The key to writing a good IELTS essay for task 2 is to use a process or system. For a writing task 2 IELTS academic essay that will bring you success in the IELTS exam, you need to think, not just about the result, but consider the process too. An essay is the product of a process and if you leave out just one step in the process the result may be less than ideal.
Writing a good IELTS Writing Task 2 starts with understanding the steps in the process and what the outcomes should be. Remember, you are recommended to spend 40 minutes on this task and you should write at least 250 words.
In this article, you’ll learn the following.
Why using a system or process is essential to the success of your writing task
A recommended process with suggestions on how you should handle each step in the process
How an explanation of what can go wrong and what mistakes you’re likely to make if you skip that step in the process
There is no magic formula to writing an excellent IELTS essay but the secret is to have a system and to adapt that system to one that gives you the best results.
Let’s look at the IELTS essentials for task 2
Step 1 – read the question and understand what the examiner is asking
Make sure that you understand what question is being asked. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to go off on a tangent and fail to answer the question. IELTS questions are precisely worded and they require a specific answer. Time spent reading the question and understanding the requirements is time well spent. It is the surest way to ensure that you answer the question well.
IELTS is very specific and it is not okay to write about the general topic. Instead, the answer must be very specific and pointed.
You completely misunderstand the question
The question looks like one that you have written in the past. You rewrite the same answer only to find that the question was not the same.
Your essay is too general and doesn’t answer the question that was asked. For example, the question asks whether you agree or disagree but you don’t give a clear answer.
Step 2 – think about what you’re going to write for task 2
This is the stage at which you plan the essay, but you can’t just plan. You must think. Don’t just react with a ready-made essay which may or may not answer the question asked. You need to carefully read the question and decide how you can answer it using your language skills, your experience, and your knowledge.
Of course, the essay that you have previously written may offer you some insights, vocabulary and even ideas, but make sure that what you use applies without doubt to the question which has been asked in the exam. It is as important that you consider parts of previous essays to include in the answer as it is to know what parts to exclude.
You set off to write the exam without putting in enough thought and part way through you realize that you haven’t answered the question, or the essay is incoherent. Now it is too late to start again.
You fail to answer the question asked.
Writing the essay
Every essay should have three parts, so it is useful to consider each part of the essay as a step in the process of essay writing.
Step 3 – writing the introduction
The introduction is an important step in the writing process. It sets the tone and gives the examiner the first impression of your skills and abilities, so if you get the introduction wrong you could start off on the wrong foot.
In IELTS writing task 2, the introduction should link your answer to the question. You should, therefore, write the introduction considering both the question at hand and the body of the essay that you plan to write.
For a top score, you need to ‘set out a position’ – in other words, if you are asked whether you agree or disagree with a statement, you should make it clear in the introduction which one you are going to be doing in the essay. This is because the task achievement score depends on you setting out a position and maintaining this throughout the essay. It shouldn’t be a surprise to the examiner at the end of the essay to find out whether you agree or disagree!
On the other hand, most task 2 questions do not require you to give an opinion. If you are required to discuss both sides or talk about the advantages and disadvantages of something, make it clear in the introduction that this is what you will be doing.
Having favourite phrases to write most essays is a huge help here. Practically any essay you can think of can start with ‘many people believe that…’ because as we know, ‘many’ does not mean ‘most’. ‘Some people think that’ or ‘some people believe that’ followed up by ‘while others are of the opinion that…’ is also useful when summarising the question and introducing new ideas.
You don’t link the question properly and identify its contents
Your position in answering the question is unclear.
Step 4 – developing the essay ideas, your approach, and your explanations
In approaching the main body of the essay, you must ensure that answer that you give is not only clear, and accurately answers the question, it must also be coherent and well-structured. Divide your essay up into paragraphs that explain just one idea per paragraph. Ensure that you explain how your ideas relate to the question.
Common errors found in task 2
Your ideas don’t adequately answer the question
You have not supported your ideas with examples or reasons
You have given plenty of detail but not make it clear how the details relate to the question.
Step 5 – conclude your essay with a summary that completes the circle
Before you write your conclusion, you need to read through your essay and make sure that it is complete and coherent. Your conclusion should round off your essay and complete it. It should summarise the main points in the body and reflect the connection between the introduction and the question.
A good conclusion summarises the contents of the essay in as few words as possible.
You fail to write a conclusion at all. An essay without a conclusion is, in fact, not an essay
The conclusion doesn’t summarise the essay or it fails to answer the question.
The conclusion recaps the question but doesn’t mention the main points (topic sentences) in the body of the essay.
Step 6 – re-read your essay
Unlike research papers or essays written as homework, you only get one chance at writing the exam essay. It’s a good idea to read your essay through at various intervals during the exam. Leaving this to the end may be too late. You should also read it once more when you get to the end to ensure that it makes sense and is a coherent whole. Your essay needs to be clear – and give your opinion only when toy are asked for it.
Stick to a process and you’ll avoid two serious problems
What are the problems?
Incoherence – disjointed essays that cause confusion
You have a much better chance of ensuring that your essay is coherent if you use a set method to write it,. This is because with a method you would have gone through all the steps necessary to ensure coherence, moving from step 1 to step 2 to step 3 and so on. This means that you have given each part of the essay an equal level of importance. If you start with the end in mind without considering each step along the way, you may miss out on an essential stage of the process and end up with an essay which lacks coherence.
Answering the question with the wrong essay
Many students write essays in preparation for the exam. The problem with this is that, in your eagerness to answer with a carefully prepared essay, you may not answer the test question as it has been asked. This is especially true for ‘what do you think’ essays.
It may also happen that the essay question that you are faced with may not fit any of the pre-planned essays that you had in mind for your answer and you panic. In this case it is useful to have a reliable process to help you to write that winning essay. If you have a process you should not be worried and can enter the exam room with confidence, knowing that you have a system that will allow you to answer almost any question that’s thrown at you. When you have learnt the process of answering IELTS exams it all gets a lot easier.
Giving a list of reasons rather than a clear argument and supporting arguments for each paragraph.
This can be challenging for a lot of students. Many IELTS students think that the more ideas mentioned the better in writing task 2 questions, but that isn’t usually true. When talking about the advantages and disadvantages of solar power, for example, many students would be tempted to mention as many ideas as possible in the ‘advantages’ paragraph in order to maximise their score – reliance on sunshine, cost, challenges of setting it up and repairs in remote regions of the world… but you will score more by focusing on one strong argument in your answer and include examples from your own experience and more information.
Now for some practice
Take an essay that you have previously written and rewrite it. This is not an exercise in correcting errors in the prior essay, but rather an opportunity to take note of the process of writing an essay. The reason we use an old essay is that the ideas and vocabulary already exist. So, you can pay attention to the process, or the how of writing rather than the what.
Don’t worry too much about how long its takes, but pay attention to each phrase and ask yourself what you are trying to do all along the way
Here’s another example.
Where it says ‘do you agree or disagree’, that means you MUST make it clear what you think. Although it’s fine to say there are arguments for both sides it’s easier to come down firmly on one side or the other. Similarly, ‘is this a positive or negative development’ questions are easier to answer by choosing one or the other UNLESS the IELTS question specifically says ‘discuss both views and give your own opinion’. Here is an example:
‘To what extent do you agree or disagree’ questions or discuss both views and give your opinions’ are better for looking at both sides. For an agree or disagree question, it’s fine to focus on just one.
TOP TIP – write a concession!
A concession phrase is a high-level skill which will boost your task achievement score if done correctly. The idea is to use an OPPOSITE argument to show that you understand another perspective. For example, if you were writing two body paragraphs agreeing with the statement in the question above, you could also write:
Although some people may be concerned about the cost of replacing plastic goods with glass, it could be argued that our first responsibility is to the environment.
You’ve shown you understand another view (it’s expensive to change current production methods) but made a new point (the environment is more important).
However, if you’re going to do this, remember that a concession statement can ONLY be half a sentence. Any more and you’ve gone off topic and your paragraph will not match your topic sentence. Look for examples of strong concession statements in example essays and only attempt it if you’re feeling very confident.
It is important to practice as many questions as you can, and many people say that they improved their score by focusing on planning as much as writing full writing task 2 questions. Keep these tips and ideas in front of you to check your planning and writing strategies.
It’s also useful to keep a list of relevant examples from your own life to mention in the test. These can include large companies you know about, local businesses you are aware of, and even government policies for your region (and whether they are a positive or negative development and whether you agree or disagree with them!)
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