To get an IELTS Band 7 or higher in Task 2 writing, you need good control of your grammar and vocabulary, plus a good understanding of the topic you are going to write about.
Task 2 IELTS Band Descriptors
If you have a look at the IELTS Band Descriptors for Task 2 Writing, you will see that to get a band 7 you must:
- Answer the question completely
- Be clear and easy to follow
- Use a range of connecting phrases
- Have clear paragraphs
- Use words and collocations that go beyond basic
- Use a range of grammar, simple, compound, complex, active, passive, etc.
- Have many sentences that are completely error free
Add to that the fact that you have to write 250 words, in about 40 minutes, under exam conditions. That’s tough!
Follow a Process
To give you the best chance of writing a great essay, you should follow a process. You can devise your own, but here is one that works:
1. Read the Question Carefully
This might seem obvious, but there are so many times when I have read an essay and the candidate did not actually answer the question. They read it too quickly maybe, or it was similar to a practice test, or they misunderstood a word, or the instructions.
2. Read the Question Carefully. AGAIN!
If you only answer the question partially, you are limited to a Band 5 in Task Response. If your answer is related to the question only, and doesn’t actually answer the question specifically, you are limited to a Band 4. So it’s worth the extra time to read the question twice!
3. Make an Outline
Write a quick outline of your response – brief notes are fine but include your thesis statement, and all the paragraphs you will need. Think about topic sentences with support and examples. Your conclusion can be a paraphrase of the thesis statement, and a few final thoughts.
To get a Band 7 you MUST have well defined and developed paragraphs that follow a clear progression that relates to YOUR thesis statement. IF your paragraphs don’t match your thesis statement after outlining, change one or the other so they do match. Remember it’s easy to change your plan at this stage.
4. Write Your Essay by Following Your Outline
If you follow a good outline, your essay will answer your thesis statement, and it will develop your ideas clearly and coherently. It will make sense to the examiner on the first reading. This is crucial. If the examiner has to stop and re-read a part of your essay, it usually means it lacks coherence. This will limit your score.
5. Do Not Repeat Keywords or Phrases (when possible)
First, make sure you understand how to use referencing and substitution to make your writing more cohesive and more interesting. Getting this wrong will limit you to a Band 6 or lower.
Show the examiner your range of vocabulary by using good collocations and synonyms where possible. Using idioms unnecessarily or inappropriately will limit your score too, so don’t try to use in phrases that you have been taught if they don’t fit.
To get a grammar score of 7 or more, you need to use a variety of complex structures. A mixture of simple, compound and complex structures will show your range to the examiner. Appropriate use of passive and active voices will also help here.
6. Try To Leave Time To Check Your Work
We ALL make mistakes when we are writing, particularly when we are in a hurry. Try to leave a few minutes at the end to check your spelling, verb tenses, word forms and articles. If you have more than a few errors, you will again be limited to a Band 6 or lower.
It’s probably too late to check your range of sentence structures by this stage, so make sure you use a good range when writing!
Make Your Process a Habit
Make your process a habit for ALL of your essay writing, not just on test day. If you follow your process when you are practicing, it will come more easily to you on test day, even when you are a bag or nerves!
And remember to be flexible. If you write a thesis statement and then get half way through your outline and can’t think of a good topic sentence or example, change your thesis statement. If you get the outline right, the essay is half written already!
Practice IELTS Task 2 Writing
Practice makes perfect, so make sure you understand and practice all aspects of the essay writing task.
- Make sure you know what is expected for each question type. IDP has some good information here.
- Get some ideas. You can’t write a great essay if you have no ideas or little understanding. Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach is designed for increasing understanding and confidence in the common IELTS topics for writing and speaking.
- Get a trainer or learn how to grade yourself using the Public IELTS Band descriptors. We have a free course that will help right here.
We haven’t talked here about essay structures. In general, IELTS essays follow a 4 or 5 paragraph format. The important thing is to answer the question with as many paragraphs as you need, with the required content: opinion, problem/solution, argumentative, advantage/disadvantage, or a combination of these.
In the blog Planning Lessons, I went into some detail about one particular essay format that can work well for some question types. It’s called SPSE, and can work well for problem/solution essays, or even for argumentative essays.
We will have a look at some other structures in other blogs, so make sure you keep an eye out for them!
If you do ALL of this, your essay writing WILL improve, and so will your IELTS score. Guaranteed! But it takes time and effort, there are no shortcuts to high scores. Good luck!!