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How to tame IELTS Task Two

IELTS Task Two is a challenging piece of writing for most people, including native speakers! In this post, I'm going to share five tips for IELTS candidates to help you improve your writing Band Score.

Practice recognising and understanding the different question types

Unlike in the Cambridge exams, in IELTS there are several different question types that you might see in Task Two:

  • Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Problems and Solutions

  • Two-Part Question

  • Agree or Disagree

  • Discuss both sides (and give your own opinion)

To make matters more complicated, some of these have sub-categories too:

Advantages and Disadvantages:

  • discuss the Advantages and Disadvantages

  • discuss the Advantages and Disadvantages and give your own opinion

  • do the Advantages outweigh the Disadvantages

It is important that you can recognise different question types and respond appropriately. It takes practice to understand IELTS questions as some of them are quite complicated, even for English teachers! A good way to understand IELTS questions better is to re-write them in simpler language so that you can see what the question wants you to do.

Memorise paragraph structures

I always recommend that exam candidates memorise and use paragraph structures. Doing this has so many advantages for you as an exam candidate:

  • It ensures that your writing is consistent

  • It frees up brain space to think about other things such as ideas, grammar and vocabulary

  • It makes it far easier to plan your writing as you already have a framework

However, most candidates don't have any structure in mind when they go into the exam. This results in writing that often doesn't make logical sense. The paragraph types I use for IELTS are the one-idea paragraph and the three-idea paragraph (both taken from IELTS Simon).

Always make a plan!

Again, this is something that most candidates don't do. I think that people worry that they don't have enough time to make a plan and finish their essay. In fact, a good plan combined with a reliable structure will save you time as you will be able to plan your essay quickly, and write it quickly too! When I am writing an essay, I always use the same structure and I plan ideas for each sentence before I begin to write. My plan might look like this:

Introduction Sentence 1 - paraphrase the question - use a passive

Sentence 2 - introduce my opinion and use a complex sentence with while

Note that I have included information about the grammar I want to use!

Learn useful topic vocabulary, not uncommon words

Many IELTS candidates seem to think that they need to use very uncommon words in order to score highly in Lexical Resource. This is a common misconception that can lead to candidates using words such as opine - a word I have never needed to use and have seen printed no more than three times in my entire life. There is nothing wrong with using unusual words…….. as long as you can use them accurately and appropriately! The danger is that because these words are rare, you don't see enough uses for them and therefore don't learn how to use them well. This means that when you write them in your essay, they are inaccurate or unnatural. Even worse is to use a word like opine twice in one short essay. Words like this are too noticeable to be used more than once.

Instead of learning very uncommon words, it is far better to build up a large repertoire of solid topic vocabulary. This vocabulary should include collocations, chunks and phrases not just individual words. You can find useful language in videos, articles and coursebooks.

Use a mix of complex and simple sentences

It is very challenging for candidates to get a good mix of simple and complex sentences. Sometimes i see essays that are very accurate, but too simple grammatically, whereas other candidates try to write very complicated sentences but make a lot of mistakes doing so! Make sure you can write simple sentences first, then start learning how to extend them into more complex structures. For higher scores, learn how to use structures such as:

  • conditionals

  • relative clauses

  • inversions

  • participle clauses

to get more variety into your writing.

If you'd like help with your IELTS writing, join my 3-week Paragraph Clarity Course starting on Monday 29th November

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