It is difficult to identify errors in your own written work, but if you can leave 3 or 4 minutes at the end of the test to perform a careful rereading of each task, you will almost certainly be able to find and correct some.
Here are some common errors found in Hong Kong university students' written work. Watch out for them when you are proof reading.
Run-on Sentences and Sentence Fragments
Check each sentence to make sure it has a subject and a verb and that it expresses a complete concept.
Do not run two sentences together incorrectly. Use punctuation (full stops, colons or semicolons) or linking words to separate them or clarify meaning.
Use capital letters at the start of sentences and for names of persons, cities, countries, languages, streets, and titles.
End every sentence with a full stop or question mark.
Use punctuation (commas, colons, semi-colons) within individual sentences to separate phrases and for easier understanding.
Place exact quotes in quotation marks. Full stops and commas go inside the quotation marks.
Use apostrophes correctly to indicate possession.
This website gives more information on the general use of punctuation.
Check every subject and verb to make sure that if you have used a singular subject, you have also used a singular verb. Similarly, a plural subject needs a plural verb. Pay extra care to add an 's' to present simple tense verbs in the 3rd person singular.
e.g. The IELTS exam tests our level of English.
Keep sentences reasonably short. General guidelines for academic writing recommend a maximum of 25 words per sentence.
Break long sentences into shorter units.
If too short, perhaps you could link them using a conjunction or other transitional device, but do not overdo this (e.g. by starting nearly every sentence with a linking word.)
Ensure that each sentence follows clearly and logically from the one before it. Note that it is not necessary to keep all sentences the same length; sentences of different lengths in each paragraph makes for a more interesting writing style.
Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence which states the main idea, fact or opinion.
Paragraphs should be around 4 -5 sentences long. Task one will probably contain 2-3 paragraphs, task two, 4 - 5. Try to use the last sentence to connect in some way with the paragraph after, or the first sentence to link with the paragraph before. Limit paragraph length to a maximum of 100 words.
Use the correct tense to express what you want to say and try to keep tenses consistent.
These websites give more information on verb tense usage.
Before the test, when you practise writing tasks, check the spelling of any word you are unsure about. Be especially careful of the "ei" and "ie" words, words which add "-ing" and/or "ed," and words with one or more sets of double letters.
These websites give more information and practice with proof reading.
Online dictionaries can be found at Encarta World English Dictionary