15 Mistakes to avoid while writing a letter for IELTS

In our previous post, we’ve learned some important tips to achieve a higher band score. It has taught us how to identify a letter type, how to open and close a letter, which expressions to use and which to avoid and so on. In this post, we will directly dive into the common mistakes made by candidates while writing a letter answer in their IELTS exam. This way, we will learn how not to make those same mistakes.

Mistake – 1: Start writing your letter without reading the letter topic first.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Always read the letter question first and then plan for your letter, and only then start writing your letter. Without reading the question attentively and doing proper planning, you are not going to write an excellent letter response to get a higher band score.

Mistake – 2: Spend 4/5 minutes to read the letter question and take another 5 minutes to plan for your answer.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Time is a rare commodity in your IELTS exam. So make the best and wisest use of it. You have only 20 minutes to read, plan, finish write and revise your letter answer. So read the question in just one minute, and then plan for it within 1-2 minutes. That’s the maximum you can allocate for reading and planning your letter.

Please be advised that you do not need to read every single word of the question. Just read the main part of it. Some information like “You should spend about 20 minutes on this task” or “You do not need to write any addresses” are always the same and you should not spend any time reading those common instructions.

Mistake – 3: Begin a formal letter with “Dearest Mr/Mrs …” or an informal letter with “Dear + Full name”.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Always begin a formal letter as “Dear Sir or Madam”, a semi-formal letter as “Dear Mr/Mrs + Last Name” and an informal letter as “Dear + First Name”. If you look a bit more closely, you will find that the question instruction always tells you how to begin a letter. So make a good impression by addressing the person in your letter correctly.

Mistake – 4: End a letter by writing “Your dearest daughter/ friend/ brother/ neighbour”, “Your angry customer”, “Your big fan/ devotee” and so on.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
There is no reason to end your letter in such a way when you write it for your IELTS GT exam. Please note that a formal letter should end with – “Yours faithfully”, a semi-formal letter with – “Yours sincerely” or “Kind regards” and a personal or informal letter should end with the expression – “Yours truly”.

Mistake – 5: Finish a letter without writing a “call to action” (for example, “I look forward to your co-operation regarding this) line.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Your letter explains a great deal about your intention for writing the letter and gives details about the reason(s) and issue(s) for which you have written it. However, it is always a great idea to mention what action your want the recipient to take (call to action) before you sign off your letter.

Following are some of the “call to action” statements that you can use in your letter.

A) I look forward to getting a reply from you soon. (Formal + Semi-formal)
B) I look forward to receiving the amount before the end of the month. (Formal + Semi-formal)
C) Drop me a few lines next week if you have time. (Personal letter)
D) Meet me at the Rio cafe near your office any time you want. (Personal letter)
E) I look forward to meeting you soon. (Personal letter).

Please note that if the question instruction tells you to mention what action you want the recipient to take, you should have a separate paragraph on that. simply writing the “call to action” line at the end is not enough in this case.

Mistake – 6: Write less than 150 words.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Your GT Writing Task 1 question clearly mentions that write at least 150 words. So, if your letter contains fewer than the recommended 150 words, you would be penalised for that. If you want to achieve a good band score, never write less than 150 words. It is recommended that you write 160-220 words.

Mistake – 7: Spend more than 20 minutes to finish your letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
You have an hour (or 60 minutes) to complete both your writing tasks in your IELTS exam. The first writing task is letter-writing and the second task is writing an essay on a given topic. It is recommended that you spend 20 minutes to finish writing your letter response so that you have enough time (40 minutes in this case) to plan and finish your essay. Spending more than 20 minutes on writing task 1 may cause you to end up writing a poor essay which carries more marks for your band score in your writing test.

Mistake – 8: Write too quickly and end up writing a letter that is very hard to read and understand.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
You have to practise your handwriting if you want to take a paper-based GT IELTS test. Your writing should be easy to read and understand. Unfortunately, if your handwriting is not legible, the examiner would not spend much time trying to read words that are unclear and hard to read.

If you take the test on a computer (computer-delivered IELTS), practise typing on a computer screen so that you do not make frequent typing mistakes.

Mistake – 9: Use idioms, proverbs, slang, clichés, or internet abbreviations in your letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
You are advised NOT to use any idioms (example: Better late than never, Eat like a horse), proverbs (example: It’s better to be safe than sorry, Too many cooks spoil the broth), slang (example: The dude is so cool/wicket/creepy), clichés (example: To cut a long story short, All that glitters isn’t gold), or Internet abbreviations (LOL, CU, AKA, G2G). If you use such words or phrases, chances are you would make a negative impression on your examiner and lose marks. Such words and phrases are rarely used in modern English.

Mistake – 10: Use contractions (like I’m, he’d, they’re, won’t etc.) in a formal letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
A formal letter should never contain any contractions. Such contractions (like we’re, won’t) are only used in informal or personal letters. So it is recommended that when you write a formal or semi-formal letter, you do not use any contractions. On the contrary, you are advised to use some contractions while writing a personal or informal letter (a letter to a friend).

Mistake – 11: Use “shall” or “shall not/shan’t” in a formal or semi-formal letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Remember that “shall” and “shall not” are only used in informal situations in modern English. So if you feel like you want to say “I shall take the exam next week” or “I shall not visit the museum soon” to indicate an event in the future, replace “shall”/ “shall not” with “will” or “will not”. For instance, “I will take the exam next week” or “I will not visit the museum soon”.

Mistake – 12: Use personal phrases in a semi-formal or formal letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
You are recommended to use some personal phrases in a letter to a friend (personal or informal letter) but NEVER in a formal or semi-formal letter.

Following are a few examples of personal phrases that you should use in a personal letter but not in a formal/semi-formal letter:

Do you recall the time when we used to…
Here is a great idea!
I’m really sorry that…
Let’s make it a big event…
Looking forward to seeing you soon…
If I were you, I would…
Why don’t we…

Better alternatives to those personal phrases for a semi-formal or formal letter:

I hope you remember the time…
May I suggest that…
I sincerely request your apology for…
I hope we will make it a memorable event…
I would like to meet you at your convenience…
I would like to suggest that…
We can…

Mistake – 13: Make grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
You are not going to get a higher band score if your letter contains many grammatical mistakes and incorrect spelling. Practice writing sample letters and have them evaluated by an expert examiner or teacher so that he or she can point out the grammatical and spelling mistakes you make in your writing.


Mistake – 14: Do not fully answer all the questions that come with the letter.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Read the question and plan your answer so that it satisfyingly answer all the parts of the question. For example, if the letter question asks you to mention – “who you are and why you are writing”, “ask for a recommendation” and “give details why you need the recommendation”, but you do not write about all these points, you may be awarded a lower band score than expected.


Mistake – 15: Write the letter without proper paragraphing and spacing.

Since this is a mistake, what should you do?

What you should do:
Use recommended “paragraphing” and “spacing” to write your letter. Please read a few sample answers from our website to get ideas on how to paragraph your letter and how many spaces you should use between words, lines and paragraphs in your letter.


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