Common IELTS Writing Mistakes: Overly simple grammar

One common mistake people make in their IELTS writing is not using enough complex grammar. In this guide, I'm going to explain why simple grammar is a mistake, why people make this mistake, and look at some of my favourite types of grammar you can use to fix this mistake.

Why is simple grammar an IELTS mistake?

In normal situations, it’s a good thing to keep things as simple as possible and make yourself easy to understand. However, for the IELTS writing exam, it’s important to remember your examiners are paying attention to how complex your grammar is. If you write without grammatical mistakes but you don’t have any complex structures, it’s hard to get higher than a four for grammar in this exam. In fact, it’s a smarter exam strategy to take some risks and try out these complex grammar structures, even if they are not perfect every time.

Why do people make this mistake?

The first reason people might make this error is nerves. The IELTS test is usually a high-stakes exam for people. Because of this, it’s natural to be nervous in the exam. When you’re nervous, it’s also natural to try and keep things simple. However, for the IELTS exam, you need to be demonstrating how much you know. The second reason for this is students go into the exam without a clear plan for what complex grammar they’d like to include. While you can’t know what the exam question will be, you can still have a plan to include versatile complex grammar in your answer.

How can I fix this problem?

I want to look at three grammar structures that are a) actually quite simple, b) viewed favourably by examiners and c) can be used in almost any essay.

If sentences

We’ve all seen sentences with ‘if’ in them. However, people don’t always realise how flexible these are in the IELTS test. One of the most common ways of using ‘if’ in essays to talk about people’s goals. For example, one common IELTS topic is health and in an essay about health you might say ‘If people want to stay healthy, they should exercise regularly.’ There’s almost always a group of people who wants something you can talk about in your IELTS essay so you can almost always include a sentence that starts with ‘If people want to…’


Although and while can both be used for essentially the same purpose: introducing two ideas that shouldn’t go together. For example, you might say ‘Although London is the largest city in the UK, it has a lot of green space.’ Because being a large city and having green space don’t usually go together, we can use although or while to start the sentence. The sentence structure here is although + first idea + comma + second idea.


An appositive is an extra peice of information that you include in a sentence that isn’t essential to the understanding of that sentence. There are two things to remember with these. First, the sentence should make sense with or without the extra information. For example:

  • London, the UK’s largest city, has a lot of green space.
  • London has a lot of green space.

This makes sense with or without the appositive so the appositive is right here. The second thing to remember is that you separate off the extra information with commas. If the information is in the middle of the sentence, it needs a comma at the begining and at the end. If the information comes at the end of the sentence, you just include a comma before the information. For example:

  • When I travel to London, the UK’s largest city, I go by train.
  • This weekend I’m going to London, the UK’s largest city.

Next steps

If you found this post useful and want to learn more about common IELTS mistakes, check out these posts on bad IELTS structure and using ordinary language.

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