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Complex sentences in the IELTS Writing exam

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

If you want to get a higher band score in the IELTS Writing Exam, you need to show that you can use complex sentence structures. This is challenging for most candidates and some of the most common problems include:

  • accurate sentences but no attempt at complex structures

  • sentences that are far too long and make no sense

  • lack of knowledge about what a complex sentence is or how to use them in IELTS essays

In this blog post, I'm going to explain about the different sentence types in English and show you how you can use them in an IELTS Task Two essay. First, let's look at the information on the Public IELTS Band Descriptors (key points highlighted in bold):

  • Band 4 uses only a very limited range of structures with only rare use of subordinate clauses (also called 'dependent clauses')

  • Band 5 attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences

  • Band 6 uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms

  • Band 7 uses a variety of complex structures

Now, let's look at the four different sentence types.

  1. Simple Sentences These are made of an independent clause that expresses one idea. An independent clause is a clause that makes sense on its own. They must contain a subject and a verb: Exercise is important for the development of the mind and body.

  2. Compound Sentences These are sentences made of two or more independent clauses joined by a conjunction or a semicolon: Exercise is important for the development of the body and therefore (it) should be given a more prominent role in education.

  3. Complex Sentences These are made of an independent clause combined with a dependent clause. A dependent clause is part of a sentence that would make no sense if it was written or spoken on its own. Although academic subjects are important, exercise is also critical for the development of the body. It makes no sense to say although academic subjects are important. This part of the sentence needs to be connected to another idea to make sense.

  4. Compound - Complex Sentences These are made of two or more independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses: Although academic subjects are important, exercise is also critical for the development of the body and therefore (it) should be given a more prominent role in education

So, to achieve a high band score in grammar, you need to be able to produce a range of these sentence types! Firstly, you need to practise the different structures that allow you to create a range of sentence types:

  1. Start at the beginning. There is no point in learning how to write a complex sentence if you cannot write a simple one. If you try to do this, you will likely end up writing long sentences that don't make much sense! Make sure that you are able to produce accurate simple sentences without needing to think too much.

  2. Learn how to use conditionals well. If you begin a sentence with an if clause, you will produce a complex sentence. Conditionals are great structures to use in your writing and it's well worth investing the time to learn them thoroughly. If our children are to thrive at school, they need to be supported emotionally as well as academically.

  3. Learn how to include coordinating conjunctions such as although, while and whereas as these are great ways of creating complex sentences. Although they may seem tricky at first, learning these words will help you improve your grammar score. Although school is a critical part of a child's education, their home environment also plays a role in their academic success.

  4. Learn how to use relative clauses. Relative clauses are clauses which are joined with relative pronouns which, when, where, whose and who. Relative clauses show you are a candidate who has mastered English grammar! Children who are supported by their parents tend to do better than those whose parents are disinterested in their education.

I'm a big fan of making plans and being prepared! For example, I always recommend having a complex sentence with although or while in the introduction. If you can do this, you can show the examiner straight away that you have attempted a complex sentence: Although some people believe that schools are not responsible for the emotional growth of children, I strongly believe that they do play a vital role in the formation of a young person's character.

I would make a list of complex structures while I was planning my essay (yes, you MUST plan your IELTS essays before you begin to write them!) and make sure I had included at least three complex sentences through the essay. If you have one complex sentence in the introduction and a paraphrase of this in the conclusion*, you would only need one complex sentence in each of the main body paragraphs and you'd have enough! *While there are those who feel that children's emotional transformation is best left to the parents, in my opinion, schools are also key to a young person's emotional growth.

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