How to get the best score possible in the IELTS writing test!
The IELTS test assesses ability in English in 4 skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. 2 different IELTS tests are avilable – IELTS Academic and IELTS General training. Students who want to study at a university in the UK at undergraduate or post-graduate level will normally need IELTS Academic. For this reason, language schools in the UK tend to offer training and preparation for the IELTS academic module.
In this post we are going to look at the IELTS writing test and in particular we are going to give advice on IELTS exam preparation for the academic IELTS module. The academic IELTS writing paper lasts 60 minutes and there are 2 tasks.
Pre-Test IELTS Writing Test Practice - Task 1
In task one you may be asked to write a report about a graph, table, pie chart, bar chart, or a combination of two of these. It is important that you understand what the information is saying and this might be difficult if you have not had to work with any of these since you were at school. So, before the test, read serious newspapers and/or magazines and pay particular attention to these types of information and the text that accompanies them. Check you understand how the description of the data matches the graph or chart.
Alternatively, you may be asked to write a description of a process. You will not be expected to use any specialised vocabulary but an awareness of how a process description might be ordered and the use of the passive voice is important.
You may be asked to write about a map or a plan so awareness of spatial language (eg north, south, behind, opposite etc) is essential.
Pre-Test IELTS Writing Test Practice - Task 2
In task two you will be asked to write an essay in response to a prompt. This may take the form of discussing both sides of a question and reaching a conclusion, making an argument or case for a point of view or discussing the reasons, results and solutions connected with a global or universal issue.
In order to do this effectively, you will need more than the obvious grammar, vocabulary etc. You need to actually have something to say! This means you need some knowledge of the problems facing people, countries and the world as a whole nowadays and what the reasons for these are and what solutions have been or might be found. Read newspapers and magazines that cover world affairs and concentrate on topics such as the environment, education, technology, modern urban life, the media etc. This will also help with the speaking test.
Also, before taking the test you might find it useful to check the public version of the examiners’ marking criteria for the writing:
During the IELTS Writing Test - Task 1
Be prepared for the unexpected. Most Task 1 papers consist of a bar chart, line graph, table or pie-chart or a combination of two of these. However, occasionally they will throw in a process or a map/plan and very occasionally something totally different. Whatever, the procedure is the same and that is…
Introduction, Overview, Details. After your introduction, you must write a sentence or a few sentences giving the overall picture, the basic message of the data. Then write a paragraph or two outlining the details including all the main points but not necessarily every little detail if there is a lot of it.
Make sure you understand clearly what the information is about, what it says. This might take a couple of minutes but it is always time well spent. You cannot write effectively about something you don’t fully understand.
If the graph label shows numbers in thousands of dollars ($000’s) and you describe the data in single dollars, your information will be very inaccurate and you will lose marks for this. Check the labels on the task so your description is accurate. Also, check that you have not made any mistakes with the numbers and have not confused numbers and percentages.
Do not spend more than 20 minutes on Task 1. It carries only 1/3 of the marks so must not take up more than 1/3 of the time. So, do not cut your more important Task 2 writing because you spent too much time on Task 1 details.
During the IELTS Writing Test - Task 2
No one can write an effective essay without making a plan and you should spend up to ten minutes on this. Start by making a list of the points you want to make in each paragraph and then put these in order of importance for each paragraph. Think about an introduction to the topic and what you want to say as a conclusion.
You absolutely must write in paragraphs and each main paragraph should have a clear topic. For example, the advantages or the problems in one paragraph and then the disadvantages or solutions in the next.
Write an introduction of about 50 words but do not simply copy the question – try to put it in other words. Also, do not say anything like “I am going to discuss both sides of this question and give a conclusion” – the examiner knows this already!
You must also write a conclusion. This can be shorter than the introduction, 20-30 words, and should sum up what you have said.
Be sure to write at least 250 words. You will lose marks if you don’t and the examiners do count your words if your writing looks short. Words lifted from the question do not count!
Your handwriting can have an impact on your score. If the examiner can’t read what you have written then he/she can’t give you marks for it. And remember, the examiner might be trying read what you have written at 6pm on a Saturday night after a long day, so write clearly!
Tips for the other IELTS papers
If you want tips on the reading, listening and speaking parts of the examination, look at our other blog posts from Simon.
Simon Cummings is Assistant Academic Director at The English Language Centre, an English school in Brighton, Sussex, on the south-coast of England. ELC offers intensive 4-week IELTS exam preparation courses that help students prepare for Academic IELTS. Simon has helped students learn English for more than 25 years and has around 20 years' experience succesfully helping students prepare for IELTS. He was an IELTS examiner for 15 years and regularly teaches on the IELTS Examination Preparation Course at ELC.