The average writing band score for all academic test-takers in 2017 was 5.5, highlighting the need to pay special attention to improving this skill. In addition, task 2 is worth double the marks of task 1 and presents specific problems to candidates which are very different to task 1. If we look in detail at the instructions and criteria (band score descriptors), we can understand the requirements of the task.
- You will be given a topic (often a statement) and a question.
- You must discuss the topic and illustrate your argument in a way that supports your position and answers the question.
- You should write at least 250 words and the style should be academic, or formal.
- Your ideas must be clearly organised into logical paragraphs (main body) each of which contain at least one main idea.
Common problems in Task 2:
There are some key issues that most students have with writing task 2:
- Not understanding the question
In task 2 there will always be one or two statements followed by one or two questions. It is true that there is often a particular topic, such the environment, or technology, but the task is always very specific – and the candidate must answer the specific question. So, pay attention to the question and don’t think about impressive (or irrelevant) ideas. The initial statements in the question give you something to form an opinion about.
- A lack of ideas
This is an area which many students identify with because they have little or no experience of the topic. There is a difference here between doing practice questions and actually doing the exam. If you are preparing for the exam by doing real examination questions, don’t attempt to answer if you know nothing about the topic – your answer will be confused and unclear. Instead, read more about the topic, learn new vocabulary and how to use it, and form your opinion. Here is a list of the most common topics in Task 2 over the last few years.
- Not using explanations and examples
It is important to use explanations and examples to show how your idea(s) answer the specific question. To achieve band score 7 the candidate must address all parts of the task and present a clear position throughout. This is done by supporting your main idea with evidence (reasons, explanations, examples)
The next area where students often have problems is by trying to use difficult or high-level vocabulary. This is normally a result of “memorising lists” and attempting to use synonyms without a proper understanding of how to use these words and phrases. You should only use the vocabulary you know how to use!
The final area where students make mistakes is using a wide range of grammar and making too many mistakes rather than focussing on accuracy. In Task 1 the time period in the question will often dictate the tense you must use in your answer, but in Task 2 you are free to use a range of tenses and structures to support your argument – so the opportunity to make mistakes is much greater. At bands 7 to 9, candidates make few errors and use a variety of complex structures.
There are many other areas relevant to Task 2 writing which are not covered in this post, such as developing thinking and planning skills, thesis statements, style and having a clear position. Our new Advanced Speaking and Writing course will be available in February. Join this course to learn how to achieve band 7.
Tips to achieve band score 7
- Read as widely a possible on many different topics to have sufficient ideas to answer essay questions.
- Use good course books to develop your knowledge of vocabulary and how to use it.
- Use good model answers, such the Cambridge Practice Tests. Be careful of online materials which claim to be band score 8.5-9 but are actually submitted by students.
- Use time management wisely. Students often run out of time in Task 2, so practise planning and thinking, writing and checking, so you can complete the task in 40 minutes.
- Practise your writing regularly, even for short periods of time.
- Review your writing by checking and rewriting after you have read a model answer to the question. Understand the kind of mistakes you make and work on your weaknesses.
- Always support your ideas with relevant explanations an examples.
- Write as clearly as possible and avoid difficult and complex vocabulary.
- Focus on accuracy with your grammar, not range.
- Stick to the word count limit – wrote at least 250 words but no more than 300.