We look at:
- What are cohesive devices?
- How to score higher with cohesive devices
- How IELTS examiners score your cohesion
- The best ways to practise using cohesive devices
- Overuse and Underuse of Cohesive Devices
- Sample Task 2 Essay Question
- Sample answer with examiner’s comments on the use of cohesive devices
What are cohesive devices?
Cohesive devices are words we sometimes call conjunctions or connectors or linking words, words that join parts of sentences together or one sentence to another to show something like cause and effect, contrast, to give an example or to add more information.
How IELTS examiners score your cohesion
According to the descriptors for IELTS writing for Task 2, starting with Band 9 and scrolling down to Band 5, it’s interesting to see how “cohesive devices” start out being taken for granted, always there but not noticed.
- Band 9: “uses cohesion in such a way that it attracts no attention”
- Band 8: “manages all aspects of cohesion well”
- Band 7: “uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately” but that there “may be some over or under use”
- Band 6: “cohesive devices are used “effectively”, cohesion within and/or between sentences may be “faulty or mechanical”
- Band 5: “there may be repetitions or lack of referencing or substitution”
Notice how at higher Bands this is something not worth a mention as we assume the test taker can handle it well, but when the examiner sits up and takes notice, it’s because he or she has to make more of an effort to understand: the cohesive devices are not quite how they should be.
Overuse and Underuse of Cohesive Devices
Cohesive devices will catch the examiner’s attention for two main reasons. One is to help in the creation of meaning, to link ideas together so that the reader, the examiner, in this case, can follow our argument. If we overuse them, we are perhaps overstating our point of view. i.e.
“On the other hand, however, but it’s not common, a writer may not use cohesive devices although they may be needed”.
Underuse is the other problem. “It’s not common, a writer may not use cohesive devices. They may be needed.” But that was zero use rather than underuse!
There’s also the question of the accurate use of these devices. The meaning may be there but the “grammar” is wrong. An examiner would not like to read: “However the writer has underused cohesive devices, the overall idea is relatively clear.” Can you correct that?
Sample Task 2 Essay Question with examiner’s comments
Below is an example from the Cambridge IELTS series (Cambridge IELTS 12, Test 2), where a sample essay is given together with an examiner’s grade and comments. We’ll look very briefly at that, then see how, starting at the planning stage, cohesive devices could help us write a Band 7 and above essay.
Here’s the essay title:
This type of essay question where we are asked to discuss advantages and disadvantages may be a great opportunity to show off our range of cohesive devices.
The examiner mentions that in the sample essay, “cohesive devices are used rather mechanically” and looking through the essay, it is clear that, although the test taker does connect a few ideas together with what we can call “adding” linkers by using also, one of the advantages, another disadvantage, furthermore and includes “for example” once, the range is limited as well as the use of pronoun referencing and substitution. Words like “study”, “education” and “teachers” are repeated around 5 or 6 times each, for example.
Now, how can we use cohesive devices to our best advantage?
How to plan your essay
Starting at the planning stage, begin to see how your ideas can be effectively linked together. This can help you score higher with cohesive devices. Take a couple of minutes to note down possible advantages and disadvantages, just as you would under exam conditions. Here are some advantages:
- Energetic workforce willing to contribute to society
- Technologically updated, no need for expensive re-training
- Salary scales are lower than for older workers
Here are some disadvantages:
- Lack of experience and leadership
- Need for massive investment in education, housing
- Public funds for the above and for health care paid through taxes
Putting them together in a paragraph requires some effective linking words. I can see that not requiring expensive retraining is a result of young people being technologically updated and that companies would also save on salaries. So, let’s see how that could work out:
Sample Task 2 Answer
A predominantly young, healthy and energetic workforce would contribute greatly to economic progress, especially in this age of information technology. Since most of them would be technologically updated, fewer government resources would be needed for expensive training programmes. Furthermore, compared to older, more experienced staff, salary scales would be lower and therefore companies could offer more job opportunities.
Examiner’s comments on the Use of Cohesive devices
- There’s since at the beginning of the second sentence, showing a causal relationship between the skills the young possess and, in consequence, the fact that costly re-training programmes would not be needed.
- The third sentence adds a new point with Furthermore and therefore clearly marks a consequence of lower salary scales.
- As for reference, the phrase most of them is a reference back to “young people”.
Here is our chance to show how we handle contrast. Let’s look:
On the other hand, at management levels, there may be a lack of leadership and experience. What is more, such countries would need to devote a considerable amount of public funds not only in education but also in housing as well as health care for the elderly. Investment on that scale can only be paid for through taxation but if salaries are not high, then that could cause problems.
Examiner’s comments on the Use of Cohesive devices
- To mark the contrast between an enthusiastic young workforce and the need for those with more work experience, we have the classic On the other hand to open the first sentence.
- The second adds a point with What is more.
- Notice how the second part of that second sentence uses “not only” ….”but also”, a neat way to connect two points together, in this case, “education” and “housing”. There’s a third point too, “health care for the elderly” connected with “as well as”.
- I included a “then” to mark a consequence in the third sentence. My question is. Is it really necessary? Look at the sentence again. Could it be left out without losing any of the meaning?
- As for referencing, we see “Investment on that scale”, a reference back to “a considerable amount of public funds”.
The best ways to practise using cohesive devices
- Be familiar with all the possible examples, categorised according to meaning, that is: contrast, addition, sequencing, exemplification, cause-consequence, and result-cause. Joining ideas together in sentences, joining sentences together.
- You can study examples, models, and grammar books. There is a wealth of material out there on this subject. But there is no substitute for practice when it comes to writing, conscious practice.
- Double checking your efforts with experts to receive feedback.
- Awareness that it’s a mix of appropriate use and accurate use. Noticing the little things, even punctuation marks.
You can download or listen to the full tutorial here: