Test Tips for Task 2 Writing (Academic & G.T.)
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Learning Test Tips from Video Lessons.
The task 2 writing tips listed below cover both the academic and the general training writing tests. As with task 1, remembering test tips will provide you with a deeper understanding of the test. However, it is definitely better to learn test tips in context, so you are advised to watch the video lessons that highlight important tips while the different techniques for writing task 2 answers are being explained. Note: These tips refer to the Official IELTS Marking Criteria used by examiners when they mark your test. Remember, the better you learn test tips, the more prepared you will be for your writing test.
Essential Tips for Task 2 Writing (Academic & G.T.)
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- Study the IELTS Public Band Score Descriptors.
The band score descriptors published by IELTS explain what you need to include in your answer in order to earn a certain band score. The descriptors are broken up into four marking criteria, which are...
1) Task achievement.
2) Coherence and cohesion.
4) Grammatical range and accuracy.
Take time to study the descriptors yourself so that you can get a good idea about the marking criteria examiners use when they mark your test. You can link to the band score descriptors below. Try to understand the differences between the band scores because students who get a lower band score than they needed often fall short because they misunderstood the marking criteria guiding examiners. To learn to write band 9 answers, you should follow the techniques I recommend in my video lessons, which are guided by the four marking criteria in the band score descriptors.
- Learn how to write IELTS essays from an IELTS writing teacher.
The best way to write effective IELTS essays is to learn from an IELTS writing teacher, who exactly how to advise you how to write answers that will get high band scores.
Warning: A general English class will not prepare you for the IELTS writing test. Even if you know how to write an effective academic essay, this does not prepare you for the IELTS writing test, which requires a unique type of response. If you watch my video lessons, you will see that IELTS writing essays follow a very specific pattern for both task 1 and task 2. You can link to the videos here.
- Get yours IELTS practice tests checked by an IELTS teacher.
You need to complete practice tests and have your writing corrected by an IELTS teacher who can give your useful feedback about how to improve your writing to reflect the criteria of the IELTS writing test. If you do not get feedback, your progress will be very slow because you will keep making the same mistakes. You can get your essays corrected by going to the essay correction and feedback service here.
- Write or type your practice tests.
When you book your IELTS writing test, you might be able to choose either the paper based or the computer based test (depending on test centre availability). If you are going to sit a paper based test, you should practice writing practice tests with a pencil (or pen) and lined paper, but if you intend to sit a computer-based test, then practice typing practice tests on a computer. Check with your test centre whether they offer computer-based testing as not all centres offer this option.
- Write (or type) a minimum of 250 words.
It is requirement of the task to write at least 250 words. If you don't, your band score will go down for task achievement. It is recommended that you write between 270 and 300 words to achieve a high band score. Writing in excess of 250 words does not get you extra marks, but it might enable you to express all the ideas you want to include. However, you must remember that you are being marked on the quality of your writing, not the amount that you write. Therefore, make sure while you are practicing that you are not including too many ideas at the planning stage, and you should also be prepared to not use all the ideas you brainstorm for the body paragraphs.
- Complete the task in 40 minutes.
Task 2 is worth 66% of the marks, so you should devote a total of 40 minutes to the completion of this task. You should spend approximately 4 minutes analysing the question and planning your answer, about 5 to 6 minutes writing the introduction, a maximum of 24 minutes to write both body paragraphs, and 3 or 4 minutes to write the summary conclusion. This should leave you about 3 minutes to check your answer. Obviously, the more you practice, the better you will become at completing the tasks. In all my video lessons I complete all the writing stages of the tasks under timed conditions, so these videos show you how to write band 9 answers within 40 minutes.
- Analyse the question and plan your answer.
The first thing you need to do when you look at the question is to read it carefully and identify what kind of task 2 essay it asks you to write about. There are roughly five different types of task 2 essay. These are...
1) agree / disagree essays.
2) problem /solution essays.
3) consider both sides and give your opinion essays.
4) advantages / disadvantages essays.
5) direct question essays.
If you do not plan your answer, it will not be organised, so you will probably lose marks for task achievement and coherence/cohesion. Don't think you will save time by not using time to plan - this is not the case. You should spend about 3 to 4 minutes to work out what the different viewpoints are in the question and to brainstorm ideas for your body paragraphs. In step 1 of my video lessons, I show you how to analyse the question and brainstorm 3 or 4 ideas for body paragraphs. At this stage, you might also write down a few words of synonymous vocabulary to use in your essay. Remember - planning will save you time and help you write an answer that will get a higher band score.
- Paraphrase the question in your introduction
Task 2 will usually provide a statement about a typical IELTS writing topic. You should use any ideas and vocabulary in the question to write a paraphrase to start your introduction. As soon as you have read the question, you should immediately jot down any synonymous words and phrases that you can use in your essay. Do not copy the question (or large parts of it) 'word for word' in your essay. If you do, you will lose marks. Also, these words will be subtracted from your word count. Therefore, learning a good range of academic vocabulary is essential to write a successful answer. To paraphrase, you should write the ideas in a slightly different way than they are presented in the question so that the examiner can see that you can write flexibly using different vocabulary, and/or different parts of speech and different grammar to re-state the ideas in the question.
- Be careful with synonyms.
You need to be very careful with synonyms because if you use them incorrectly, it will lower your band score for vocabulary. Therefore, do not use a synonym if you are unsure of the precise meaning. Indeed, it is not necessary to paraphrase everything and some words cannot be changed. Sometimes, just writing the ideas in a different order and by changing the grammar and parts of speech will be effective enough to still get a high band score without using too many additional or synonymous vocabulary words.
For example, let's say an advantage-disadvantage essay question about crime states...
"Today, many people are put into prison only to commit more crimes as soon as they are released". What are the advantages and disadvantages of putting people in prison?
This could be changed to...
"Nowadays, a lot of criminals who have already completed jail sentences continue committing crimes after they are freed back into society"
You will notice from the above example that I do not use many additional vocabulary words and most of my changes are quite easy to make. Notably, "commit crimes" changes to "committing crimes". This is a good technique (changing present simple verbs to verb 1 + ing forms). Also, the above paraphrase would get a very good mark for 'grammatical range and accuracy' because 1) it uses a (defining) relative clause (using "who"), 2) it changes the tense from present simple (are) to present perfect (have already completed), and 3) it uses a different subordinating conjunction (after) to create a different complex sentence structure. Of course the vocabulary could have been improved, but if you cannot think of better vocabulary instantly, you will be limited. This is how the idea could be written with better vocabulary:
"Nowadays, it is not uncommon for ex-convicts who have recently served custodial jail sentences to re-offend by committing other criminal offences after they have been freed back into society"
Learning how to paraphrase is a difficult skill to master. You should write within your comfort-zone, and not try to write in an over-complicated style with grammar and words you are not sure about. The key is to practice. There is no short-cut. You need to do a lot of writing practice tests. Naturally, it will help you to improve faster if you have the guidance of an IELTS writing teacher. Paraphrasing is featured in all my IELTS writing introductions for task 2 in the video lessons.
- Write a sentence that links to your body paragraphs
After you have paraphrased the essay question, write a sentence that links to your body paragraphs. This is sometimes referred to as a 'thesis statement'. A thesis statement tells the reader what you will write about in the rest of the essay. I explain in detail how to do this in my free videos that show you how to write the introductions in my task 2 video course. When you watch my videos, you will discover there is a clear pattern of how to link to the body paragraphs.
- Practice writing introductions for different essay types.
To get a high band score, you need to practice the introductions for the different types of essays that could come up on the test. For example, if you were to practice ONLY advantage / disadvantage essays, there's an 80% chance that you would not be prepared for the other types of essays that could appear on your writing test. I show you how to write band 9 answers for introductions in my free video lessons.
- Write 2 body paragraphs.
The detail for most task 2 questions can be covered in two body paragraphs, and the information that you will include in each body paragraph is usually not too difficult to identify as the table below indicates:
- Try to avoid writing 3 body paragraphs.
It is better if you can avoid writing 3 body paragraphs for the following reasons: Firstly, you might not write enough in each paragraph to sufficiently develop your ideas, so the examiner might decide your answer is not developed enough to justify 8 or 9 band scores for "fully extended and well supported ideas" (task achievement). Also, you might run out of time and not be able to write a good summary conclusion. Furthermore, if you write 3 body paragraphs, there is more risk of making mistakes, going off topic, and/or not including enough examples. Finally, if you write 3 body paragraphs, you will probably have less time to check and correct your writing at the end of the test.
- Make sure you answer ALL of the question.
You must answer "all parts of the task" to be awarded band 6 or higher for task achievement. Therefore, before you start writing your body paragraphs, do a quick check to see if what you plan to write about, answers ALL parts of the questions in the title. This quick, last second check could save you from the common mistake of NOT answering all the question. Remember, you will not have time to re-write entire paragraphs at the end of the test.
- Write clear and concise topic sentences.
When you start writing a body paragraph, make sure the topic sentence mirrors the ideas you stated you will write about in your thesis statement in the introduction. This will give your essay good coherence and cohesion. Band 7 of the descriptors requires that you show a "clear central topic within each paragraph". Do not write a long complicated topic sentence as this might make it unclear and difficult to understand, which would lose you marks.
- Use effective linking words.
Another requirement of getting a good score for coherence and cohesion is to use effective cohesive devices. Therefore you should try to use transition signals whenever you introduce supporting ideas or whenever you introduce examples or summary sentences. An "inaccurate or inadequate use of cohesive devices" results in a band 5 for coherence and cohesion. I recommend you write the transitions next to the ideas you will write about at the planning stage. If you have practiced the transitions and linking phrases before, you will save a lot of time in the test.
- Give examples from your own knowledge or experience.
It is absolutely essential that you give examples or you will lose marks. If you do not give examples, the examiner could mark you down to a band 5 for task achievement because you have not "addressed all parts of the task". When you write examples from your own experience, feel free to use the first person; "For example, when I was at primary school, I used to get bullied by other students because I had freckles..." Using the first person will not lose you marks in an IELTS essay when it is appropriate (as it clearly is with examples from your own experience).
- Do not give too much detail after an example.
You need to cover all the points you have planned to write about, so after you give an example, try to move on fairly quickly to the next point. "For example, when I was at primary school, I used to get bullied by other students because I had freckles, which caused me to get quite depressed in my teenage years and negatively affected my grades..." That would be enough. Do not continue writing about that example further.
- Do not go "off topic".
It is so easy to go "off topic" and start writing about something that does not directly answer the question. Once you have have managed to brainstorm ideas that clearly relate to the question(s) in the title, make sure you stick to writing about those ideas. Do not get distracted by the "chattering mind". Stay focused throughout your essay writing. Band 5 (task achievement) is awarded for essays that answer the question "only partially" or when you "express a position that is not always clear".
- Summary sentences are optional.
There is no requirement to write summary sentences at the end of body paragraphs, and they tend to stop you from including more relevant ideas. If you want to include a summary sentence, then write one ONLY at the end of the first body paragraph. It is really not necessary at the end of the second body paragraph because you are about to write the summary conclusion. To have 3 summaries in a 250-300 word essay seems a little excessive, and you could get marked down for repeating conclusions (band 6 for task achievement). Try to save summary ideas for the summary conclusion.
- A summary conclusion is necessary.
It is essential that you write a summary conclusion. Some people call it a summary while others call it a conclusion. I call the last paragraph a summary conclusion because it is short (usually 30 to 50 words) and the conclusions are summarised - not explained in detail. When you write your summary conclusion, you should make sure you express your opinion if it is required because otherwise you will lose marks. Examiners may mark the summary conclusion down to a band 6 if the conclusion is "unclear". It is also a good idea to use a conditional or contrasting complex sentence in your summary conclusion. I explain in detail in my video course how to get band 9 for summary conclusions written in 3 to 4 minutes.
Academic Vocabulary & Grammar Tips.
Fifty percent of the marks are awarded for vocabulary (lexical resource) and grammar (grammatical range and accuracy). Therefore careful attention must be given to these two aspects of your writing. Following the tips below will help you to write better IELTS essays.
- Write a balance of different sentence structures.
To develop ideas into more complex sentences, you need to use a mixture of linking devices, especially subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns. Most students will automatically use coordinating conjunctions (and, but, yet, so, or) because these are easier to learn. However, weaker students (bands 4 to 5.5) tend to rely on these too much and do not use enough conjunctions that create complex writing structures.
- Write conditional complex sentences (if / unless / provided / as long as).
Conditional sentences are easy to make - especially in your summary conclusion: "If the Internet is not regulated, more on-line crimes will be committed".
"If historical sites are to be preserved, tourist dollars must be encouraged"
Or, you can use provided, unless, or as long as
"Provided parents monitor children, the Internet can be an effective learning tool".
"Unless humans act now, the environment could be irreversibly destroyed".
"As long as health services remain free, serious diseases will be controlled".
- Write contrasting complex sentences (although / whereas).
Contrasting complex sentences are also easy to make - if you practice. Instead of relying on but all the time, try using these connecting words and phrases: although / though / even though / in spite of the fact that / despite the fact that / while / whereas. For example ...
"Although family size is shrinking, extended family ties remain strong"
"While earning money is important, people also value job satisfaction".
"Science funding has increased, whereas funding for the arts has evaporated".
"Despite the fact that people earn higher salaries, there are now more unemployed people than ever before.
- Write complex sentences of time (when / after / as soon as / while).
It is difficult not to write about time in an essay because, like almost everything, most IELTS topics are connected to things that are happening now, have happened in the near past (maybe over the last decade or so) or will happen in the future. Examples are climate change (damage that people have done in the past and the solutions we need now), changing family structures (these are changing now). Here are some examples of how you might write complex sentences with time conjunctions:
"As soon as pollution levels affect investment, the business community will react"
"More people will use public transport after services are upgraded"
"While local housing projects were suspended, state aid payments prevailed"
Obviously, you must practice these types of sentences, or you will not improve.
Just look at these variations...
"When you practice these types of sentences, you will start to improve" (time)
"Provided you practice, you will improve" (condition)
"Unless you practice, you won't improve" (condition)
"Although you have written many practice tests, you will not improve without practicing complex sentences" (contrast)
"Learning more academic vocabulary will improve your score for lexical resource, whereas practicing writing sentences with subordinating conjunctions will increase your ability to write complex sentences. (contrast)
- Write complex sentences of reason (because / since / as).
This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to make a complex sentence because it is difficult to write an essay without explaining the reasons why you support a particular position. Here are a few examples:
"Because animals have no legal rights, some people are less likely to protect them".
"People are less likely to protect animals since / because / as they have no legal rights".
As you can see from the above examples, it is quite easy yo make complex sentences of reason. It is also easy to write the clauses in reverse and with different conjunctions. Practice writing complex sentences with reason, and when you read, try to underline conjunctions and observe the structure of the sentence as well as the meaning the writing is trying to communicate.
- Write complex sentences of purpose (in order to / to / so that).
When writing uses "so that" or "in order to", it expresses a purpose. Again, these are also key conjunctions for making complex sentences. Here are a few examples.
"Nowadays, many young people study abroad so that they can / in order to increase their chances of working for multinational companies".
"In order to / To become a successful sportsperson, it takes many years of training, dedication and hard work"
- Describe ideas with relative clauses to make more complex sentences.
Another straightforward way to develop more complex structures is to add relative clauses to your sentences by using relative pronouns (which, who, where, that). For example, look at this complex conditional (if) sentence with a relative pronoun (which) added at the end of the complex sentence to make a relative clause.
"If children spend too much time playing computer games, they might perform
badly in their school subjects, which could result in educational failure".
It might be that you already use many of these structures. However, if you are not quite sure whether you are using enough, one option is to observe a teacher writing high band scoring model answers. In my video lessons, I show you how to write band 9 model answers with the maximum degree of complex structures. In each set of videos, I also review every paragraph of writing to explain the structure I write. In addition, you should have your IELTS practice writing tests checked by an IELTS teacher so that you can find out exactly where you are and what progress you need to make. If you do not have an IELTS teacher to check and correct your essays, you can send them to the essay correction and feedback service on this website.
- Write in a formal style with academic vocabulary.
IELTS essays should be written in a formal academic style. This means you need to avoid SLANG, IDIOMS and TEXT English and any other informal expressions.
A few slang examples are:
mother and father - not "mom" and "pop"
friends - not "mates" or "buddies"
children - not kiddies or kids.
- Do NOT Use Text English, Shortened Words or Abbreviations:
me 2. See you. û CU later. û LOL û
We luk 4ward 2 meetin U. û = We look forward to meeting you ü
t.v. or telly û = television ü info û = information ü
- Avoid Idioms (formal English will get you more marks)
It's a piece of cake to use smartphones. û
Smartphones are relatively simple to operate. ü
In a nutshell, û = To sum up, ü
- Do not contract words.
don't û = do not ü should've û = should have ü
won't û = will not ü etc û = and so on ü...
- Use the first person ONLY when it is necessary:
If you are providing an example from your own experience or giving your opinion, then it is acceptable to use the first person (because the question asks you to do that). However, avoid using the first person whenever necessary as this will make your essay more formal and academic in style. Therefore, the following are acceptable:
"For example, my brother and I went to private schools, which we enjoyed because.."
(example from experience)
"On balance it is my opinion that if private education was not allowed..."
(expressing your opinion)
- Avoid repeating vocabulary, transition signals and connectors.
When students continually repeat the same words, it informs the examiner that they have a limited range of vocabulary". This puts the essay into band 5 classification for lexical resource (vocabulary) usage. Also, if you overuse the same transition signals or connecting words, you could be awarded band 5 or 6 for coherence and cohesion, which refers to "over-use of cohesive devices", "repetition", and "lack of substitution". The same band classification applies when you fail to use referencing (pronouns) correctly. Referencing is important for avoiding repetition of nouns, especially subjects and objects that are continually referred to throughout the writing.
"Family businesses are successful because they employ family members,
who are usually more committed to making it successful as it is beneficial
to their family as a whole"
As you can see in the above example, when referencing is used effectively it pulls together and links subjects, objects and ideas to be more understandable (coherent), but without repeating words unnecessarily.
- Use the correct part of speech and spelling.
You need to use a "sufficient range of vocabulary" with only "occasional errors in spelling and word choice" to get a band 7 for vocabulary. Try to use less common, more academic vocabulary whenever possible and do not use the wrong part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc) as this shows a basic lack of vocabulary knowledge. Spelling is also important, so correct silly mistakes at the end of your writing. To attract a band of 8 or 9 for vocabulary, you need to show a 'wide range' of academic words used with accuracy, natural control and with only rare or minor 'slips' (mistakes).
Practice writing body paragraphs for different essay types.
As with the introductions, you need to practice writing body paragraphs for ALL the different types of essays that could come up on the test. For example, if you were to practice body paragraphs for ONLY advantage / disadvantage essays, then you are only 20% prepared for the test. While you are practicing, you should start to develop a consistent approach for answering different essay types. If you watch my video lessons, you will see how using a consistent approach to answering different essay types will enable you to get a high band score for ANY type of question. This is NOT the same as memorising pre-planned answers, which is NOT allowed in IELTS writing. If the examiner thinks your answer is "a totally memorised response", you will get a zero band score.
- Be careful with punctuation and capital letters.
If you show the examiner that you have poor punctuation, grammar and capitalisation, you will be marked down to band 6 or below for grammatical accuracy. To get a band 7 or higher, you need to show your writing has "good control of grammar and punctuation". To avoid losing marks in your test, you should pay attention to this aspect of your writing when you check it after you finish writing. Also, while you are practicing, try to get your essays marked and corrected by an IELTS teacher to see if you are making errors you are not aware of. Quite often, students are surprised when a teacher points out a mistake in their writing, which they thought was acceptable, but was in fact an error.
- Be careful with grammar tenses.
It is essential that you use the correct tense to get a high band score for grammatical range and accuracy. While you practice, get yourself into the habit of quickly reviewing sentences immediately after you have written them and remember to check whether you have used the correct tense.
- Check your answer and correct any careless mistakes.
The more you practice, the more you will learn to manage time while you are writing practice tasks. When you practice, you need to reserve a few minutes for checking and correcting small errors. Everybody makes a few silly mistakes, which they can self-correct if they have the time to read their answer at the end of the test. Reducing the number of errors could increase your band score for grammar and/or vocabulary by making a few small corrections.
Click on the links (below) for other writing test tips.