Writing Essay For Ielts Tips For Academic Writing
The key words in the title are practical and exam. Last week I ran a “competition” to write an essay on aid and poverty. The essays I received were spectacularly good and I do suggest you check them out in the comments section. My one worry though was were they really practical essays in an exam. My essay, which you will find below, is I think much simpler than almost all the essays I received – and perhaps a more practical model for exams.
I should add that these are mostly band score 8.0 writing tips and are written especially for candidates who are aiming high. The moral is:
the road to band score 8.0 often means doing the simple things well
1. Read – write – read – write – read – write – read – write – read – write – read
What does this mean? It means that you should go back and read the paragraph you have just written before you start the next one. You may think that this is a waste of time. If so, you’d be wrong.
- It’s important to link your paragraphs together – what more practical way to do that than just read what you have written?
- It helps you with words for the next paragraph – it is good to repeat some words as this improves your coherence. Look at my sample essay to see how I repeat/reflect language. In one paragraph I talk about the short term, this makes it easy to move onto the long term in the next paragraph.
- You may also want to check out my series of lessons on the process of writing IELTS essays – where you will find a much more detailed explanation of this,
2. Don’t be smart, be clear – select your best idea
One of my very first posts/articles on this site was headed “IELTS is not a test of intelligence”. While the post itself now looks a little old, the advice is still good. You are being tested on the quality of your English, not on the quality of your ideas.
This advice is particularly important for candidates who come from an academic background where they are used to being graded on quality and quantity of ideas. IELTS is different: it is quite possible to write a band 9.0 essay and not include some key “academic” ideas, let alone all the ideas.
The practical advice here is to select your best idea and write about that. That means not writing everything you know – leave some ideas out. Don’t worry if it is not your best explanation, worry about whether it is your clearest explanation.
3. Write about what you know – relax about ideas
This is a similar idea. IELTS is an international exam (that’s the “I” in IELTS) and the questions are written to be answered by anyone around the world. Some people stress about finding ideas. They shouldn’t. The ideas you need are generally simple (eg”I disagree”, “This is not a good idea”).
The practical solution is to think about what YOU know and what YOUR experience is. If you look at the question, this is what it tells you to do. If you come from Bonn, write about Bonn; if you come from Ulan Bator, write about Ulan Bator!
4. Examples are easier to write than explanations
In an exam you are under pressure. You want to make things as easy for yourself as possible. One practical idea to achieve this is to focus as much on examples as explanations when you write. Why?
It’s simply harder if you only think “because”. Some of the ideas may be very complex and, under pressure, it can be difficult to explain these with reasons. What may happen is that your sentences become too long and the ideas confused.
The practical bit is to concentrate as much on examples. This is a good idea as examples tend to be easier to write as you are simply describing situations. You should also note that the instructions tell you to use examples! All you need to do is make sure that your examples are relevant to the main idea.
5. Don’t write too much – the examiner is paid by the minute
There is no upper word limit I know of, but it really isn’t a good idea to write 350 words or more. Here’s why:
- Examiners will only spend so much time looking at any essay. Write too much and they will read what you wrote “less carefully”. It is easier to read/grade a 300 word essay than a 400 word essay!
- The more you write, the more likely you are to make language mistakes.
- The more you write, the more likely you are to go off topic. The examiner won’t read/grade anything that doesn’t directly relate to the question.
- If you write less, you give yourself more time to choose the best words – and that’s what you are being graded on.
- If you write less, you give yourself more time to go back and check what you have written.
6. Writer – know yourself
One of the most famous philosophical thoughts is “know yourself”. How does this apply to exam writing? Did Plato really have IELTS in mind when he wrote his dialogues? Well, no, but…
The idea is that you should check for your mistakes when you write. The practical part here is that you shouldn’t check for mistakes generally – that’s too hard and probably a waste of time in the exam. What isn’t a waste of time though is to look for mistakes you know you can correct – the ones you normally make!
The really practical thing is to have your own checklist in your head before you start writing.
7. See the whole essay in your head before you start writing
It’s very important that your essay is a whole – that all the bits fit together. If you don’t do that, you may lose significant marks for both coherence and task response.
This means planning of course. Planning bothers some people and bores others. There are different ways to do this, but at the very least have a map of your essay in your head.
8. Focus on the backbone of your essay
This is a related point. All the essay matters of course, but perhaps some bits matter more than others. I’d suggest the practical thing to do is concentrate on the backbone of your essay, the bits that help you write better and the examiner to understand better. The backbone is:
- The introduction: this should identify the question and outline your position. Don’t rush it as it is the first thing the examiner will read. First impressions count.
- The first/topic sentences of each paragraph: these should be clear and to the point. They should identify exactly what that paragraph is about and show how it relates to the rest of the essay. The practical tip is to keep the detail/clever ideas for the body of the paragraph. Start off general and then build towards the specific.
- The conclusion: this is the easiest part of the essay normally. Most often, all you need to do is go back to the introduction and rephrase it
Get these bits right and the rest of the essay tends to take care of itself.
9. Don’t just practice whole essays
The best way to learn to write essays is to write essays? True or false? My answer is a bit of both.
Yes, you do need to practise writing complete essays, but it may be a mistake to do only that. The different part of essays require slightly different skills. To write an introduction, you need to be able to paraphrase the question. To write a body paragraph, you need to be able to explain ideas. To write a conclusion, you need to be able summarise.
The practical suggestion is to practise writing introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions separately. Focus on skills.
10. Focus on the question and refocus on the question
I have left this one to last as it is for me the most important idea. Essays go wrong for different reasons. Some of these you may not be able to avoid: the quality of your English may not be good enough yet. The one mistake you can always avoid is that you didn’t answer the question. Too many essays go wrong because candidates didn’t read and think about the question properly.
The practical suggestion: before you write each paragraph, refer back to the question to remind yourself about what you are meant to write about.
It is very easy to get carried away in exams. You may start off on topic, then you have a “good idea” as you write. So you write about that. Sadly, that “good idea” may not fully relate to the question. Big problem.
My sample essay on poverty and aid
This essay which you can download below is intended to be an example of the ideas in this post.
- It is fairly simple in structure.
- It focuses clearly on the question
- I left many of my best ideas out. I concentrated on what I could explain clearly.
- It comes in at only just over 300 words.
Download the essayPoverty and aid essay (28780)
More writing advice
This is where I catalogue all my writing materials. If you are looking for more specific advice, this is the place to start.
My other essay writing tips
The ideas here are similar and you will find more general guidance on dos and don’ts in IELTS essays.
How to like it, share it and save it
IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 involves composing a formal five-paragraph essay in 40 minutes. This is the second of two writing tasks on the IELTS. The first section—Task 1—should take you only 20 minutes. Why spend more time on IELTS Writing Task 2? This basic comparison offers a few reasons:
- Points: Task 2 counts more towards your Writing band score
Task 1 = 1/3rd of your score
Task 2 = 2/3rds of your score
- Word count minimums: Task 2 is longer
Task 1 = 150 word minimum
Task 2 = 250 word minimum
- Planning your response: Task 2 questions require more thought
Task 1 = transfer of information from a visual into writing
Task 2 = answer an open/abstract question with no clear or “correct” answer
Even though Task 1 is by no means easy, most students find IELTS Writing Task 2 more challenging. It is well worth your time to write many Task 2 practice essays as you prepare for exam day. Understanding Task 2 deeply and developing an approach to the various question types you might face will make your practice even more effective.
The purpose of this guide is to help you master the IELTS Writing Task 2 skills you need in order to do well on this important section of the IELTS exam. Click on a section in the table of contents to skip directly to that topic, or continue reading below to start learning all about IELTS Writing Task 2.
Table of Contents
This post is all about the IELTS Academic Writing Task 2. If you’re looking for IELTS Writing Task 1 tips, click here!
IELTS Writing Task 2 Basics
Let’s begin with some basic tips for IELTS Writing Task 2:
The IELTS is a pencil and paper exam, so your responses will be handwritten. It is essential that you handwrite (don’t type!) your practice essays for Task 2. Writing by hand helps you develop a sense of pacing. In other words, you will learn how quickly (or slowly!) you write with pencil and paper in English.
Importantly, as you’re probably aware, precious points will be deducted if you do not meet the minimum word requirements in the Writing section. But it is a huge waste of time to actually count your words on exam day. If you take the additional step of using official IELTS Writing Task 2 response sheets (download and print them here), you can see how many words you typically write on each page. You won’t have to count because you will know what that number of words looks like on the IELTS answer sheet.
Writing speed varies a lot from student to student. How you allocate time depends a lot on how fast you can write. The more you practice Task 2 responses, the quicker you will become. Your goal should be to allow enough time for these three things:
- Essay planning 2 – 10 minutes
- Writing 25 – 32 minutes
- Editing 5 minutes (or more if possible)
As you practice, try very hard to cut down on the amount of time it takes to plan your responses before writing. Some students can take up to 10 minutes to brainstorm and plan. For most people, however, using 10 minutes at the beginning will take away too much time from writing and editing. I usually recommend three to five minutes of planning as a reasonable target. The more practice questions you answer, the faster you will become at generating ideas before you write.
The IELTS expects you to use an academic/formal writing style. This means you should use the same kind of language that you would when writing a report for work or an essay for school. Obviously, you would avoid using “slang” words. You would also write in complete sentences and use proper punctuation. Here are some additional features of academic/formal writing to keep in mind for Task 2:
- Organize ideas into separate paragraphs: You will lose points if you do not divide your essay into paragraphs. In the next section of this post, I’ve included an IELTS Writing Task 2 response template. The template includes the essential paragraphs you should include in your Task 2 response. Generally speaking, your essay must have an introduction paragraph, 2 – 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
- Write in complete sentences: Make sure each sentence you write has an independent clause with a subject and verb. When you write complex or compound sentences, use “connectors” like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, etc) or subordinating conjunctions (when, although, because, etc).
- Avoid repetition of words and ideas: Your ideas should move from one to the next logically, and you should show off your vocabulary by avoiding redundancy (don’t repeat the same words over and over).
- Avoid “slang:” The English you hear in the movies or read on social media is often inappropriate for formal writing. It is a big problem to use words like “dude” or spellings like “U” (for “you”) on the IELTS.
- Thoughtful and Neutral Tone: Academic/formal writing has a very careful and thoughtful tone. It rarely sounds angry, excited, or overly certain about an idea. It is also best to avoid broad generalizations in formal/academic compositions. Here are some examples to demonstrate:
NOT ACADEMIC: I hate this idea! (Too excited/angry)
ACADEMIC: This idea has some problems to consider.
NOT ACADEMIC: Everyone is distracted by cell phones these days.(Too broad)
ACADEMIC: Many people are distracted by cell phones these days.
NOT ACADEMIC: I have the best solution to the problem. (Too certain)
ACADEMIC: I would suggest this solution to the problem.
IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 Essay Organization & Example
In this section, we will look at the overall structure of an IELTS Writing Task 2 response. Before we get to that, however, let’s take a look at a sample Task 2 question. Read it over and take a moment to think: How would you respond?
IELTS Writing Task 2 Sample Question
Planning Before You Write
When you first encounter an IELTS Writing Task 2 question, try to decide what perspective you will take fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the IELTS doesn’t give you much time to do this. Making matters worse, it is fairly likely that you won’t have strong, well-developed opinions about the topic. Don’t worry. Task 2 questions are (intentionally) debatable, with no clearly “correct” answer.
Fortunately, unlike an essay you might write for work or school, it is not important to present your true opinions on the IELTS. Remember, the IELTS is an English language test. It is not a test of what you know about the topic of your Task 2 question. While you should present reasonable ideas in a clear and logical way, you can argue any side of the question and do well. Therefore, rather than worrying about (and spending time on) formulating your true opinion on your Task 2 topic, ask yourself the following question instead:
“What is the easiest way for me to answer this question?”
Can you think of some main ideas and/or examples quickly for one side of an argument? Even if these ideas don’t fully represent your perspective, just go with them on the IELTS. You don’t want to waste too much time thinking about how to express your true opinions.
Once you’ve chosen a perspective on your question, you can do some planning/brainstorming. Below are some planning notes for our sample Task 2 question (introduced above). On exam day, you won’t have a chart like this to fill in. The chart simply helps to make the information easier to read in this post. Basically, your goal in the planning phase is to come up with a main idea for each paragraph of your essay. We will discuss each of these paragraphs in more detail below the chart.
Writing your Essay
When you’ve done some initial planning, you’re ready to dive into a writing. Let’s take a closer look at how to organize your Academic Writing Task 2 response paragraph by paragraph. After you read about each paragraph, look at the sample Task 2 essay immediately below this section as an example.
The Introduction Paragraph
An introduction is a very important element of your Task 2 essay. Practicing introductions can really pay off, even if you don’t follow through and write a full practice essay every time. Many students get stuck at the very beginning, not knowing how to respond to the question in the introduction. Let’s look at what to do.
IELTS Writing Task 2 introductions can be short and simple. A two-sentence introduction should be your goal. There are two main parts of a Task 2 introduction to include every time:
- Topic Presentation:
In this first sentence of your introduction, you simply need to paraphrase the topic described in your question prompt. In other words, find a way to accurately state the topic in your own words. Try to avoid using the same words and phrases as the prompt.
After presenting the topic, you need to provide your perspective on it. This is your thesis. It is a sentence that expresses the main idea of your essay. At a minimum, you need to provide a general answer the question prompt in your thesis: “I believe that…”, or “I agree that…”. A really great thesis also introduces the main ideas of each body paragraph in a general way. Take a look at the sample essay below. Notice how the thesis introduces the main idea of both body paragraphs.
Important! You MUST answer the essay question directly in your thesis. Students sometimes lose points because their thesis does not answer the question directly enough. Read your question prompt carefully and make sure your essay will answer every part of the question.
2-3 Body Paragraphs
The next two (or if necessary, three) paragraphs of your IELTS Task 2 essay are your opportunity to explain your thesis. Each body paragraph should present ONE main point. If your question prompt includes several questions, you should write a body paragraph for each one. The main point of each body paragraph must relate directly to your thesis statement in the introduction. Use supporting details and/or examples to explain your main point before moving on to the next body paragraph.
Don’t spend a long time on your conclusion. A good IELTS Task 2 conclusion should be one or two sentences long. Simply paraphrase your thesis and main points from your body paragraphs to close out your essay. This means you should avoid using the same words, phrases, and sentence structures as your thesis statement. Definitely do not copy your thesis statement word-for-word as your conclusion.
Before we dig into an example IELTS Task 2 essay, check out the video below and try your hand at writing an introduction paragraph.
Sample IELTS Task 2 Essay
Let’s take a look at an example essay containing each of the Task 2 paragraphs described above.
Some parents may worry that pushing their children towards a particular career could be harmful. While I agree it is unwise to predetermine a child’s profession, parents should still offer guidance through open communication.
Young people need freedom to make choices, especially when it comes to their careers. Even parents who agree with this idea may still feel some anxiety about it. Ultimately, most parents hope their children will be financially secure. Deep down some parents may also want their children to choose prestigious careers, or jobs that will impact society in some way. These wishes are normal and not necessarily harmful. Yet, it can be problematic if these desires turn into firm expectations. In such cases, the main motivation for a child becomes fear of disappointing her parents. It can lead to resentment if she spends her life doing something she doesn’t enjoy. With freedom to explore, by contrast, she can take ownership of her career decisions and develop internal motivation to reach her goals.
Yet, offering a child freedom does not imply that parents should be absent. To the contrary, parents should strive to foster open communication about career decisions. If a child’s aspirations do not line up with his parents’ wishes, he may fear that approaching them could lead to judgement and confrontation. However, if he feels that his parents will listen carefully and maintain an open attitude, he may let down his guard and welcome their feedback. When this happens, parents can provide guidance and, importantly, even critiques of their child’s plans. In this way, open communication creates opportunities for young people to benefit from their parents’ wisdom and experience.
In conclusion, even though parents should avoid pressuring their children to follow specific career paths, they should not abandon the discussion. Parents should strive to create an environment where they can offer caring guidance through open communication.
IELTS Writing Task 2 Question Types
No matter what question you get for IELTS Writing Task 2, your goal should always be to answer the question completely and directly. Take time, every time, to read the prompt carefully and understand it fully. In Task 2, you are always required to provide your perspective on a topic. However, there are a variety IELTS Writing Task 2 question types you may encounter. The charts below present the five basic IELTS Writing Task 2 question types, and offer some tips on how to organize your responses for each one.
Improving Your IELTS Writing Task 2 Score (By Scoring Category)
There are four scoring categories for IELTS Writing Task 2:
- Task Response
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
- Lexical Resource
- Coherence and Cohesion
Here are some tips to help you improve your score in each category.
IELTS Writing Task 2 Scoring Categories
1. Task Response
This his is a measurement of how well you fulfilled the basic requirements of the task based on the instructions. Following the template and organization advice above helps you most in this category.
2. Grammatical Range and Accuracy
This is a measurement of your ability to use a wide range of grammatical structures without making a lot of grammatical errors. If you have enough time (a few months or more) before you take the IELTS, consider taking an English class or investing in a good grammar book for self-study. I often recommend this grammar book to intermediate and advanced students. It offers clear grammar explanations and contains many practice exercises.
Here are some additional grammar tips to help you, even if your IELTS exam is coming up soon and you don’t have time to take a class or study a textbook!
Grammar Tip 1: Don’t use the same simple sentence structures over and over.
The next time you write a practice response, take a close look at your sentence structures. Do you use a variety of sentence patterns? English language learners often develop a habit of using forms of the “BE” verb (am, is, are, was, were) very frequently as the main verb of the sentence. Using “BE” verbs is not a problem (I have used many in this blog post!!), but using them too often makes your writing sound very basic. Importantly, using “BE” verbs repeatedly also limits your grammatical range. Choosing more descriptive verbs opens up many grammatical possibilities. For example, you can use adverbs and adverbial phrases to describe an action. By limiting yourself to forms of “BE” as the main verb, you will mainly rely on adjectives for description.
To work on this, go back through your practice essays and try to change every sentence that includes a “BE” verb as the main verb. Don’t worry about sentences with “BE” auxiliary verbs like this:
She is running.
“Running” is the main verb of this sentence and “is” is an auxiliary. There is no need to change this. You want to edit sentences that look like this:
Michael is a history professor at my college.
“Is” is the main verb of the sentence. When you revise these sentences, don’t change the meaning of the sentence too much. The sentence should still fit logically in your essay. This can be tough! Making these changes will force you to use different sentence patterns and, importantly, more descriptive verbs and adverbs when you write. Please note—you do not need to avoid all “BE” verbs when you write for the IELTS exam. This exercise simply helps you to develop your ability to use a variety of grammatical structures. Review the following examples:
Original sentence: Mary is an excellent teacher, so students always love taking her class.
Revised sentence: Mary teaches so well that students always love taking her class.
Grammar Tip 2: Use complex sentence structures
On the IELTS, you need to prove that you can write advanced sentences without mistakes. Therefore, you should include some complex sentence patterns in your writing. What is a complex sentence? Complex sentences include “subordinating conjunctions,” which introduce a variety of dependent clauses in English. Look over this review of dependent and independent clauses if you need to. Below are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:
Adverbial Subordinators (there are many!):
Adjective Clause Subordinators:
Noun Clause Subordinators:
A few complex sentence examples:
Even though it rained all weekend, we had a great time.
I like playing chess because it provides a mental challenge.
I threw the ball to my friend, who was not ready to catch it.