The IELTS writing test is widely considered the hardest part of the whole exam. There are many reasons for this, and so in this article I will explain a little about it to help you improve your chances of a good score. I’m going to list 5 do’s and 5 don’ts regarding IELTS writing. Read on if you want to find out the most important things to help you get a great score.
What you should do in IELTS writing
1. Make sure you have time to add a conclusion
One of the hardest parts of IELTS writing is doing two essays (or an essay and a letter) within the allotted time. You have just one hour to write a combined 400 words at minimum. One of the problems, then, is that people often run out of time and fail to finish their second essay. This means that they might not have time to write a conclusion.
The fact is that your essays should be completed by the end of the test so that they can function as full pieces of writing. Whilst there is no perfect structure, your essay should have a logical structure, and at the most basic this should involve an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
If you approach the end of the exam and you are running out of time, make sure to write a quick conclusion before the time is up. This will really help you as otherwise you could be deducted a lot of points.
2. Write neatly
This might seem obvious, but amid the stress of the exam and with all difficulties involved, people tend to write quickly and this causes their writing to become illegible. That can be a serious problem.
One of the issues with handwriting is that your words may not be totally clear to the reader. In the IELTS writing test, you need the examiner to be able to easily understand you. Having messy writing can really ruin your chances. Let’s say that you write the word “experience.” If the letters run together, it could look like another word, “experiment,” or even misspelled as “experence.” The IELTS examiner might not realise that you spelled it correctly. It can sometimes even be hard to understand a whole sentence, leading to a massive loss of points for the candidate.
If you have trouble with your handwriting in general, you should consider doing the computer-based IELTS test instead. This means you can type rather than write by hand.
3. Explain your ideas thoroughly
One of the most common problems in IELTS is that people just list ideas. Let’s say you have an advantages and disadvantages question. It is quite natural that you would simply write down five advantages and five disadvantages, but actually that is not a good idea for IELTS writing.
In this sort of test, you are required to show the development of your ideas and that means that everything you say should be explained and justified. If you give an advantage, you should talk about why it is advantageous and perhaps give an example or show how it relates to the main topic. This sort of development is exactly what the examiners need to see for a high Task Achievement score.
In fact, it is generally a good idea to write just one or two ideas per paragraph and then explain them in depth. You would get a much better score this way than by writing lots of ideas.
4. Aim for error-free sentences
Many people think that IELTS writing is about using the most complicated language possible, but this is a big misconception. In fact, it is far more important to aim for error-free sentences.
This might sound impossible because most IELTS test-takers do not know whether they are making a mistake or not, but most of them have some parts of the language in which they are confident. It is a good idea to use those parts as much as possible. If you can write complex sentences but struggle with compound sentences, then use the former more than the latter.
Ultimately, you will lose marks for every mistake you make, so try to limit them. You can’t dazzle the examiner with big words and complicated language, but you can impress them with error-free sentences.
5. Check your essay for mistakes
At the end of your IELTS writing test, you should devote a little time to reading your essay to find mistakes. Of course, you will not find all of the errors, but you will surely be able to find and remove a few, and this could be the difference between a band 6.5 and a band 7.
When checking for mistakes, look first for the errors that you most commonly make. Common mistakes include articles, prepositions, and verb tenses. Try to focus on these. Also look for words that may have been spelled incorrectly because you were writing too fast. These can be easy to find when you spend a few minutes checking.
What you should NOT do in IELTS writing
1. Don’t overuse advanced vocabulary
Probably the worst advice you could ever get for IELTS writing is “Use more advanced vocabulary,” yet unfortunately most unqualified teachers tell their students this. This reason is simple: That’s not how a language works!
If you try to use advanced vocabulary but your English skills are not very good, you will not be able to impress the examiner because those words will be incorrectly used. Instead, you should only use words that you are 100% sure of their meaning and usage.
Also avoid any sort of words that YouTubers tell you are “important” for IELTS because there is no such thing. Words like “myriad” and “plethora” have become IELTS clichés that really annoy examiners. Also, big and uncommon words send an immediate red flag to an examiner and will likely harm your chances of getting a good score.
2. Don’t write too much
Some people who think that their English skills are good want to write a 400 word essay to impress the examiner, but actually this tactic usually backfires. It is better to write an essay of around 260 to 290 words because this is likely to contain fewer errors and will take less time to write.
Think about the number of mistakes you will make. In a 260 word essay, you might make 10 errors, but in a 400 word essay, you could make 17 errors. This would mean that your final score would probably be lower!
Also, writing a very long essay will take you a long time and so you might not have time to check your answer for mistakes at the end. It is important to have that proofreading time at the end of your IELTS writing test, so don’t take too long and miss out.
3. Don’t go off topic
When you sit the IELTS writing test, it is quite easy to go off topic. By this, I mean that people often start writing about one thing but finish writing about another. This is because our brains make connections and go from one to the next in a way that can take us to unexpected places.
For this reason, you should plan out your essay carefully at the start. Read the question several times to make sure that you know what it means, then make a simple plan about what each paragraph should contain. Stick to that plan or else you might write about something that is not directly related to the main topic, but rather tangentially related to the previous paragraph.
4. Don’t write too many paragraphs
When it comes to IELTS writing, you should aim for about 4 or 5 paragraphs. Writing any more than that would be a pretty big problem unless you are a fast and accurate writer who can produce about 400 or more words (which as I previously said is not a good idea).
The reason for this is that your writing needs to show development. A good IELTS essay paragraph has a topic sentence and then several supporting sentences that develop it. It might also have a concluding sentence or a transitional sentence that relates it to the next paragraph.
Some people, however, will write many short paragraphs and this would be quite disastrous because it would fail to meet the requirements for either Task Achievement or Coherence and Cohesion.
5. Don’t overuse punctuation
Punctuation is very difficult and you don’t need to be a master to get a really great score. In fact, even if you made some errors with commas, you could still score band 9! However, you do need to avoid big mistakes and generally use them correctly.
Perhaps the biggest problem with punctuation is overuse of it. If you miss a comma, it will not ruin a sentence. In fact, many native speakers omit commas to make their writing less messy. But adding too many is a real mistake. For example, some people accidentally put commas between subjects and verbs or add them where we naturally have a slight pause in the sentence when it’s spoken aloud.
If in doubt, don’t use a comma. Put them where you know they should be and miss them whenever you are unsure. This will help you to avoid mistakes and confusion.