Writing is a difficult process because, in any language, we can become fluent in speaking far more quickly through practice, and we do not write very often in a formal (academic) manner.
To understand how to do well in IELTS writing we must first understand what is the objective and how is the test assessed by the examiner?
The purpose of the test is to “write clearly, organise your ideas and use a varied vocabulary”. Academic writing involves describing data and facts in an objective way, and clearly explaining your arguments about a variety of (IELTS related) topics.
Common problems in Task 1:
If we look at the band score descriptors for Task 1, we have a better idea as to what should be included in your report. This includes an “overview”, defined as “a short description of something that provides general information about it, but no details”. To achieve band score 7 and above, the summary must contain a “clear overview of the main trends” and no details.
The overview should form part of your introduction, although it could be at the beginning or at the end of your report. Since Task 1 is a short report, your introduction should be just 1-2 sentences which introduce the diagram to the reader. Paraphrasing is important here, rather than repeating the words in the question. If you have more than one diagram (such as a bar chart and a pie chart) you may write two sentences for your introduction – or one complex sentence.
Note: “paraphrasing” does not mean replacing every word but rather “rephrasing” the introductory sentence above the diagram. Some of the key words in the introduction may not have common synonyms. Also, don’t rename labels from the diagram itself – they are given so that you can use them in your report.
Main Body Paragraphs
Under “cohesion and coherence” for band score 7 it states that you should organise your report into logical paragraphs with clear progression, whilst under “task achievement” you must describe the details (trends, data, facts, processes) to support your overview. Hence, you must use a range of linking and sequencing language to ensure you report is clear and logical to read.
You should never give personal opinions or write a conclusion in your task 1 report because you are presenting data in an academic style, so avoid using personal pronouns, giving reasons and explanations.
Describing trends and making comparisons
It is important to read the question carefully and identify which tenses should be used in your report. This is important for describing changes and trends for figures and also for maps. In order to describe processes, for example, the writer needs to decide how best to use the active and passive voice in their description.
Note: the important thing here is to focus on accuracy, not your range of grammar. Avoid making too many mistakes and identify the main trends or patterns.
It is clear that a majority of students (66%) find writing to be the most difficult skill to improve when preparing for the IELTS exam. This isn’t surprising, of course, and reflects the fact that at the end of Level 2, most students are achieving band scores of 7 and above for listening and reading, 6-6.5 for speaking, and 5.5-6.0 for writing. At the intermediate level and above, writing is nearly always the weakest skill – and the one to focus on to improve your overall band score.
Tips to achieve band score 7
- Identify your weaknesses and work on these at home.
- Make sure you spend enough time planning your answer. Spend 3-5 minutes to understand the question, identify what is the subject, what is being measured and how, the time period, trends, and organising your paragraphs logically.
- Time management is critical in the written exam. Do not spend more than 20 minutes on Task 1.
- Use authentic model answers and avoid online answers which tend to be submitted by other students.
- Use course books and materials which are suitable for your level, for example, if your writing is band score 5.5, buy an intermediate, not an advanced course book.
- Review your writing and, if possible, work with a friend so you can spot each other’s mistakes.
- Remember that learning vocabulary is the key to IELTS success. Task 1 contains many structures and vocabulary that are used again and again – so being familiar with the many different types of diagram and reviewing model answers to different question types will help you to build upon your language.