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I am preparing for the IELTS writing test. Can I use idioms in this test?

For example, "it's not all its cracked up to be" or something like "I bend over backwards to help them, but they try to put me down more often then not".

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Idioms are a major (and for non-natives, sometimes confounding) part of English language. A measured use of them would help to demonstrate your English writing skill. However, knowing exactly when and how to use an idiom naturally really can be tricky for a non-native speaker, so when you do decide to use an idiom in your writing, make sure that it fits well the context within which you're using it. If you have learned an idiom but aren't confident about its appropriate usage, leave it out of your writing (IELTS and similar tests are not a good time for experimentation).

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Thank you for posting a link to two IELTS sample writing prompts, with graded sample essays. Here is my interpretation of how they are graded.

The IELTS does not encourage writing essays that are short, clear, and to-the-point.

  • The IELTS is graded based on essay length. You will lose points if your essay is too short.
  • The IELTS encourages writing in paragraph form. You will lose points if you use bullet points or outlines.
  • The IELTS encourages writing with a variety of sentence lengths. You will lose points if all of your sentences are short, or if all of your sentences have the same structure.
  • Your essays need to be "coherent". You need to use conjunctions and sequencing words to relate ideas to each other.
  • You can take some of your points from the prompt, but you should also try to think of some examples that are not in the prompt. If your essay is just a re-arranged version of the prompt, you will lose points.

You should not go out of your way to use idioms.

  • You need to write a lot of words to pass the test. If an idiom occurs to you while you are writing an essay, and you think you are using it correctly, use it. But do not waste time trying to think of "the perfect idiom".
  • You might lose points if you use an idiom incorrectly.
  • Your sentences do not need to be original or creative. You will not get extra points for using "the perfect metaphor".
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    It's more important not to use the language from the prompt. Using the points in the prompt is not an issue. Only other thing I'd point out is that IELTS essays are graded for RANGE both in terms of grammar but also in terms of lexis. So the appropriate use of idioms will get you credit in terms of lexical range. Nice answer in general. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 19 '15 at 15:56
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Idioms are an indispensable part of the language so it is not a crime to use them.

As a former IELTS Examiner, I would say that they can both make or break your writing. If you overuse them and put in all wrong places, they will slash your points. If you use a few of them but properly, they will enhance your writing.

So my advice is to stick only to the ones you are 100% confident about.

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