Commonly confused words and how to avoid them in the IELTS exam

Commonly confused words and how to avoid them in the IELTS exam

Did you know that spelling mistakes and incorrect vocabulary are two of the most common errors candidates make in the IELTS exam? Mixing up ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ might seem like minor slips but they adversely affect the overall band score. To address this challenge, it is important to first identify the problem. 

In this blog, we will look at commonly confused words, some quick tasks to identify these words, and finally, strategies to use the words accurately and appropriately in the IELTS exam.  

  • Homophones – Words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings or meanings are called homophones. Some examples of homophones are: 
    • knew, new
    • board, bored
    • there, their, they’re 

Task: Look at the passage below. Can you identify the homophones and replace them with the correct words?

I like going too the mall on weekends. Their I buy shoes, clothes and groceries to. I also meat my friends there.  

  • Quick Tip: Learn homophones simultaneously—It’s a good idea to learn a set of homophones together so that the differences in spelling, meaning, and use can be compared and contrasted. 

For example, 

        • She watched the ball roll away. 
        • She had an important role in the play. 

I recommend THE BIG CD’s IELTS Vocabulary flashcards to all my IELTS students which they find immensely helpful to learn and retain words. The cards have all the necessary details of words including their meaning, pronunciation, part of speech, synonyms, antonyms, and even an example sentence. This helps to compare and contrast the homophones which in turn helps to retain them. 


  • Homographs:  Homographs are words that have the same spelling but different meanings or are pronounced differently.

For example: 

        • bow (verb: to bend the head as a mark of respect or acknowledgment) 
        • bow (noun: a knot tied with two loops)

Both these words have different meanings and are also pronounced differently. Do you know how each word is pronounced? 

Another example of homographs are words that have the same pronunciation and spelling but have different meanings and are used differently. 

Task: Can you identify the part of speech of the homographs in the two sentences? 

        • attributes — She attributes her success to her values. 
        • attributes—He’s got many positive attributes including modesty. 

Can you frame one more sentence for each homograph using them correctly?

The IELTS flashcards have been designed specially to assist candidates to recall the meaning, usage, and pronunciation of words. The best part about these flashcards is that you can get a visual and auditory demonstration of each word provided in Online Resources. This can be accessed using the online access code.

Here are some more frequently mixed-up words that you should watch out for: 

Percent and percentage

Ten percent of the total number of individuals lost their job that year. 

The percentage of people who lost their jobs exceeded that of the ones who didn’t. 

affect and effect

The pandemic affected every single person’s life. 

The pandemic had devastating effects on the lives of people.  

your and you’re

I hope all is well at your end.

I hope you’re feeling better. 

accept and except

I will be happy if you accept my invitation. 

I am available on all days except weekends.  

consist and comprise 

The team comprises 11 players. 

The team consists of 11 players. 

Sharpen your vocabulary

Good vocabulary in the form of correct word choice, pronunciation, and accurate use will improve your band score in all four tests. This makes it an integral part of your IELTS journey. However, building your lexicon takes time and should be looked at as an ongoing process. 

The tab system in the flashcards is a time-efficient and smart way to track your learning. Based on your understanding, you can categorize the words as ‘kind of know,’ ‘still learning,’ and ‘mastered’. Your goal should be to have the maximum number of cards in the ’mastered’ stack.   


Lastly, remember that practice makes you perfect. So, make sure to return to the words regularly and before you know it, you will be well on your way to your goal!   

About the author 

Ananya Banerjee is an IELTS trainer at British Council, India. She has seven years of experience as a corporate trainer and teacher-trainer with a specialization in creative writing and teaching young learners. She has CELTA and DELTA qualifications from the University of Cambridge. When not working, she can be found reading a fast-paced thriller, practicing yoga, or watching reruns of her favorite shows.  

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