IELTS writing and speaking are two of the test’s areas that test-takers have the most trouble with. Both of these skills are active skills; that means you have to be engaged and present while practicing them. This is the opposite of the passive skills listening and reading which you can practice without active participation. So what can you do to prepare for your IELTS writing test?
Here are 10 things you can do today to increase your band score:
- Show off vocab
- Plan thoroughly.
- Write enough words
- Organize your ideas
- Use appropriate tone
- Focus on the question.
- Understand the question.
- Know the question types.
- Select Important information.
Before hopping into the tips, it’s important to understand the expectations examiners have for candidates. You need to ensure you are achieving all of the following in order to earn the band score you need from the IELTS test. Make sure you read and understand each expectation and how it contributes to your band score.
|Task Achievement (task 1)/|
Task Response (task 2)
|Coherence & Cohesion||25%|
|Grammatical Range &|
Check out my overview of the IELTS test here!
Task Achievement & Task Response
Task achievement refers to how accurately you complete the first task. In writing task 1, you will have to describe a data set. You will be given a graph, chart, or diagram and you will have to explain the set of data or processes shown by the graphic.
Your main job will be to summarize the information presented to you in your own words. Many questions you receive will provide you with a brief explanation of what you are looking at. Your task is also to summarize the information, so make sure you are writing this summary in your own words. You also need to accurately identify the main features or themes of the information and organize them logically while presenting them with a proper style.
Writing task 2 evaluates a different set of writing skills. You need to read and understand an opinion question and structure a response. You need to be able to clearly develop your ideas and present them in a logical way to the reader. The examiners will be looking for your ability to expand on the ideas you present and support them with well reasoned arguments. You must do this all while presenting your ideas in proper academic style.
Coherence & Cohesion
Coherence means your ability to present your ideas to your reader in a way that is easy to understand. If you lack coherence, this means that your reader is unable to understand what you are trying to say. In order to maintain coherence, you will need to structure your ideas in a clearly. This means making proper use of linking words and signposting language.
Proper writing structure directly contributes to cohesion, which is the flow and logical structure of your writing. If you have strong cohesion, your ideas are linked together in an easy to understand way. When someone reads your writing it should be easy to follow and anticipate the direction of your thoughts because you have written them in a way that the reader can easily grasp.
Coherence and cohesion work together to provide your reader with a comfortable and easy reading experience. The examiner will be carefully dissecting your writing to see if you are able to effectively structure your writing to aid in creating this environment for your reader.
This is your ability to use a wide range of English vocabulary while writing. You want to make sure that you are showing off your English vocabulary to the examiner. While marking your writing, the examiner will be looking at the way you use words to determine your lexical resource. This is not only the types of words your use but also your ability to use them accurately and naturally. The examiner will also look for phrases, such as collocations, while marking your writing. If you make proper use of these while you write, you will see the effort reflected in your band score.
Grammatical Range & Accuracy
The examiner will be evaluating your ability to use proper grammatical structures while writing. You must exhibit your ability to use a range of grammatical devices while maintaining accuracy. You should be trying to vary the types of grammar you use while you write. It will directly affect your band score if you are only using one type of tense or exclusively writing in simple sentences. So make sure you’re varying your grammatical style while writing.
It’s important to understand that, while the examiner is also evaluating your accuracy, it is important to make an attempt to vary your grammar even if you end up making a mistake. Making no attempt at all to show your grammatical range is worse than making a few mistakes here and there. However, you do want to limit the amount of errors you make. Keep this in mind while you’re writing and try to limit your use of grammatical devices you are not comfortable with.
Practice is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for the IELTS exam. There is no better way to learn than through direct experience. You need to practice the IELTS writing tasks if you do not have experience writing academic English. This style of English writing has specific rules that need to be followed for you to be successful.
In addition, task 1 involves dealing with various types of data that require you to use different skills when writing about them. In writing task 1, you may be asked to:
- describe a process in detail
- describe and explain a data set
- explain how something works
- describe an object or event
These types of questions require you to present the information in different ways. In some questions you may need to compare and contrast data while in another question you may only need to explain a data set or process in as much detail as possible.
Task 2 requires you to respond to a question in an essay-style. The writing skills required will be similar to those in task 2. You will still need to order your ideas in a clear and concise way, and you will need to present an argument in an academic style.
The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to have experience writing them. You need to practice these skills so that you can efficiently answer the questions. Remember, you are given a total of 60 minutes for the writing test. Task 1 should take you a maximum of 20 minutes and task 2 should be 40 minutes. Therefore, effective time management will be a must. There will be no one at the test telling you when you should move on from one task to the other. This is why practice is vitally important. You don’t only need to be accurate with your writing, but you need to be quick as well.
2. Show off your vocabulary
The IELTS test expects that you will be able to showcase a wide range of vocabulary while answering the writing tasks. Test-takers should exhibit their language skills by using synonyms (words that are different but mean the same thing) to avoid repeating themselves while writing. This is a common English writing technique even outside of the IELTS test.
While writing in English, you want to avoid using the same word multiple times in a row. This repetition makes your writing bland and boring to read. Candidates who want to increase their vocabulary skills should increase their interaction with English material to learn vocabulary in context. I already wrote about the best way to learn new vocabulary. You will want to change your habits if your primary way to learn new vocabulary is flash cards and word lists. These ways are incredibly inefficient and, quite frankly, boring.
3. Plan Thoroughly
You will be presented with a very information dense graph, chart, or diagram during writing task 1. It is wise to make sure you completely understand and plan a rough structure for your piece of writing before you begin. Depending on the type of question, you will need to compare and contrast information or explain in detail a process, object or event. This isn’t something you should jump straight into without prior planning. Make sure you understand the steps required to answer each type of writing task 1 question and are planning your writing ahead.
Planning will also be vital for writing task two. The essay-like nature of the question means that you will be laying out the foundation for your writing in the opening lines, so you will plan for task 2 more explicitly than you will for task one. For academic test-takers, this will be a critical skill for you to learn. A large part of your English academic life will be spent writing essays on various topics. So learning and understanding proper essay structure now will greatly contribute to a successful academic career.
4. Write enough words
There are word count requirements for the two writing tasks. Task 1 requires 150 words while task 2 requires you to write 250. You won’t have enough time to sit and count each passage for the amount of words you’ve written, so you will need a way to estimate your word count. There are two avenues available to you.
The IELTS test can be taken as a written test or you can do a computer based test. There are pros and cons for each depending on how comfortable you are with typing on a computer. The testing experience for both is similar so it really only boils down to whether or not you are comfortable typing on a keyboard for your test.
The main draw to taking the computer based test is that your word count is displayed while you type your answer. This is useful because you don’t have to estimate your word count. It will be displayed for you as you type. Some people may find this distracting, if this is you then consider the written test.
If you do take the written test, the main way for you to estimate the length of your passage is to use the lines as a guide. You will write your test on a piece of paper with standard line sizes. This means that you can use the practice that you do as a model. Look at the average amount of words you write per line. If you write 10 words per line on average, you need to write 15 lines for task 1 and 25 lines for task 2. This way you can easily estimate the amount of words you’ve written without explicitly counting all the words. You avoid wasting a lot of your time this way. Remember you only have 60 minutes.
Many students feel pressured to extend their answers by wording things in a complex way. This is a mistake. You make your writing more difficult to understand when you use more words. You want to write simply and clearly to express your ideas. This makes it easy for your reader to follow and understand your thoughts. Look at this example:
There will almost quite certainly be a very enormous dinner for the purpose of eating tonight.
This is a very simple idea stated in a very confusing way. Expressing your ideas with more words does not make them sound more intelligent or impress your reader. It just makes you harder to understand. If you want to impress your reader, you should do it by presenting good ideas clearly. Let’s clean that sentence up:
There will be an enormous dinner to eat tonight.
You want to maintain clarity by writing simply. I have written an article about writing clear English here. You can find information about how to write more clearly there.
5. Organize your ideas
The examiner will be expecting you to organize and present your ideas logically. You can do this by using linking words to join related ideas together. This is why planning your writing before you start will be important to your success. If you start writing before you understand the question and have an idea of how you will structure your writing, you will have a difficult time joining your ideas together appropriately.
The main way to effectively organize your ideas is to use linking words. Two examples of linking word categories are:
- conjunctive adverbs
I’ve already written an introduction to conjunctions. If you need a simple and clear explanation of conjunctions, give it a read.
A conjunctive adverb is a word you can use to link your ideas together. They are similar to conjunctions, but they don’t link sentences together directly. They link the ideas of a sentence. Let’s take a look at an example:
He forgot about the cookies. They were burnt.
These two sentences are probably related, but you don’t have any way to know for sure because there is no word there which signals the relationship between the two sentences. You can use a conjunctive adverb here to join the ideas together.
He forgot the cookies. Therefore, they were burnt.
In this example, the word therefore is the conjunctive adverb joining the two scenarios together. This will improve the cohesion of your writing by explicitly signaling your ideas to your reader. You might think that your ideas are obvious to the reader, but you should not make this assumption. Your reader is not in your head with you; they don’t know what you were thinking when you wrote. So you need to clearly write your ideas and link them together logically.
Many students use word lists and flash cards to learn new words. This isn’t an effective way to learn new vocabulary. When you learn words in this way, you make it very likely that you will misuse them in the future. If you learn new words in isolation, you don’t learn the important context to go along with the word. Context tells you important information about how a word is used. Your time will be better spent by reading a new book, listening to English music, or watching an English TV series or movie and then practicing using real English by writing or speaking.
The great part about learning vocabulary this way is that it is a lot more fun than reading a mind numbing word list continuously until you memorize words. You will easily remember new words if you can tie them to a good, memorable experience.
6. Use appropriate tone
Academic test-takers are expected to use appropriate academic style while completing the writing tasks. Understanding this point is not only important for your IELTS test but also your resulting academic career once you enroll in the institution of your choice. There are many considerations you need to keep in mind when you are writing in an academic style. The main ones are:
- Do not use contractions (don’t, can’t, won’t, etc.)
- Avoid stating things in the first person and talking about personal experiences for task 1 (“I think…”, “In my opinion…”)
- Use appropriate academic vocabulary
An academic style is a formal style. You won’t be writing using things like contractions and slang. If you do write this way, your band score will suffer because of it. You want to ensure you are presenting ideas objectively and without bias. An academic style is one where your ideas are presented as facts. You may want to consider writing in the passive voice when appropriate. Generally, writers avoid using the passive voice because it can make your writing more confusing to read. However, it can be used in certain situations to give your writing a more objective tone. You can also make use of it to extend your grammatical range.
You can use the passive voice to great effect in academic writing. Generally, sentences in English are written in the active voice. This means that the subject of the sentence comes first, verb comes next, and the object of the sentence comes last. This looks like the following sentence:
Penguins love fish.
This sentence is made up of three main parts.
- Penguins (subject)
- love (verb)
- fish (object)
You can clearly see who is doing the loving in the sentence because it is written in the active voice. The subject of the sentence appears in the first position. This is different from the passive voice which switches the positions of the subject and object.
Fish are loved (by penguins).
Instead, the object of the verb appears first in the sentence and the subject becomes an optional addition to the end of the sentence. You can completely drop the subject and still have a grammatical sentence.
Fish are loved.
When can I use passive?
- To emphasize a point
- He must pay $500. vs $500 must be paid.
- To give the opinions of others
- He thinks hand washing prevents illness. vs Hand washing is thought to prevent illness.
- When the doer of an action is unimportant
- The wind blows seeds. vs Seeds are blown by the wind.
The passive voice is only appropriate for writing task 1. You are required to give your opinion in writing task 2 questions. Your band score will suffer if you do not. Take care to only use the passive voice when it is appropriate.
Another consideration while writing is to use appropriate vocabulary. As I mentioned earlier, you want to avoid contractions in academic writing (if you aren’t sure what those are, I’ve written about them here). Contractions make your writing sound informal and lower the quality of it when you use them. It is similar when you use words such as: gonna, wanna, shoulda, etc. These words degrade the quality of your writing by making it sound casual and out of place. You want to avoid these because they are not part of an academic style.
It is the same idea for slang. While in the IELTS speaking test slang might be appropriate and even preferred, in the writing test it is not. You want to avoid using slang at all costs. The information should be presented formally and objectively in your writing.
7. Focus on the question
You want to make sure you are focusing on answering the question during the writing tasks. You can easily stray from the topic while writing. This is why it is important for you to fully understand the question, plan what you are going to say, and write it in an organized way. The structure provided by this method ensures that you don’t stray into unrelated topics and end up answering everything but the question you were originally asked. You want to make sure that your writing is completely focused on answering the question.
If you complete this and you notice that you need to write more words, you can bring in additional points to support the information you have already written. You don’t want to finish writing for your test only to find out that you answered a different question, or you answered the question in an uncertain way.
8. Understand the question
It will be easy for you to misunderstand the question if you are rushing to answer it. When you first begin to consider the writing tasks you need to read and fully understand what is being asked of you. At the top of each task is a small blurb describing what you are seeing (for task 1) and what you need to do (tasks 1 & 2). You must fully read and comprehend this blurb before you move on to organizing your ideas and thinking about what you will write.
The sample above shows a typical writing task 1 question. You will find two parts to each writing task one question. The first part describes what you are looking at. In this case, the data set will be a chart. You can use this description to understand what the data in the chart is saying.
The second part tells you what you must do. It is wise to use this as a structure for your answer. It lays out what you need to do in a logical order.
- Identify the main features
- Make comparisons
Notice that the first part of the question contains a summary of the chart already. You can use this to help inform your answer. It’s very important not to merely copy the summary into your answer. You should be restating this summary in your own words. You can use your skills at paraphrasing to accomplish this.
The above is an example of a writing task 2 question. This question is more open ended. It gives you an opportunity to present your opinions. Unlike task 1, you can write in the first person during task 2. In fact, it is a requirement. You will have to logically order your ideas and present them clearly. So you must understand the question. Read the question carefully and consider how you will answer it.
The best way to prepare for writing task 2 questions is to practice them. You should be exposed to a variety of task 2 questions. This way, you have experience working with many different types of questions. You will also develop a good understanding of how to properly structure an essay response.
If you do not take the time to understand the question, it will be easy for you to write something that either does not answer the question at all, or something that answers the question in a vague way. Remember the tip above. You want to be focused on the question when you answer it. You do not have time to be exploring topics that are only marginally related to the question. You can save these responses for extra information if you need to write more after you answer the question.
9. Know the question types
Knowing the types of questions you will be asked is critical to your success. The last thing you want is to go to your testing center on test day and be served a writing task question you have never seen before. You want to know and practice every single type of question possible on the IELTS test multiple times.
Writing Task 1 questions expect you to:
- Explain a process or event
- Compare and contrast data
- Read and report the data from a chart or graph
The main skill for writing task 1 questions is comparison. You must have the vocabulary necessary to logically organize data points and make sensible comparisons. All of the tips we have mentioned build upon each other to create an effective framework for answering the writing tasks.
You should be able to read and understand the question. Afterwards, you are identifying the most important features of the data set. Next, you need to organize your thoughts. Finally, you start to write.
Writing task 2 will ask for your opinion in essay format. It will not be possible to anticipate the question you will be asked, so you need to prepare for the second task by practicing a lot. You need to be able to clearly express your thoughts and opinions.
10. Select important information
An important part of writing task 1 will be your ability to parse a dense data set and choose the most important information from it. This is why completely understanding the question will be vital to your success. The charts, graphs, and diagrams presented to candidates for the first writing task are very dense. They include more information than you could possibly write clearly about in 20 minutes.
This is why the question asks for you to select the main features of the data set. Not all of the information will be important for answering the question. Your ability to identify the most important information in the data will be tested.
This is an example of a typical graph you will see for writing task 1. There is a lot of information packed into this graph. You won’t be able to effectively write about it all. So you need to pick the main features of the graph and write about those.
What do you think are the main features of the graph above? Here are some ideas:
- highs and lows (for both radio and TV)
- areas where the graphs are similar
These are the ideas you probably want to include in your writing. You want to ensure you’re picking data points that are relevant to the graph as a whole. The highs and lows are the most obvious starting points to consider. If you need additional information to cover to make your word count, add in additional ideas to pad your writing out. Keep in mind that you need to make comparisons, so you should be choosing data points that are easy for you to compare and contrast together.
A lot of information is packed into the IELTS writing test. You will need to understand how to read and process dense sets of data in graphs, carts, and diagrams. Developing a structure for your answer and organizing it in a clear way is an important skill that candidates must practice to achieve their desired band score.
Task 2 will test your writing abilities by requiring you to complete an opinion essay about a specific topic. You must practice to understand how this is done, especially if you have little experience with English essay writing.
It can be difficult for test-takers to improve their writing without focused feedback from an experienced instructor. Even native English speakers learn their writing skills in school. Consider investing in my IELTS consulting, if you feel that you need personalized help.
I also offer affordable IELTS writing task 1 and task 2 correction, if you don’t need 1 on 1 instruction.
That was everything you need to know about improving your IELTS writing test band score. I hope you picked up a couple tips.