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IELTS Grammar: How To Improve Range and Accuracy

In the IELTS, grammar is extremely important. If you want to get a high band score in the IELTS Writing Test, you need to use a wide variety of grammar accurately. 25% of the overall writing mark is down to Grammatical Range and Accuracy. This means that not only does your IELTS grammar have to be correct, it also has to be varied. In today’s blog, we will look at some structures that you can use to improve your score.

3 Types of Sentences

There are 3 types of sentence that you can use:

  • A Simple Sentence

  • A Compound Sentence

  • A Complex Sentence

Before I explain these, I need to explain a clause. There are 2 types of clause

  • An independent clause

  • A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause

An independent clause has a subject and one main verb. The idea in the clause is complete.

  • The cat sat on the mat.

A dependent clause has a subject and a verb but its full meaning depends on the main clause.

  • The cat sat on the mat because it was tired.

“It was tired” is an incomplete idea. The full meaning of “it was tired” is only clear when we know that the cat was sitting on a mat.

So let’s look at how clauses make different kinds of sentences.

Simple Sentences

A simple sentence has one independent clause.

  • The cat sat on the wall.

Even if you add more detail to this sentence, it’s still a simple sentence.

  • The black and white cat sat on the cement wall.

  • The cute, black and white cat was sitting on the grey, cement wall next to a girl.

In the above 2 sentences, I used noun phrases (e.g. the cute, black and white cat). It’s a good idea to use noun phrases in your writing. I’m also using different tenses. But the sentence is still a simple sentence.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence has two or more independent clauses, joined by a conjunction (e.g. and, but, so, because). These are called co-ordinating conjunctions – they join ideas together.

  • The cat sat on the wall and was stroked by the girl.

  • The cat sat on the wall and was stroked by the girl, but the cat didn’t like it.

In the last sentence, there are 3 independent clauses. Each one could be written on its own…

  • The cat sat on the wall. The cat was stroked by the girl. The cat didn’t like it.

…but this would be terrible to read. There is no ‘flow’ to the writing.

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence has one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. They are joined by conjunctions such as because, since, after, although, when, while. These are called subordinating conjunctions.

  • The cat was sitting on the wall because she was tired.

  • The cat was sitting on the wall [independent clause] because [conjunction] she was tired [dependent clause].

Here are some more examples of complex sentences:

  • Because she was tired, the cat was sitting on the wall.

  • While the cat was sitting on the wall, a girl stroked her.

  • The girl was stroking the cat because she liked the feel of its fur.

Complex Sentences are NOT Complicated Sentences

One of the biggest mistakes made by IELTS students is thinking that a complex sentence should be complicated or long. A complex sentence is not the same thing as a complicated sentence.

Many students write long sentences, especially in Writing Task 2, thinking that they will get a higher band score. BUT if you write a sentence that is difficult to understand, you will get a lower band score. Complex sentences should be easy to understand and should make your writing flow better.

To get a high band score for IELTS grammar, you need to use a mixture of these sentence types in your writing. This will make your writing more varied and more interesting.

What do IELTS Examiners want?

IELTS Examiners are looking for a mixture of simple, compound and complex sentences, and also a range of grammatical structures within your sentences. Here’s what their assessment criteria say:

  • Band 5: uses only a limited range of structures; attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences.

  • Band 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms; makes some errors in grammar and punctuation but they rarely reduce communication.

  • Band 7: uses a variety of complex structures; produces frequent error-free sentences

  • Band 8: uses a wide range of structures; makes only very occasional errors

  • Band 9: uses a wide range of structures with full flexibility and accuracy; any errors are ‘slips’ (i.e. forgetfulness, not because of a lack of grammar)

Note that your IELTS grammar does not need to be perfect, even at Band 8. To get a Band 6 or Band 7, it is better to attempt things like complex sentences, and make mistakes, than not to attempt these sentences…unless the grammatical mistakes make understanding difficult.

IELTS Grammar: Tips for improving your grammatical range

Start the sentence with a prepositional phrase

Common prepositional phrases start with since, at, among, about, throughout, with regards to, in time. For example:

Since the beginning of the afternoon, the cat had been sitting on the wall.

Use ‘there’ + ‘to be’

This is a simple, yet very underused grammatical structure. It is a very powerful structure because it forces you to change the grammar of the rest of the sentence. It makes you turn verbs into noun phrases and adjective phrases, and it makes you change the word order (the syntax) of your sentence. In other words, “there + to be” makes you widen your grammatical range.

So instead of writing: “A cat was sitting on the wall”, you can write:

There was a cat sitting on the wall.

It looks similar, but “sitting on the wall” is now an adjective phrase, not a verb.

Instead of writing: “From 1995 to 2005, sales fluctuated slightly”, you can write:

There was a slight fluctuation in sales from 1995 to 2005.

Start the sentence with a subordinating conjunction

Instead of “the cat was sitting on the wall because she was tired” write:

Because she was tired, the cat was sitting on the wall.

Use relative clauses

Add information by using relative clauses

So don’t write “The cat was sitting on the wall. It was being stroked by a girl.” Write:

The cat, which was sitting on the wall, was being stroked by a girl.

Use subordinating conjunctions

Join clauses with because, so that, although, while, whereas

Hopefully, now you feel more confident about what the examiner is looking for and how you can improve your score in grammatical range and accuracy.

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