’t have to pay again for taking the test. And it’s a very small risk. So have a look at that at the site when you sign up. 

But what I wanted to say is that really, check out that diagram. It’s incredibly useful and it’s definitely worth memorizing if you do find articles a challenge. 

 

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bw 2017-06-22T07:50:37+00:00

Before we begin, there is something else you need to know. In the recent post about the difference between the formal and informal writing styles there was a mistake. Although it was caught and fixed almost immediately on the website, the erroneous version was sent to your emails before we could stop it. To clarify, the words “children”, “many” and “much” are formal equivalents of informal “kids”, “a lot of” and “heaps of”. My apologies, if the previous email confused you.

And now to the common mistake in the IELTS Writing test. As you may know, there are 2 tasks, Writing Task 1 and Task 2, and in both Academic and General Training modules Task 1 is shorter (150 words) than Task 2 (250 words). Often people decide to write the Task 2 first, before writing Task 1. No problem so far, but we are getting to the really important bit.

It is essential that you pay attention to the Answer Sheet and write your answers in the right places. There are 2 marked spaces on the Answer Sheet that you get in the Writing test, one says “Task 1” and the other says “Task 2”. To avoid confusing the examiner who will check your work, you need to make sure that the the essay is written under “Task 2” and the report (for Academic) or the letter (for General Training) – under Task 1.


If worse comes to worst and you’ve mixed the two spaces, don’t panic. First, finish writing your tasks – wherever you’ve started to write, don’t worry about the wrong spaces, just take care of the contents and the paragraphing as usual. After the Writing test is over you can ask staff at the test center to affix a note to your work explaining where each task is. It will help the examiner locate the right task and your score won’t suffer.

Good luck with your exam!

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