5 tips to improve your IELTS Academic Writing Essay (Task 2)

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by Chanmeet Dhillon

by Chanmeet Dhillon

ILAC IELTS Teacher

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If you are planning to ace the IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 using the old saying, “Practice makes Perfect”; you may have to rethink your approach.  While practice will help you boost your scores in the Reading and Listening sections, it’s not enough for IELTS Writing.  To succeed in this section, it is extremely important to first understand the requirements and demands of this part of the test, and write accordingly. 

So, let’s take a look at how you can do this and present the best words in the best order, in order to achieve that high band score!

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Practice and preparation for your exam is good - but make sure you're doing the right type of preparation.

Tip 1: Pay careful attention to the question!

The secret to getting a band score of 7 or higher in IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 lies in writing a response that clearly includes all the key points mentioned in the question.  This is easily achieved by investing some extra time in understanding the question.  Rather than rushing into writing, take a moment to focus on the question – it will tell you how to answer it!  Identify the question type, key words, and an appropriate way to address it as a whole.

Let’s look at an example.

Example - Identify HOW to answer the question

Look at the following two task questions that you might see in the Writing test.  At first glance, the questions look very similar.  However, they are actually asking the test-taker to do different things.  Can you see the subtle difference?

Example Task A: 

People now have the freedom to work and live anywhere in the world due to the development of communication technology and transportation. 

Do the advantages of this development outweigh the disadvantages? 

This question is asking the test-taker to provide their opinion on whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Example Task B: 

People now have the freedom to work and live anywhere in the world due to the development of communication technology and transportation. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this trend? 

This question requires the test taker to list both advantages and disadvantages.  There is no mention of providing an opinion. 

Thus, it is extremely important that you read the question at least 2-3 times. 

Find more sample Writing Task 2 (Academic) questions here.

Spend a little time reading different sample questions to get familiar with their subtle differences and how to answer each type.

Tip 2: Always plan out your basic content

After analyzing the question, the next step involves preparing an outline.  

At this stage, you need to brainstorm relevant ideas to make sure only the best thoughts go into your final essay.  Identify the keywords in the task question, or related to the task’s topic. Then, make a list of synonyms to these words.  It’s also a good idea to decide on an opinion that you want to present (if applicable to the task) and brainstorm reasons to support that opinion.  If the question is asking for a list of advantages and disadvantages instead, brainstorm some of these.  

If you spend around 10 minutes creating a road map, this can result in a significantly more organized and coherent essay and will naturally maximize your potential score.  Let’s practice creating a road map for the following Writing Task 2 (IELTS Academic).

Example - Planning a road map for your answer

Here’s the question:

The money spent by governments on space programs would be better spent on vital public services such as schools and hospitals. To what extent do you agree or disagree? 

Planning time allowed: 10 minutes 

STEP 1: First, identify the keywords and important phrases and find synonyms for them.

  • Keywords from the task question may include money, governments, space programs etc…
  • Synonyms and related phrases will be things like “government spending”, “budget allocation”, “investment of public money by the authorities”, or “space exploration activities”…

STEP 2: Decide what your opinion is. 

  • Will you agree, disagree, or try to present a balanced opinion?  

STEP 3: Finally, plan some ideas to support this opinion.

  • Example – Space programmes are a bad idea (too expensive, no direct benefits for people).
Even if you take IELTS on computer, you'll have some rough paper to take notes and plan your essays.

Tip 3: Stay away from phrases that are not suitable for the situation

Word choice in the Academic Writing section can significantly affect your awarded band score.

Lexical Resource or Vocabulary

This refers to how well you use a range of vocabulary, from basic everyday terms to more advanced language.  

Vocabulary (or ‘Lexical Resource’) is responsible for 25% of your final score for IELTS Writing.  (Review all marking criteria for IELTS Writing and what they mean here.)  

Using more advanced vocabulary may give you a higher score, in theory.  However, this is sometimes misinterpreted by ambitious test- takers who insert big, complex words and phrases into their essays without knowing their meaning, spelling, or proper use.  If you use advanced words incorrectly, it will actually damage your score significantly. 

Therefore, DO NOT use uncommon vocabulary if you are unsure of the meaning, spelling or correct use.

Example – ‘difficult’

The word, ‘difficult’, can often be replaced with words like ‘arduous’, ‘challenging’, or ‘daunting’.  However, in some sentences these alternatives do not fit well with the overall meaning.  Consider these sentences:

  1. It must be difficult to forgive him. 
  2. It must be challenging to forgive him.
  3. It must be daunting to forgive him. 

While sentences 1 and 2 have the same or similar meaning, the use of ‘daunting‘ in sentence 3 may change the meaning.  We use ‘daunting‘ when there is an anticipation of something being difficult in the future, specifically when we feel intimidated, scared or worried about the outcome.  Other synonyms like ‘challenging‘ are far more suitable here, to fit with the original meaning of the sentence.

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Be careful using synonyms or complex English phrases without understanding the true meaning or proper use.
The takeaway

Use synonyms cautiously without altering the meaning of the sentence.  If the synonym you want to use sounds inappropriate for the situation/context, don’t be afraid to use the simpler word instead.

Never underestimate simplicity and avoid including highly sophisticated words or phrases, when you are not sure about the meaning or spelling. 

Tip 4: Support your ideas with examples

According to the IELTS Writing marking criteria, any ideas that you present in your essay must be extended and supported using examples. 

Rules for using examples

When providing examples with your ideas, follow these 3 rules.

Rule #1: Avoid giving personal examples, instead present them in a broader perspective. 

  • Bad example: Last month I had to take a week off from work to look after my sick son.
  • Good example: Working parents must miss their work shifts sometimes, to tend to their sick children. 

Rule #2: Never invent data to prove your point, instead generalize. 

  • Bad example: Recent research by the University of Cambridge shows that 90% of construction work is done by men.
  • Good example: Construction industry is dominated by males. 

 Rule #3: There is no need to include an example in every paragraph. Use your examples where they fit. 

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Make sure your examples, conclusion and opinion (if given) agree with and makes sense with the other ideas in your essay.

Tip 5: Make sure your conclusion agrees with the ideas you have talked about

A conclusion is your last chance to impress the examiner.  A well-written conclusion will make it easy for an examiner to give you a high score in IELTS test.  

In your conclusion, remind the examiner once again about your position on the issue and your best arguments to support that position.  Ensure that you do not repeat any sentences from your introduction, and don’t introduce any new ideas that you didn’t talk about in your essay.

Here is a formula to finish strong: 

Conclusion = Your opinion + main supporting ideas

Summary & Links

Follow these 5 tips for IELTS Writing (Academic Task 2) and pave your way to success in the test.  Plan methodically and write a response that checks all the boxes of the scoring criteria.  For further assistance, check the links below or read another blog!

Find sample test questions
Find and practice sample questions for IELTS Academic: Writing Task 1 & 2.
Learn more about IELTS Preparation at ILAC​
Improve your IELTS essay writing skills in a one of our group preparation classes, or speak with an advisor to learn more!
Try a computer test
Try a FULL computer-delivered IELTS Academic Writing test under timed conditions!
Review the marking criteria (band descriptors)
Read a detailed description of each band score and what you need to do to achieve a high band score in your IELTS Writing test!

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