I often receive questions about tips and tricks regarding writing for IELTS. It may seem somewhat disappointing for some of my students, but the best tips for learning HOW to write for IELTS, whether this is Academic or General, is to understand the band scores that the examiner will be comparing you to.
TIP 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR BAND SCORE
To first understand how IELTS is graded, understand that your writing is measured in 4 areas. Each area counts for 25% of your band score. We will look into each area and talk about its main points so we know how to write for the test, shaping our writing to the “IELTS Standard.”
When you look at the band scores online you will see that the scores are organized into 4 sections: Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. A lot of students get confused by the advanced vocabulary and lack of explanation in this document; however, it’s truly the key to understanding what it is that you are expected to do in order to pass the writing section of the test.
TIP 2: LEARN COMPLEX SENTENCES
Sometimes I get students who come from finance or engineering backgrounds and were taught in school to write simple and easy-to-understand sentences for their work or career. This, of course, makes sense; however, the IELTS test usually wants you to write in complex sentences for you to achieve a 7 band or higher. Complex sentences follow this structure:
subordinate clause + main clause
Here’s an example:
If I had the time and money, I would take the bus.
The first half of the sentence “If I had the time and money…” is the subordinate clause, meaning, there is not enough information for this part of the sentence to be a complete sentence. The other half of the sentence “…I would take the bus.” is the main clause, meaning it is the main idea and the main message in this sentence. If the subordinate clause comes FIRST in the sentence, you HAVE TO put a comma before the main clause, BUT if it comes second in the sentence like, “I would take the bus if I had the time and money” there is NO COMMA between commas.
TIP 3: USE FORMAL LANGUAGE
I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with a student and told them to stop using simple words like, “but, to, so, because, and however” as they are “simple” connecting words that will lower your vocabulary score. The band score you receive is a combination of scores that take place, so for instance, the formal language you’re using here could affect your grammar score and your lexical score. Please use formal words such as, “although, in order to, therefore, and in addition. “
TIP 4: USE CORRECT PUNCTUATION
Comma rules in English can be confusing and are often the cause of a poor band score. They help with the flow of your writing and give the reader the idea of how your writing should be and is intended to be read. So, it is very important to use the correct punctuation in your writing by following a few comma rules.
- Place a comma after the subordinate clause and before the main clause in a sentence.
- Put a comma between words when making a list of three or more items.
- Add a comma to separate a non-defining relative clause (which / who / when).
- Place a comma to separate linking words and phrases (In addition, this is the correct…)
TIP 5: USE CONSISTENT WRITING STRUCTURES
A common issue for most students is the struggle to find writing samples online that have a high band score and are consistent in their structure. The idea here is to study a structure and on test day, use a similar structure. However, finding a structure is difficult as they are often not laid out in a simple way or there are not enough samples that will show these structures enough times for the students to understand it. This is why SSEDS created an e-book and online course that helps with these issues specifically. Please take some time to view what has helped many students pass their exams and see if it works for you.
Here is our e-book: it takes you through the academic and general IELTS writing structure and shows sample answers to help you achieve a high band score. The online course does this as well but in video format, and comes with a free copy of the e-book as well. I am happy to help anyone who has to endure this test and can always reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org happy studying!
MORE ABOUT IELTS
One aspect that I think is important to note, and you can choose to take it with a grain of salt, is that IELTS is not a government-run organisation. It is a private business and just like any private business, it is meant to generate profit. Stay with me, I promise it’ll change your study mindset. Now, keeping this fact that IELTS makes money, you have to be very careful if you’re looking at official IELTS guides in regard to writing sample answers. While they do give good insight into the examiner’s reviews, they fail to point out what it is you actually need to do, and as we can see from the beginning of the IELTS past examination books, such as “IELTS 1” they were giving band 9 sample answers. As time progressed, the IELTS books, which are now up to “IELTS 14” gives a range of sample answers, such as band 4 (I don’t know who this helps) to Band 7 but very rarely gives band 9 sample answers.
I’m not saying this is deliberate as a way to confuse test takers from modelling their writing to a Band 9 but leaves a person to wonder. When you look at the number one reason why someone does not pass the IELTS test, it’s usually the writing aspect. This has been going on for years, and because IELTS is a business, they are not fixing the confusion or explanation of what is required of test takers. Take this as an example of why I have never really fully trusted official IELTS material for writing advice; if I wanted to take McDonald’s to court, I would NOT ask McDonald’s to supply the lawyer for me. I would ask for help OUTSIDE the organisation to find strategies. Sometimes, following the band descriptors and their definition of cohesive devices (linking words) and then looking at sample answers given by IELTS will often contain simple informal linking words, (but/and/to/so) and they appear to be band 9 by IELTS standards. However, when you read English language and grammar books, you’ll notice the linking words supplied in a band 9 sample answer are not formal and should not be a “perfect example.” Just remember, if any of this sounds like a “conspiracy theory” or if it’s making you confused, remember to be formal in essays and chart descriptions and be informal for letters to a friend. Everywhere else, formal is king when it comes to IELTS writing and try do your research on the band descriptors.