One of the most challenging parts of the IELTS general exam is task 2 of the writing test. This is where you need to write a relatively long essay, and people typically find that this is where they lose the most points in their attempt to get an overall high score for IELTS.
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Perhaps this problem stems from a misunderstanding about IELTS writing or English in general. In this article, I will explain everything that you need to know about IELTS general writing task 2 so that you will have the best possible chance to ace the test. I’ll also include some helpful tips at the end to help you prepare effectively.
An Overview of IELTS General Writing Task 2
In the IELTS general writing test, you have to produce a letter for task 1 and an essay for task 2. The essay should be at least 250 words and as its value is approximately twice as great as that of the letter portion of the test, you should spend a full 40 minutes doing this section.
- Task Achievement
- Coherence and Cohesion
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
This means that you need to write an essay that features reasonable ideas that are sufficiently explained, with a good, logical structure, and of course it must have accurate language use. A good balance of these will help you get a great score.
As for the questions that you will be asked, these could take a number of forms and will cover a range of topics, including health, technology, society, ethics, science, and so on. You will not need a specialist knowledge of any area in order to do this but having the ability to logically discuss ideas and some background general knowledge can really help you.
Types of Question
When preparing for IELTS general writing task 2, it is essential to know the types of question that are commonly asked. This is because there are only a finite number of possibilities, and whilst those could be combined with a wide range of topics, knowing these types of question can make it much easier to get ready to do the test.
There are five types of IELTS writing task 2 question:
- Opinion Essays
- Discussion Essays
- Problem Solution Essays
- Advantages & Disadvantages Essays
- Double Question Essays
Each of these requires a slightly different approach in writing an answer, and so it is worthwhile examining sample questions and perhaps looking at sample answers to see how others have attempted to deal with it.
You can more or less use the same structure for each question, though. A four paragraph structure will typically function for all question types, although some complicated issues may require five paragraphs. Nevertheless, any intelligent use of paragraphing will greatly help you achieve a high score for Task Achievement and Coherence and Cohesion.
Remember to treat each question individually. Don’t try to think of any formula to answer an Advantages and Disadvantages question, for example, and don’t trust anyone who can tell you they can predict upcoming questions. Instead, take what you are given and do your best at analysing and answering it.
How to Prepare for IELTS Writing Task 2
People tend to focus on the wrong things when preparing for IELTS general writing task 2. They fixate upon learning set structures, phrases, and lists of vocabulary. However, none of these things are particularly helpful.
Instead, when preparing for IELTS writing task 2, you should aim to analyse the question carefully, write an answer that is directly in response to it, structure your ideas logically, and use language accurately. By doing this, you will have the best chance of a high score.
That is because all of these are what the examiners look for when they mark your essay. As I mentioned earlier, there are those four marking criteria. These specifically task the examiner with checking for content, structure, and language. However, there are many common misinterpretations of the marking criteria. Namely, people think that they have to include as many ideas as possible and use as obscure language as they can find. These are terrible ideas, however.
Aim instead to write essays that present just a few main ideas, with each idea taking up one paragraph. Make sure that every idea is fully explained and justified. Then use language that you actually know how to use. Do not use so-called “advanced vocabulary” that some YouTube teacher gives you. These words are rubbish and have no purpose.
Remember that you are being graded on “range and accuracy.” This means you need a variety of structures, but having a variety is pointless unless there is also a high degree of accuracy. It is better to go for a mixture of the two than to focus exclusively on one area.
Finally, when preparing for IELTS writing task 2, you must remember to practise with a set time limit. If you can write an amazing essay in 90 minutes, it’s good… but it will not help you for the real exam. Thus, you should make sure to practise in fairly realistic IELTS test conditions. Make sure that you stick to the word count and time limit, at least in the weeks before your actual exam date.
Introductions and Conclusion
Don’t forget when writing an IELTS general writing task 2 essay that you must structure it properly. This entails having a proper introduction and conclusion. The introduction should tell the reader what the question was about and then set out your aims or opinion (as necessary). This will help guide them through the body paragraphs.
Some people say that you should paraphrase the question, but this is not entirely true. Whilst it is a good aim for people who are at about band 5 or 6, you will not impress the examiner if you are aiming much higher than that. Paraphrasing comes with many problems, including unnatural language and inaccurate meanings. Instead, try to think what the question really means and then re-write it yourself.
For the conclusion, you should write one or two sentences that cover what you have discussed, drawing together your ideas simply and logically. Do not stray off topic and do not fall into the trap of becoming overly personal or including ideas such as “governments should…” when this is not required. Instead, just summarise the main issue and ideas and wrap up your essay neatly and logically.
Some Writing Task 2 Tips
Finally, here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do in order to succeed at writing a great task 2 essay:
- Don’t write too much or too little. If you write too little, you will lose marks for not fulfilling the criteria for Task Achievement. If you write too much, you will run out of time before you can complete the essay, and you will make more mistakes.
- Keep it simple. Don’t include too many ideas. For every idea that you do include, make sure it is on topic and fully explained. Don’t just say something and move on to the next idea.
- Referencing is important. By this, I mean you must use pronouns carefully. Whenever you say “it” or “they,” ask what you are describing. It should point back to an obvious noun in the previous sentence.
- Don’t use fancy words. They won’t help you. Any tutor who claims there is a word you “need to use” is a liar. Just use the right word for each situation and ignore buzzwords that you read online.
- Avoid clichés. People like to use set phrases in their essays because it is easy, but these are often clichés. Think of “double edged sword” and “broaden my horizons.” These are really annoying and unhelpful phrases that too many people use. If you want a good score, avoid these at all costs.