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How to help IELTS students improve their spelling




How to study

Date Published

02 April 2024

With so many spelling rules in English (and so many exceptions), how can you help your IELTS students make fewer spelling mistakes and give them a better chance of getting the IELTS band score they need?

Well, you’ll probably need to motivate students to improve their spelling by showing them how spelling is assessed in IELTS. And you’ll also need to show them what kind of spelling mistakes they make and how they can avoid them.

This article explains the importance of spelling in IELTS, common mistakes made, and techniques students can use to improve spelling.

Spelling is important in IELTS Listening, Reading and Writing

Spelling mistakes on the IELTS Listening and Reading tests are marked as wrong and make it harder to get the target band score.

A spelling mistake could be as simple as forgetting to spell the word ‘beginning’ with a double ‘n’ (begining).

In my experience, showing students the correct answers needed for particular band scores can motivate them to improve spelling.

The number of marks usually required to achieve a band score 8

IELTS Listening35/40
IELTS Academic Reading35/40
IELTS General Training Reading38/40

You can see the raw score conversions for other band scores.

The number of spelling mistakes in students’ IELTS Writing is also going to affect their band scores.

  • Writing band score 6.0: ‘Makes some errors in spelling’
  • Writing band score 7.0: ‘May produce occasional errors in spelling’
  • Writing band score 8.0: ‘Produces rare errors in spelling’

So, it’s a good idea to encourage students to check their writing for spelling mistakes at the end of the IELTS Writing test. But they’ll have to know what spelling mistakes to look for!

Three common types of IELTS spelling mistakes

Students will probably make at least one of the following types of spelling mistake:

  1. Spelling mistakes that are influenced by their first language. Spanish speakers, for example, often reduce double letters to single ones like ‘diferent’ (different) or ‘necesary’ (necessary).
  2. Words that are often misspelt in IELTS Writing. The Cambridge Learner Corpus tells us that the 11 most common spelling mistakes at band score 6.0 and above are with the following words: government, environment, their, different, believe, percentage, society, until, which, nowadays and definitely.
  3. Words copied from an IELTS Writing task students are answering.

To show you an example of the third type of mistake, here’s an IELTS Writing Task 2 question from IELTS 16 Academic and a spelling mistake that I know from experience that a lot of students will make.

In the future all cars, buses and trucks will be driverless. The only people travelling inside these vehicles will be passengers.
Do you think the advantages of driverless vehicles outweigh the disadvantages?

When answering this task, some students will use the word ‘outweigh‘ in their answer but misspell it by adding a ‘t‘ on the end (outweight).

Three ways IELTS students can improve their spelling

Once students know what spelling mistakes they make, you can help them improve on this with the following techniques:

  1. Help them understand spelling rules. For example, if they tend to reduce double letters to single ones, you could teach them (or help them discover) the rules for doubling consonants.
  2. Encourage them to use creative ways to remember the spelling of problematic words. For example, I used to forget how many Cs and Ss were in the word ‘necessary‘. Now use the phrase ‘one coffee, two sugars’ to remind me that the word contains one C and two S.
  3. Show them how to use the ‘Look, Cover, Write, Check’ technique.

The ‘Look, Cover, Write, Check’ technique is a great way to do IELTS spelling practice for new vocabulary that they learn too.

LOOK at how the word is spelt.

COVER the word so you can’t see it.

WRITE the word without looking at how it is spelt.

CHECK you have spelt it correctly.

An example of using "Look, Cover, Write, Check" technique to help practice spelling

If students spell a word correctly the first time, encourage them to go through the four steps again as they’ll be more likely to remember the spelling if they’ve spelt it correctly twice.

If they spell a word incorrectly, ask them to look again at how the word is spelt and then keep going through the steps until they’ve spelt the word correctly twice.

I’ve seen IELTS students dramatically improve their spelling in weeks by using this technique for just 5 minutes a day.

What types of spelling mistakes do your IELTS students make? How are you helping them improve their spelling?

Useful further reading