This blog will describe the features of a band 4 performance and will give you tips and advice for increasing your GRA score to a band 5.

Your grammar score is very important in the IELTS test, as it can impact your overall band score for the IELTS Speaking and Writing tests. Remember that there are four assessment criteria and each one is worth 25% of your overall marks. So, it is important to make sure that you can get the highest grammar score possible.

Features of a band 4 user

When an examiner assesses your Speaking and Writing tests they look for what you can do, and also what you cannot do. These are the positive and negative features of your performance.

When assessing GRA, a band 4 test taker has the following features:

  • they can use basic sentence structures

  • they use a very limited range of sentence structures

  • they rarely use complex structures

  • they make frequent errors

  • some errors may lead to misunderstanding

As you can see, a band 4 performance has a number of negative features, so you need to make sure that your performance has more positive features than negative features.

What is a basic sentence?

A band 4 user can use basic sentence structures. These are basic sentence forms with a subject, verb and object. You can also use adjectives and adverbs to add meaning to the other words.

For example:

"I live in Australia. I come from Nigeria."

"I like reading crime novels. I like running, but I am a slow runner."

A basic sentence is a complete idea and can stand alone independently. It is usually quite short and only contains a single idea.

We can join these basic sentences with simple linkers to form a compound sentence. The most common linkers (coordinating conjunctions) are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Remember FANBOYS, and you will easily remember the different linkers that join two simple sentences. Notice that we add a comma (,) before the linker.

"I live in Australia, but I come from Nigeria."  

What is a complex sentence?

A complex sentence contains a subordinate clause. This is a dependent clause that refers to the subject (who, which), or the time (since), or the reason (because), of the independent clause. A complex sentence is usually longer than a basic simple sentence as it has two or more ideas.

When we use a complex sentence, we usually use a subordinate conjunction to link the sentences, for example, when, where, if, because, before.

  1. "I left my country because I wanted to live with my family in Australia."

  2. "My mother, who lives in Australia, asked me to visit her."  

  3. "If I complete my course, I will look for a new job."

As you can see above, we have used three different types of complex structures. The first one is an adverb clause, describing the reason why you left your country. The second one is a relative clause, which gives more information about where your mother lives. The third example is a conditional clause, describing what you might do if you complete your course.

A band 4 user relies on simple structures and rarely uses complex structures.

What mistakes does a band 4 user make?

A band 4 user makes a lot of grammatical errors and this sometimes makes it difficult for the examiner to understand what is said. If you have experienced talking to native speakers and they ask you to repeat what you are saying, this may be because they don't understand what you are trying to say. Grammatical errors can change the meaning of your sentence and can cause confusion.

The most common grammatical mistakes are:

  • Subject/verb agreement – I am, you are, he/she is, they are

Right: I want to live in Australia.

Wrong: I wants to live in Australia.

  • Tense choice – Present tense, past tense, present perfect

Right: I went to a movie yesterday.

Wrong: I go to a movie yesterday.

  • Article use – a/an/the or the zero article

Right: I like living in Australia.

Wrong: I like living in the Australia.

  • Prepositions – on/at/to/under/over/for

Right: I need to go to the bank

Wrong: I need to go at the bank

If the examiner misunderstands what you say and write because of errors, it will affect how you will be assessed.

How to move from an IELTS band 4 to a band 5

A band 5 user will attempt to use a wider range of grammatical structures using both simple and complex structures. There are still errors made, but the examiner can generally understand what is said.

Follow these tips to show the examiner you can use a range of structures and can communicate your ideas more clearly.

  1. Make sure your simple sentences are correct.

  2. Link simple sentences with coordinating conjunctions.

  3. Use complex sentences linked with subordinating conjunctions.

  4. Attempt a variety of structures (simple tenses, perfect tenses, conditionals, relative clauses.)

  5. Be aware of your errors and learn how to correct them.

  6. Practise speaking about yourself, where you come from, and what you do.

  7. Practise writing sentences using commas and full stops correctly.

  8. Practise using longer sentences by adding reasons why you like something, or adding adjectives and adverbs to make your description more interesting.

  9. Learn how to use the subordinating conjunctions in this table.

ConjunctionExample
AfterI will travel to Australia after I get my visa.
AlthoughAlthough the sun is shining, I feel cold.
AsThe weather in my country is not as hot as Australia.
As long asAs long as I practise English every day, it will improve.
As soon asAs soon as you are ready, I will book a taxi.
BecauseI studied English because I wanted to speak another language.
BeforeBefore I came to Australia, I travelled to New Zealand.
By the timeBy the time I arrived, the other students were already there.
Even ifEven if I make a few mistakes, my friends can still understand me.
IfIf I become a chef, I will open my own restaurant.
Only ifI will open my own restaurant only if I graduate as a chef.
SinceI have not seen my family since last year.
ThanAustralia is a much hotter country than where I live.
ThoughThough I speak English, I still find it difficult to understand native speakers.
UntilI didn’t know what Australia was like until I moved there.
WhenSaturday is the day when I will do my IELTS test.
WheneverI am happy to visit you whenever you are available.
WhereThat is the place where I was born
WhereasAll of my family are chefs, whereas I am a teacher.
Whether or notWhether you like Vegemite or not, it is something a lot of Australians eat.
WhileI read my book while I was on the train.

It is possible to improve your grammatical score by following the tips in this blog. Show the examiner that you can use simple and complex structures and be aware of the usual grammar mistakes you make.

By improving your English grammar, your friends will understand you better and life in an English-speaking country will be much easier.

Follow the steps in the blog to practise your grammar and you will see an improvement in your GRA score.