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e-book IELTS Writing section 1 – writing task 1

I am slowly finishing off Chapter 7 of my free book, which is about IELTS writing.  I am sharing the first section here, dealing with writing task 1.  As with the previous chapters, this is still at the draft stage, and so there are likely to be errors I have not spotted yet.  If you see any, please let me know!  I will have the second section (writing task 2) completed tomorrow.  Any feedback is welcome!

Chapter 8 Section 1Chapter 8 – Section 1 The Key to IELTS Writing

You can find the link to the rest of the chapters using the link below:



Each time I share my post about how to write a quick plan in your #IELTS writing, people say to me: ‘But what about when it says…?”

The main issues seems to be with what people call ‘agree or disagree’ essays. I’ve also seen essays labelled as ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’ essays’. These descriptions only exist outside of the test. They can be helpful for teachers to plan their course and to make sure they cover different types of language. But, the message often gets confused when people start to say things like ‘With a discussion essay you must only do xyz while in an argument essay you must do a,b,c’.
In reality, there is only one type of essay question in IELTS – a question that forces you to take a position and clearly outline your argument and ideas.
Apart from bad or confusing advice, the biggest problem with using writing tasks you find online is that they force you practise doing the wrong thing. Here is an example someone shared with me today:

Some businesses now say that no one can smoke cigarettes in any of their offices. Some governments have banned smoking in all public places. This is a good idea but it also takes away some of our freedom.
Do you agree or disagree?

This is not a good example of an IELTS test question because it has too many different components, so it would be impossible to answer fully in 250 words and in 40 minutes. If you attempted to answer it in 250 words and 40 minutes you would not be able to fully address all of the parts in a balanced way. Other questions I have seen do not force you to take up a position, which you will ALWAYS need to do in the test. So these types of questions force you NOT to use the skills that you MUST use in the real test.

If you want to just practise writing, then these types of question are fine – just don’t aim to answer them in the time limit or the word limit. But if you want to practise for the test, then you need to use authentic writing test questions.



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How writing task 2 is assessed – Task Response

If you want to improve your IELTS writing test score, then it is very important to understand how your answer is assessed.  If you already know your IELTS writing test score, and you are hoping to increase that score, then the assessment criteria for your current band will help to show you where you are going wrong and the assessment criteria for the band you would like to be will tell you what to need to improve and work on.

Since most people who contact me are currently stuck at Band 6 or 6.5 in writing and would like to score band 7 or 7.5, let’s look closely at the assessment criteria for those two scores.  In this post, I will look at Task Response, this means that way that you choose to answer the question you are given.

This is what the criteria for Task Response says:

1) The first bullet point refers to the essay question itself. This bullet point is the reason I always tell you that you must stop thinking that there are different approaches for a ‘discussion essay’ or ‘an opinion essay’.  As this bullet point makes very clear, if you do not address every part of the essay question, you will not score band 7.  This is particularly important when you are given a question that asks ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’  I see too many people who are taught that they should only mention the part that they agree with.  Doing that will guarantee a lower band score for you because you will not ‘address all parts of the task.’  See this post to find out how to answer that type of essay question:  If I agree with the opinion in the task 2 question, should I only mention that?

2) According to the second bullet point, band 6 candidates may ‘reach a conclusion’ but then repeat that conclusion within their essay.  Again, this is one of the main reasons I say that you should not write what some call a ‘thesis statement’ in your introduction.  I believe this is typical in American essay writing, but it isn’t necessary to do that in IELTS.  If you do, you must be very, very careful not to sound too repetitive in your essay.  Often, band 6 students have one or two main ideas about a topic that they introduce, mention again in their body paragraph, and then repeat in their conclusion.  Look carefully at your own essays to see if you are making this mistake.  Notice that a band 7 candidate, ‘presents a clear position throughout’.  So, if you want to score band 7, you must do the same.  Again, the post I have shared above as well as this post about using personal pronouns will show you how to do that. 

3)  The third bullet shows that  you must fully develop all of your ideas. This means, you should not simply make a statement as though it is a fact. Instead, you need to present your ideas and then explain why you think this by offering support or an example.  

In the example below, I have presented my idea in pink and then given my support in green:  

Travelling can very educational, particularly for young people traveling independently.  As children, our main experiences are with our family doing familiar things, but when we travel alone, we are forced to meet new people and experience the new and the unfamiliar.

A band 6 candidate would simply write: ‘Travelling can very educational for young people.’ without offering any explanation or support. 

In my next post, I will look at coherence and cohesion.

If I agree with the opinion in the Task 2 question, should I only mention that?

On my Facebook page, many people ask questions like this about writing task 2:

‘Shouldn’t we paraphrase the topic sentence first then just answer the question?’

‘My teacher says I should write a background statement then the thesis statement, so if I don’t agree with the topic sentence there is no need to paraphrase it? For example: ‘Violence in the media promotes violence in society, to what extent do you agree?’ If I don’t agree I don’t have to write something like ‘aggression in the media could encourage violent actions in the society?’

‘Could you please tell me, for agree/disagree questions, what is the best approach to achieve a higher score? In my previous IELTS exam, I completely disagreed with the question and mentioned all points related to that whereas my friend wrote about both sides (advantages and disadvantages) and he scored 7.5. Can that be the reason for my low score?’

I receive these questions whenever I talk about discussing both sides of the question in your answer.  The people who question this view, tend to be people who have studied a set formula to use in each essay question.  In my experience, people who try to follow a set formula:

  • do not fully cover all parts of the task
  • do not present a clear position throughout
  • produce conclusions are unclear or repetitive

If you look at this extract from the IELTS band descriptors that the examiner uses to assess your writing, you can see that these are problems for Band 6 candidates, but not Band 7 candidates:  

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So, using a set formula can mean that you are stuck at Band 6 or 6.5.  Don’t think about a set formula for answering a type of question.  Instead, think clearly about the meaning of what you are writing.

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Watch my video to learn more about how to achieve Band 7: go to video

You might also find my new app useful:

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See the app on iTunes  

See the app on Google Play

Should I write a conclusion in Academic Writing Task 1?

People often ask me: “Should I write a conclusion in writing task 1?”

In writing task 2, your conclusion is the place where you summarise your argument and then give your own personal response.  In writing task 1, you must NOT give a personal view or personal response to the information you are given.  Writing task 1 is where you show you can write in an impersonal and academic way.  If it helps, try to see the ‘overview statement’ as a form of ‘conclusion’ because it neatly summarises the main points or trends. It can come either at the start or at the end. Personally, I recommend putting it at the start simply so that you don’t run out of time and forget to put it in!

I’ve now put together our complete writing task 1 question and also chosen an introductory sentence and an overview sentence from the examples people sent in on my IELTS Weekly Facebook page. These are both essential in your writing task.  Look at the writing task question below and the beginning of our answer.   So far we have written 34 words.

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Our task now is to ‘summarise the main points and make comparisons where relevant’. This means we should not simply start be describing the data for ‘food’, then ‘housing’, then ‘transport’ (and so on).  In the test, you should spend a few minutes, before you start to write, deciding what to include.

Send one or two sentences to my Facebook page that you think we should include in our essay. I’ll give feedback on them tomorrow and we will choose the most relevant to include.

If you’re interested in improving your vocabulary for the IELTS test, and feel stuck at IELTS band 6 or 6.5, why not try my Vocabulary teaching app?  Click on image to see it in the app store or watch the video hereScreen Shot 2015-09-12 at 7.42.27 pm


IELTS Academic Writing task 1 practice

On my IELTS Weekly Facebook page we are working through a writing task 1 together.  I posted the following image without any specific writing task question (this is a good way to sort out any vocabulary problems that people have).

Task 1 no Q

I asked the followers of the page to try to write one or two sentences that describe what the table shows. I also asked them not to use any of the words in the table.

The images below show their answers (the originals are in the boxes) followed by a corrected version with comments. The yellow highlights show language problems that will have the most impact on your score.
Task 1 corrections image 1

Task 1 corrections image 2

Task 1 corrections image 3

Task 1 corrections image 4

Task 1 corrections image 5

Task 1 corrections image 6

Task 1 corrections image 7

Why not try my new IELTS Vocab teaching app to help achieve your Band 7 goal?   Click on the image below to see it in the app store. Or watch a video about the app here.Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 7.42.27 pm