Can I use formulaic expressions in IELTS Writing and Speaking?

When marking IELTS papers, I have often come across certain expressions that you can commonly find in model answers. For example, introductions that typically begin like these ones here:

  • People have always argued on whether …. (Really? Who are these people?)
  • Although there are some advantages to this, I believe that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
  • (or more originally) Although there are some disadvantages to this, I believe that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
  • In this essay, I will explore arguments on both sides and explain my personal view. (Really? What else could you possibly be expected to do in an IELTS essay?)
  • Some people think this, other people think that … you get the picture!

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking these over-used expressions and applying them to your own writing, if used correctly that is. But relying on these alone will not guarantee you an award-winning score. There are still about 200 other words for your examiner to assess you on. Are you actually going to use other memorised expressions as well, AND in flawless contextual arguments without confusing your reader?

The same goes for IELTS Speaking. Candidates can of course, use certain fixed expressions to help them appear more fluent in their responses (eg. to be honest with you, as far as I’m concerned, etc). However, like IELTS Writing, test takers will also need to show a wide range of structures and an over-reliance of ready-made phrases prevents your assessor from giving you a fair assessment of your language skills.

So, avoid using formula expressions as a ‘safety net’. This will not influence the examiner to reward you for doing so as these expressions will have also been used by millions of other candidates around the world. Also, your true language ability will appear in other parts of your essay or your interview answers – in between these fixed expressions, so be careful when using them.

As one examiner colleague puts it about an IELTS candidate he’s observed: 

“Examples of good collocations and idiomatic usage are not as frequent as they would be at higher bands, and are sometimes not well-integrated or result in awkward expressions. The candidate stays within a safety zone and this has an impact on his range of structures. This is a high-level candidate who seems to play safe. In doing so, he fails to produce sufficient language to be awarded a higher band.” 

What a shame.

Until next time!

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