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IELTS Writing: The four keys to success

IELTS Writing: The four keys to success

Whether you are taking IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training, you will need to write a 250 word essay in the IELTS Writing Task 2. You will perform much better if you understand what the examiner is looking for — and find success if you can deliver it.

The easiest way to fail is not knowing the basics. First, let’s look at the IELTS Writing assessment criteria:

  1. Task achievement.
    This means you should answer all parts of the question, your answer must be relevant, and you should provide supporting ideas for the points you are making.
  2. Coherence and cohesion.
    Your writing should be structured so it is easy to read and understand. This means you need to organise your ideas into paragraphs. You also need to link your ideas with words like howevertherefore and despite.
  3. Lexical resource.
    To get a good score, you need to use a wide range of vocabulary. Not everything has to be 100% correct, but any errors you make should be few in number and should not affect understanding.
  4. Grammatical range and accuracy.
    As with vocabulary, you should use a variety of grammatical structures, and any grammatical errors should be few in number and should not affect understanding.

Now, let’s see how we can apply them to a candidate’s essay.

Exercise 1: Read a candidate’s Writing Task 2 essay

Read the essay below written by an IELTS candidate for Writing Task 2. As you read it, think about the four criteria and decide how well the writer performs on each of them. Make notes.

The world would be a better place if we all spoke the same language. Do you agree?

As the world becomes more interconnected with the growth of the Internet and cheaper travel, it is important to examine the concept of a universal language. There are benefits in terms of travel and business, but a common language threatens a loss of culture and identity.

Firstly, a common language would mean there are no language barriers. Travelling to different countries would be easier and more accessible. In business, there would be less danger of misunderstandings. Furthermore, in situations of conflict where there are multiple troops from different countries, it would be easier for them to work together if they all spoke one language.

However, this would mean the loss of all other languages as they become unnecessary. Language is tied to culture. Through speaking a language one is projecting cultural history and identity. Moreover, the way language changes reflects both the history of a society and the current culture. Loss of a language means the loss of an important part of the culture.

Additionally there is evidence to show that language is linked to the way people think. People who speak multiple languages alter their thought process when they switch languages. The entire world speaking one language eliminates diversity of thought, threatening future development and invention.

In conclusion, although a universal language might make the world easier in terms of cooperation, it would not be a better place. It would mean the loss of culture, identity and diversity of thought. In the long term, these losses outweigh the benefits.

When you have made your notes, read on to compare your notes with a teacher’s notes.

Teacher’s comments

  1. Task achievement
    She answers the question and all her points are relevant. (I’m not sure I see the point about ‘multiple troops’, though.) She gives examples and ideas to support her points, for example three ideas to support the point about language barriers.
  2. Cohesion and coherence
    The structure is good with a clear introduction, three body paragraphs each dealing with one point, and a clearly stated conclusion. She makes good use of signpost words like firstly, however, moreover and in conclusion.
  3. Lexical resource
    There is a good range of vocabulary and the words are used correctly. Examples: language barriers, diversity of thought, cultural history and identity, universal language.
  4. Grammatical range and accuracy.
    Good use of conditional structures in paragraph 2:  a common language would mean…, there would be less danger…,  Tenses are used correctly throughout. Accurate use of complex sentences and relative clauses: there is evidence that shows that language is linked to…


This candidate has produced a very good essay and could be awarded an IELTS Writing band score 8.

Exercise 2: Assess your own essays

For this exercise you will work with IELTS Writing Task 2 essays you have already completed. If you have not yet written any, you can find a sample here. Completing practice tests is important so you get comfortable with the different topics you will find in the final test.

Try the task in exam conditions — or as close to it as you can get. This means timing yourself, and limiting your time to 40 minutes. It is also better to write the essay using pen and paper — even if you are planning to take IELTS on computer. This is to avoid being helped by spell-checkers and grammar-checkers. Alternatively, you could open a Notepad which does not have a spell-checker on your computer. The objective is to produce the best essay you can in the time available, without help.

Now look back at the examiner’s comments above. This tells you what they are looking for in Task 2, and you can use it as a framework to assess your own performance. Go through your essay four times. Each time you are focusing on one of the four Task 2 marking criteria: task achievement, cohesion and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy.

The notes you make will have two benefits. Firstly, they will tell you about your strengths and weak areas. This will help you plan your IELTS preparation. Secondly, you will be more aware of what the examiner looks for as you write your Writing Task 2 essay on your IELTS test day.


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