By Alina Promska

10 Mar 2021 - 10:56

Close up of a man practising writing for IELTS.

Getting your desired score in IELTS means performing at your best across all four sections. With the writing section often being cited by candidates as being the most challenging section of the test, we’ve asked one of our global IELTS experts to share the best ways to boost your writing score. 

Here, Alina Promska outlines her nine top tips for performing at your best on test day. She’s also put together a seven-day writing challenge to help you be as prepared as possible.

What is the IELTS writing section? 

Before I get into my tips, it’s worth taking the time to understand everything the IELTS writing section entails.

Firstly, there are two types of the IELTS written section: IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic. Check with the institution you are applying for to see which version you need. Whichever type you are doing, you will need to complete two writing tasks.

  • Task one – for IELTS General Training you will be writing a letter; for IELTS Academic you will select, compare and summarise data from a graph, table, chart or diagram. 
  • Task two – for both test types you will be writing an essay, although the IELTS General Training uses more general topics.

Next, it’s important to understand the assessment criteria. There are four key criteria.

  • Task achievement – how effectively you’ve addressed and illustrated the main points in the task.
  • Cohesion and coherence – how well you’ve organised and linked your ideas and how you’ve used linking words and cohesive devices (e.g. ‘in addition’, ‘for instance’, ‘furthermore’, ‘however’, ‘moreover’ and ‘nevertheless’).
  • Lexical resource – how wide and accurate your range of vocabulary is, and whether you’ve used less common vocabulary (e.g. idiomatic phrases or professional jargon).
  • Grammatical range and accuracy – the range and accuracy of grammatical structures (e.g. conditional sentences, who/which/that clauses, modal phrases and inversion) you’ve used.

Top tips to improve your writing score

Now you are familiar with the ins and outs of the writing section, let’s get into my top tips for performing at your best on test day.

1. Use your time wisely

You get 60 minutes to complete the entire section. Task two contributes more to your score, so I recommend spending no more than 20 minutes on task one and 40 minutes on task two. Include time for planning and checking what you’ve written. It’s good to get into the habit of setting 60-minute time limits when doing practice tests.

2. Check the number of words

You need to write a minimum of 150 words for task one and 250 words for task two. Anything less and you will lose marks.

3. Understand the task

Read the instructions carefully, and underline or highlight the keywords. Know what questions you need to cover and what information you need to include.

4. Organise your ideas logically

Spend up to five minutes brainstorming ideas and selecting what information you’re going to include. Organise your ideas logically, and include linking words and cohesive devices between paragraphs, sentences and phrases. 

5. Know your approach

Each task requires a specific approach.

Task 1 (Academic) – identify the main trends and features; in the introduction, rewrite the information from the task using synonyms and grammar transformation; organise your main paragraphs logically; don’t describe every piece of data – only what’s relevant to the question; summarise the main trends from your body paragraphs in the conclusion. 

Task 1 (General Training) – analyse the question; brainstorm ideas using bullet points; plan the paragraphs, addressing your bullet points; write the letter. 

Task 2 – include an introduction, at least two body paragraphs and a conclusion; in the introduction, rephrase the question and form a thesis statement based on your opinion; write topic sentences setting out your main ideas – one topic sentence per idea – and use one topic sentence to start each body paragraph; in the rest of the paragraph, use explanations and examples to support the topic sentence; sum up your ideas in the conclusion.

6. Think about style

Each task type requires an appropriate style (formal, semi-formal or informal), which will determine your choice of grammatical structures and lexical resource.

7. Check your work!

When you’ve finished each task, always do a thorough check. It helps to ask the following questions. 

  • Did you check the grammar and spelling?
  • Did you cover everything required in the task?
  • Did you organise the information into paragraphs? 
  • Did you write a topic sentence for each paragraph? 
  • Did you summarise your key ideas in your conclusion?
  • Did you rephrase the task in the introduction?
  • Did you use linking words and discourse markers?
  • Did you check for repetitions?
  • Did you use any complex sentences? 

8. Work on your grammatical range and lexical resource

In the lead-up to test day, spend time reading different resources, such as ads, articles, manuals, magazines, reports and sample models from practice tests, to learn new words in different contexts. Practice creating sentences using complex structures and new words. Revise the grammatical structures that correspond to levels C1 and C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

9. Learn from your mistakes

Start a learning journal to record mistakes from your own writing. Learn from these mistakes by correcting them, maybe working with friends or colleagues who are also preparing for IELTS. This way, you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.  

Your seven-day writing challenge

As the saying goes: ‘practice makes perfect’. Just like learning to drive a car, IELTS test preparation requires persistent work. The more practice tests you do, the better prepared you are. To help you get more writing practice, we’ve prepared this seven-day IELTS writing challenge. Why not give it a go?

Day 1

Start writing a blog – it can be about anything: your hobbies, life goals or favourite films or music.

Day 2

Find a website containing statistical data and write a short description about a table, graph or pie chart (here’s a starter:

Day 3

Choose an online article and write an opinion essay about the topic, including some ideas from the original article 

Day 4

Complete the Road to IELTS online course. Do some of the writing activities on the LearnEnglish website.

Day 5

Extend your range of vocabulary and grammatical structures by completing activities on mobile apps such as IELTS Prep App, Word Power, IELTS tips, BBC 6-minute English and LearnEnglish Podcasts. 

Day 6

Write about any topic for five minutes. Focus on brainstorming and selecting ideas, as well as the speed of your writing, rather than on accuracy.

Day 7

Assess your progress by doing some sample IELTS test questions on the Take IELTS website

You should now be fully equipped to boost your IELTS writing score. Good luck with your prep and for your test day! 

If you'd like to see the upcoming IELTS test dates or check the pricing of the exam, please visit the IELTS booking page.