You’ve got the listening down. The reading part takes practice but you know you’ve aced it. But then comes the real challenge: the IELTS writing exam. It’s the part of the IELTS exam that can really make or break test-takers. It makes you apply the language skills you’ve learned and is graded based on how well the invigilator can make sense of your writing. For many, this is the most stressful test they will ever take.
Despite its difficulty, the IELTS writing can be made easier. Since the test is standardised, there are some ways to adapt your skills in order to make the most of the time you are allotted to take it. Here are a few key points to note:
Under the clock
Like the other parts of the IELTS exam, the writing portion is timed. You’ve got 60 minutes to get everything down on paper as correctly as you can. Hence you have to be ready to understand the task to write about, and to pace yourself in order to complete it in time. You can do this at home with sample IELTS writing questions. You should write out practice answers, noting what you can achieve in an hour and where you have to improve. Also, don’t rush through it. Make every minute count so you’ve got everything completed correctly once your time is up.
There are two parts
The IELTS writing test you take is different whether you opt for the Academic or General IELTS test; similar to the listening and reading portions. But the one common aspect is that both the Academic and General Writing tests have two portions. They are both 150 and 250 words minimum respectively, and the second is always worth more points. It’s okay to do them out of order—i.e. start with the second task, then end with the first—so long as you complete both.
Know the task type
While the structure of the writing part of both the Academic and General IELTS writing test are the same, their tasks are completely different. For Academic, your first task will likely have to do with describing or explaining a graphic like a table or chart, followed by an essay question. For General, you often start with a response to a prompt like a letter or e-mail, and are then given an essay question to complete. It’s good to go over several sample tests so you can get a feel for what sort of answers you need to provide in either the Academic or General scenario.
Plan it all out
There’s an old theater playwright and actor’s adage that goes: “If it isn’t on the page, it isn’t on the stage.” This means that you make sure the words are ready and then act them out, you should never create your own or improvise nonsense on the spot. IELTS writing portions are very similar: you should make sure you plan your writing out, then write out a good copy on your final test paper. In the exam room, you’ll be given draft paper where you can take notes to structure out what you want to write, then transfer it to good copy on the actual exam paper. Most IELTS preparation instructors stress this above all else and encourage students to do lots of practice at home under mock conditions so they can write that much better on their test day.
Word counts and sticking to the point
You might think these tips sound like common knowledge. But too often IELTS test-takers get into such a fury on test day, they disregard the rules of what is being asked of them on the test. They ignore the word count, go off topic from the point they have to write about, and wind up using bad grammar or punctuation. Remember that you will lose points if this happens and your overall score will be affected. Paying close attention to what is being asked and sticking to these guidelines not only yields better scores but can also help improve your overall writing skills.
Don’t worry if you aren’t as good of a writer as you want to be. Practice writing whenever you can and do several mock IELTS writing tests to get your mind prepared for your actual test day. Consider taking an IELTS preparation class like both The Language Gallery’s IELTS Preparation class and IELTS Exam Preparation elective. As well, see our information page about IELTS writing. Your instructor can provide you with several writing resources and help you to improve in areas that you might be struggling with.
Special thanks to TLG Toronto IELTS exam instructor Melinda for her assistance on this posting!