IELTS: Using a Pen or Pencil?

Should you use a pen or a pencil in your IELTS test? Learn the IELTS rules for using pens and pencils and get tips.

Pen or Pencil in IELTS?

In IELTS listening and reading, you MUST use a pencil for filling in the answer sheet. This means you should also take an eraser into the test with you so you can erase mistakes.

In the IELTS writing test, you can choose if you want to use either a pencil or a pen.

Tips on Using Pens and Pencils


  • Your answers can look messy if you need to delete mistakes.
  • Don’t just put a thin line through mistakes, put many lines through mistakes to delete the word completely. This will make it easier for the examiner to see which words are mistakes and which are not.
  • Make sure your pen doesn’t run out. Don’t use a very old pen.A


  • Make sure your pencil is sharp and not too light in colour. It must be easy to read.
  • Don’t use a pencil that is easy to break as you can miss answers in your listening test, while you sort it out.
  • When you erase a word, make sure it is completely erased so that the new word is clear.

Good Handwriting Tips

You can use any style of hand writing you want  in IELTS and you can delete mistakes without losing marks. However, if your handwriting or words are difficult to read, it will reduce your score. If the examiner can’t read it, it’s wrong.

If you wish to put another word into a sentence in your IELTS writing test, you can use the ^ sign. However, make sure the word is easy to read.

You should practice writing your answers on the official answer sheets for listening and reading before your test. You should also practice writing your essays on the official writing paper. See this page for tips on using the official writing paper and to download it for free: Using the Official Writing Paper. Follow these links to get the listening and reading answer sheets: Listening Answer Sheet and IELTS Reading Answer Sheet

Know more about IELTS

  • Capital letters?
  • Wearing a watch?
  • Writing on the question paper?
  • Writing T instead of True?
  • Indenting your paragraphs ?

Check the pen and pencil rules on the BC website: IELTS Listening Test Rules. You will find links on that page to the reading, writing and speaking test rules.

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  1. Hi Liz Mam,

    Greetings of the day !

    I recently came to know that, In Middle east especially in Abudhabi/Dubai Writing test can take only through pencil and not any more with Pen. Are you aware about this? Can you confirm any such amendments recently you come across.

    I look forward your valuable advise soon.

    Your’s sincerely,


  2. Hello Mrs,
    Recently I was wondering if it is accepted in IELTS to use colour pencils!
    I mean, in any kind of section for marking in question paper?
    By the way, I’m going to sit for IELTS in September 😅.

  3. Kamal deep singh says

    Liz mam
    Today I got my ielts score 5.5b idp (L 5 , W 5 , R 5 , S 6.5)that was my second attempt score.
    And I had the same score in my first attempt .
    I m totally confused what do I do even I was fully confident in writing that I could score atleast seaven but now it’s totally messed .
    I am still stuck at 5.5 how can I increase upto 7

    I am fully frustrated with ielts.

    • IELTS is an English language test. You will get band 7, when your English is band 7. Are you sure your English is at a high level? I suggest you review both your English language and your understanding of IELTS before booking another test.

  4. It takes more time to write with a pencil. While writing with pens I won’t be able to erase my mistakes. So what will be better? What is your suggestion?

    • If you plan your essay properly, you shouldn’t have so many mistakes to erase. You should plan both main ideas and supporting points and make any other notes needed before you start writing. As long as your writing is clear, your mistakes are clearly deleted and the examiner has no problem reading it – it’s fine.

  5. Hi Liz,
    Can I use both, pen and pencil in writing tasks. I feel I waste a lot of time rubbing incorrect or improper words. And also sometimes the marks of the erased words leave an imprint in the background. So ill rather prefer striking it off with a pen or even rewrite that particular word with a pen so that it is clearly visible.

    Would that be ok?

    • In that case, surely it’s better to continue to use pencil but not eraser – instead, just put a thick line through it so the examiner can see it is to be ignored.

  6. My exam is just after 6 days .Need ur good wishes

  7. Ali Mardan Khan says

    Mam , in Venue Letter it is mentioned that pen ( blue and black ink only). Does that mean ballpoint pen is not allowed? I have practiced all my writings with ballpoint.

    • Of course ballpoint pens are fine. It means using black or blue pens, but not green or pink. A ballpoint pen does contain ink.

  8. Chonny Thongdeng says

    Can I have more than one pen or pencil in the testing class?

  9. hey liz i am not getting a good score in my reading section can you please help me with that .any tricks ? T F NG , Y N NG?is very hard for me

  10. Hi Liz,

    I wanted to know on which paper can i write on the main points and the supporting points to develop the essay before i start to write the essay? As a platform to plan my essay prior writing then?

    As the content of these points might be too much would it be possible if i asked for separate answer sheet to write and develop on these points? Would these answer sbeet which i used to scratch or outline the points would be collected back by the examiner once the exam over?

    I’m bit confused on this as i prefer to write down my points on paper or separate column prior to write down an essay based on them. So i’m not sure how this being handle by the examiner or the test centre? Might enlighten me on that, please?

    Thank you,

  11. Jeff Jarrett says

    Hi Liz,
    Do they provide headphones for listening test?

  12. Hi Liz,
    Firstly thank you for all the help with IELTS preparation.
    I wanted to ask, my handwriting are not quite readable so can I leave a line between each sentence ? I use to do that in my other exams.

    • Don’t leave a line between sentences. It is confusing for the examiner. Leave one empty line between paragraphs only. It is a recommendation – not a rule.

  13. Hi Liz, Can we use colored pencils on the reading paper to highlight something..!? you know the same colored pencils kinds use at school.

  14. Hi lix cn i do the writing part with pencil? Kindly reply

  15. Vivek Desai says


    I wanted to ask whether is it possible to ask for a supplementary in writing task if we needed some more space to write, or we should habituate ourselves to manage to write in the available space.

    Thank you.

  16. Edgar A. says

    My center is China wont let me use a pen although the instructions clearly state I can.

    One of many unprofessional conducts at Shenzhen, China IELTS.

    I haven’t pay for the retest because you have to pay first. If I pay to retest my speaking or listening can I write a letter of why I want the retest and why the person grading my test is unprofessional?

    • If you pay for a retest, then the papers will be marked by a senior examiner. If you wish to make a complaint against an examiner, you should contact your local test center. These two things are not to be confused. A remark is a remark. A complaint is a complaint. The scores for listening are based on correct or incorrect answers – there is no room for examiner interpretation which is why it is highly unlikely your listening or reading score will change through remarking.

  17. Hi Liz,

    Is it not risky to write IELTS test with pencil as manipulations can be highly possible. I have read a lot of complaints posted about such manipulations done by centres who conduct such tests. Is it true ?

    • I’ve never heard of such things. Firstly, if you doubt your score, you can get a remark. The remark is done in London by a senior examiner who would notice if words have been re-written by a different person. Definitely don’t listen to people’s panic stories.

  18. Hello, Liz. Thank you for all those tips and answers. I have a question. Can I leave a line blank between every two neighboring lines of text on the writing answer sheets? I think this would make it easier to add some words when reviewing the letter/essay I’ve already written.

  19. Hi Liz,
    Your site is great and very helpful. I just wanted to ask whether can I carry a sharpener during the test in case my pencil point becomes blunt.
    If not then what is the best solution for this in such cases.Please help.

  20. I’m looking forward to take the ielts academic task,please I want your guide on the writing module

  21. Swaraj kadam says

    Hii!! I gave my ielts on 30th July 2016 and still the result is on hold for some quality and monitoring purpose. Is it due to my mistake? because ihave written task 1 by pencil and task 2 by pen. Does that make a difference. I’m very afraid!!

  22. I have booked an IELTS date for June 18. I have targeted to get overall band 7 . This is very important for me to apply at the best University in USA or Canada. Please help me with some materials or any tips and technique. And how can I have my English level checked?

  23. gurveer singh says

    mam pls tell me how can i improve my speaking and writing modules for ielts and pls tell me about the advanced ielts how did i purchased it

  24. Ms.Rajpreet Kaur says

    I had my speaking test today cue card is -To speak about a famous personality in the news…who is that person .?why is he famous?..would u like to meet that person?…I talked about Mr APJ Kalam ..even though I told that he is no more…How far is it correct or not..I was quite upset after that..kindly advise Mam

    • You are not marked on your ideas, only on your English language.

      • Hi Ms. Liz
        Thank you very much for your valuable advice.
        There is a big problem and I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m not a social person and I’m so busy. I don’t have enough time for watching TV or news program. I’m also not involved in many common issues in my country. Therefore I have difficulties with speaking and writing test questions. Maybe I could manage to write something about what I’m not interested or involved in writing part but what about Speaking part? If the examiner give me a cue card like the one for Ms. Rajpreet Kaur What should I do? If we can’t choose to talk in a range of topics or they can’t solve this problem then the IELTS test is not standard in my opinion. So could you please guide me on this issue?
        Thank you

        • Part of your preparation for IELTS MUST be preparing ideas for topics. You can’t avoid this. IELTS writing task 2 and speaking is topic based and if you haven’t prepared your topics, you will struggle.

  25. Hey liz. I really appreciate whatever you taught us. I’ve a question that ” can we ask for meaning of cue card in speaking task?

    And one more question that can we ask for another cuecard if we don’t know what cue-card is all about??

    • You can’t ask about the meaning of the cue card and you can’t ask for another cue card. This is a test, so just try your best to speak as closely to the topic as you can.

  26. Thank you very much. I have one doubt.
    Is it necessary to start the answers in a capital letter when we fill the answer sheet in listen and reading?

  27. My level down and i lose my confidence what I do I have no ideas about speaking and writing what I do my exam on 19 May what I do please help me

  28. tshering Needup says

    i have ielts on 19th May 2016….. could you help me what are the tips required in it

  29. I have read in official rules ,they say you can use pencil or pen for writing but you must use pencil for reading and listening…

  30. Thank you so much for these tips. I had many queries about them but now I have the answers.

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