I have had many students over the years tell me that the writing portion of the IELTS is very intimidating. Well I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! In fact, the writing section can be a section of the IELTS that you feel very confident in, and yes, even enjoy! Follow my tips below and turn your struggles into confidence.
- The purpose of the IELTS writing is to demonstrate YOUR ability to write coherently in ENGLISH on a given topic.
It is very important to bear this in mind when preparing for the exam. This is one of your chances in the IELTS exam to take control (the other being in the speaking) and demonstrate your great abilities in English, so don’t waste it!
Make sure that you give a lot of preparation time to this and, if possible, get a teacher to help you ̶ especially if you need to achieve a band 7 or 8. The teacher will not only mark your essays but will also help you to improve by showing you how to develop your writing to ensure that you get the band you want. This is something that I do with my students every day. The help that you can get with a teacher walking you through specifically how to improve is invaluable and there really is no substitute, so get the help if you need it!
- The key to IELTS writing is effective preparation and practise.
I know that many IELTS students work VERY hard on their IELTS, but I have also met many who, despite this hard work, have not been able to achieve their goal. Your practise has to be effective to work for YOU. This is another time where I encourage you to get a teacher to work with you. A teacher can see where you specifically need help, not just throw generic materials at you that aren’t directed at you. (My customised training is perfect for this.)
If you need to get band 7 you HAVE to understand what a band 7 essay looks like, what it contains, and how it feels to write one. You need to know this in your muscle! To do this you need to be able produce one. Now, this may take 2 or 3 hours the first time, but it doesn’t matter, once you have it then you will not go back to your old way of writing again, and you will be able to get faster and faster and write better and better.
Remember: with writing, many times less is more! Quantity does NOT necessarily mean quality. It is better to work for a long time on ONE essay than produce four at once. If you have an IELTS teacher or coach, then they will be able to tell you when you have written a band 7 essay. If not, then you will have to rely on models. Model essays are YOUR key to great writing and don’t rely simply on the good essays of your friends, they will have mistakes. Look at what you are reading for the IELTS reading – here are great models! You can find model essays for IELTS everywhere; study them and really go deep and find out what a band 7 truly is!
Don’t try to guess what the examiner is looking for.
Your job in the writing is to say, “Look at my great writing ability at band 7. See how I have managed to express this topic really well and given you lots of good language to assess?” It isn’t to say, “I wonder what the examiner would like to see in this paragraph?”
The exam is not about the examiner, it’s about you. I can tell you that all examiners want you to do well. I know this because I have been an examiner myself and I really wanted every essay to be good and to get whatever band the candidate required. It’s sad when you see essays that have lots of silly mistakes, or weren’t planned properly, or are too short, or aren’t finished. Sometimes you can see that the person really has the ability but they haven’t demonstrated it.
See the exam as an opportunity to demonstrate your great English rather than a ‘test,’ and you’ll be much more confident.
- Please Plan, don’t just dive in!
“There isn’t enough time to plan!” I hear this all the time, yet planning well actually ‘saves’ you time! With a good plan the essay almost writes itself leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using. Without a plan, you are trying not only to make sure you use good English, the right vocabulary, great structure and not too many mistakes, but also the ideas you want to express as well, all as you go along and all in about 20 or 30 minutes – that’s a lot to ask!
A good plan will give direction to your essay and state the points you want to make leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using to express these ideas on paper.
- Learn to think in English.
When I was learning French at school a teacher told me, “If you don’t know it, don’t use it!” This is very good advice – translating from your own language most often fails and you will end up with English which will, at best, sound ‘odd’ and, at worst, be utter gibberish – thus losing you many marks in the process.
If the idea in your head is only in your own language and you don’t know the word or expression in English, then either come up with another idea or think of words you DO know that you can use to express this. I understand that you can express things in a very erudite and confident way in your own language and that you want to come across in your writing as an educated and knowledgeable person, BUT look at point 1 here – it’s your ability in English that is the most important thing in this exam, NOT your knowledge!
In fact, if you can train yourself to think in English then your chances of producing great writing are better.
The way to do this is to immerse yourself as much as possible in English as you prepare for the exam. Read newspapers, journals, books in English. Listen to English radio programmes, watch films and documentaries. If you can swing it, journey to my home, Fleetham Lodge, and enjoy an immersion experience with me! An immersion experience is a magnificent way to really delve into the English language and make great leaps in your understanding and fluency. All of these tactics, (but especially the immersion experience!) will help you develop a deep and meaningful relationship with English. When you do this, great things will start to happen. Firstly, you will learn a lot of things using English as a vehicle, and secondly, you will begin to absorb the language naturally as your exposure to it increases. Soon, you will be thinking about ideas and topics in English and NOT via your own language.
Wow, this sounds like a lot of work, and IELTS preparation on top of it too! Well, yes, it is a lot of work but isn’t it worth it to get the band that you need? Why are you taking the IELTS anyway? Isn’t it to get you somewhere where you will be working or studying in ENGLISH every day? IELTS is simply your gateway, once you arrive at your destination you are going to need FAR MORE English than the IELTS requires, so master English now and make things easier on yourself and your future.
(see my post Thinking in English for more tips)
- Experiment during your preparation period.
In order to produce a wonderful piece of writing you need to experiment a little. All writers create several drafts of their work before they publish. This blog post has taken me quite a long time to produce as I have been revising and adding things. Obviously, in the exam you have only one chance, but if your preparation has been really thorough, then that one chance is all you will need. On the day of your test you should know how you are going to tackle the questions, whatever they are – there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises!
The time for experimenting is in your preparation time and to get a good band you really should try and do this. From your reading and studying of model essays and other texts you will find a host of new vocabulary and sentence types. You should choose the ones that you like or the ones that impress you and use them in your own writing. Be creative, test things and see how they fit. See what the result is and then ask someone to check and see if they work.
Questions I always ask my students when they give me writing to check is, “Are you writing in the same way as you did before?” and, “Has the way you approach your writing changed?” I always expect the answer to be, “yes”. There wouldn’t be any point in working with me and then doing the same old things. I am always pleased when I receive an answer in the affirmative, because it shows me that their work is growing and developing and getting better and that’s what should happen. I also love it when students try things new, even if they don’t work. You have to fail to grow, and when better to do this than with a supportive and experienced person to help you.
- Get it right, then speed up.
Many IELTS students I meet are worried about getting their writing tasks done in the time allotted (1 hour) and spend much of their preparation time racing against the clock, doing essay after essay as fast as possible. This is putting the cart before the horse! My daughter takes piano lessons, and her teacher keeps telling her to get it right first and then speed up. This is my advice for you also. Once you know exactly what you are doing you can easily get this done in the time allotted, and even faster leaving you extra time to check. This is what you are aiming for. So, make sure you start with the content and quality of your writing and don’t worry about the time – that will come when you are ready with your perfect band 7 essay every time!
Writing is the part of the exam that most people struggle with, but it doesn’t have to defeat you! With some disciplined and effective practise it will soon become a joy for you to write in English, and you will achieve the band that you need!