Apart from all the information available on this site to help you write that high-scoring essay, here are a few tips and strategies to help you apply what you’ve practiced on the actual IELTS Writing test. Keep in mind that a standardized test has set structures, such as timing, word count, basic requirements, etc. This allows you to apply the elements of good writing to the structure given on the test.
- You are tired: In most test centers, the Writing section is completed following the Listening and Reading section. This means that by the time you begin the Writing section of the test, you will have completed the Listening and Reading sections, nearly two hours of English use that you will have already had to deal with. It is important that you maintain your focus for the Writing section and approach it with a strong plan. That is why it is highly recommended that you simulate a few full practice tests before test day.
- Which Task will you do first?: You have a choice as to which task you want to attempt first. You have 60 minutes for the entire Writing test; the 20- and 40-minute divisions (Task 1 and 2 respectively) are guidelines, not rules. You can even spend 30 minutes on each if you like. Although both Writing Tasks count toward your final score, the essay is weighted slightly more. If you have a difficult time with the essay, do it first. However, in your practice attempts before the official test, we recommend doing Task 1 then Task 2; Task 1 is shorter and more straightforward, there is less “imagination” required, and the word count is less. Get it out of the way and concentrate on the essay. Writing the essay and knowing you still have Task 1 to deal with will only add to the pressure.
- Be neat: Make sure the grader can read what you wrote. He/she will spend less than five minutes reading your essay. If they can’t see your ideas, they’ll give you a low score and move on. If you used a high-end word, but the grader can’t read it, then you have used childish English. If you wrote a powerful sentence, but the grader can’t read it, then you’ve written like a child. If you don’t have neat handwriting, start changing that right away. The same applies to crossing out errors. Practice with a pencil and get used to erasing mistakes, not crossing them out. Make it as easy as possible for the grader to read what you have written. NB: Whenever you begin a new paragraph, make sure you either leave a line between paragraphs, OR you indent the first line of the new paragraph (do not do both).
- Prepare: This site has useful information on how to approach Task 1 of the IELTS Writing section. Study, practice, be ready on test day.
- Timing: Plan to spend no more than 25 minutes on Task 1, though 20 would, of course, be better. Every extra minute you spend on Task 1 is one less minute you have to work on Task 2 (see above note).
- Plan your approach: Before you write your first word, make sure you know roughly what will be your 50th word, and your 100th, and 150th. Do not begin writing anything until you know what parts of the infographic you will focus on.
- The infographic: Understand what it is you’re looking at: a bar chart, line graph, pie chart, table, diagram, map, etc. Read the task and understand what information you are looking at. The test makers have given you the general outline of your report—use it! Make sure you understand the axes (vertical and horizontal) of your infographic, the beginning and end of the process described in your diagram, the headings in the rows and columns of your table. These will help you organize your report.
- Divide and conquer: In most reports you will need two body paragraphs—decide how you will split the information for each paragraph before you begin writing. Stick to this plan and write only the necessary information. Try to group elements in the infographic into general categories where applicable.
- Word count: You are required to write no less than 150 words; aim for 175. This is not a lot of words. Make sure you write what is necessary, and avoid repeating too many words, especially elements of the infographic. For example, if you are comparing the unemployment rate of five different cities, do not repeat the names of the cities. State them once in the introduction if you want, and then repeat a city name only in relation to information you are highlighting about it. If you write all five city names together, you are just filling the word count with meaningless information—this will hurt your score. If you have to mention something about all five cities then you are missing a focus for the report. Do not attempt to include all the details you see in the infographic; have a focus (see note above). That being said, content has to be limited to the information you are given; do not add information that is not provided on the page in front of you (even if the information you provide is correct), and especially, do not add an opinion.
- Introduction: Rephrase the task given to you and use as many new words as you can. For example, if the task says, “The diagram shows how A does B…” then you write in the introduction: “The infographic illustrates the way in which B is done by A. Keep this section short and straightforward; do not try to be pretty here.
- Me, myself, and I: These three pronouns should not appear anywhere in your report. Remember, this is a report, which means it is objective; you are not asked to give an opinion, to take a stand, to reach a conclusion, or to predict future outcomes, trends, or anything else. There is no you in this writing task.
- Writing is writing: Like the essay, you will be scored on your ability to communicate information in an engaging, correct, concise, and relevant way. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and variety, vocabulary usage and variety, all of these elements count toward your score.
- Time to move on: If 20 minutes have passed in the writing section and you are not finished Task 1, be prepared to spend 5 more minutes at most, wrap up the report, get to your minimum word count, and prepare yourself mentally for the essay. Let go of Task 1; Task 2 counts for more.
- Task 1 General test: All the above points apply for the letter writing section, with the obvious shift in focus. Plan your letter by understanding exactly what you are asked to do:
- Who are you writing to? Is this a casual, semi-formal, or formal letter? Choose your greeting accordingly.
- In the first paragraph, get to the point of the letter quickly. If this is a casual letter, say something friendly, then get to the point. If it is a formal letter, introduce the topic and then get to the point quickly.
- Don’t go too far beyond what you need to say; if you are writing a letter of complaint, don’t invent a history to back up your claim. Say what the problem is, how it has affected you, and maybe mention a previous occurrence of the same problem. Then get to the call-for-action part of the letter: what do you want the recipient of the letter to do?
- 150 is not a long letter. Stating what is needed according to the task should be enough to fulfill the word count requirement.
- Don’t forget the salutation (ending) according to the type of letter.
- Prepare: this site has useful information on how to approach Task 2 of the IELTS Writing section. Study, practice, be ready on test day.
- Word count: Aim for 300 words or more. Writing to the minimum of 250 will not get you the high score. 250 words is not sufficient to fully develop an essay.
- What are you doing?: Carefully read the task assigned and make sure you understand exactly what it is you are being asked. Do you have to take a stand, choosing one side over another? Do you have to provide an opinion about the cause of something? Do you have to suggest reasons that one thing is better or worse than another? Do you have to describe something? Do you have to compare or contrast things? Etc. There are different types of questions. Know what you have to do, because even if you can write a brilliant essay, but you write one that doesn’t address the task given, you will receive a lower score.
- Road map: Once you understand the task, plan your response. Do not begin to write until you have a clear idea of what your thesis is, what support you will provide to back it up (reasons and examples), and on what topic you will focus each body paragraph.
- Trust yourself: Once you begin your essay, one that is based on a plan, stick to the plan. Do not reach halfway through your essay and begin to think of new or better ideas. You do not have time for this. Go with the ideas in your plan and write them out. Remember, the graders don’t really care what you think about the topic; they care that you can present an argument, structure an essay, use good English, and mostly, address the topic directly.
- Language issues: To get a high score, you will need a few key elements in your essay:
- Use a variety of words. If you notice that you have used a word in a paragraph more than once, then change the second, third, etc. The only exceptions to this are words that do not have any/many synonyms. For example, parents may be repeated as often as necessary. Once, maybe twice you can say mother and father, or mother or father, but this becomes tedious. Use parents as often as you need. On the other hand, do not use face (a problem) more than once in an essay. Use deal with, handle, cope with, manage, etc.
- Use high-end words. Some test takers confuse this as meaning big words, or words with many syllables. This is not the case. International, for example, has 5 syllables, but is not a high-end word. Own, on the other hand, is a one-syllable, everyday word that hardly anyone utilizes in their essays. Most IELTS essay writers use the word have. This makes own a high-end word. (consider: I have a sports car. vs. I own a sports car.) Own is more direct, implies information that have does not, and most importantly, it is not used enough.
- Use as many different structures as you can. Using only simple sentences (SVO) will demonstrate that you do not have a range of structural ability with the language and need more time to learn and practice.
- Using the passive voice is not only OK, it is recommended (as long as you use it correctly and appropriately). The passive gives you another structure to use and add sentence variety to your essay.
- Make sure you can construct at least one strong complex-compound sentence (a sentence with two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause).
- Learn to utilize proper punctuation.
- Use transitions to link ideas within a paragraph, and to link one paragraph to the next. (in addition, another, in contrast, furthermore, therefore, thus, etc.) This is crucial to a high score.
- Make sure each paragraph contains only one central idea and that every sentence in that paragraph adds to and supports the central topic of that paragraph.
- Make sure the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs each do what they are supposed to.
The most important advice we can give: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Ideally, have someone check your work and give you feedback on it.