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اخبار > Band score 8 in writing – grammatical accuracy


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Band score 8 in writing – grammatical accuracy

This is the first of a series of lessons in how to achieve band score 8.0 in writing. It used to be the case that 7.0 was pretty much the highest requirement, but times change and now it is not unusual for certain institutions/employers to ask for 8.0. I certainly get a number of queries on this. So how do you do it? Can it be done? Don’t need 8.0? Read on – you still need to do the same things – only to a slightly lower level.

In this first lesson, I take you back to basics and explain a little about the marking of IELTS and then focus on one aspect in particular: grammatical accuracy.

 

Test yourself first

Here’s the test. Read this essay (written by me). It’s pretty good, but every sentence contains one mistake. That means it’s not good enough. Your job is to find the mistakes.

In today’s material world, we are inundated with variety forms of advertising. In my view, this can be dangerous as it encourages us spend without thinking and young people, in particular, need some protection from it.

The first point to make is that advertising does make us to spend money we do not need to. There are nowadays many diferent ways companies promote their products and services, ranging from television commercials to simple flyers. If, for example, you were watching a football match on television, you will see the logos of the tournament sponsors. Likewise, if you watch the latest blockbuster movie, very probably you will see a product placed in the film by advertising agency. The  volume of this advertising means that we, as consumers, tend to be profoundly influence by it and buy without thinking.

It is not easy to decide how regulating advertising. Clearly, governments ought to restrict advertisements for harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco. They do not have the power, however, to control other forms of the advertising. This means we need to use our commonsense when we go to the shops, and ask us whether we really need to make that purchase. Parents should, however, ensure that young people are protected about too much exposure to advertising. this can mean explaining that it is not in fact necessary to buy the newest Xbox.

My conclusion is that while we cannot escape advertising or its effects in the modern world, children should be being encouraged not to pay too much attention to it.

Notes

I don’t expect you to get all of these. You’re a teacher if you do. But:

  1. as you read through, notice the different types of mistakes it is possible to make. It is not all about verbs and tenses.
  2. it’s a hard task for two reasons. Firstly, you are reading quite a long piece of writing. Secondly, I wrote it and you didn’t. That should make you consider the ideas of checking your writing as you go and making your own checklist of mistakes that you make.

In today’s material world, we are inundated with various forms of advertising. In my view, this can be dangerous as it encourages us to spend without thinking and young people, in particular, need some protection from it.

The first point to make is that advertising does make us spend money we do not need to. There are nowadays many different ways companies promote their products and services, ranging from television commercials to simple flyers. If, for example, you watch a football match on television, you will see the logos of the tournament sponsors. Likewise, if you watch the latest blockbuster movie, very probably you will see a product placed in the film by an advertising agency. The  volume of this advertising means that we, as consumers, tend to be profoundly influenced by it and buy without thinking.

It is not easy to decide how to regulate advertising. Clearly, governments ought to restrict advertisements for harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco. They do not have the power, however, to control other forms of advertising. This means we need to use our commonsense when we go to the shops and ask ourselves whether we really need to make that purchase. Parents should, however, ensure that young people are protected from too much exposure to advertising. This can mean simply explaining that it is not in fact necessary to buy the newest Xbox.

My conclusion is that while we cannot escape advertising or its effects in the modern world, children should be encouraged not to pay too much attention to it.


Step 1 – understand the rules of the game (the band score criteria)

The first step must be to understand how the writing is marked. If you don’t do that, your chances are much reduced. Let me explain. Native speakers sometimes have to take IELTS too. They don’t always do so well and occasionally embarrass themselves by not getting a band 8 score. Why? Are they not:

Band 8 Very Good User
Has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriacies. Misunderstandings may occur in unfamiliar situations. Handles complex detailed argumentation well.

Of course they are. They simply haven’t understood the rules of the game. The rules are like this.

  • Writing is marked according to 4 criteria (lexical resource/grammatical range and accuracy/coherence and cohesion/task response)
  • You get a score out of 9 for each of these and then the marks are averaged to give you your final score
The reality is that if you get much less than 8.0 in any one of those criteria, it becomes much harder to get a final 8.0. Your aim has to be to get 8.0 in each criteria. If you don’t, you probably need to improve your score in the other criteria – tough.

Grammar – it’s about range and accuracy

This is what it says about grammar.

uses a wide range of structures
• the majority of sentences are error-free
• makes only very occasional errors or inappropriacies

One point to note is that it is not just about how many mistakes you make. You also need a wide range of structures too. I will explain more about that in a later lesson.

The majority of the sentences are error-free

This means that if your essay has around 15 sentences ( a good number), then you probably need to write about 10 entirely correct sentences. That means no mistakes.

Makes only very occasional errors or inappropriacies

In a way, this is another way of saying the same thing. You need to write in such a way as the examiner is surprised when you get something wrong.

How can you achieve this? Learn to check for mistakes

The one thing that will not work is writing very simple language and only concentrate on not making mistakes. You need to a range of grammar too remember. What it does mean is:

  • you almost certainly need a teacher to check your writing and tell you where you make mistakes
  • you need to build a checklist of the type of mistakes you make – most people have their “own” mistakes and it also makes sense to concentrate on common bits of grammar like “countables” and “uncountables” as you will use these in every sentence.
  • you need to understand that grammar is more than just verb tenses: it includes things like word order too
  • you need to learn to check your own writing (my personal suggestion is that you don’t leave this to the end of the essay when you are tired, but you check as you go)

How can you achieve this? Think before you write

As a teacher, I find that a large proportion of students mistakes are made not because they don’t know the grammar, but rather because they got the writing process wrong. They write. They stop. They think. They write again. The first bit of the sentence is okay and so’s the second bit. It’s just that the two halves don’t match. You may be surprised by how many mistakes you avoid by knowing how you want to end the sentence before you start writing it.

How can you achieve this? Use plain English

I said above that you should not use too simple English. That is true. What is also true, however, is that it makes sense to avoid complicated English as well – it is only likely to cause more mistakes. This is not just good advice for the exam, it is good advice for life too (Macmillan dictionary page and Michael McCarthy a leading academic).

Some basics for writing plainer English

  • avoid long, long sentences (20 words is a long sentence, unless its structure is very simple)
  • don’t forget the basic S-V-O structure of English and think word order (many mistakes in more complex sentences happen when the subject gets separated from the verb)
  • try verbs instead of abstract nouns where you can
  • be careful with relative clauses and other complex structures (one relative is more than enough for each sentence)
  • try and formulate the whole sentence in your head before you start writing. If you can’t, it may be that the sentence is not complex but complicated – not a good thing

How can you achieve this? Avoid complicated ideas and writing too much

There are no marks in IELTS for quality of ideas. They need to be relevant to the question, but that is all. It really makes no difference if the examiner disagrees with your thoughts. Many candidates who are aiming for a high score (perhaps because they are smart), try to show off with great ideas.

  • Problem – you have 40 minutes and you are writing in a second language.
  • Bigger problem – if you try and write something “clever”, there is a good chance that your language will become over-complex and you will make mistakes you didn’t need to.
  • Point to consider – the more you write: the more likely you are to make mistakes and the less likely you are to have time to check
  • It’s a language test: always remember that.


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