IELTS Writing: Do You Lose Points for Bad Handwriting?

ielts writing lose points bad handwriting

Keyboards. Smart phones. Twitter. MS Word. With all that typing, who still writes by hand? You do, if you’re taking the paper-based IELTS. And while the IELTS is also available on computer for some test-takers, the majority of IELTS students will be taking the exam with good old-fashioned pencil and paper.

The new IELTS Handwriting Rules

The people who make the IELTS exam recently revised some of the rules for handwritten responses on the paper-based IELTS. Previously, it was acceptable to write both the IELTS short answers (IELTS Reading and IELTS Listening) and the IELTS essays (IELTS Writing) in all CAPITAL letters. However, you can no longer use all CAPS in your IELTS Writing essays. Also note that the IELTS only allows all capital letter responses in Reading and Listening so that handwriting can be as clear as possible. If you are taking the computer-delivered IELTS, you will need to use lowercase letters in your short answers and your essays alike, unless there is a specific reason to use a capital letter.

The test makers are in the process of updating their various official IELTS websites. As I write this, some parts of the IELTS official website network still list the old rules. But you can find the new rules in this official IELTS FAQ under the question “Can I write in Capital Letters?”

Does Your Handwriting Need to be Good on the Paper-Based IELTS? Yes, it Does!

This raises a question that you don’t need to think about on computerized exams or writing assignments: can your handwriting hurt your score? It absolutely can.

This makes sense when you think about it. If your handwriting is bad enough, the IELTS examiners won’t understand what you’ve written. They’ll have no choice but to penalize you in that case.

This is a very frustrating way to lose points on the exam. How awful would it be to write a well-thought out, well-organized essay, free of serious errors, and still get low marks just because of your handwriting?

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Fortunately, this is also a very avoidable way to lose points. All you have to do is make sure your handwriting is easy to read.

Simple, right? Well… maybe not so simple at first. You probably don’t write things by hand often. So you’ll need to practice some good old fashioned penmanship as you prep for the IELTS.

But practice alone isn’t always enough. You also need some sort of guidance to make sure your handwriting is truly legible to other people.

You can probably read your own handwriting more easily than other people can. So how can you know if you’re on the right track? How can you know that your handwriting will be understood by others, including the IELTS Writing scorers? To find out, keep reading!

IELTS Handwriting Tip # 1: Don’t Use Cursive

Cursive is a special style of writing where the letters “flow” into each other, and all letters are written with just one or two continuous curving lines. If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, here is a handwriting guide for cursive. And here is a page that is written in cursive.

If this is the first time you’ve ever seen cursive, then your native language probably doesn’t use the English alphabet. In that case, don’t worry about cursive at all. It’s not something you’ll ever need to use. And clearly, you’ll be able to avoid using it on the IELTS.

This leaves the rest of you. Those familiar with cursive may know that this style of writing is a time-saver… for you at least. Rapidly writing those flowing letters really can help you write more quickly. But it doesn’t save time for the poor people who have to read it. Cursive gets “messy” a lot easier than non-cursive–or “print”–handwriting.

So don’t use cursive to save yourself time. Instead, learn to print more efficiently. That saves everyone time. And it can save you points on the IELTS Writing section.

IELTS Handwriting Tip # 2: Take a Look at a Handwriting Guide

Remember that cursive handwriting guide I showed you in the section above? Find a few other handwriting guides that are kind of like that one, but not cursive. You probably already know how to form printed words in English, but taking a quick look at a handwriting guide will remind you of the exact way each letter is formed.

To find a handwriting guide, look for “English handwriting guide” in a search engine, or look for the font “Comics Sans” in the word processing program on your computer. (Comics Sans is basically a way to type letters that look like really good printed English handwriting.)

Or just check out this English handwriting guide from the Auburn University website….

….Or take a look at this image of all the letters from the Comics Sans font:

IELTS Handwriting Tip # 3: Show Your Handwriting to Other People

Avoid cursive. Print and print well. These are the basic things you need to do, if you want your handwriting to be understandable to others. But once you’ve done those things, you want to know you’ve done them correctly.

That’s where you give your handwriting the real test: actually show it to other people. Can your friends, classmates or colleagues read your English handwriting? If so, great! If not, keep working on it. You’ll get there. And as you work toward that goal, make sure you prepare for every aspect of IELTS Writing. Magoosh’s complete guide to the IELTS Writing section is a great place to start.

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14 Responses to IELTS Writing: Do You Lose Points for Bad Handwriting?

  1. David April 1, 2017 at 4:40 am #

    I think a lot of students get really nervous in the IELTS writing exam and try to write too fast, thereby reducing the quality of their handwriting. However, they need to remember that handwriting is important and therefore they should write slowly and carefully so as not to waste all their hard effort.

  2. Ravi July 11, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    Would like to know whether it is allowed to write in upper caps letter in ilets as my handwriting is not good and I prefer to use upper case to make it clear.

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 11, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

      According to the British Council, it’s OK to write in call capital letters. If that’s the best way to keep your handwriting clear, do it. (However, there are some benefits to mastering smaller letters– if you can write them well, it allows you to write much faster!)

      • Desiree March 4, 2018 at 11:59 am #

        Can i still get points because I used all capital in writing! Thank you..

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 10, 2018 at 9:04 am #

          Using all capital letters in writing is no problem at all. 🙂

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 26, 2017 at 10:55 am #

      Good news! Recent official word from the IELTS says that yes, you can write your answers in all upper-case letters. For many students, this is a way around difficulties with capitalization rules. And yes, this can also make handwriting much clearer. 🙂

  3. Rudra February 3, 2018 at 7:10 am #

    Do we lose marks if we cut off words too many times?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 5, 2018 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi Rudra,

      What do you mean by “cut off words”? You should aim to write carefully and spell words correctly. If your writing is difficult to read, it may be hard for the grader to understand and evaluate your writing!

  4. Cat February 16, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

    Sometimes I forget to write some words and then I don’t have space to erase everything and write them where they were supposed to be. Can I put an asterisk in the place where the words/phrase were supposed to be and then put another asterisk and the words/phrases in the end of the writing task? I hope you understand what I’ve just said as English is not my mother language.

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 18, 2018 at 1:30 pm #

      I understand what you’re asking Cat. 🙂 And your idea of putting an asterisk where there’s a missing word is one way to add in missing words. However, that approach could be confusing. Asterisks are normally used for citations and footnotes in academic English, and a missing word is not really a citation or footnote.

      Instead, I recommend drawing an arrow or “spout” symbol in the space between words where a word is missing. Then, above the arrow or spout, write the missing word in smaller print. This is a common technique for dealing with missing words in hand-written English. If you’re having trouble picturing that, here is an image with two examples of the missing word spout in use:

  5. Vemula Vaishnavi Reddy November 1, 2018 at 6:59 am #

    If changing the handwriting in between the sections will there be any problem .For instance.,listening capitals and reading like normal handwriting and writing task in cursive .However we should be sure that each section should be written as per instruction.But will there be any reduction in marks if we do change the according to our convinent as I stated above.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 3, 2018 at 2:20 pm #

      Hi Vemula,

      There should be no problem with this. 🙂

  6. Theo June 23, 2019 at 1:54 pm #

    I wish I would have seen this earlier. Since I finished my exam I’ve been worrying about my writing being illegible. Being a medical student I have to write quickly and unfortunately it comes naturally to write only in cursive (and quite small). Considering the essay is well-structured, how many points do you think I could lose due to my handwriting? (Of course this seems all subjective, I’m hoping the examiners are used to reading cursive…)

    • David Recine
      David Recine July 8, 2019 at 6:18 am #

      You’re right that this is really subjective– for your score to be impacted, your handwriting needs to be bad enough that it makes your writing difficult to read. And the level of reading difficulty for the scorer, if the reading does become difficult, will determine how many points you lose.

      This really can vary, depending on which person on the scoring team is reading your response. What I can tell you, however, is that cursive is allowed on the IELTS, and that cursive written responses are fairly common. So that’s good news!

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