Friday, May 2, 2008

IELTS Preparation - The Writing Test

IELTS Writing Test

The IELTS Writing test is slightly different, depending on whether you are taking the academic or general IELTS test. It is helpful for the ESL learner to understand the format of the exam the he or she will be taking. This will allow you to focus your PRACTICE accordingly. In either case, this portion of the test is 60 minutes, and there is no additional time given for transfer of answers.

Both forms of the exam consist of two writing tasks, Task 1 and Task 2. You will be given a separate area on the answer sheet for each task. Be sure to write your essay in the correct spot on the answer sheet.

The second writing task carries more weight than the first, so plan to spend more time on it. A good guideline is to spend 20 minutes on Task 1 and 40 minutes on Task 2 for either exam. Given that it is worth more, you may even decide to complete Task 2 before Task 1. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to finish the next task.

How to Prepare for the Exam

As with all IELTS test preparation, the student should prepare for the writing exam by practicing as much as possible. Practice is the most productive way to prepare for the exam. This means the ESL student will address topics similar to those on the exam and actually write the essays. Completing the actual writing will help you become more proficient. You will want to have mastered your strategy for each task before arriving at the exam.

For each task, take a few minutes to write down some notes and plan before doing the writing. Write down the overall points of the essay and the corresponding supporting points. Then make a note on the conclusion of the essay. Below are details of each writing task and tips on each.

Writing Task 1 – Academic exam

The first task for the academic exam is to write a 150 word essay about information shown graphically or pictorially. For the essay, you will be asked to describe the information shown. Spend approximately 20 minutes on this task and do not write less than 150 words.

It is especially important for the IELTS student to be familiar with the type and formats of information that can be shown here. Information is most often shown in graphs or in tables. However, sometimes a diagram or flowchart is used. Graphs can be line charts, pie charts or bar charts. Know what these are. Also, BE CAREFUL! Many ESL learners focus only on understanding the different types of graphs and do not prepare for tables or flow charts.

Click here to see a website that gives a tutorial on writing about graphs with examples of graphs. Click here to see an example of a table. You can find examples of flow charts and diagrams as well as a general guideline for preparing for IELTS writing here.

A general outline for an essay about a graph, pictorial, or table would be:

  • Opening sentence which describes what the graph or table shows. Look for clues in the title of the graph or table.

  • A sentence that describes the trends shown in the graph or table. Familiarize yourself with English words and phrases related to trends in data.
  • Description of the data. Before doing this you may want to group your data or identify the data which is most important.
  • A final sentence that summarizes or concludes what the graph or table shows. This may be a slight variation of your opening statement with a conclusion, but do not be repetitive. Be careful to use different wording.

Writing Task 2 – Academic exam

The second task for this exam is to write a 250 word opinion or argument about the topic provided. Spend approximately 40 minutes on this task and do not write less than 250 words. This task will take longer than task 1 and does have a greater impact on your score.

When doing IELTS coaching, I recommend my students complete practice writing with actual topics for both tasks. The essay written in task 2 is different in style from that in task 1, so it is important to practice both tasks. In this essay, you will be asked to present an opinion on a topic rather than just interpret information. The topics you will be presented with are general interest topics.

Some activities you may have already done for IELTS preparation will be useful to you in preparing for this task. For example, reading newspapers and online blogs about current events will ensure that you are aware of relevant topics. Also, listening to radio podcasts, such as those of NPR and the BBC will give you exposure to the language used in expressing an opinion and making an argument.

Click here for examples of Task 2 topics.

Before starting to write your essay, take a few minutes to carefully read the topic presented to you. Identify the issue presented and be sure you understand what you are being asked to write about. Underline key words on the topic card. Jot down notes on the topic card before you begin writing. Write down the opinion or argument you wish to present along with supporting details. A general outline for this topic would be:

  • Opening sentence which states the opinion you wish to state. Are you for or against something?
  • A series of sentence with supporting arguments for your opinion, followed by expanding details for each support. Why do you have the opinion you do?
  • Concluding paragraph summarizing your details and restating your opinion, being careful to AVOID REPEATING statements you made earlier; change the wording.

Writing Task 1 – General Exam
If you are planning to take the GT module, the Writing test is different. You are allowed one hour to complete two tasks, of 150 and 250 words, as in the Academic module. Task 1 is always a letter, while Task 2 is an essay based on a given topic.

Writing Task 2 – General Exam

The second writing task for the general exam is an essay based on a given topic.

If you are looking for more help preparing for the IELTS exam, I do offer private tutoring for IELTS preparation. I am a qualified ESL tutor and have successfully coached many English learners. I would also be happy to give you some personal tips on how to prepare for success on this exam.