With 25% of IELTS Writing scores determined by vocabulary, spelling is clearly a real concern for IELTS candidates. While a few spelling errors will be overlooked, too many will bring down the score for Lexical Resource. Spelling mistakes can also seriously affect IELTS Listening scores.
As it’s not possible to memorise the spelling of every English word, it makes more sense to identify the words most likely to be (a) used in IELTS and (b) misspelled.
There are already many lists of common spelling errors online, but here I’ve selected words likely to occur in the Academic modules of IELTS. Rather than simply list the most common mistakes, I’ve attempted to highlight errors by type, so you can pay more attention to the underlying rules.
Single and double consonants
Spelling mistakes are common when single or double consonants occur nearby in a word.
A single consonant is followed by a double consonant:
Across, Process, Harass, Disappoint, Recommend, Tomorrow, Professor, Necessary
A double consonant is followed by a single consonant:
Parallel, Apparent, Exaggerate, Occasion, Occur (but Occurred), Commit (but Committed)
Some common words with two pairs of consonants:
Success, Possess, Access, Assess, Address, Accommodation, Embarrass, Millennium
Weak vowel sounds
Some words are difficult to spell because they contain the schwa or [ə], a weak vowel sound. It is almost impossible to know how to spell such words from their sound alone.
Examples of words containing more than one schwa include:
Separate (adj.), Definite, Desperate, Temperature, Literature, General, Relevant, Category
Other problematic schwa words include:
Describe, Decline, Despite; but Dispute, Discrete, Display
Capable, Achievable, Understandable; but Possible, Visible, Accessible
Performance, Attendance, Ignorance; but Independence, Sentence, Existence
Sometimes the schwa sound conceals a barely-pronounced [r]:
Opportunity, Pursue, Persuade, Surprise
The informal words below are best avoided in Academic IELTS. The neutral words are ‘fine’ for the Speaking module, but you really should learn the formal equivalents if you want to score highly in the Academic Writing module.
|Informal (Avoid)||Neutral (Spoken)||Formal (Written)|
|Kids (younger)||Babies, Children||Infants, Offspring|
|Kids (older)||Teenagers||Adolescents, Youths|
|Old people||Elderly people||Senior citizens, Retirees|
|-||Boss, Manager||Supervisor, Superior|
|OK, Alright||Fine||Acceptable, Satisfactory|
|Great, Awesome||Good||Preferable, Desirable|
|Rubbish, Useless||Bad, Poor||Unsatisfactory, Unacceptable|
|-||Nice, Polite||Considerate, Agreeable|
|-||Kind, Friendly||Sociable, Neighbourly|
|Nasty, Cheeky (person)||Rude, Impolite||Abusive, Disagreeable|
|Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (idea)||-||Misguided, Questionable|
|Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (person)||-||Misguided, Mistaken|
|-||Happy (person)||Satisfied, Delighted|
|-||Happy (situation)||Satisfying, Delightful|
|-||Sad (person)||Regretful, Distressed|
|-||Sad (situation)||Regrettable, Distressing|
|Sick of, Fed up with||Tired of||Dissatisfied with|
|-||Poor (country)||Developing, Poverty-stricken|
|-||Poor (person)||In poverty, Underprivileged|
|-||Rich (country)||Wealthy, Developed|
|-||Rich (person)||Wealthy, Privileged|
Contractions such as don’t are fine in IELTS Speaking but it is better to use do not in the Academic Writing module. Casual forms such as gonna and dunno should only ever be used in the Speaking test and NEVER in Writing.