How to Improve IELTS Writing – Task 2
Obviously having a high level of English will help a student’s writing. However, knowing how to write an essay, and the ways to make an essay look more intelligent, can also be hugely beneficial in Task 2.
1. Understand the 5-paragraph essay format
The IELTS essay is built on the 5-paragraph essay structure taught in many western high schools. Choosing this format makes it easier for the examiners to concentrate on the English.
Although the essay does not have to have 5 paragraphs, the idea is the same:
– an introduction paragraph
– 2 to 4 central paragraphs, each making one argument
– a conclusion paragraph
2. Understand paragraph length
Some students try to write all 250 words in one or two paragraphs. This can be a mistake because it is more difficult to think of longer paragraphs, the paragraphs are more likely to be confused and difficult to read, and a bad paragraph will make a large part of your essay score poorly.
The smarter idea is to divide the essay into more manageable portions:
– introduction paragraph (25-30 words)
– 1st argument paragraph (65 words)
– 2nd argument paragraph (65 words)
– 3rd argument paragraph (65 words)
– conclusion paragraph (25-30 words)
3. Plan before you write
Students who simply begin to write often quickly become confused about their point, or start to repeat ideas. Conversely, making a quick plan allows a student to know exactly what they are going to say and concentrate on their English. A 5-paragraph essay plan can be done in around 2 minutes:
Step 1: Make a table for the pros and cons of the argument
Step 2: Think of 2 or 3 arguments for both sides
Step 3: Think which side you will argue
Step 4: Choose 2 arguments from the list that support your case, and 1 argument from the list against your case.
Step 5: Use the 3 arguments you have chosen for the 3 central argument paragraphs.
Question: should students be allowed to use phones in schools?
|Can have access to information on the internet ( ✔ )||Students can be distracted ( ✔ )|
|Apps and tools make work easier||Not every student can afford a phone ( ✔ )|
|Class has problem if technology breaks|
Using this plan, a student can write this essay:
Introduction Paragraph: Phones are everywhere in society, with many teenagers now carrying them everywhere, including school
Argument Paragraph 1: Supporters say students can use the internet to gain more information
Argument Paragraph 2: However, students are likely to be distracted and not listen in class
Argument Paragraph 3: Furthermore, not every student can afford a phone, meaning poorer students will be disadvantaged
Conclusion Paragraph: In conclusion, phones should not be used in school
4. Understand how to write an argument paragraph
Using a plan, the student will have a clear idea of what each paragraph should say. The next step is to write the paragraph. This can follow a simple pattern:
1. topic sentence – a sentence that says what the argument is
2. example or evidence 1 – something that supports the argument
3. example or evidence 2 – if possible, a second example adds more support
4. conclusion sentence – a sentence that states clearly why your examples are important in answering the question
Although it is true that phones can provide students with information, this can also be a distraction. Opponents to the idea of having phones in schools argue that if teachers are in competition with technology for students’ attention, it is possible that important ideas may be lost. The temptation to look at a phone – or to use the internet or play games instead of doing classwork – means that students are likely to spend class doing what they want, and not doing what the teacher asks. Without control over what students are looking at, phones are not an advantage but a serious problem for learning.
5. Know the hierarchy of evidence
When thinking of ideas to support an argument, it is worth remembering that some types of support are stronger than others:
1. (best) Statistical evidence – numbers are often the best evidence in essays, but it is unlikely a student in an exam will know statistics. Don’t make any up.
2. Real world examples – examples from the world that everyone knows about
3. Personal examples – examples from your own life that prove your point
4. Hypothetical examples – imagined situations, such as ‘if x happened, y might happen’
6. Avoid a casual tone
The best essays read like they are professionally written, not like they are written to their friend. Remember:
– don’t use ‘I’ and ‘me’ – although the essay is about your opinion, the tone should be objective, not subjective. That means removing ‘I’ from the essay.
– don’t finish lists with ‘etc.’ or ‘and so on’ – these are lazy phrases
– don’t use commas to link clauses – this is a common mistake for students from certain countries, such as China, where it is OK to use a comma to connect ideas. In English you can’t do this, so ‘I went to the park, it was a great day’ is not correct.
7. Show a variety of vocabulary in order to not lose points
A common problem for students is repeating common words, or using ‘childish’ words. Remember some rules native English speakers learn at school:
– try not to use the same word more than twice in the same paragraph
– avoid kindergarten words like ‘bad’, ‘good’, and ‘nice’
– learn synonyms for common words, especially common verbs such as ‘go’, ‘say’, ‘like’, ‘get’, and ‘have’. A selection of synonyms is available here.
– learn more conjunctions than just ‘and’ and ‘but’. Words such as ‘yet’, ‘however’, ‘furthermore’, ‘on top of this’, ‘nonetheless’, and ‘conversely’ can make writing look more intelligent. A collection of conjunctions can be seen here.
8. Gain extra points by showing variety of structure
Once a student is comfortable writing 5-paragraph essays, it is time to show off a little. IELTS examiners will give extra marks if students can successfully show they know how to use different types of English. However native English speakers only use these occasionally, so don’t go crazy: one or two in your essay is enough.
– Use different punctuation – students who can properly use different punctuation ( semi-colons (;); colons (:); dashes (- -); and brackets ( () ) have been known to score 0.5 more in their exam. A punctuation guide can be found here.
– Use different tenses – a student who can move between past, present, and future tenses without mistakes shows a strong understanding of grammar
– Use linking phrases – tie ideas and paragraphs together with linking phrases, instead of easy words like ‘also’ and ‘however’. Some examples of linking phrases can be found here.
– Learn how to insert relative clauses – most students use the basic subject-verb-object sentence structure, and then places clauses after it. Learning how to put relative clauses inside sentences, rather than at the end of sentences, shows skill.
9. High level English students should use ‘flair’
For students hoping to score over 7.5 at the exam, the use of clever words and phrases can elevate an essay. As before, don’t go crazy – it still must look natural – but using one or two in your 250 words can show high-level English.
– Idioms – idioms are difficult for non-native speakers to use. There are rewards for a student who can correctly choose and use a suitable idiom (don’t just use any idiom you know)
– Loan words – there are times when English speakers borrow words from other languages (mostly French, but others such as Latin also work). Knowing which ones, and when they are used, shows a high degree of English understanding
– Literary phrases – The two most common sources of literary phrases are the Bible and Shakespeare. All native English speakers will a few. This can be very hard to do, but intelligent and appropriate use of such phrases can raise an essay above others. Some Bible phrases are available here. Shakespeare phrases can be found here.