Understanding the IELTS Writing Test

Understanding the IELTS Writing Test

What is the IELTS Writing Test?

The IELTS writing test is a 60 minute test where you have to complete two writing tasks. The first task is descriptive. You will be given some information to describe. The second task is discursive. You will be asked a question you will have to discuss in an essay.

The aim of the writing test is to examine how well you can organise and express your ideas in response to a specific question.

How long does the test take?

The test lasts for 60 minutes. It is generally advised that you spend 20 minutes on the first task and 40 minutes on the second task. However, it’s important to remember that you need to spend some time planning your answers and should leave some time at the end to check your writing for small language mistakes.

How much do I have to write?

In Task 1 you are expected to write a minimum of 150 words. You will lose marks if your answer is shorter than this. However, that does not mean that a longer answer is automatically a better answer. You should aim to write between 150-200 words.

In Task 2 you are expected to write a minimum of 250 words. Again, you will lose marks if your answer is shorter than this. You should aim to write between 250-300 words.

However, don’t waste too much time counting your words carefully. Check a few sentences to see how many words you usually write per line and then count the number of lines. If you are safely over the word limit you don’t need to do an exact word count. If you think you may be close to the word count, add some more information to your answer.

What are the examiners looking for?

The IELTS writing test is marked on four main areas.

Task Achievement

  • Does your response cover all the requirements of the task?
  • Do you have a clear and complete answer to the question?

Coherence and Cohesion

  • Is your answer well-organised and logical?
  • Is the connection between your ideas clear?
  • Are cohesive devices (linking words) managed well?

Lexical Resource

  • Do you use a variety of vocabulary?
  • Can you use specific vocabulary to explain precise meaning?
  • Are you able to use some less common words well?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Are you able to produce a wide range of grammar structures accurately?
  • Are most of your sentences error free?
  • Is your punctuation well-controlled?

To understand the marking critera more fully, download the full public band descriptors for Task 1 and Task 2

Which IELTS Test should I take?

There are two different versions of the IELTS Writing test – the Academic Paper and the General Paper.

The Academic Paper is designed specifically for people who want to study in university. This means the topics are usually relevant to or interesting to potential university students.

The General Paper is designed for people who need to show their level of English e.g. someone who wants to move to the UK will need an IELTS score to support their visa application.

The length and timing of the two verions of the IELTS test are the same and they are marked the same way. They are also the same level – the General paper is not easier than the Academic paper and the Academic paper is not easier than the General paper.

However, there is a difference in the tasks you are asked to do. The biggest difference is in Task 1.

Academic General
Task 1 You need to describe some data that is shown in a chart, graph or table. You may have to describe a process or a map.

See how to approach this task.

You need to write a letter in response to some information provided. You may have to write a formal or informal essay

See how to approach this task. 

Task 2 You need to write an essay on a specific topic. You will be given an argument, situation, opinion or problem to discuss.

See how to approach this task. 

How do I do well in the writing exam?

  • Read the questions carefully.
    • Make sure that your answer clearly and directly answers the question you are asked. There’s no point preparing any answers in advance because if you write about the topic but don’t answer the question you won’t do very well.
  • Spend some time planning your answers.
    • You may want to start writing straightaway but it’s important that your answer is logical and well-organised so spending some time planning at the beginning can make a big difference.
  • Show a variety of language if you can.
    • It can be very easy to rely on the same language to answer a question but try to express your ideas in different ways. For example, if you were writing an essay about teenagers it would not be good to use the word ‘teenager‘ all the time. Think of different terms you could use e.g. teens, young people, young adults, youth, adolescents. Similarly, if you are introducing an example, don’t just use ‘For example’. Consider using alternatives like ‘For Instance’, ‘This can be shown by,’ or ‘An illustration of this is’.
  • Make sure you write enough for each task.
    • Note that if you copy part of the question this is not added to your word count. You have to change the language of the question in your answer. For instance, if the question is ‘Technology is becoming more important in education and can help improve students’ learning. Give examples of this and discuss how you think technology may be used in education in the future” and somewhere in your essay use the exact words “Technology is becoming more important in education and can help improve student’s learning” that sentence will be deleted from your essay.
  • Spend some time proofreading your answers and looking for small mistakes.
    • When you finish writing your answer it is tempting to stop and relax. However, when we are writing in an exam, it is easy to make thoughtless mistakes. Pay attention to the kinds of mistake people often make. Check things like articles, verb agreement, word form and prepositions. You should also learn about your own writing. What kind of mistakes do you usually make? If you know what they are, check your answers to make sure you are not making them.
  • Learn more about the IELTS writing test
    • Check out our guides to the different types of questions you may get in the IELTS Writing test. You can see how to approach different types of question, get advice and how to deal with different tasks and see what examiners think of different answers.
  • Practice the IELTS Writing Test
    • If you want to know how well you might do in the IELTS Writing test, register and take a test. Our examiners will check your essay and give you some feedback to let you know if you are on target to get the IELTS score you need.