Which words are considered as ‘one’ word and which ones are considered to be ‘two’ words?

A frantic student messaged me a week before her test, asking:

IELTS word count: what’s counted and what’s not?

Any contracted forms, which were originally two words, will be counted as one word. Why? There is no space between any of the letters! 

The same rule goes for hyphenated words. The phrase ‘brightly-coloured trousers’ consists of two words, not three. This also has to do with grammar, since two (or more) words that function as one adjective must be hyphenated, and hyphenated words are counted as one word…this means that ‘ ride-or-die’ is also one word, not three!

Any numbers, whether it’s 008195 or 2, are counted as one unit. This is the case even if you have any symbols before or after them – so $250,000 is counted as one, as are 99.35% and 1/4th. Again, observe that there is no space between any of the numbers! 

And what about those pesky articles, ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’? Are they real words? Of course! Every single a/a/n/the is counted as a word.

By the way, prepositions are counted as words, too, so this is not something you need to fret about.

 

So, what does this mean, in plain English?
ALL words – no matter how big or small –  and all numbers, NOT separated by blanks, are counted! 

 

 

More importantly, though, should you even be bothered about word counts?

Will writing 251 or 151 words instead of 250 or 150 increase your score? NO!
Will writing 249  or 149 words instead of 250 or 150 decrease your score? Again, no!
As a general rule, make sure you’re within 15% of the minimum word count limit to avoid losing 0.25 of the score in TA/TR.
Writing an under-length response will NEVER affect CC, LR, or GRA scores – only the TR/TA score.

The last one might be a bit of a surprise – but it’s true, since mid-2018, there is no longer an automatic penalty for writing an underlength response. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s okay to write a smaller response, though – if you don’t have enough material, you simply aren’t going to make the cut for a band 7 in Task Achievement or Task Response, because you need to use words to present and explain your ideas, and you need a few good ideas for each body paragraph. This means that, in general, an average body paragraph ought to be 100 words.

Instead of focusing on something as trivial as word count, it would be a better use of your time and energy to focus on creating quality essays and reports/letters by understand exactly what an examiner needs from you to be able to give you the band 7 you so desire. Quality is more important than quantity!

What do you think?