Recently a student asked me. ‘What is the best IELTS essay planning strategy?’ I was so pleased to hear this question because it meant that this student understood the importance of planning before answering an IELTS Writing question and didn’t want to just ‘throw his ideas onto the page.’
For all types of IELTS Writing tasks, both Task 1 and Task 2, academic or general, it is important to be aware of the following:
- effective preparation
- effective planning
- appropriate style
- appropriate tone
- correct structure and format (i.e. make sure your letter ‘looks like a letter’ or your report ‘looks like a report’.
In this post I’d like to introduce you to what I think is the best IELTS writing procedure.
IELTS Writing Test procedure
(prepare, prepare, prepare; I’ve just said it three times because that’s how important I think it is!)
1. Read the task question very carefully.
While you are reading the question, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What exactly do I have to write about?
- What style (formal or informal) and tone (informative or complaining etc?) do I need?
2. Brainstorm and make notes of your ideas.
Here you are trying to think of the maximum number of ideas you have that relate to the task (make sure they’re relevant!). You should write these notes on the question paper, rather than the answer sheet, so then you know that they examiner will not read them as part of your answer.
3. Plan your essay
Here you need to select the ideas that you’re going to use, decide which are the most important and group them so that your essay has a structure and isn’t just a fragmented catalogue of ideas.
I find a lot of students are concerned about ‘wasting time’ on planning. In the IELTS Writing test, do NOT glance at anyone else in the room and panic because they appear to be writing their answer and you’re making notes. There are two reasons for this;
- never look at other people in an exam, you don’t want to look as if you’re trying to cheat
- we’re trying to use our planning strategy to get the best IELTS Writing score possible; it’s not a race to see who can write the most quickly!
That said, it’s important to be aware of time in the IELTS Writing test. You have 20 minutes for Task 1 so I suggest you spend maximum 5 minutes on the preparation stage. You have 40 minutes for the longer Task 2 so I suggest you spend maximum 10 minutes (preferably closer to 5 minutes) on the preparation stage.
4. Write your essay on your answer sheet, following the plan you wrote in the preparation stage
Make sure your handwriting is legible. Although you can choose whether to write in pen or pencil, I usually recommend that my students write their IELTS Writing answers in pencil; much neater if you change and correct things.
I usually recommend that this stage takes about 10-15 minutes for IELTS Writing Task 1 and 20-30 minutes for IELTS Writing Task 2. (You need to leave some time for the next stage; 3-5 minutes for Task 1 and 5-10 minutes for Task 2).
5. Here the aim is to check that you’ve written the best IELTS Writing answer you can. You’re going to review and improve your work.
Here’s what you should be checking at this stage:
- make sure you’ve answered the task fully (all aspects of the task)
- check that your style and tone are appropriate and consistent (e.g. NOT, Dear Sir, …………’Hi, how are ya doin?’ !
- make sure your paragraphing is clear and logical (see my post The Importance of Paragraphs in IELTS Writing)
- all your supporting points are relevant to your answer to the task.
- look for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Finally don’t forget that IELTS Writing Task 1 needs to be at least 150 words and IELTS Writing Task 2 needs to be 250 words.
These word counts are good guidelines. In my opinion, Writing Task 1 answers should be somewhere between 150 and 180 words, Writing Task 2 answers should be somewhere between 250 and 300 words.
Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!