IELTS Writing test: A definitive guide for success

ielts writing

The Writing section in the IELTS test is a one-hour exam where your long-form English-writing ability is judged. Basically, there are two questions in the IELTS Writing Test which aim to evaluate your grammar, vocabulary, organization of ideas, and logical development of arguments.

On the day of the IELTS exam, the Writing test is conducted after the Listening and the Reading section. You would be provided with a question booklet with two separate prompts. The first question consists of an image which you have to describe using at least 150 words, while the second question will ask you to write an argumentative essay on academic topics in at least 250 words.

Writing is considered the most difficult test in IELTS. For one thing, no matter how much you prepare for the test, you would never know which subject area the questions may be based on. Any topic which is considered academic in nature can form the basis of the questions in the test. Many times candidates encounter completely unknown topics in the test.

Therefore, preparation for the IELTS Writing test does not involve learning about various subject matters. Rather, the focus should be on developing language skills, including vocabulary, grammatical structures, and formal writing.

Task 1: Information transfer

The first question in the IELTS Writing test involves transforming visual information into verbal information.

line graph

In other words, you will be given a picture, and it is your job to write an academic report on the picture. Most often, you will get a statistical diagram, such as line graph, bar graph, pie chart, or table, where you have to analyze trends and compare data. Sometimes, maps or process diagrams are also given in the Writing test, and you are expected to interpret them by breaking down the main features.

Ideally, you should write at least 150 words for this question in 20 minutes.

Preparing for Task 1 involves developing a neutral style of writing bereft of personal opinions and reporting only facts which can be deduced from the image at hand. Furthermore, you need to be able to scrutinize data using a statistical lens as well as understand scientific processes. However, detailed knowledge of statistics (or mathematics in general) and science is not expected.

Task 2: Discursive composition

a man taking the IELTS writing test

The second question in the IELTS Writing test is essay writing. Your essay has to provide arguments to endorse or rebut controversial viewpoints. Sometimes, you are asked to explain the causes and provide solutions to pressing problems faced by the world.

Children who are brought up in families that do not have large amounts of money are better prepared to deal with the problems of adult life than children brought up by wealthy parents.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

In the IELTS Writing test, the essay-writing question always starts with a point of view or scenario. This is the general subject area. Then, there is a prompt which tells you which aspect of the subject matter your response should concentrate on. Paying attention to the context of the question and the cue is vital because deviating from them will result in poor scores.

The instructions tell you to spend 40 minutes for this question and to write at least 250 words.

Learning to write a compact essay with clear ideas and the development of those ideas using logical reasoning and valid examples is key to succeed in such questions. A general understanding of numerous world issues is required to write intelligibly about them in the exam. Plus, all aspects of grammar, syntax, and lexicon have to be appropriate while writing the essay.

How the IELTS Writing test is conducted?

The first thing to note is that you write your answers with a pencil in the paper-based IELTS Writing test. Most exam centers provide you with pencils, while in some places you have to bring your own pencil. Also, practice writing with a pencil because holding a pencil is not the same as holding a pen. On the other hand, in computer-delivered test, you type your answers into the computer via a keyboard.

Secondly, there is a separate answer sheet for Task 1 and a different answer sheet for Task 2. Don’t write in the wrong paper by mistake. If you use up the answer sheet provided to you, you may add more papers.

Although the exam instructions tell you to complete the Task 1 question in 20 minutes and then move to Task 2, this is not strictly enforced in the test. You may choose to do either of the questions first and spend as many minutes on them as you like, provided that you take no more than 1 hour in total. So, apportion the 60 minutes according to your own strategy which you develop through practice.

Evaluation of IELTS Writing Test

The most obvious but often neglected factor in the IELTS Writing test is handwriting. From my experience as a teacher, I have come across many students who are unable to write in eligible letters. Without practice, it is impossible to improve your penmanship.

Although handwriting itself will not get you any score, if it is ineligible, the examiner will not understand your words and would have no basis to give you score.

Alternatively, if you take the computer version of the IELTS test, you should be very careful not to make typos or spelling errors. The word processor for the computer-based IELTS test does not autocorrect mistakes or highlight them.

Similarly, writing at least or beyond the word count is essential. There is a penalty for not meeting the word count.

Apart from these, you have to learn to form paragraphs and group ideas. Writing in notes or bullet points is not allowed.

There are four fundamental criteria for the evaluation of the IELTS Writing test:

  1. Task achievement/Task response: The actual content of your answer and whether you go off topic or not
  2. Coherence and cohesion: The development of ideas and the connection between those ideas
  3. Lexical resource: Use of a wide range of vocabulary
  4. Grammatical range and accuracy: Use of correct grammar in a range of sentence structures

For a more detailed breakdown of the evaluation of the IELTS Writing test, click here »

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