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Good spelling helps

Can you spot the spelling mistakes in these sentences? Be careful because one sentence doesn’t have a mistake in it!! Give yourself a maximum of 90 seconds to find the errors. This will mean that you only really have time to read each sentence once and decide what the errors are. Go on … time yourself!! (more…)

grammar for IELTS : have to and don’t have to

Please please please read the following and try to use have to and don’t have to correctly. Have to and don’t have to are not opposites. They are related but they are not opposites. Many English language students make the mistake of thinking that, because mustn’t is the opposite of must, don’t have to is the opposite of have to. This is not the case!!

Look at these sentences and read the notes after them:

You must speak English in the IELTS exam.

In this sentence, must is an obligation to do something. You have no choice. It is a rule or law and cannot be broken.

You mustn’t speak your own language in the IELTS exam.

Mustn’t is an obligation not to do something. You have no choice. It is a rule or law and cannot be broken.

Have to is very different. make sure that you read the following and can understand the difference.

You have to speak English in the IELTS exam.

Have to is an obligation and its meaning is very similar to must. It is an obligation to do something. Must implies that you have the authority to make a rule or place an obligation on someone (including yourself.) Have to suggests that the rule was made by somebody else. In practice, this difference is very subjective. An IELTS examiner might say either of the following sentences:

You must speak English in the IELTS exam.

Here the examiner is the rule maker. The examiner is the authority.

You have to speak English in the IELTS exam.

Here the examiner is referring to the rule set by the examining body.

In effect, the two sentences mean the same thing and would have the same desired effect.

When we use don’t have to in a sentence, the meaning of have to changes.

You don’t have to wear a suit in your IELTS exam.

Don’t have to tell us that it is not necessary for you to do something but you can, of course, do it if you wish. It is permission not to do something. If you wear a suit, there will be no negative consequences. If you don’t wear a suit, there will also be no negative consequences. It is the opposite of can, a modal which gives permission to do something. It is similar in meaning to don’t need to/needn’t.

Here’s a summary of what we’ve just looked at:

obligation permission
to do things must
have to
allowed to
not to do things mustn’t
not allowed to
don’t have to
don’t need to

Notice that not allowed to and allowed to are not really opposites of each other.

You are allowed to smoke in here.

This means that if you wish to smoke you can. You aren’t obliged to smoke.

You are not allowed to smoke in here

This means that smoking is prohibited and if you do so, there will probably be consequences.

speed limit 50

Look at this sign. I am sure you have seen something similar on the roads in your country. Can you make some sentences about it using the words in the table above? Try to use words from all of the boxes in the table if you can.

Here are some example sentences:

You must drive slower than 50 mph.
You mustn’t drive faster than 50 mph.
You can drive at speeds of up to 50 mph.
You don’t have to worry about the police if you are driving under 50 mph.

Can you say what these signs mean? Try to use words from more than one box in the table.

IELTS Writing : saying what a graph shows

IELTS graph

Before we describe the data in a graph, it is a good idea to identify what a graph shows. This can usually be done in one simple sentence.

It is important to identify the different graph elements before you construct this graph description sentence.

Look at the graph. What do you think it is important to include in the graph description sentence? Remember that we are not describing the data content of this graph yet. (more…)

The IELTS exam is quite difficult

Be careful when you are using the adverb quite. You can change the meaning of a sentence by putting the main stress on this adverb.

Imagine someone has just cooked dinner for you and they ask you what you think of the food. This is your reply:

It’s quite nice.


Pronunciation is important

IELTS candidates should be aware that 99% of English language learners need to work on their pronunciation. This pronunciation practice is not something that should be done just before the IELTS exam – it should be started months before!! Poor pronunciation in the IELTS speaking exam might ruin your chances of getting the highest IELTS band score you can.
When you learn a new item of vocabulary, you should learn more than its meaning. You should also try to learn how to say it. This is not difficult, even if you don’t have “access” to a native speaker. Many students ignore the phonetic transcription of words in dictionaries. They read the definition and then move on. A good dictionary will explain how to pronounce a word by using a phonetic transcription e.g. /ˈɪŋglɪʃ/. Students need to understand this system of transcription to understand the pronunciation of a word but good dictionaries provide a key to help. It is well-worth the effort becoming familiar with this system. When you learn a word, you can easily learn how to pronounce it right from the beginning. A simple chart to help you can be found here.

Many students find it useful to hear a new word pronounced and the Internet provides many resources for this. A great site for pronunciation help is You can type in a word and hear it said. This provides a great opportunity to repeat the word. You can even translate the word into your language so you can be sure of the meaning.

It’s important to remember that in the IELTS speaking exam, you aren’t penalised for having an accent. We all have an accent when speaking English. IELTS candidates should try to avoid pronunciation errors that might stop easy understanding of what you are saying. These errors are usually mispronounced words and words that most people from your country pronounce incorrectly when speaking English. This is why learning the pronunciation of new words is so important.

Read about using Google to help your IELTS studies.