There are four sections that make up the IELTS Academic and General tests: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The Writing section is the third you’ll complete and is split into two separate but similar tasks. Like the Reading section, IELTS Writing differs depending on whether you take the IELTS Academic or General test.
Unfortunately, the Writing section can present a challenge to many IELTS test takers. The good news is there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself ahead of time. To help you get started, we’re sharing seven tips that will help you get a high score.
The IELTS Academic test is designed for individuals entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies, as well as those seeking professional registration:
- Answers must be in a formal style
- Writing Task 1—Describe and analyze the data found on one of the following:
- Bar chart
- Line graph
- Pie chart
- Writing Task 2—Write a formal essay
IELTS General, as the name implies, tests everyday English, and is often taken by those migrating to an English-speaking country:
- Answers can range from formal to informal
- Writing Task 1—Write a letter in one of the following styles:
- Formal (to someone you don’t know)
- Semi-formal (to someone you know formally)
- Informal (to friend or family)
- For Writing Task 2—Write a formal essay
Got all that? Okay, let’s move on to the IELTS Writing tips!
IELTS Writing Study Tips
1. Complete Writing Task 2 First
IELTS Writing Task 2 is the same on both the Academic and General tests and many find it easier than Task 1—especially writers of the Academic test. Keep in mind that Task 2 is weighted heavier, e.g., worth more marks, than Task 1. It also takes longer to complete. For these reasons, it’s best to not only devote more time to Task 2, but to complete it first.
The reason being is that you don’t want to get stuck on Task 1 and only leave yourself 20 minutes or so to frantically complete Task 2. IELTS recommends spending 40 minutes on Task 2 and about 20 minutes on Task 1. While this is a good rule of thumb to follow, always use your own judgment. Don’t get too hung up on sticking to these exact time limits—just make sure you don’t devote more time to Task 1 than you need to.
2. Avoid Informal Writing
This tip applies primarily to the Academic test, but is important to keep in mind for the General test as well. While your answers don’t have to be formal in style on the General test (unless you choose to write a formal letter, of course), it’s best to avoid certain informal writing practices. For instance, avoid using abbreviations—always write out the full word. Also, avoid writing in the first or second person—I, me, you—unless instructed to do so.
3. Watch Your Word Count!
One of the most challenging aspects of the IELTS Writing test is hitting the allotted word count. Contrary to popular belief, a smaller word count can actually be more of a challenge than a larger one. More words mean more space to flesh out your thoughts, but the IELTS test only allows 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2.
That being said, it’s still important to make sure you write enough. If you write too little, your band score may be reduced. On the other hand, you can go a little over the word count without being penalized. IELTS uses a word count to test whether you can explain your thoughts clearly and succinctly. Just remember that it’s quality over quantity and you’ll be fine.
Tip: While you aren’t expected to count every single word you’ve written, you can get a rough idea of your word count by knowing in advance how many words you typically write on one line. This gives you an approximate indication of how many lines of text you’ll need to write to hit 150 and 250 words.
4. Understand the Marking Criteria
Writing is difficult to assess because it’s quite subjective. As such, the IELTS Writing band isn’t marked based on right and wrong answers. Instead, the marking criteria are as follows:
- Task Response (25%)—Measures how appropriately, accurately, and relevantly your response fulfills the task requirements.
- Coherence and Cohesion (25%)—Assesses the overall clarity and fluency of your response. Test scorers are looking for how well your response organizes and links information, ideas, and language.
- Vocabulary (25%)—Looks at the range of your vocabulary and how well your word usage adheres to the specific task.
- Grammar (25%)—Looks at the range and accuracy of your grammar.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The only way to improve your writing is to keep at it. Consider picking up some practice test books and take as many practice tests as you can before sitting for the actual IELTS Academic or General test. The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS is a great study resource, as it contains eight official practice tests and a step-by-step guide for each section. This will help you know exactly what kind of questions you can expect when it comes time to do the real thing.
Tip: Get someone you know with strong English writing skills to look over your practice answers and offer feedback.
6. Paraphrase, Don’t Copy
You should avoid copying any part of the question word-for-word into your response for either Task 1 or 2. If you need to use part of the question in your response, say to illustrate a point, be sure to put it into your own words. Be sure to take some time to learn how to properly paraphrase well in advance of taking the IELTS Academic or General test.
7. Make Sure You Are Actually Answering the Question
When under a strict time limit, it’s all too easy to become anxious and lose focus. Make sure you understand the actual question that’s being asked before you put pen to paper. Organizing your thoughts before you even write a word will help you craft a response that is sure to impress.
We hope these tips are helpful and that you now have a good understanding of the Writing section of the IELTS Academic and General tests. Good luck!
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