6 ways to improve your writing skills for IELTS
12 DECEMBER, 2016 TIPS AND VOCABULARY MARISSA VENN
Many people struggle with the IELTS exam preparation, it’s well-known for being tough, and will test anyone’s language abilities to the limit. For a lot of people, the writing part of the test can be the most stressful, but don’t worry, we have some top tips for anyone who might be finding it tough. Take a look at some of our insights and advice, and you’re sure to ace the IELTS writing test.
1. Understand the prompt
Whether you’re writing for the Academic or General Test, or you’re on Task 1 or Task 2, make sure you understand exactly what the prompt is asking you to do. If you are writing a letter, make sure you identify the register (formal or informal) and know what salutations and closings are acceptable. If you are writing an opinion essay, make sure you can identify both sides of the issue. If you are describing graphs or processes, first identify what the graphs show, then identify the main trends and useful features to compare. Once you wrap your mind around the task, you can begin the outline for your paper.
2. Always make an outline
Before you start writing, you should make an outline. Students sometimes argue that because it is a timed test, they shouldn’t spend precious minutes making an outline. This is simply not true! An outline will save you time by keeping you focused as you write, so you don’t deviate from the topic. An outline will also help you organise your ideas and put them in the best order before you start writing. Most importantly, having a good outline means you can focus on the language you are using (vocabulary and sentence structure) rather than the ideas you will present.
So how detailed should your outline be? You should start by writing a thesis statement (Writing Task 2) or important points to include in your introduction. Your thesis statement is the driving force behind your entire essay, and every paragraph will relate back to and support it. For Writing Task 1, organise your introduction by writing down the answer to the question: “What information should someone know about these charts/graphs/diagrams?” (Academic Task 1) or “What is the purpose of this letter?” (General Task 1).
For the body paragraphs, your outline only needs to reflect the main topic for the paragraph, the evidence to be used, and, if appropriate (Task 2), how it supports your thesis statement. It is not necessary to write anything in the outline for your conclusion, as the conclusion is a restatement or summary of your argument, and you will not be presenting any new ideas. In the case of letter-writing (General Task 1), a formal conclusion may or may not be necessary.
3. Put your best foot forward
When organising the opinion essay during the outline stage, determine the order in which you will present your ideas. Your strongest body paragraph should come first, as this will create your reader’s first and most important impressions. If you have three body paragraphs, put the best one first, followed by the weakest one in the middle, and lastly the second-strongest. This way your reader will leave your essay with a good impression.
4. Keep it simple (your idea, that is)
It is important to remember that the IELTS writing tasks are not testing how well you know the subject, or how smart you are. They assess your ability to present ideas clearly and cohesively in English. Therefore, it is important to structure paragraphs and sentences so that they present one idea per sentence and one controlling idea per paragraph. Support your arguments with evidence (an example or explanation), then conclude your paragraph by linking the support to your thesis.
5. Focus on language, not length
IELTS writing does not need to be long, although you do need to aim for the required word count (150 and 250 words). Task 2 essays need only have two strong body paragraphs, although three is certainly a plus if you can manage it. You score points for using complex sentence structure and strong vocabulary accurately and naturally. Rather than worrying about the length of your essay, take the time to include interesting vocabulary and avoid repeating words. As you prepare for the IELTS exam, you should be working to build your vocabulary for a variety of topics. In addition, you may want to group synonyms or related words together on flashcards. This will help you think of synonyms to use while writing.
Also make sure that you are familiar with and comfortable using cohesive words and phrases naturally. Again, avoid repeating the same cohesive devices. You will impress the reader by presenting clear, concise, and cohesive arguments, so this should be your focus while writing.
This can be a challenge for timed tests, but it is essential to reserve a couple of minutes after each writing task to proofread. You should look for small mistakes in spelling and grammar. This is not the time to decide that your argument is not effective and write a new paragraph (that’s what your outline is for!). Read your essay and make sure that it is cohesive, and add sentences or phrases to make stronger connections between ideas if you need to.
If you’re looking for more help with the IELTS exam, it might pay to read our previous blog post focusing on IELTS speaking test tips.