The IELTS Writing Task 2 is one of the most difficult sections of the IELTS. It is, in case you are unfamiliar, the essay writing section of the exam, which means both your answers and your examiner’s opinion are highly subjective. In other words, correct answers are not entirely based on fact.
The key to succeeding in Writing Task 2 is to understand the task, know what the examiners are looking for and use a few of the following tips to score a band 7 or higher (and to avoid common, simple mistakes). And once you know the basics, you can take your score even higher with this top-rated Success in IELTS Writing course.
A Brief Introduction: How It Works
Let’s just quickly review how Writing Task 2 works. For starters, it’s an essay question. Your response will be based on a short statement or passage. After reading the passage, you will be asked a question that will require you to supply reasons and/or examples to support your claim.
How It’s Graded: Your essay will be graded on four criteria: Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Important: You must note that all four criteria are weighted equally. While this is good news for someone worried about losing half their points on Grammar, it still means you can lose 25% of your score if you neglect just one of them. You need well-rounded responses.
Timing: You normally have 40 minutes or so to complete your essay, but that time goes quickly if you aren’t prepared or don’t know what you’re doing. The tips below are designed to help save you time, make you more efficient and provide a fool-proof method of working through an IELTS Writing Task 2.
If you’re looking for tips and advice on how to handle the other sections of the IELTS, check out this awesome Express IELTS preparation course for quick and comprehensive instruction.
1. Answer The Question You Are Asked
It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are: anyone can speed through a question and miss a vital piece of information or instruction. It’s generally considered good test taking skills to underline all important information. For Task 2, you should underline background information in the short passage (and key words in the question itself).
You do not want to simply write about the topic in question. Take the following sample question: “Do you support Mr. Anderson’s claim about violence in our culture?” You do not want to write about your opinion of violence; you want to write about Mr. Anderson’s opinion, which will be supplied in the accompanying passage, and give reasons why you do or do not support it.
For actual sample questions and information regarding the structure of the writing section, refer to this great IELTS Writing Tips And Sample Questions post.
2. Original Material
While it’s ok, and sometimes even encouraged, to use parts of the question or passage in your answer, don’t take entire sentences or sections from it. Even if you copy them in an acceptable manner, you are tampering with the ever-important word count. Usually the word count is either 150 or 250 words. You are expected to write AT LEAST that many words, but if you write more than 50 extra words (200 or 300, respectively) then you will lose points for lack of efficiency. When you copy sentences, your examiner will not count them as part of your word count, which means you could accidentally slip under the limit and lose points.
3. Time Management
For a 250 word essay, you should spend about 40 minutes on it (you have one hour to complete all of the writing section, so you will need 20 minutes for Task 1). While you will be feeling rushed to make sure you finish, it’s better to take 5-10 minutes to think about your response and map it out. That still leaves you with 30 minutes to write 250 words; just to give you an example, if you combine “A Brief Introduction” and “Tip #1” from this post, that’s 290 words. What I’m trying to say is it’s not that many words and the examiner is not interested in how much you can write in 40 minutes. The examiner is interested in how well you write, so planning ahead is, truly, one of the most important things you can do.
4. Write The Essay First
As I briefly mentioned above, you have one hour to complete Tasks 1 and 2 of the writing section and it’s up to you how much time you spend on each task. Almost anyone will tell you to write the essay first. It carries more weight than Task 1 and this will ensure that you finish it on time. Still, try to keep the time devoted to the essay to 40 minutes or less.
This five-star course on Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing can provide you with a comprehensive refresher on how to construct the perfect essay.
5. Coherence And Cohesion Tip
This is one of the four grading criteria. You will be judged on how well you can string together thoughts, sentences and paragraphs. The most difficult thing for most people to accomplish is stringing together paragraphs. There’s actually a rather easy way to do this, assuming the paragraphs you are stringing together are coherent.
Example: Let’s say you are writing about the advantages and disadvantages of using coal as a source of energy. In your first paragraph, you might discuss the advantages, while in the second you discuss the disadvantages. How do you make the jump between paragraphs so that the reader can follow your train of thought? It all happens in the last sentence of your first paragraph; you just need to hint at what comes next: “While coal provides a relatively safe and reliable source of energy, it does not come without a number of detrimental side effects.” Now the reader is primed to read about coal’s “detrimental side effects.” And remember, cohesion accounts for 25% of your grade, so practice a few of these on your own.
6. Get Inside The Examiner’s Head
Keep in mind that whoever your examiner is, he or she will have read many hundreds of IELTS Writing Task 2 responses. You don’t need to blow them away with a Nobel-Prize winning response, but you do need to get their attention. The examiner is going to be looking for the four main criteria I mentioned, so make sure your essay looks organized and is easy to understand. It’s better to err slightly on the side of simplicity than to write something so complex the examiner cannot understand it. If you were the examiner, you wouldn’t want to have to retrace the writer’s steps to try to make sense of it.
You should get inside your own head, too, at least when it comes to deciding whether to take the IELTS or TOEFLs. This post on IELTS vs. TOEFLs can help you figure out which English language exam is right for you.
7. Lexical Resource Tip
Lexical resource can be very, very deceiving. Honestly, you don’t have to use long, strange or impressive words. Lexical resource merely refers to the variety of language you use. Whatever words you use, avoid repetition. When you’re finished writing your essay, you should go back and quickly see if you used any words multiple times, especially the easy ones: very, good, important, difficult, etc. All it takes is five seconds to change “very” to “extremely,” or “good” to “satisfactory” (or, if the situation permits, “excellent”).
If you really want to boost your lexical resourcefulness, I suggest taking a slightly more advanced writing class such as this Writing Strategies course designed to help professionals or students immediately refine their writing skills for success.
8. How To Score Above A Band 6
To score above a Band 6 (out of a possible 9), there are several things you can do to raise your chances for success. Your score is determined in the following manner: you receive a score of 1-9 on the four main criteria. The average of these scores is your final score. In other words, you have to perform well across the board to score highly.
Penalties: Penalties are the number one reason people fail to score higher than a Band 6. If you can avoid the penalties and write a respectable essay, you have an excellent change of scoring highly.
- Use Paragraphs: That’s right: just by using paragraphs, you quality for a higher score. Don’t just write one long paragraph; you will not score highly because one paragraph is not technically an essay. Use paragraphs and use them correctly. Check out this great blog post on paragraph writing examples for more rules and suggestions.
- Linking Words: This is half penalty, half skill. Basically, if you don’t use complex sentences, you cannot score above a Band 6 (it’s literally written into the rules). You should have a list of linking words at your disposal, so that you can easily form complex sentences.
Now that you’ve got a better idea of how to ace your IELTS Task 2, round out your high scores by acing Part 1 of the IELTS with these top 5 reasons students score poorly (and how to avoid them).