IELTS Tips: How words are counted

Learn how your words are counted in IELTS. This page explains about counting words, numbers and symbols. You need to know how words are counted for IELTS listening, reading and writing. If you make mistakes with the number of words, you can lose points which can affect your band score.

How words are counted in IELTS

1. Numbers, dates and time are counted as words in writing. For example 30,000 = one word  /  55  = one word  /  9.30am = one word / 12.06.2016 = one word. In listening, 30,000 is counted as one number and 9.30AM is also counted as one number.

2. Dates written as both words and numbers are counted in this way: 12th July = one number and one word.

3. Symbols with numbers are not counted. For example, 55% = one number (the symbol “%” is not counted as a word). However, if you write “55 percent” it is counted as one word and one number.

4. Small words such as “a” or “an” are counted as one word. All prepositions, such as “in” or “at” are also counted. All words are counted.

5. Hyphenated words like “up-to-date” are counted as one word.

6. Compound nouns which are written as one word are also counted as one word. For example, blackboard = one word.

7. Compound nouns which are written as two separate words, are counted as two words. For example, university bookshop = two words.

8. All words are counted, including words in brackets. For example in IELTS writing, “The majority of energy was generated by electricity (55%).”. This sentence is counted as 9 words. The number in brackets is counted.

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Comments

  1. Jayashree says:

    Dear Liz,
    In the British council ielts book , in the practice test 4,under listening section 3 question number 22-the answer is given as chain of commands. But in the audio i didn’t hear such words.
    Also in section 4 ,question number 34- pest resistance , in the audio they say that the pests develop immunity to pesticides.
    The word that i heard are not directly given as answers.
    Can i modify the words to fit in the word count such that the meaning is not changed ?
    Please do help me out.
    I am completely relying on your videos and tips for my ielts preparation. The are very helpful. Thank you so much.

    • You will need to check the transcript. All listening tests that you do for practice should come with a transcript so you can check your mistakes and develop.

  2. Woojin Shin says:

    Hi Liz,

    I just want to say thank you for all of your videos and lessons before I ask my question.

    I have been doing lots of listening tests on the official Cambridge practice tests and random Youtube videos.

    I have noticed that the difficulty of the Cambridge tests are relatively easier and often ask for one or two words for the fill in the blank questions. But the Youtube ones tend to ask questions with 3 words maximum. Is the difficulty of real tests roughly same Cambridge practice tests?

    Also, some questions include articles in the question, and in this case, I do not have to struggle with figuring out grammatically correct articles, but some of them don’t. Generally speaking, do I have to write articles if it’s not given to the question? (if the answer is not one word)

    • You should always practice and judge your understanding from the IELTS Cambridge books published by IELTS (IELTS needs to be the publisher). You should not use other sources to judge your score – only for extra practice. Articles are used for sentence completion questions to result in a grammatically correct sentence but not in note completion.

  3. Hi Liz,

    I have a query on the word count in reading section.
    It’s a summary completion question from Cambridge IELTS 9 (answer should be NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS).

    Q – If travellers cancel their trip, they will usually receive back the ticket price less………of the original value.
    Text says, ‘Tickets may be refunded not later than 5 minutes before the departure of the train for a charge of 15% of the ticket price’.

    Should the answer be ‘fifteen percent’ or ‘15%’ or ’15 per cent’?
    The answer key in the book says, ’15 per cent/%’. However, I understand that it should be ‘fifteen percent’ as per word count in the instruction. Kindly clarify.

    Thank you!
    Kiruthiga.

  4. Dear Liz,
    I was practicing cambridge 6 test 3.
    And in the listening section they said ” one word and/or a number”
    The note completion was about date of birth.
    In the listening record they say (27.1.1973)

    Is this a one number or should I write only (1973) ?

    I don’t have the original answer key as my version of the e book includes only student’s answer.

    Thanks a lot …

  5. Dear Liz,

    Thank you for your efforts to make IELTS preparation easier for us!
    I have a question that I would like to ask you:
    Cambridge IELTS 9, Test 1, Listening section 1, the task is note completion, and we have to write no more than 3 words and/or a number.
    1)Nearest bus stop: next to ______
    I wrote ˝the library˝, because that’s what the lady on the recording said. But, when I checked the answers, they only wrote ˝library˝. I am unsure if my answer is correct or not. I am aware that this is a note completion, and that we don’t always need the articles, but in the example of this test they actually used one: Work at: a restaurant.

    2) My second question would be about dates. Is it wrong to write 22nd October? Because in the answer key they only wrote 22 October

    Thank you in advance!!

    • You need to pay attention to whether you are asked to complete sentences or notes – notes don’t use articles but sentences do. Both options for dates are fine.

  6. Thank you for all you do on this site Liz.
    I have a question about Writing Task 1 please.

    Is a letter to your direct supervisor at work requesting for a transfer to another department a formal letter?
    This is your manager that you know and who knows you well.

    And how do you end the letter?
    Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely?

    Kindly help to clarify.

    • Are you sure your manager knows you well? Your manager knows you on personal level? Your manager visits your home, chats with your family, will go on holiday with you? Are you sure this is a personal friend? Think more deeply about the difference between a friend who knows you and a manager who knows you.

  7. Dear Liz,
    I have a couple of questions regarding answers of Cambridge 9, listening test 2. Section 1 is a filling up a form task.
    Q3: Course of study: …………….
    The answer provided is nursing but i wrote Nursing. Is capitalizing course name wrong?
    Again, in section 3, for Q30 which is a sentence completion task, i put the answer as e-mail, but the answer says email. Will i lose marks for hyphenating?

  8. Dear Liz,

    While practicing Cambridge IELTS book no. 6-Test 4-listening section, the speaker says ‘a 10 minute’ walk, but in the answer pages back in the book, it is ’10 minute’. The question is: Approximately ………walk from conference center.
    Please clarify me whether the ‘a 10 minute’ is correct or just the ’10 minute’ is correct? Notably, no more than 2 words and/or a number is allowed.

    • That is correct. There is a different between a full sentence and notes. In the answer, you don’t need the article “a”. Most people think that listening is only testing your vocabulary and listening, but it also tests your understanding of grammar.

  9. Hi Liz,

    Do we need to write total number words After writing the Essays.

  10. Hi Liz,
    I gave my IELTS Academic today. In listening, two sections are given to be answered with “three or less than three words/number”.
    In that, three questions were like this:
    1) speaker suggest to use ___________ to search for a job (answer I written was THE INTERNET)
    2) should analyze ___________ from the laboratory (answer I written was THE SAMPLES)
    3) collect _____________ from the professor(answer I written was THE PHOTOGRAPHS)
    My doubt is whether the answers could be true or not when ARTICLES in front of the answers were used???
    Please help me out.
    Thanking you in advance.
    And your blog is really helpful.

    • I can’t comment without seeing the real questions and head the recording. The way you have written it, shows that these are note completion questions. You have not stated this. On the question paper, it always says “sentence completion” or “note completion”. Notes do not require articles always, but sentences do. So, you have’t actually provided the full questions with instructions etc.

      • I think its note completion. So would that be wrong as I included articles for every answer?
        Thank you

        • For note completion, there are not always articles. It depends on the notes. Often, some of the notes have been completed for you so that you see examples and then you fill in the missing ones.

  11. Hello Liz,
    Listening test
    instruction: write one word and/or number
    Answer : 5 to 12
    How they counted ths as one word and number ????

  12. Akash Hazari says:

    Hello mam, thank you for the help you are providing. I would like to know, Do I have to write the first letter of the word in Capital letter or standard will be just fine.

    Suppose I have to write a time period. Shall I write in number e.g. 3 hours or I should write like “three hours”

    Same goes for money?quantity..
    Please help Thank you.

  13. Rajat mathur says:

    is it correct that total number are words , in ielts writing task, are counted using a formula i.e ( number of words in first line x total number of lines ) = number of words in your essay ? For example if first line of the essay has 5 words and there are 30 lines written then the total number of words in our essay would be 150 ? Is this information correct ?

    • You use that technique to count your own words – it is speedy and gives you a good estimate. But the examiner will count each individual word.

  14. Hi Miss, what is the format of writing people’s name in the listening test? Do we have to write the surname or family name first ?

    • You write down the name given. If it is a full name, you write that. If it is one name only, you write that. Always check the word count and always write what you hear. All names in Europe start with the first name and then the family name.

  15. Can we write TRP, MNCs and GDP in writing task 2

  16. Hi Liz,

    Thanks a lot for your tutorials.
    Please can you confirm if we can leave a space line while writing Task -1 and 2 , as my hand writing is big so want the examiner to understand :).

    Thanks

  17. Jainth Chaudhary says:

    Tomorrow is my paper.What should I do?
    Please help.

  18. In listening if i misspell a proper noun, for example, a name of person or place, would it be considered right or wrong?

  19. srabon bela says:

    if I write the word like ” greenhouse” 3 or 4 time in a passage , as I don’t know any other word for it, how many times will it be counted?

    • Each word is counted – you use one word 4 times = 4 words.

      • would my score be lowered if i use the same word many times in my essay?

        • Your score will be lower if you try to paraphrase and make mistakes. It is better to repeat, than to make mistakes. Of course, if your English is strong enough, paraphrasing is great for boosting the score. But if your English is not so accurate, you will increase your number of errors and get a lower score. Know your limitations and make the right decisions for you.

  20. How the name of places (like a cafe or restaurant) which is given in a chart will be counted (The Tea Room, Wi-fi Cafe) in IELTS Writng Task 1?

    • You can see that The Tea Room is three words and Wi-fi Cafe is two words. It is very simple and logical.

      • The issue is that we got an information that ..if you use any word stated in the question in yor essay ..it will not be counted …I am having tge same Question as him !!!??? If I have no choice other than using the word written in the question …will that word be counted or not!!???

  21. Hi Liz,
    In Listening test:
    (write no more than three words)

    Library hold most national papers, ____________, and magazines.

    I remember writing in the answer sheet : Local papers
    Would I mark wrong on my answer for writing capital letter on the first letter of the word?

    I would like to take another IELTS test.
    I would like to improve my score.

    Many thanks !

  22. Felix Serrano says:

    Hi Liz,

    Are contractions like “It’s” counted as one or two word in the Listening. And the same question for Scott’s in expressions like “Scot’s house”

    Thank you for your help in advanced.

  23. Hi Liz,
    Great blog! It’s really helping me a lot in my IELTS preparation.
    Just one question for word counting, instruction says “no more than two words” and the answer according to the passage is Sir Joseph Banks. Should I write Joseph Banks as the answer? Thank you so much!

    • The instructions will always match the answer in IELTS. Their tests are very carefully written and checked many times over. So, don’t worry about that – it won’t happen.

  24. Hello Mam,
    Can i write Side heading such as Introduction, Overview, Body Paragraph-A, Body Paragraph-B. so that the examiner get’s clear idea?

  25. Sevilay says:

    Hello Liz;

    In my writing practices, I always use “I, he, she, they, his, her..” I know that we should write impersonal style but I can’t convert into the formal way. Could you please advise me?

    • You should be writing about people in general, not one person. We don’t write about “a doctor”, we write about “doctors”.

  26. Hello Liz. I want to know about essays structures in writing part. Thank you

  27. What is correct to write
    9.30am
    9:30am
    9:30AM?

  28. Swapnil says:

    how should we write dates if limitation is one word and a number ? would 25TH JULY be correct answer or 25 JULY?

  29. Serene Tan says:

    Hello Liz
    Do we need to write the number of words below the essay or just get a very close estimate of how many words I have written?

  30. Hey Liz,

    I have some questions on writing task 1

    Which one is correct? ‘per cent’ or ‘percent’
    Is it better to write ‘eleven per cent’ or ‘11%’ ?

    Thank you very much

  31. The original content is,

    It’s very important to remember your photo card because you won’t be able to get in without it.

    The test is,

    Members should always take their ( ) with them.

    What is the answer should be written in ( ), photo card OR photo cards?

    Thank you

    • The instructions usually tell you to choose you answer from the passage. This means you don’t change the word. Make sure you read the instructions. IELTS try to make it as clear as possible so that you don’t get confused.

  32. Hi Liz,

    I am wondering if “25 percent” can be considered as a correct answer for a question in reading section noting that the written conditon was “Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the text for each answer”. Thanks for your help

  33. Is it correct to write all answer in Upper case (capital letters)

  34. i want to know that if i write ” do not ” or ” don’t ” so for these two how many word will count ?

    • You NEVER use contractions in writing unless you are writing an informal letter for GT writing task 1. The words “do not” are two words. If you write “didn’t” in listening, it is one word.

  35. B.Bugra says:

    Hi Liz,
    I get confused about “no more than two words or/and a number” question types.
    In the general reading test, the answer was a phone number which is “6546 6475”
    (There was a gap in the middle between 6546 6475)
    I wrote an answer “call 6546 6475”
    What do you think that did i fail that question or is that acceptable?
    Many thanks in advance.
    Greetings from Istanbul.

    • It is still one number. It is one phone number. Leaving a space is normal with long numbers.

      • Mansi Darji says:

        This answers help me a lot also. same type of question is in my mind. Madam Liz, you are doing a very good deed by giving us these type of training free of cost. Thanks for guiding us. Your all tips and lessons help me a lot. Thanks a lot.

  36. Hi Liz,

    Can I write more than 150 words in task 1 and how can they count it?

  37. I’m taking the General IELTS. So, do they count the beginning of the letter that they give us in the question like Dear Sir/Madam?

  38. Yes i had the same problem.does it affect my score?

  39. shamsul arefin says:

    i have seen that somewhere written 2words / 1 number
    but in answer i saw that,
    40 north avenue

  40. Hi Liz,
    In Writing task-1: are we suppose to write our name at the end?
    For Ex:
    Yours faithfully,
    Prasad

  41. HI Liz,
    “5 working days” are 2 words or 3 words?

  42. Hi liz , firstly, how about auxillary verbs “be, do, have, has, will ” like (I+am , It+is, He+is, I+will etc.) are they counted as one word?
    and second, auxillary verbs for compound tenses “I have eaten” or “”I will have eaten” are they counted singly as 3 or 4 words? Their future perfect (I+will+have+eaten or It+will+have+been+sold) and their progressive in passive ( It+will+have+been+being +selling) as 5 or 6 words?

  43. In the listening the recording said “July the 30th” and that is what I wrote on the answer sheet but the word limit was one word and/or number. Will this be considered incorrect?

    • Yes, it would be wrong. All dates are always written July 30th – without the word “the”. Although the word “the” is spoken, it is never used in written dates. I know it can be confusing as you must write down what you hear, but you still need to follow English grammar rules.

  44. Xiumei Zhang says:

    Hi Liz,
    Many thanks for your help in IELTS study, I think you are great.
    It would be great if you can send me the links of advanced writing vedios to me
    which i have purchased.
    Best Regards
    Mei

  45. I think there has no another way,,,without thanking you mam,,,
    in a word this realistic topic,and helpful information,tips,advice will help me to get an outstandig bandscore……..

  46. Simon Peters says:

    Thanks alot Liz for your useful blog. I found it quite helpful. It is the main source of the study guide used for my preparations and helped me a great deal to get the required band score. I am very grateful. God bless you Mam.

  47. Hi Liz
    Could you show me the vocabulary that I have to know to write the writing task 1, pls?
    Thanks for your help a lots.

  48. Hi Liz, You are doing a great job. Your blog is of great help to the takers of ielts. Congrats and all the best!

  49. Thanks liz Great trip for Ielts EXamination

  50. trinaPanda says:

    Thanks for this teacher Liz!!

  51. Hi Liz, how can i improve reading and speaking? i really hard i huge problem in that and i’m preparing for my ielts exam this coming week.

  52. Hi Liz,

    I have been following your blogs, for IELTS exam preparation, from quite some time now. Thanks for sharing the valuable suggestions online.
    Recently, I had appeared for IELTS exam and am unable to find the correct answer for below question (or similar scenarios):
    Instruction: Write no more than ONE word for the answer.
    I don’t remember the exact wordings of the question but it was something like….
    Qsn: Its hard to attend the class because the number of ……………xxxx yyy zzzz.
    Audio script mentioned something like it is required to attend’5 lectures’ in a day….
    Now the answer should be ‘5 lectures’ or only ‘lectures’ in this case ….I overheard someone after the exam who sounded very confident that it must be ‘5 lectures’, though I had only ‘lectures’ in the answer sheet?

    Thanks in advance for your time and explanation.

    Regards
    Devi

  53. HI !.Liz mam…i’m from Srilanka…..
    Thank you so much….it’s very useful…..

  54. mouhammad halwani says:

    thank you very much for this good information

  55. Hi Liz,

    I have been watching your ielts videos and following tips from it. There is a huge improvement noticed in me by following your videos. Thank you very much for your valuable tips.

    Liz I’ve a question. In listening test some answers are in following format 1) (an) intermediate student 2) (a) person

    So I would like to you (an) / (a) beside the words is it an optional or this is essential to link with a word. Please clarify my doubt.

  56. Hi Liz,
    Is there any difference in exam between normal IELTS and IELTS UKVI?
    Please suggest some tips in IELTS UKVI.

  57. Hi Liz.
    I have some friends who want to pass IELT next month. If you have free time, could you help me to check their writing reports and essays and evaluate them? I can send the essays to your e mail address if you want. It would be great if you can do it.

  58. Philip Aaron Akpu says:

    Hi Liz,
    Your site has given me a firm grip of what happens in IELTS. I am scheduled for Saturday and Sunday (20th & 21st Feb, 2016); LWR-20th, S-21st. any final tips for me?

    Thanks

  59. Oscaricious says:

    Hi Liz, just stumbled on this site three days ago,I must say you are doing a good Job,God bless you.

    • I’m glad you found my site. I’m holiday until April but you’ll find plenty of help and tips on this blog. Good luck!
      Liz

      • Mahfuza says:

        Hi, I’m from Bangladesh. My exam date is 19 March 2016. Could you please add me any whatsapp group where i can get recent question answer?
        Thanks
        Mahfuza

  60. Hi Liz,

    I promised I would post my result: Listening 7.5, writing 7.0, speaking 7.5, reading 7.0. Your practice materials gave me the skills I needed to pass the IELTS that I wrote on the 9th of January 2016. I practiced for only about 3 weeks using only your site as I discovered it in December. I have recommended your site and do so anytime. Thanks.

  61. Vibin Baby says:

    I am so glad to say that your videos about writing helped me to score 7.5 form 6.0.
    Thanks a lot.
    I wont forget you in my life.

  62. Hi dear liz
    Thank you,for giveing all the valuable information that really heplful to get good band in ielts exam.my requremet to get 7 each band to apply for pr.i am sure your hard work definatly help me. Thank you dear

  63. thank you very much, Really useful information.
    Do you have any suggestion for listening.
    first
    R 7.5
    W 7
    L 5.5
    S 7
    …………………………..
    second
    R 8
    W 7
    L 5.5
    S 7

    • Start making a list of paraphrases that are used in all listening exercises that you do. Also make a list of common errors you make – word based, grammar based etc. Decide which types of questions are most difficult for you and work on them. Make note of key words for each answer so that you become more aware of these. Remember that to improve you need to have structured, focused practice and not just do practice tests. See my main listening page: http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-listening/ and also use IELTS Cambridge test books 1 to 10.
      All the best
      Liz

  64. Thank you, it`s very useful)

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