IELTS students often ask how to improve their academic writing. Here are some things that might make the difference between an IELTS band 6 written answer and an IELTS band 7.
Academic writing tends to be abstract, not personal. It is also very objective. It is not usual to express emotion or use personal pronouns such as ‘’we”, “us” or “you’’.
Academic writing uses big chunks of nouns to pack meaning into the sentences. Often verbs are made into nouns. This is called nominalisation (noun-making).
Look at the example sentences below with the noun groups in bold:
Which one sounds more academic to you?
Did you choose sentence 2? Yes, it is better. Why? The main reason is that by changing the verbs in sentence one into more abstract nouns, we remove the need for ‘people’, therefore the writing has a less personal feeling. Notice also how the action verb “has led to” shows the connection between the sentences much better i.e. it is the fault of humans.
Read the sentences below. Can you fill the gaps with nouns, keeping the same meaning?
(Scroll to the bottom to see the answer)
By building up your use of abstract nouns, and removing the noun “humans” and personal pronoun “we”, you are creating a more remote, objective sentence which is typical of academic writing.
So why not try this when you are practising your IELTS writing? Is it possible to change some of your verbs into nouns which are more abstract? Also, try to use less personal pronouns.
Practising this till you can master it, might help you towards the band 7 you need.
Answers to above gap fill: water pollution/easy solution.
Task 1 in the academic IELTS writing exam involves describing a table, graph, chart, process or map. While there are different things you may be asked to describe, the most important thing you have to do in all the questions is provide an overview.
An overview is a sentence (or two) that describes the main trends or patterns in the thing you are describing. A good way to think about an overview is to imagine you needed to explain the information to someone on Twitter. What is the most important thing you could tell them in one tweet? The overview can be anywhere in your answer but it is good to put it in the introduction so that the reader will see your overview from the beginning.
To find the overview, you need to think about the big picture. In a graph, for example, you need to look at the beginning and end and any major changes. Think about what comparisons you can make between categories.
Look at the picture below and think about the overview. What do you see as the most important features? There should be two things you notice.
The example shows the performance of men and women in different running events. A good overview should make note of at least two main features. First, men are always faster than women. Second, the longer the race, the bigger the difference between men and women becomes.
Your complete overview should combine these two features together into a clear sentence. Then in the rest of your answer you can provide some details to illustrate your answer.
When writing an essay, do you ever get confused about how to use paragraphs? It is so important to plan the structure of your essay and then follow with good use of paragraphs.
In academic writing, a paragraph usually starts with a topic sentence. This is a sentence containing the main idea for that paragraph. Normally, one main idea per paragraph works best. For example, a topic sentence for an essay paragraph on the advantages studying abroad might be:
One of the main benefits of studying abroad is the development of independence.
This a clear topic sentence for the reader. The paragraph can now be developed by giving an example or illustration of this topic. It does not need to be statistical and can be from your own personal experience or knowledge. Sentence two might be as follows:
Students have the responsibility not only to study hard, but also they may need to develop domestic skills such as cooking, ironing their clothes and doing housework.
The example gives more strength to the observation about increased independence. It is okay to mention a difficulty or negative aspect next in this paragraph, but remember that overall, the ending of the paragraph should be on a positive note to match the topic sentence. The third sentence to close the paragraph could be like this:
Although learning to cook, doing shopping and other daily chores can take up students’ study time, these things are key to developing as an independent adult.
By putting these three sentences together you have developed a logical paragraph, with a clear topic sentence followed by examples and rounding off on the same topic of independence. This helps coherence and cohesion, which are included in the marking descriptors of the examiners.
Try planning a few paragraphs on an IELTS essay topic and see if you can follow those logical steps as described above. Happy writing!
Task 2 in the academic IELTS writing paper involves writing an essay. Something that will really help your answer is taking a couple of minutes before you start writing to plan your answer. Planning may seem like a waste of time, particularly when you are under pressure in an exam. However, there are two main reasons it is beneficial to use some of the time planning.
The most important reason is that Task 2 is marked on Task Response. This means the examiner is looking at how fully you answer the question. Your answer has to address every part of the question prompt. For example, consider the question below.
In achieving personal happiness, our relationships with other people (family, friends, colleagues) are more important than anything else. Issues such as work and wealth take second place. Do you agree or disagree?
To answer this question you would need to discuss how relationships contribute to personal happiness, what else can contribute to our happiness, and also have a clear opinion. If you only focus on personal relationships then you couldn’t score too well on Task Response. Similarly, if you discuss different factors that contribute to happiness but don’t have a clear opinion you also wouldn’t score very well.
There will be a few things you need to talk about in the essay and this brings us to the second reason why planning is important. Your answer will also be assessed on Coherence and Cohesion. This means the examiner will be looking at the organization of your essay, how the ideas flow logically through the essay and how effective your paragraphs are. Before you begin you should have a clear idea about how many paragraphs you are going to have and the purpose of each paragraph. For this answer you could have
Do you ever think “I don’t know how to start my essay!” Well let’s look at two common types of IELTS Part 2 essay questions.
Studying or working in a foreign country as a gap year between finishing secondary school and going to university has great benefits for young people and should be encouraged.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
For this type of essay, first you need to have an opinion. For questions saying “to what extent” you don’t need to give more than one view i.e. you might think it is completely true, or false and your essay may be very persuasive. If you partly agree, your essay will be more balanced and you can write about advantages and disadvantages.
Spend a few minutes brainstorming ideas and planning your essay. A good plan for your paragraphs may be like this:
Another type of common question is “discuss” type question. On the same topic, here’s an example:
Some people believe that working in a foreign country after secondary school for a year prepares young people better for university. Others think that it is a waste of time and after secondary school, the students should go straight to university.
Discuss both those views and give your opinion.
For this type of essay, it is important to write about both views in your essay or you will lose marks on achievement of the task. A good plan for your paragraphs may be like this:
To sum up, if you see ‘’discuss’’ in the question then you need to write about more than one view. If the question says ‘’to what extent do you agree?’’ you can be one-sided and persuasive by having a few good arguments.
Did you know that the essay in Part 2 of the IELTS test is worth twice as much as Part 1? So it’s really important to make a good effort in your essay. You only have 60 minutes to complete both parts of the writing test so it’s a good idea to start with the essay and leave the descriptive task to the last 20 minutes of the test.
So how do you write a good essay? It sounds obvious to say “read the question carefully” but it’s amazing how many candidates skim the question and write an essay that is off-topic or only partly answers the question. For example for this question “Teenagers should have part-time jobs while still in secondary school. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.” You might write only about the advantages or the disadvantages of teenagers working part-time. If you only talk about one side, you are not fully answering the question and would score low in “task achievement”. See this link for the public descriptors.
When you read the question, underline key words to keep you on track. Then make a plan. It might be a simple table of “for” and “against” ideas for a discussion essay or a bullet point list for paragraphs. If you don’t spend a few minutes doing a plan, then your essay is far more likely to go off-track and give you a lower score in “Task Achievement”. A plan should give your essay direction and lead to a relevant conclusion. Your plan is also very helpful for organising your paragraphs.
Let’s move on to paragraphs. If you don’t use them (some candidates forget to use paragraphs), then your score is lower for “Coherence and Cohesion”(see the link above). Paragraphs should have one main topic with a good opening sentence, usually called the topic sentence. Follow the topic sentence by evidence or an example to make it easy for the reader to follow. There is nothing worse than an essay which doesn’t flow logically. It is really hard for the reader if there are no paragraphs.
Finally, have a concluding paragraph to bring your ideas together and express your view. Even if you have given your opinion at the start of your essay, it’s a good idea to paraphrase (say it again in different words) to give strength to your viewpoint. So, remember the importance of the essay plan and your paragraphing.
If you have good grammar and a wide vocabulary (see the last two marking descriptors) it would be a shame if the first two descriptors let you down, simply by lack of planning and paragraphing.
When you are writing Part 1 of the IELTs writing test, one of the examiner’s marking criteria is Task Achievement. This criteria can often be the one which causes candidates to lose points in their writing.
So what does ‘’task achievement’’ mean and how can you score well on this?
Task achievement is how fully you cover the main points in the question. This could be for example, the main trends for a graph question, the main stages for a process question, or the three bullet points in a General Training letter. Let’s look at each in turn.
Let’s say for the Academic IELTS writing, you need to describe population data for Britain, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore from a line graph. Each of the four countries would need to be mentioned in your answer or you could risk losing task achievement marks. This would bring your score down under band 6. Look for the main trends too and make sure you describe them. If you miss a main trend or don’t support it with data, you can score under band 6 for task achievement.
For Part 1 process questions in the Academic Writing paper, you must be sure to mention all the steps in the process question. For example, if the diagram shows the process of recycling glass, you should write about each step – even just a sentence is fine.
For the General Training letter, normally there will be three clear bullet points. You need to mention each of these in your letter, or points will be lost by not effectively achieving the task. You don’t need to write the same amount for each point; just cover the three points.
If you are careful to cover the main points, then you are on the road to achieving band 6 or above.
Have a look at Task Achievement in the public band descriptors below
5.5 can be a frustrating result in the IELTS writing paper. You might find yourself getting the 6.0 you need in the other papers but you keep getting 5.5 in the writing paper. We’re going to look at each marking criteria in turn to see what might be going wrong.
Perhaps the most likely cause of getting 5.5 is Task achievement. For both Part 1 and Part 2 of the writing paper you need to answer the question clearly. In Part 1 this means you clearly state the overview (what are the main features or trends that you can see) and some supporting detail. In Part 2 make sure your answer to the question is clear in either the introduction, conclusion, or both. If your answer isn’t clear to the examiner you won’t get a 6.0.
The second thing the examiner looks at is the coherence and cohesion of your answer. Are you ideas organised logically? Are they connected together effectively? In Part 2, do you have effective paragraphs that deal with one main idea each? To do well in this criteria make sure you spend some time planning before you start writing so you can think about how your ideas are connected together. Remember to use a range of conjunctions (what is more, furthermore, additionally, moreover).
The next criteria is your use of vocabulary. This takes in things like spelling, so make sure you learn to avoid your common spelling errors. You should also be careful with prepositions as effective use of phrasal verbs can be a big help. It’s also vital that you try to use a range of vocabulary and make full use of synonyms and alternative ways of saying the same thing. The examiner is looking to see how wide your vocabulary is so show as much as you can.
The final thing the examiner will look at is your grammar. You make think that to get a 6.0 you need to avoid mistakes and so you may try to keep your language simple and error free. However, you are more likely to get a 6.0 by trying to use more complex language and making mistakes rather than using very basic language perfectly.
The best advice to avoid 5.5 is to take some time to work on your common errors and in the test itself spend a bit of time planning and use the widest variety of language you can. Good luck!