The subject of this lesson is IELTS Writing skills, and we thought we’d start off with just an overview.
In this lesson Andrea describes the IELTS Writing Task 1 and Task 2 and provides a general overview of techniques IELTS candidates should bear in mind when they’re doing their IELTS Writing in the actual test itself.
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IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 2
IELTS Writing Skills: A General Overview
The IELTS Test Prepcast provides three free IELTS test lessons each week for candidates who are aiming for IELTS band scores 7, 8, or 9.
I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since.
Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS, and has previously lived in Spain. She is a qualified teacher of English as a second language and has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.
If you enjoy this free IELTS Test Prepcast, please show us your support and appreciation by heading over to ieltstestPrepcast.com and clicking the “subscribe on iTunes” button at the top of the page. This will shoot you over to iTunes, where you can leave a rating and review.
And now for today’s IELTS lesson . . .
Steve: Hello. Today we’re going to talk about IELTS writing skills, just a general overview, and in particular, we’re going to talk about IELTS task 1 for academic IELTS. And I have with me today Andrea, and Andrea’s going to start by describing the test.
Andrea: Hello. Task 1 is a twenty-minute test in which you have to describe in 150 words or more one of the following: you may need to describe a line graph, a bar chart, a pie chart, or a table, and then there are variations of the activity, where you have to describe a combination of any of the above, maybe a table or pie chart, or maybe four pie charts, or a mix. And two more kinds of activities that you may have to do are changes in a diagram or a map and a process.
Steve: Okay, just to be clear then. The letter that you sometimes see being written, or a letter of complaint or whatever, that has nothing at all to do with IELTS academic.
Andrea: No, writing a letter belongs to IELTS general training.
Andrea: I have some general advice for task 1. The best thing, the best advice you can be given is to plan a little bit, just plan for a few minutes before you start writing. The reason for this is if you plan, you put your ideas together logically, and then you’re writing very cohesively. And the easier it is for the examiner to understand what you are writing, the better your marks are going to be, and obviously, that’s why everybody’s in the exam.
Steve: Can I just interrupt briefly there. When we’re talking about planning, this isn’t something that we would do in our day-to-day lives, unless you happen to be a writer. So what sort of techniques can you use to do planning?
Andrea: I can give you a couple. It just depends really how your mind works. You might just write a list of things you want to put, and so you look at what you are about to write about, and you decide what points you’re going to mention. What you could also do in your list is maybe the verbs you’re going to use or maybe the linking expressions you’re going to use. Another way to do it is a mind map, and then so in the middle, you’d put the main idea of whichever activity you have to write about, and then you just draw lines off as you remember things to write about or think about things to write about, but it’d be something similar, and you’ll just be on the page in a different way.
Steve: Okay, so those are both good techniques to use. I think they do sound a little more complicated than perhaps we’ve given them credit for today. So what we’ll do in the future is we’ll lay on another couple of lessons talking about each of those and any others that are out there.
Andrea: Yes, I think that’s a good idea. Having planned what you’re going to write, what I’ll also say is give yourself approximately five minutes to write each paragraph. So how many minutes was the test, Steve?
Steve: Well, there was twenty minutes each, and then you’re giving yourself five minutes to write each, then you’re looking at about four paragraphs.
Andrea: Yes, I agree, and you might make the introduction and conclusion into just one so that you can write five paragraphs into two and a half minutes each so you write five paragraphs, but four to five paragraphs, I agree. When you’re in the exam, there’s probably a clock on the wall so that you can see it, or and also the, invigilator will tell you that twenty minutes have passed or that you have forty minutes remaining. What you must do is when you hear that twenty minutes have gone, stop writing task 1, even if you haven’t finished. It’s impossible to get really good marks in task 2 if you spend more than twenty minutes on task 1.The reason for this is that task 1 is only worth a third of the marks. You spend twenty minutes on task 1, forty minutes on task 2, so task 1 is only a third of the marks. So no matter how good your task 1 is, you’re not going to make up the marks in your task 2 if you spend too long on it.
Steve: Okay, so that’s obviously a good takeaway, a good learning point. It’s impossible for them to score more highly in the last minute or two of task 1 than it is to score highly or more points in task 2.
Andrea: Yes, I agree.
Steve: So that’s a good takeaway, I think.
Andrea: Yes. So I would say, for your task 1 approach, that in all of the activities you might have to do, there is a format. First of all, you write an introduction. In the task 1, in any of the task 1s you are given, the types of task 1 you are given, you would write an introduction where you describe in a couple of sentences what information you can say. So in general only, so that you know what it’s about. Another thing you have to do is identify other sentences that tell you the general idea of the task, depending what the task is or the general trend of the task. For example, maybe everything’s gone up over the few years that the activity is looking at. The general trend or the general idea of the task is called an overview, and you will lose valuable marks if you do not have an overview. It doesn’t have to be the introduction, but oversee the examiner can see it very quickly the introduction. As long as you’ve got an overview somewhere, people quite often predict the conclusion, and that will be fine.
Steve: Okay, so again, just to summarize that very briefly, they do need to describe what information is being presented to them and what they’re being asked to provide. And they also then need to give their first very high-level overview of the general trend of what they’re looking at, whether it’s a process, whether it’s a line graph, a bar chart, or whatever.
Andrea: Yes, exactly, that’s right. And if it’s missing, they’ll lose marks. Having written the introduction, obviously, you then move to the body. So what you’ve talked about in general in the introduction, you describe in more detail in the body. The basic idea of any of them really, or at least the graphs, are that you talk about things which are the most or the biggest or the highest or the least or the smallest and things that stay the same. So there are three basic ideas that you look at. You can write these down in two ways: you can either do a paragraph for each of those ideas, a paragraph for the most, a paragraph for the least, a paragraph for what’s similar; or if you want to make your writing more complex—and obviously, the more complex your writing is, the better your band score’s going to be—you can compare and contrast all three ideas in one paragraph by joining those ideas together. That’s called complex. And if your writing becomes complex, that’s when you get more marks.
Steve: Okay, so majority of our listeners are going to be looking for band scores of, let’s say, 6.5 or higher, so your advice is that they should think ahead when they’re planning to think about how they’re going to do the slightly more, or include, the slightly more complex grammar as part of their response.
Andrea: Yes. No, I agree exactly that when you’re planning, you’ll be looking at how you’re going to group your information together in things which are all similar and then how you’re going to compare each of those ideas inside one paragraph.
Andrea: So when you are writing the body, the things that are going to get you good marks—obviously, people are listening to this because they want good marks—every time you have a new idea, you write a new paragraph. That’s just the English way of writing things. If you don’t put your paragraphing in, at some level, you will lose valuable marks. Another thing that’s really good, you’ll probably realize that you need a lot of key words and synonyms or lots of—an ability to paraphrase well. You also need that in writing task 1, so you need to be able to have—need to be able to explain rises, falls, and things which stay the same or similar in different verbs so that every time you write about something, you are not repeating a verb. It’s really easy for somebody to look and see that you haven’t got a very wide range of vocabulary for using the same verbs all the time.
Steve: Okay, so I guess, so what’s coming across to me certainly is that, what I would regard as the way that I was taught English, which is to paragraph, to start the sentences with capitalization and proper punctuation at the end and so on, that is still important in IELTS. So I guess what you just mentioned is you have a new idea and a new paragraph. Also, if you do not paragraph, then you’ll lose marks.
Andrea: At some level. It’s okay until a certain level, but after that, you will lose marks, yes.
Steve: Okay, so again, if we are talking here to people who are band score 6.5 and higher, then in order to be able to merit those band scores, they’re going to have to show that they understand how to write in English.
Andrea: Yes. No, I agree 100 percent. Obviously, the better you are, the higher your band’s going to be, and yes, you are going to show that by understanding that we have a new idea for a new paragraph, a new paragraph for a new idea.
Steve: Okay, and you also mentioned using a variety of words, verbs to explain, and using different ones for each, so you might say “increase,”“higher,”“go higher,” those sorts of differences, not reading the same words.
Andrea: Exactly. Of course, when the examiner’s reading what you’ve written or your teacher’s reading what you’ve written, it’s really easy to see if you just write all the time “There was a rise,”“There was a fall,”“In 2010, there was another rise,” if you keep doing that all the time, that’s really obvious, and of course, you’re not going to get many marks.
Andrea: Another tying you can think about is your linking expressions, how you’re going to join your paragraphs together. So remember, in one of the columns, you are marked on the way you . . . it’s called cohesion. So the way you put your ideas together, and that’s highlighted by the linking expressions you use to join your paragraphs together. There’s another useful linking, and that’s actually inside the paragraph. So we mentioned about complex paragraphs where you compare the three—the most, the least, and the similar—all in one paragraph, and how you’re going to link those ideas together. All that linking gets you extra marks. And the examiner’s always looking for complex ways of, what they call complex ways of writing, and that’s one. Another thing you can have is—and you can learn these anyway—are called collocations for comparisons. Every time you use something like that, you get extra marks. If you write basic English with no mistakes, you probably won’t get higher than a 6. So it’s always wise to be adventurous, I think, and you’re not penalized if you’ll—if the language and grammar you use is adventurous, then you won’t be penalized for your mistakes.
Steve: So is it fair to say on that point that any basic English you use has to be correct, but it’s worth trying the more complex English.
Andrea: Yes, exactly, I would say that. Of course, if you get—you lose lots of marks if you make mistakes at the basic level and especially if you want a higher band. But I think if you try and you want to use different grammar, complex grammar, complex English, then yes, you’ll get extra marks for trying.
Steve: Okay, in your description just then, you mentioned a word which isn’t in common usage, I think—“collocations.” What is a collocation?
Andrea: Okay, a collocation is when we have expressions in English that if you are a native speaker, you would just know that those words go together.
Steve: Can we have some examples of maybe a couple of those?
Andrea: Something like “free admission.”So if you hear “admission” and you are given some words to choose, you would know that you would have to choose “free” because that’s how the expression appears.
Steve: Okay, are there any others?
Andrea: In other circumstances, in other situations, you might say “Once upon a time,” and you just know that that would introduce a story usually.
Steve: And now you’ve also mentioned unusual grammar. No, you haven’t, have you?
Andrea: I’m about to come on to unusual grammar.
Steve: Sorry, go on.
Andrea: Yes, unusual grammar, and again, your basic grammar, as long as you’ve made no mistakes, will probably get you about a band 6, but if you’re trying to use maybe an unusual comparison, so you might say, “The more money they spend in Australia, the more it would seem that they use it for leisure,” or something like that, and that’s quite an unusual comparison, an unusual way to compare things. And if the examiner sees that or your teacher in your class, you should get extra marks for that.
Andrea: After that, in the conclusion, you can review the information you’ve written already. If you’ve already mentioned the general trend, you don’t need to have a conclusion. This is good advice really because it’s very easy to run out of time. You’ve only got twenty minutes to write. If you’ve run out of time, as long as you have the general trend somewhere in your writing, you don’t need to put a conclusion. Most people like to put their general trend in the conclusion, but if you’ve already mentioned it, then you don’t need to put a conclusion. And that might help you to save time if you run out.
Steve: So to improve your marks, especially at the higher levels, you need to have more complicated linking, you need to use, make use of collocations, and if you can think of any at the time, then you should be trying to insert some unusual grammar.
Andrea: Yes, exactly.
Steve: I think, at the end of your lesson, Andrea, I think what we’ve done is we’ve covered the overview for IELTS writing skills for the task 1 academic paper. What I think we will do is we’ll take some of those points, as I mentioned earlier, and we’ll have individual lessons for each, going forward. And that will help people to develop a deeper understanding of some of the points that you’re raising.
Andrea: I agree. And we’ll also give them some expressions to take away and be able to recycle as well, so that’s a good idea.
Steve: Okay, so for today, I think we’ve covered the objectives of what we set out to do, which was to provide an overview of IELTS writing skills for task 1, academic IELTS. And I’d like to thank you for today.
Andrea: Thank you as well.
End of Lesson