IELTS & TOEFL Writing: 5 Common Mistakes


Hi. Welcome again to I'm Adam. Today's lesson, we're looking at IELTS and TOEFL,

the writing section, and we're going to look at the five most common mistakes that

I see when I'm checking students' essays. Okay? Now, as usual, for the IELTS and TOEFL

lesson, I will speak a little bit more natural speed, a little bit faster than usual. If

you're a beginner, don't worry. Watch the video, listen, practice your listening. Get

the vocabulary you need.

It's allIt's good for everybody, but just a little bit harder. Okay?

So, now, where do I begin? I check a lot of essays. Okay? People send me their essays,

I check them, I edit them, I tell them what they're doing wrong, and I've come to the

realization that there are certain mistakes that many, many people make. So, I want to

tell you five of these common mistakes so that you can avoid making them. Okay?

And the first one-and this is the most common mistake that I see-is that you are trying

too hard. Now, what does this mean? Trying hard is a good thing, right? Yes, it is. But

you're trying too hard to sound impressive. Okay? You're trying to impress the graders

of theseOf these exams, IELTS and TOEFL, you think that by using big words or lots

of idioms, or very, very long sentences that are very complex and have many clauses that

you're getting a higher score. In fact, most of the times, you're actually hurting yourselves.

Why? Because you're using words incorrectly, you're using them inappropriately, meaning

in the wrong context or the wrong usage or in the wrong parts of speech; you're using

a verb when you should use a noun, etc. When you write very, very long sentences, quite

often, you have run-on sentences, meanMeaning you have two independent clauses in

one sentence, and no punctuation, and no conjunctions, and then the whole sentence falls apart and

means nothing. And also, a lot of people use idioms becauseYeah, idioms will get you

extra points, but they're using them incorrectly or in the wrong context. Again, make sure

you know the words you're using, make sure you know the idioms you're using, and shorter

sentences can actually be better. Simple is often better than complex. If you think about

As an analogy, if you think about cooking, the more spices you put into the dish, the

less you taste the actual meat or the actual core of the dish. Simple is best.

Let me give you an example. Here are two sentences. Okay? Let me read them to you.

"The CEO", Chief Executive Officer, like the head of the company… "The CEO's tenure at the company

was abbreviated due to his reluctance to integrate more females into upper managerial posts,

thereby drawing the ire of the Board who consequently relieved him of his duties."

Now, this sentence is perfectly okay. It's grammatically correct, all the words are being used correctly, but

if you can write a sentence like this the way that I wrote it here, then you don't need

to worry about the IELTS or the TOEFL; your English is obviously very high level. If you

can do this, then this test will be very easy for you.

However, a lot of people, a lot of test-takers try to write this sentence, and then they

end up making many, many mistakes. They don't use this word correctly: "abbreviated", they

say: "abbreviation". Okay? That's the more common thing of it. "Abbreviated" means made

shorter. Okay? "Reluctance", hesitance, like not really wanting to. This word: "ire". I

write all the time, I write for a living. I never use this word "ire", because it's

so old-fashioned. And also, it's a small word. Right? So you don't need many syllables, you

don't need very rare words. You need to be simple, you need to get your message across.

The most important part of the test is: Answer the question. They give you a task, answer

it. Answer it clearly, concisely. Means: Use fewer words, not more words. If you can say

the same thing in fewer words, get the message across, make it clear, make the reader interested,

then you'll get higher points than if you write something like this. Okay?

Let's look at this sentence:

"The CEO's time was cut short because he wouldn't promote

women to top positions, which angered the Board who then fired him."

Okay, look at the two sentences. This sentence means exactly the same thing as this sentence.

Much shorter, much simpler words, much more direct delivery of the message. Now, "tenure", "time", same

thing. Tenure's a nice word, but if you're not going to use it correctly, then you're

going to lose points; not gain points. Better to write "time", and get the message across,

than to write "tenure" and use a word incorrectly, which means you don't actually know it, and

you make the whole sentence confusing to the reader. So you're actually doing two bad things.

We call this a "double-whammy", in case you need extra expressions.

A double-whammy means

you're hurting yourself twice. Okay? So don't do that.

"Ire", just say "angered". Now, if you can use the word "angered", this is a high-end word.

Now, you're thinking: "Angry? 'Angry' is not a high-end word." Yes, but I didn't

say "angry". I said "angered". If you could show the graders that you know this word so

well that you know how to use it as a verbBecause most people don't. Most people only

know "angry" or "anger", the noun. Very few people use this word as a verb. Use this word

as a verb, and you have your high-end vocabulary, you get your extra points. Use "ire" incorrectly

and you're actually losing points. Okay? Same idea, fewer words, simple words, the message

is clear and to the point.

Now, for some reason people love this idiom:

"a double-edged sword". Everything is a double-edged sword.

The problem with a double-edged sword is that there's two sides to it, and most

people don't realize that. Right? If you're going to use an idiom, make sure you're using

it correctly. So, this idiom, "a double-edged sword" means that something, or a situation,

or an action has both a positive side and a negative side. So if you're going to use

this idiom, you better explain to the reader: What is the positive, what is the negative?

Okay? So, this sentence is a double-edged sword. If you can write it like this, then

yeah, you're getting a bonus point. But on the other side of it, if you writeIf you

make any mistakes in it, you're losing points. So be very careful with vocabulary, extra

words that you don't need, and idioms.

Now, another thing: Long, complicated sentences. They don't need to be. Remember I said they're

run-on sentences? Now, another thing you have to worry about is redundancy. This is a big

word, but I'll write it here. If something is redundant, it means it's unnecessary.

"The CEO's tenure at the company", now, here you noticed I put "at the company". HereHere,

I didn't put "the company". Why? A CEO is a head of a company, it's understood that

the time at the company. I don't actually need to say it. If you can use three words

to say something, don't use five. If you can use five, don't use 10. Less is more, just

like when you're putting on makeup. Another analogy, there, for you. Okay? So, this is

the most common mistake. Let's look at a few more.

Okay, so now we're a little bit busy, here, but I'll squeeze everything into one shot

so it's much easier for you. What I'm going to do, I'm going to begin by looking at a

very classic task, either IELTS or TOEFL will give it to you. "Parents make the best teachers."

Do you agree or disagree? Okay. You had your introduction, we're talking about parents,

we're talking about education, we're talking about children. Some people believe that parents

are the best, some people believe teachers are the best. I think thatI agree that

parents are the best teachers. Okay, your introduction's done.

Let's get into the first body paragraph. So, first, I'm going to read this to you. This

is not a complete paragraph, but you'll get the idea.

"Firstly, parents know their child best, including what he likes and doesn't like, such as books he likes to read, or favourite

science topics. Parents can also talk to the child's teachers and find out from them how

to help him at home. They can also monitor how much TV he watches, and cutting down on

this might help his concentration."

And on and on. Okay? I didn't give you the full paragraph.

Not necessary; you'll understand what I'm getting at.

So, common mistake number two: No topic sentence. If you look at this example, I don't know

what this paragraph is about. Right? A topic sentence is your introduction sentence to

the paragraph. It's very important to remember that one paragraph has one central idea. Okay?

This central idea must be presented right at the beginning of the paragraph so the reader

knows what to expect. So, in this sentence, we're talking about parents know their child,

they know what he likes and what he doesn't like, they know what books he likes, they

know what science topics he likes. What is this paragraph about? Is it about books? Is

it about choosing his books or choosing his science topics? Is it about parents know their

child? Is it about what he likes, what he doesn't like? I'm assuming that it's: Parents

know their child best. Okay? So it's about the parents' knowledge of the child. That

is what this paragraph is about. That is why they are the best teachers, because they know

their child. Put a period here, and then start with your reasons. This is your topic sentence.

This is what the paragraph is about. Stop, start giving me your support; start elaborating

on this key point, and giving me the details, reasons, examples, etc.

Too many ideas. So, this basically goes in line with the topicNo topic sentence.

So then, okay, they know what he likes, what he doesn't like, his books, etc. They can

also talk to the child's teachers and find out how they can help him. Okay, that's another

way they can do. So, teachers have nobody to ask. Or maybe they have the parents. Who

knows? So, parents know their child best, parents can talk to the child's teachers,

they can findThey can monitor how much TV he watches, so they canThis is something

else they can do. Doesn't have anything to do with what he likes or doesn't like. They

can concen-… They can help his concentration by cutting down on TV. Too many ideas, here.

Now, too many ideas is not a bad thing if each idea is expanded on, you elaborate, you

explain why this is important, and you have to connect. Right? Every sentence must flow

in terms of ideas, logically, from one idea to the next. So, here, thisThis sentence

and this sentence really have no connection. Here, we're talking about what he likes; here

about what they can do with their teachers. Two completely separate ideas, not connected

by anything. Okay? Next, they can talk about TV. They can cut down on TV. Okay. What does

that have to do with talking to the child's teachers? Nothing. Again, no connection. Different

idea. So the reader is going:

"Umm, what are you trying to do here? Like, what…? What is the purpose of this essay?

What is the purpose of this paragraph?" The point is you're

trying to support your idea, why you think parents are the best teacher.

Don't just throw in ideas.

Which brings us to point number four: Good pointSo, you're making good points. There's

nothing wrong with the ideas, here; they're actually quite good, quite strong in terms

of supporting your opinion. But then you don't give me any examples. Okay? For example, if

you're talking about books, this is like already the second sentence, you're talking about

what books he likes, what science he likesFor example, if a child likes dinosaurs, the

parents can then go buy him a dinosaur set, a model set, or books about dinosaurs, or

they can take him to the museum to seeThe Natural History Museum to see how dinosaurs

evolved, and died, and etc. Or if you're talking about TV, well, what's wrong with TV? TV can

be very educational. But for your purpose, you want to give the example. If the child

is watching too many cartoons or is watching violent movies, he's not going to be able

to concentrate on his math homework. Right? Or if his imagination is getting carried away,

how's he going to concentrate on his science lessons?

So, give me the points, yes, make sure that you give me concrete examples.

"Concrete" meaning give me a real thing, something I can actually hold onto. The dinosaur set,

concrete example. Cartoons on TV, concrete examples. Okay? Make sure you support your

reasons with examples. Make sure you support your argument with reasons. Everything has

to be connected. Better to take only one or two of these ideas, expand on them, and give

me examples to support them to make them stronger. Okay? So, this is the general idea about the

paragraphs in body one, body two. Same thing for body two. You're going to a new topic,

introduce it with a topic, make sure you have the transition between paragraph, body paragraph

one and two, topic sentence, reason you think so, example, maybe another point,

go on to your conclusion.

Now, this one, the last one. This is actually a bit of a pet peeve. I'll explain this expression.

A "pet peeve" is something that you find really annoying. Right? Something that happens all

the time, and it really bothers you. So I've had many students, and I've explained to them

this point-I'm going to explain to you in a second-and I say: "Don't do this." And then

their next essay, they do it again; and then their next essay, they do it again. Like,

you say: "Don't do it, don't do it", and they do it, and they do it. So, what is the problem?

Once you have your opinion, once you've decided agree or disagree, say so once. Okay? Use

this pronoun: "I agree", "I think", "I believe", "In my opinion" one time in the entire essay.

Do not say: "I think" two, three, four times. Don't say it twice in the introduction, and

then again in the conclusion. Say it one time in the introduction if that's where your thesis is

- that's it, you're done. Don't use the word: "I", "my", "me", "mine" any more in your essay.

The only time you can repeat the personal pronoun is if you have a very personal task

question. Would you prefer to live in the city or the country? Okay, in that case, you

can use "I", or "me", or "my" a few times, but even then, you don't need to, so don't.

One time, give me your opinion, that's it; don't give me any more.

Now, what happens is I see quite often in the introduction, I see people say:

"I think that A, B, C, which is why I believe C, D, E, F." Whatever.

Well, what is your thesis?

Is it the first one or the second one? Right? Usually it will be a bit clear what you're

trying to say, but the fact that you say two opinions makes your thesis weak, because I'm

not sure. You're not taking a very firm stance. If you think A, B, C, which is why you believe

D, E, F - well, you only think A, B, C, which is not a very strong support for D, E, F or

believing D, E, F. Have one firm expression: "I think" something, done. Support it the

rest of the essay. In the conclusion, you can restate that opinion, but you don't have

to say: "That is why I think", "In conclusion, I think this because that". No.

"In conclusion, parents make the best teachers for several reasons,

including knowledge of their child and" whatever your second body paragraph was.

I don't know. Everybody has different ideas.

One time in the whole essay, that's it.

So, these are the five common mistakes people make. Try to avoid them.

Your score will go up right away, I can promise you that. If you have any questions, come to,

you can ask me questions in the forum. I will put a quiz to make sure you understand the

key concepts, here. If you need extra help, please visit my site,,

I have a lot of useful tips for writing there as well; subscribe to my YouTube channel;

and come back soon. I'll see you then. Bye.