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How to Write an Overview

The overview is probably the most important paragraph in the whole
essay. In fact, as we will see later in this post, it is very difficult to score
7 or over without a good one.
An overview is simply a summary of the main or most important points
in a graph, chart, process or map. It is normally 2-3 sentences long and
should be the second paragraph you write in your essay.
What does the examiner want?
An overview is one of the first things an examiner looks for because it
shows them that you can identify the most important information from
the graph or chart and clearly identify overall trends and comparisons.

This means that to get at least a 5 for task achievement we must give
some kind of overview. If we do not give any overview we will always get
below a 5. If we select the appropriate data to include in our overview
we get a score of 6 and if it is clear we get a 7 for this part of the exam.
If you know how to select the appropriate data and you practice writing
a clear overview, then you are likely to get the score you deserve in this
What is an overview?

To understand this we must look at the question. The question for

academic task one is always the same:
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main
features, and make comparisons where relevant.
We therefore need to provide a short summary of the main features. You
do this in the overview paragraph by picking out 3-4 of the most
significant things you can see and writing them in general terms. By
general, I mean you do not support anything you see with data from the
graph or chart, just write about what you can see visually.
Lets look at an example:

Overall, I notice that there are 7 regions. Europe, Asia-Pacific and North
America make up the majority, with North America being the largest.
Africa, India, Latin America and China make up a very small proportion.
We can then include these things in an overview paragraph:

The pie chart is comprised of 7 regions in total with Europe, Asia-Pacific

and North America making up the vast majority of global wealth. North
America has the single biggest share and Africa, India, Latin America and
China combined, only make up a small proportion.
As you can see, it was just reported what is visually observed, without
looking closely at the data. If you have to look at the data, then you
probably wont write a good overview.
How do I select the correct features?
To understand this, we have to think about the different types of graphs
and charts we might see. There are generally two different kinds of
charts and graphs: dynamic and static.
Dynamic charts show data over time and static charts show data at just
one point in time. This will affect the type of data we select.
When we are looking at dynamic graphs we should be looking out for:

What does the data do from the start to the finish?

Do they generally go up or down or do they fluctuate?

Any significant difference from the general trend?

Overall increase/decrease?


When we look at static graphs we should be looking for:

What are the highest/lowest values?

What are the most noticeable differences?

Any similarities?

Any significant exceptions?

Is there any special grammar?

You should try and make a complex sentence by making a subordinate

clause. Complex sentences are sentences with more than one clause
and they help increase our marks in the grammatical range part of the
marking criteria.
You can easily make a subordinate clause structure in the overview by
joining two pieces of information with the words while. although,
with, even though, whereas or and. However, make sure you know
the meaning of these words and how they are correctly used in a
How does an overview fit into the rest of my essay?
The overview should be the second paragraph of a four paragraph
Paragraph 1- Paraphrase Sentence
Paragraph 2- Overview
Paragraph 3- Details
Paragraph 4- Details
Shouldnt I write a conclusion?
No. Conclusions are really a summary of what you think or opinions. This
is not an opinion essay and you therefore do not need to write a

How to Paraphrase in the IELTS Test

Paraphrasing is an essential IELTS skill. This post will show you how to
paraphrase effectively.
Paraphrasing is simply re-writing a phrase or sentence so that it has the
same meaning, but with different words. Paraphrasing is one of the most
important skills to learn before doing your IELTS test. It is most important
for writing and speaking, but will also help you in the reading and

listening tests. In other words, if you know how to paraphrase you are
more likely to get the score you need.
The mental processes required to paraphrase will also help you to fully
understand the question then you can begin all of your answers in the
writing test by paraphrasing the question.
Example: Paraphrasing is one of the most important skills to
learn before doing your IELTS test.
Paraphrased: Prior to taking the IELTS test, mastering
paraphrasing is one of the most crucial things to do.
As you can see, the second sentence (paraphrased sentence) uses
synonyms to change some vocabulary (e.g., important for crucial and
prior to before and changes the grammar (e.g., Paraphrasing is one
of the most important skills for mastering paraphrasing). You can also
change the word order.
These are the three main methods you should use in the IELTS test to
paraphrase sentences. Ideally, you should try to use all three but
sometimes two will only be possible.
Method Number 1: Using Synonyms
Synonyms are different words that have the same meaning. For
example, humans is a synonym of people and attractive is a
synonym of beautiful. This method simply replaces words with the
same meaning in order to produce a new sentence.
For example:
My car needs petrol.
My vehicle requires fuel.
There were 3 out of four words replaced with synonyms to produce a
new sentence, with the same meaning as the first one. This is the most
common method that students use and it can be used effectively. The
biggest mistake students make is trying to paraphrase and the word

having a similar meaning, but not the same meaning. Similar meanings
are not good enough and will lose you marks.
Method Number 2: Change the Word Order
Changing the word order also allows us to effectively paraphrase a
sentence, but again, we have to be careful. Dont change the word order
without thinking about how this affects the grammar of the sentence. By
changing the word order, you may have to add a word, subtract a word
or change the form of the word.
The 100% rule applies again; dont change it if you are not 100% sure it
is grammatically correct. Remember that you are being judged on your
ability to produce error free sentences in the IELTS test as well as use a
range of grammar structures.
Fortunately, there are two straightforward ways we can change the word
order in most IELTS questions.

You can easily change the order of the clauses, if the original
sentence has more than one clause.

Question: As languages such as Spanish, Chinese and English

become more widely used, there is a fear that that many
minority languages may die out.
Paraphrased by changing word order: There is a fear that many
minority languages may die out, as languages such as Spanish,
Chinese and English become more widely used.
We could also add some synonyms to paraphrase it even more:
Paraphrased with changing word order AND synonyms: There is
dismay that many lesser used languages may pass away, as
languages such as Chinese, English and Spanish become more
broadly spoken.

You can also change the word order if there is an adjective or noun
in the question. You do this by simply changing the adjective into a
relative clause.

Question: Learning to manage money is one of the key aspects to

adult life.
Paraphrased using a relative clause: Learning to manage money is
one of the aspects to adult life that is key.
Method Number 3: Change the Form of the Word
There are many different forms of words including nouns, verbs,
adjectives and adverbs. Changing the form of a word allows us to
paraphrase effectively. Again, dont just change the form of the word;
you also need to check that your changes make grammatical sense. You
might need to change the words around it to make the sentence error
Question: Longer life spans and improvements in the health of
older people suggest that people over the age of sixty-five can
continue to live full and active lives.
Paraphrased by changing word form: Longer life spans and
improvements in the health of older people are suggesting that
people over the age of sixty-five can continue living full and
active lives.
Method Number 4: Change from Active to Passive
The passive voice is often used in academic writing and can therefore be
used in the IELTS academic writing test. Only verbs with an object can be
turned into the passive.
Example active sentence: The property developers invested $20
million in the development of the shopping centre.
Example passive sentence: $20 million was invested in the
development of shopping centres.
We often use the passive voice in academic writing when we dont want
to say it is our opinion.

Example active: People say that global warming is caused by the

burning of fossil fuels.
Example passive: Global warming is said to be caused by the
burning of fossil fuels.

IELTS Writing- How To Write a Complex Sentence

One of the biggest mistakes students make in IELTS writing is to try and
show off and be overly ambitious with their grammar. This is because
many students think that all of their sentences need to be complex
(they dont!) and them not understanding what a complex sentence is.
Trying to write overly complicated sentences leads to grammar mistakes
and this will lead to lost marks in many different areas.
What does the examiner expect?
If we look at the examiners marking scheme it states that in order to
get a band 6 for grammar, we need to:
use a mix of simple and complex sentences.
For band 7 it states:
Use a variety of complex structures.
What is a complex sentence?
The main problem here seems to be the word complex. Complex, in this
situation, does not mean complicated, long or impressive. This is a
common misconception and leads to students writing very long and
grammatically incorrect sentences that are very difficult to understand.
For example:
In the modern world, global warming is one of the most popular topics
causing many environmental difficulties and tough challenges arising
from its serious consequences.
This is a very typical sentence from an essay that is trying to be overly
complex. This student has tried to put four simple ideas in to one

paragraph and the result is an awkward and incoherent sentence. They

have lost control of the grammar and this affects the meaning. When
meaning is affected it stops the reading understanding what is being
said and that is really bad for you IELTS writing band scores.
Complex sentences are not actually very complex; they are just simple
two or more simple sentences put together. Putting them together
makes the essay more coherent and cohesive.
Lets look at the first example again. In the sentence above there are
four simple ideas that we can put in to simple sentences:

Global warming is a common topic these days.

Global warming causes environmental problems.
There are tough challenges associated with global warming.
Global warming has very serious consequences.

If we write all of our sentences in the IELTS exam like this, we lose marks
because they are too simple. What we need to do is put them together
to make complex sentences.
When should I use complex sentences?
In general, we should use simple sentences when making main points;
normally at the beginning of a paragraph. We should then use complex
sentences when expanding on the main point, for instance when giving a
supporting example or explaining your main point.
How do I make a complex sentence?
Remember that a complex sentence is just more than one simple
sentence put together to make one sentence. To make a complex
sentence we normally should have two things- a dependent clause and
an independent clause. A clause is a group of words with both a subject
and a verb.
An example of a dependent clauses is .because the weather was
cold. This is a dependent clause because it has a subject and a verb but
it doesnt make any sense on its own. To make sense we need to add an
independent clause.
As the name suggests, an independent clause can make sense on its
own. For example, I wore a warm coat. If we combine these two clauses

we get a complex sentence- I wore a warm coat because the weather

was cold.
As you can see, complex sentences dont have to be complicated. Lets
now look at other ways we can make complex sentences.
1. Relative Clauses
You can use relative clauses to give essential or extra information about
a person, place, or thing. This makes our writing more fluent and more
coherent. We do this by using relative pronouns like who, which and that.
For example, Hes the kind of person who is always friendly.
2. Subordinate Clauses
A subordinate clause can describe nouns and pronouns; describe verbs,
adverbs, and adjectives; or act as the subject or object of another
clause. They are made by connecting an independent clause with a
dependent clause with words like as, because, while, until, even though,
although, when and if.
3. Conditional Clauses
Also known as If clauses, they are used to express that the action in the
main clause can only take place if a certain condition is met.
They are also useful for talking about unreal situations or to speculate
about results in the past or present.
Zero Conditionals are used to talk about information that is true or
facts. We can use if or when to introduce the conditional. Example:
Nowadays when we travel long distances, we usually use air travel.
First conditionals are used to talk about things in the present or
future. Example: If the citys population continues to grow, we will need
to build more infrastructure.
Second Conditionals are used to talk about things that are impossible.
Example: If the sun didnt come up tomorrow, we wouldnt have any life
on earth.
Third Conditionals are used to speculate about past events. It is often
used when we regret something or to imagine a past unreal situation.

Example: The Second World War would have never happened, if

Germany had been given a fairer peace settlement in World War One.
4. Compound Sentences
Compound sentences consist of two independent clauses linked together
with a conjunction such as and, for or but.
The crucial thing is to understand and be able to use these grammar
structures before your IELTS test. Some students memorise lots of
structures and try to insert them in to their essays without giving much
thought to how they work or if they are accurate. This will only lead to
unnatural and incoherent sentences.
They key is to only use them appropriately. Concentrate on answering
the question and if you know how to use these structures they will flow
IELTS Writing Task 1 Charts Checklist
When looking at an IELTS writing task 1 chart question, you should ask
yourself 10 quick questions before you write your answer.
What kind of chart is it? (Line, pie, bar)
What does the title say about the chart? (Read it carefully)
What information is contained on both axes?
What are the units of measurements? (Age, %, amount etc.)
What groups are compared?
What is the time period? (Past, present or future)
What is the most obvious thing that the data shows you? (General
increase or decrease?)

What is the most important or significant piece of information displayed?

Can any comparisons be made? (Between groups or charts if more than
Is it a static chart or dynamic chart? (Static- one time period. Dynamicover a period of time)
The Danger of Synonyms
Lots of IELTS teachers, stress the importance of using synonyms.
Synonyms help us to vary our language and show the examiner that we
have a wide-ranging vocabulary. However, synonyms are also very
dangerous because if used incorrectly, it can not only lower your mark
for vocabulary, but also for task response, and coherence.
Whats the danger?
The dangerous thing about synonyms is that people use them incorrectly
or try too hard and force them into their essays.
When using a synonym, we first need to think about the meaning. The
meaning should be exactly the same. I do not encourage students to use
synonyms that mean nearly the same because it often leads to
This student has changed the following words using synonyms, but not
all are correct:
young children young people
art, drama and music- extracurricular activities
traditional subjects- serious subjects
The problem that this student has is they are using what I call loose
synonyms. These are words that dont really mean the same as each
other and the result is that you are writing about something completely
different from the question. This leads to you writing unrelated ideas and
this can lower the score of your whole essay.

Alternatives to Synonyms
Instead of using synonyms you can use the following things to vary your





Change the form of the word

If you cant think of a good synonym you can simply list an example or
two. So in the question above about computers it is perfectly
acceptable to say laptops and tablets. These are the exact things that
students use in class, so it is fine to write them. Like synonyms, just
make sure that the examples match the word 100%.
You can also define the word if you cant think of a synonym. So for our
example above about travelling, you could say people going from place
to place. This is obviously much longer than a simply synonym, but it is
much easier sometimes to write about something in simple language
than think of one complicated word.
Finally, it is always acceptable to change the form of the word or
phrase. So instead of trying to think of a synonym of violent video
games (which is very hard to do) you could say video games that have
violence. All we have done is change the word from an adjective
(violent) to a noun (violence).

Only change a word if you are 100% sure the meanings are the

Be aware of loose synonyms.

If you change it, the grammar must also be correct.

Be particularly careful with keywords from the question.

If you cant think of a synonym, try one of the alternative methods.

If in doubt, dont change it. It is better to repeat the word and be

correct, than force a synonym and be wrong.

Common Task 1 Mistakes

Not Writing a Clear Overview
Writing About Everything
keep in mind that the task is as much about what you do not write as
you do write. This is often a case of prioritising.
Over-complicating the Question
Not Organizing Ideas Logically
The most logical way to organise a Task 1 essay is:
Paragraph 1- Introduction
Paragraph 2- Overview of main features
Paragraph 3- Details of main features 1
Paragraph 4- Details of main features 2
Describing Data Incorrectly
Describing general trends and changes in data requires very specific
grammar structures and vocabulary.The most common mistake is
probably trying to use grammar or vocabulary candidates are not sure
IELTS Writing Task 1 Grammar and Vocabulary Guide
The IELTS writing test marking scheme is divided into four parts:

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Task Achievement

Lexical Resource

Coherence and Cohesion

Grammar therefore accounts for 25% of the marks in your writing test.
You are assessed on two things:

Your ability to produce grammatically accurate sentences;


Your ability to use a wide range of grammar structures.

Accuracy of grammar
Examiners look for how many error free sentences you have. You
therefore need to make sure each sentence has no errors. Even a small
mistake like an article in the wrong place or misplaced plural counts
towards this.
This is why it is so important to check your work after you finish writing.
Always try to leave yourself two minutes at the end to check your work.
Simple errors, which could be fixed with a quick check, will really bring
your marks down in this area.
Range of grammar
Describing Trends
There are two main grammatical structures we can use to describe

There + be + adj. + noun + in + noun phrase

There was a gradual rise in the price of oil.
There has been a sharp drop in the price of oil.
Possible adjectives












Possible nouns:














Noun phrase + verb + adverb

The price of oil rose gradually.
The price of oil has risen dramatically.
Possible verbs:











go down



Possible adverbs:













Describing Increases and Decreases


Noun phrase + verb + adverb

The price of property fell sharply
The percentage of homes dropped dramatically.

There + be + noun + in + noun phrase

There was a fall in literacy levels.
There has been an increase in the cost of coffee.

Using fractions


The price of oil halved in less than a year.

The price of oil have halved since July.
By July, the price of oil has halved.
Making Comparisons

More/few/less + noun + than

Overall, more people preferred public transport than taxis.

of one syllable -er + than

A higher number for people preferred public transport than taxis.

More/less + adj. of more than one syllable + than

Taxis were more popular than public transport.

of one syllable -est.

The highest % of commuters preferred taxis.

The most/least + adj. of more than one syllable.

The least popular mode of transport was buses.

To summarise, the most marked change is.

Overall it is clear.

Overall the majority/minority.

In sum, the most noticeable trend is.

Dont say to conclude. This is only for discursive essays.

The key is to look at the title of the chart and the information contained
on both axes to establish what time frame is used. This will help you
establish what tense you should use.

If the time is one point in the past, for example January 1990, then
we should use the past tense.

If it has projections for the future, for example 2045, we use

future tenses.

It there is no time, we use present simple.


Present Perfect:

We use this tense generally to talk about an action that happened at an

unspecified time before now. The exact time period is not important.
In writing task 1, we use this tense to talk about changes in data that
have happened over a period of time.
The price of oil has fallen by $5 a barrel every week since July.

Present Perfect Continuous

We use this tense to show that something started in the past and has
continued up until now.
Oil prices have been decreasing since July.

Future Perfect

We use this tense to state that something will be finished by a particular

time in the future.
We often use it with by or in.
The price of oil will have reached $300 a barrel by 2020.

Past Simple

Use this tense to talk about an action that started and finished at a
specific time in the past.
The price of oil fell from $150 in Jan 2014 to $50 in Jan 2015.
Approximations, Percentages and Fractions
73%- nearly three quarters
51%- just over a half
49%- just under a half
32%- nearly a third

3%- a tiny fraction

50%- exactly a half
26%- roughly one quarter
49%- around a half
24%- almost a quarter
77%- approximately three quarters
70%- a large proportion
71%- a significant majority
15% a small minority
3%- an insignificant minority
IELTS Marking Criteria
There are four marking criteria for Task 1:

Task Achievement

Coherence and Cohesion

Lexical Resource

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Each of these is worth 25% of your total mark.

Task Achievement
Task Achievement refers to your ability to answer the question
properly. In order to do this, you have to do all the things the question
asks you to do and write a clear, well developed answer.

You will get a higher score if you:

Select the main/key features of the graph, chart, map or process.

Write a clear overview that includes the main/key features (main

trends, differences, stages etc.) of the graph, chart, map or process.

Support them with accurate detail.

Write at least 150 words.

Coherence and Cohesion

Coherence refers to your ability to connect your main ideas together so
that they make sense and are easy to understand. This is mostly done at
paragraph level. Are your paragraphs in a logical order? Is there one
clear main idea in every paragraph? Is it easy to understand the main
idea of each paragraph?
You will get a higher score for coherence if you:

Introduce your essay by paraphrasing the question in the first


Separate your ideas into paragraphs.

Making it clear which paragraph is your overview.

Having very clear ideas in your overview.

Supporting the main points in your overview in separate

Making it clear what each paragraph is about.

Cohesion refers to the connection of ideas at sentence and paragraph

level. Are your sentences and ideas linked together?
You will get a higher score for cohesion if you:

Use a range of linking words when appropriate.

Use linking words accurately.

Do not over-use linking words.

Lexical Resource
Lexical resource refers to your ability to use vocabulary both
accurately and appropriately.
You will get a higher score for vocabulary if you:

Paraphrase the question correctly.

Vary your vocabulary using synonyms.

Avoid vocabulary mistakes.

Spell words correctly.

Use appropriate vocabulary to describe trends, comparisons,

stages, changes etc.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This refers to your ability to write sentences with no mistakes and also
use a range of grammatical structures.
You will get a higher score if you:

Do not make errors.

Use a range of appropriate tenses.

Use a range of appropriate structures.

Use both simple and complex sentences.

Use correct punctuation.

Different Kinds of Chart Question

All of these charts do one principal thing- represent numbers. Your task
is to describe these numbers.
There are four different types of chart you may have to describe. They

Line Chart (sometimes called a line graph)


Bar Chart


Pie Chart


Proportional Bar Chart

Can you identify them in the picture below?

IELTS grammar mistakes and how to avoid them


Use of the word the

We use the:

when there is only one of something in a particular area: the

government, the police, the bridge, the river, the hospital

when there is only one in the entire world: the internet, the
environment, the ozone layer, the atmosphere

with cardinal numbers: the first, the second, the third

with superlatives: the worst, the shortest, the lowest, the most
beautiful, the least impressive

with places where the name refers to a group of islands or states:

the USA, the UK, the Maldives, the Middle East, the United Arab

before nouns which describe general things: exercise is good for

the body, the motorbike is the most common form of transport
in Asia, the role of the teacher has changed in recent years

before abstract nouns used to describe a situation, process, quality

or a change: over the years the development of the town
accelerated, the frequency of violent crime decreased over the
period, the improvement in living standards

We dont use the:

to talk generally we drop the word the and use the plural: dogs
dont like cats, people with dyslexia have reading problems,
Japanese cars are very reliable, German products are very high

with a single place or country: Ireland, China, Vietnam, Europe,

South America


Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Some nouns in English are uncountable and will therefore always be in

the singular form and never plural. Some common nouns that students
often get wrong in the IELTS test are:
















If a noun is uncountable you cannot use:

a plural verb: There were many traffic in the city.

a number: three advice, four food

a few, a couple, many, a number of: a number of literature, a few


a/an: a happiness, an entertainment


Noun Verb Agreement

The verb must agree with the noun. If you use a plural noun, you must
use a plural verb and vice versa.
There is some dogs outside.
There is some food in the kitchen.

Here are some homework for you.

There are some eggs in the kitchen.

ing or to + infinitive

We use to + infinitive verb after the following verbs: learn how, would
like, want, seem, refuse, promise, prepare, offer, learn, hope, help,
deserve, decide, afford, and ask.
It is important to learn how to speak English
Most people cannot afford to go on holiday every year.
I would like to study overseas.
Note: like can be followed by ing or to + infinitive.
We use verbing after the following verbs: suggest, recommend,
practice, mind, keep, involve, imagine, give up, finish, enjoy, deny,
consider, carry on, and avoid.
I would recommend checking your writing for mistakes.
You should avoid drinking coffee after 6pm.
Ive finished writing my essay.

Use Of Articles Before Noun Phrases

You should include a/an before adjective singular noun combinations: a

massive improvement, a steady increase, an overall majority, a very
small percentage, a really strong argument.

Some exceptions include the word of after the noun phrase: a wide
range of, an equal number of, a large/small number of, a
small/large/equal proportion of.
Exceptions: quite a few people, to a certain extent/degree

Use of Commas

In the IELTS writing test we often use phrases called discourse markers
or liking phrases to link our ideas together, such as on the one hand,
on the other hand, however, for example, nevertheless, firstly, secondly,
in conclusion, in summary.
We normally use a comma after a discourse marker that introduces a

Firstly, the main cause of pollution is motor vehicles.

On the one hand, motor vehicles are said to be the main cause.

However, pollution from industry may also be to blame.

To sum up, the causes of pollution are mostly man-made.

We also use commas on either side of discourse markers in the middle of


Fossil fuels are mostly to blame for global warming, however,

some people believe this is a natural process.

Fossil fuels are mostly to blame for global warming, for example,
from cars and factories.


Verb Tenses

Always consider which of the following tense you should use:

Present simple:

things that are always true (the sky is blue)

general statements of fact (I was born in 1982)

Present continuous:

an action at the moment of speaking

something in progress this week, month or year

to talk about a future planned event

Present Perfect:

an action that took place at an indefinite time in the past

an action that was repeated before now

an action that began in the past and continues until now

Present Perfect Continuous:


action that began in the past and finished in the past

talk about an action that was happening in the past when

another occurred
an action that was in progress at a specific time in the past

Past Perfect

a general activity in progress recently

Past Continuous

to show the duration of something that happened in the past

and continues until now

Past Simple

habits (I go to sleep every night at 11pm)

talk about something that was completed before another

activity or another time in the past

Past Perfect Continuous

talk about duration of activity that was in progress before

another event in the past

an activity in progress that is recent to another time or

activity in the past

Future Simple

to predict or plan for the future

to express a willingness to do something

Future Continuous

Future Perfect

an action that will be completed before another time or

event in the future

Future Perfect Continuous



an action that will be in progress at a time in the future

the duration of an action that will be in progress before

another time or event in the future

Prepositions After Adjectives and Nouns

Students often get confused about which prepositions to use after

adjectives and nouns. Here are some common expressions:

Bad at (something)

Good at (something)

Surprised at (something)

About or with:

Pleased about (something)

Pleased with (someone)

Angry about (something)

Angry with (someone)

Disappointed about (something)

Disappointed with (someone)

Worried about (something or someone)


rise in

decrease in

increase in

fall in

drop in


difference between


advantage/disadvantage of

example of

number of

percentage of

use of



We use apostrophes to shorten words or make contractions:


Do not- Dont

I will- Ill

Contractions are normally used in spoken English and should therefore

not be used in the academic writing tasks.
We can also use apostrophes to show possession:

Johns book

Marys brother

We dont use apostrophes with possessive pronouns such as:

The dog has broken its

The book is not theirs its ours.

10. Common Spelling Mistakes

Some common spelling mistakes:

to or too

there or their

though or through














IELTS Writing Task 2 requires you to write an academic style essay on a
common topic. You have 40 minutes to write at least 250 words.
Task 2 can be broken down and thought about more easily in 5 steps:
1. Question Analysis
You must first understand the question to know exactly what the
examiner is looking for. In order to do this, you must first identify the
question type, then identify the keywords in the question and finally
identify the instructions words in order to find out what the examiner
wants you to do with the question.
2. Planning
The students who get the highest marks plan before they write and they
often plan for up to 10 minutes. Planning helps you organise your ideas
and structure before you write, saving you time and helping you write a
clear essay.

3. Introduction
The introduction should tell the examiner what the rest of the essay is
about and also answer the question directly. This tells the examiner that
you know what you are doing straight away and helps you write your
main body paragraphs.
4. Main Body Paragraphs
This is where you give the examiner more detail. You do this by stating
your main points and supporting these with explanations and relevant
5. Conclusion
Here you provide a summary of what you have already said in the rest of
the essay.
Essential Writing Task 2 Skills
The Benefits of Planning
Writing an IELTS essay without a plan is like trying to put IKEA furniture
together without any instructions. You will get half way through it, get
lost and frustrated and you will lose control of your entire essay and end
up with something like this:
A good plan should be like a map that guides you through the essay and
makes sure you get to where the examiner wants you to go. Every
sentence should have purpose, if you are just writing for the sake of
writing then it wont be a very good essay. Less is more in many cases
and a good plan makes sure that every single sentence has a purpose.
How To Plan
Planning has 4 stages:

Question Analysis


Idea Generation





Question Analysis
This is probably the most important stage. The number one problem
most IELTS students have is not answering the question properly.

So you must

Find keywords (general topic)

Find micro-keywords (specific topic)

Find instruction words (how to answer question)

Idea Generation
Instead of brainstorming we need to answer the questions directly. If one
of your friends asked you this question in a coffee shop, you would have
no problem thinking of an answer, so do the same in the exam. It helps
to frame it within Why? questions.
Next we need to put our ideas into a structure. This is very important
because it helps us organise our ideas in a coherent way, just like the
examiner wants us to.
Paragraph 1- Introduction
Sentence 1- Paraphrase Sentence
Sentence 2- Thesis Statement
Sentence 3- Outline Statement
Paragraph 2- Why advantages are strong
Sentence 4- Topic Sentence
Sentence 5- Explanation
Sentence 6- Example
Paragraph 3- Why disadvantage are weak
Sentence 7- Topic Sentence
Sentence 8- Explanation

Sentence 9- Example
Paragraph 4- Conclusion
Sentence 1- Summary of main points

Another common problem students have is repeating the same words,
especially words from the question, over and over again. This lowers our
mark for vocabulary because it shows that we cant think of synonyms. A
solution to this problem is to identify words in the question that we
might need to use more than once in the question.
One of the consequences of improved medical care is that the people
are living longer and life expectancy is increasing.
Do you think the advantages of this outweigh the
We can think of the following synonyms:
Improved medical care- enhanced medical treatment
Living longer- improved longevity
Life expectancy is increasing- the length of time people live is
Advantages- benefits
Disadvantages- drawbacks
One of the biggest fears students have is opening up the writing paper,
looking at task 2 and having no ideas. Idea generation in IELTS writing
task 2 is something students worry a lot about, but it doesnt have to be
that way.

IELTS writing part two questions are biased towards Western countries
and are mostly First world problems. For example:
In some countries, young people are encouraged to work or
travel for a year between finishing high school and starting
university studies. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages
for young people who decide to do this.
Fortunately, questions like these are rare and most of them will be on
familiar topics that most people have an opinion on, such as health,
education and the environment. Remember that this is a language test
not a general knowledge test.
Do my ideas have to be entertaining?
Many students also worry that their ideas are not interesting enough or
they are too boring. The examiner is not looking for you to entertain her.
They are looking for you to demonstrate an ability to write an essay in
English supported by evidence and relevant examples. There are no
extra points for interesting ideas. What the ideas must be is relevant to
the question being asked. You can have the most boring ideas in the
world and still get a band score 9, as long as your ideas are relevant.

Common Topic Familiarisation


Brainstorming (least effective)


Mind Mapping


5 Questions Method


Personal Opinion Method (most effective)

No One Size Fits All

When you are practicing remember, the examiner is looking for relevant
ideas that you can support by explaining them and giving examples. You
should also use the one that gives you ideas quickly. You will only have 2
or 3 minutes for idea generation in the exam. Dont worry if this is taking
you a lot of time at the moment, you will improve with practice. Pick a

method below, set yourself a time limit and practice with some old past
exam papers.

Common Topic Familiarisation

This simply means knowing the 10 common topics that come up in the
exam and learning some vocabulary associated with these repeated
topics. The wider your vocabulary the easier it will be for you to think of
ideas. If you have time, dont just stick with the 10 most common topics,
go even further.
When you have free time, have a look at some English newspapers and
identify some topics that might come up in the IELTS test. When you do
this you should be doing two things. The first is simply noting down any
unknown vocabulary, try to guess the meaning from the context and
then look up the meaning to confirm on your smart phone or dictionary.
This will really help you, not only for writing part 2 but also for all the
other parts of the IELTS exam.


Brainstorming is basically thinking of as many ideas as possible relevant

to your topic. It was developed by an advertising agency, in order to
come up with new ideas for advertising campaigns. The technique
involves putting keywords in the middle of a page and then writing down
as many ideas associated with that idea as possible.
Some students, and many teachers, love this method and if it works for
you then continue to use it, but I have a few problems with it. Firstly,
some students spend too much time on this stage and try to think of too
many ideas. Secondly, because they are thinking very generally, their
ideas are not relevant. It then takes extra time, which you dont have in
the exam, to sort out the relevant from the irrelevant ideas.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a way to visually organise your thoughts on to paper.

Some people love this method, because it represents how their brain is
working and allows them to organise their thoughts. It is much more
organised than simply brainstorming and can be done very quickly once
you have practiced a few times with different questions.

A good technique is to place the keywords in the middle and then place
the micro-keywords on the branches.
The only disadvantage to this method is that some students spend too
much time creating the perfect mind map. There are no points for
creating beautiful mind maps; they are only there to help you with ideas
so do it quickly.

5 Questions Method

This method uses who/what/why/where/how question words in order to

generate ideas. This works best for people who think very logically and
also know a little bit about the topic already.
Lets look at an example:
In some countries, young people are encouraged to work or
travel for a year between finishing high school and starting
university studies. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages
for young people who decide to do this.
Why- to gain work experience, to experience life in different countries,
to understand different cultures, to make money before going to
university, lazy, not mature.
Where- tourist destinations, developing countries, local business,
internship in big company.
How- save money, permission from parents and university, apply for
internship/job, travel to inexpensive countries.
So as you can see, in a couple of minutes we have generated many
ideas by asking ourselves just three of the five questions. These ideas
are much more than we need to complete the task, so always remember
to choose the ones you feel comfortable writing about after you
generate your ideas.

Personal Opinion Method (or coffee shop method)

Personally, I think this is the most effective method because it is both

the fastest and helps students focus on the question.

The method is simple. I ask students to imagine they are sitting with
their friend or family member in a coffee shop and they ask your opinion.
In an exam there is a lot of pressure on you and you often find it difficult
to think, but if you were in a relaxed environment with a friend you
would have no problem giving your opinion.
To think of more ideas you just imagine that your friend has the opposite
feelings to you about the topic and write their ideas down.
Lets look at the example below:
Your friend- Do you think its a good idea that young people take a year
off between school and university to work or travel?
You- Yes. Many young people are not mature enough to go to university
at 18 and travelling or working will help them mature. Working for a year
could also allow them to save money and gain valuable work experience.
If they go travelling, they will get to experience different cultures.
So you see you have just thought about all the ideas you will need for
this question. You can write your ideas down (recommended) or just
think about it for a minute.
This idea gives you a very clear idea about your opinion on the question
and will help you stay relevant and write a clear, coherent essay. Like
any method it takes practice, so try it out with a few past questions.
What do the examiners want?

Good and Band Examples

How to Write a Topic Sentence
The very first sentence in your supporting paragraph should be the topic
sentence. Each paragraph should have one main idea only and the topic
sentence tells the reader what this idea is. This makes your paragraph
and the whole essay clearer and easier to read. You will gain marks for
coherence in the IELTS writing test if you do this. Think of them as
signposts that direct the reader to where you want to go.
We think of topic sentences in an argument (agree or disagree) essay by
thinking of ideas why we support one side or the other.
Lets look at another question:
Most high-level positions in companies are filled by men even
though the workforce in many developed countries is more than
50 percent female. Companies should be required to allocate a
certain percentage of these positions to women. Do you agree?
So we have to think of reasons for and against allocating a certain
percentage of positions in the workforce to women.




Prevent discrimination

Women outperform men in many jobs

Women outperform men in many schools and university subjects


Should be based on merit not gender

A few jobs, like construction, are better suited to males

I support the for category so I am going to pick two of those reasons

and write topic sentences for them. You should always pick the ideas you
know most about, or in other words, can explain and support with
Topic Sentence 1: Women should be allocated a certain percentage of
roles because to not do so, discriminates against them because of their
Topic Sentence 2: Females should be given a bigger share of jobs
because women currently outperform males in most university subjects.
Explaining Our Ideas
Explaining ideas is a problem for most students, not because they cant
do it, but because they dont see the point in doing it. They think that
the examiner must be an educated person and explaining simple ideas
to them is wasting their time.
You should never assume this and instead I tell my students to assume
that the reader has no knowledge of this subject at all and you need to
explain what you mean in order for them to understand.

There are certain phrases we can use to explain our ideas such as:

That is to say. (linking)

In other words (linking)

This is because (giving reasons)

The reason is. (giving reasons)

As a result. (describing result)

As a consequence. (describing result)

Therefore. (describing result)

Use one of these phrases to explain what your topic sentence means,
the reason why, or the result of your topic sentence. You dont need to
do all three, just one. Make sure that anyone with no knowledge of the
subject can understand what your main point is.
Supporting Examples
The last part of a good supporting paragraph is a relevant example.
Examples give your points more authority and make your argument
The two main problems here are not being able to think of examples and
examples not being specific enough.
In the IELTS test, if you cant think of a good example, make one up. In
school or university you should research and use real examples, but in
the test it is fine to make them up. It is not a test of your knowledge; it is
a test of your written English. The examiners will never check the
examples and they are only worried about how the examples support
your ideas.
Two good ways to make up examples are using newspaper articles or
university research. I often do this when I am writing sample answers
and they also help you be more specific (see below).

The examiner wants your examples to be as specific as possible. To

illustrate this we will look at three examples.
Women should be allocated a certain percentage of roles,
because to not do so discriminates against them because of
their gender. As a result, women will be denied jobs, not
because of their intellect or skill, but simply because of their
Example 1- For example, lots of women fail to get jobs solely on the
basis of their gender.
Example 2 For example, many business women in Asia find it difficult
to get jobs as CEOs, despite having the same qualifications as men.
Example 3 For example, in 2014 it was reported in The Straits Times
that only 9 of Singapores top 100 companies have female CEOs, despite
making up 50% of the total workforce.
The first example is very general and is not a satisfactory example.
Example 2 is much better but again business women in Asia is very
general and does not really support our argument because of this.
Example 3 is a very good example because it used an actual newspaper
to report specific statistics (9%), from a specific place (Singapore) at a
specific time (2014).
How to Write Effective IELTS Conclusions
The conclusion is the easiest paragraph to write because in many ways
you are just using ideas you have already mentioned in your introduction
and main body paragraphs. However, this is the last thing the examiner
will read and it is therefore crucial that you finish strongly.
IELTS Conclusion Quick Tips

Never write any new ideas in your conclusion. A conclusion

should always simply restate the ideas you have in the rest of the
essay. New ideas should be in the main body and not in the


Make sure you answer the question in the conclusion. The

conclusion should state what you think about the question and
make it clear how you feel about the issue.


Vary your language. Just because you are restating the ideas
you have in the rest of your essay, doesnt mean you use the same
language. Instead you show the examiner you have a wide
vocabulary by paraphrasing.


Dont try to include everything. You are not required to go into

detail, you have already done that in your main body paragraphs.
Instead you will just summarise your main points.


Always write one. It is very difficult to get a good score in task 2

if you havent finished your essay with a conclusion. Even if you are
running out of time, make sure you write one.


Two sentences are enough.

Linking Phrases
First you should start with a linking phrase, but some are better than
others . Here are some examples:


In a nutshell

In general

In conclusion

To conclude

Finally isnt really suitable because it indicates that you are making a
final point and therefore a new idea. Finally belongs in the main body of
your essay, not the conclusion.
In a nutshell is too informal and we should never use it in IELTS
In general tells the reader you are going to talk generally about a topic.
This is not what we are going to do in our conclusion and we should
therefore not use it.

In conclusion and to conclude are the only two linking phrases you
should use to start your conclusion. They tell the reader exactly what the
paragraph is about and they are formal.
How to Write a Good Conclusion
There are two elements to a good conclusion:

Restating the main points of your essay


Varying your vocabulary by paraphrasing

Luckily we have already stated our main points in the introduction, so all
we have to do is look back at the conclusion and paraphrase this.
We can also add a prediction (what we think will happen) or a
recommendation (what we think should happen) to our conclusion.

Cohesive Devices

Cohesive devices, sometimes called linking words, linkers, connectors,

discourse markers or transitional words, are one of the most
misunderstood and misused parts of IELTS Writing.
Cohesive devices are words like For example, In conclusion,
however and moreover. Together with coherence, cohesion provides
25% of your marks in both parts of the Writing test. However, most
students have not been taught how to use them effectively.
This post will look at how and, more importantly, when we should use
What are cohesive devices?
Cohesive devices tell the reader what we are doing in a sentence and
help to guide them through our writing. They signal to the reader what
the relationships are between the different clauses, sentences and
Lets look at two examples below.
The public transport in this city is unreliable and its cheap.
The public transport in this city is unreliable but its cheap.
There are two cohesive devices in the sentences above: and and but.
Both give the reader different signals and change the meaning of the
The first sentence tells the reader that its cheap is simply being added
to the previous information, however, the second sentence tells the
reader that they are giving a contrasting opinion to the first part of the
sentence by using the word but.
In other words, the second sentence is saying its unreliable (which is
bad) but the good thing about it is its cheap, so I dont mind using it.
Simply using the word but conveys that whole message without
needing to literally say it.

This makes our message more succinct and our writing easier to read.
But, does that mean we should use as many cohesive devices as
Overusing Cohesive Devices
The biggest mistakes many students make is to use cohesive devices in
nearly every sentence.
If you look at the IELTS Writing Marking Criteria it states that a Band 7
uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately although there
may be some under-/over-use. This is typical of a student who knows
the meaning and how to use cohesive devices, but thinks that using
them as much as possible will get them a high mark.
However, using them too much often leads to students using them
incorrectly. It is stated for Band 5 that makes inadequate, inaccurate
or over use of cohesive devices. In my experience, most students
get a Band 5 in this category for this reason. They think that using them
as much as possible will get them a high mark, but dont consider the
meaning and how each of them should be used in a sentence.
Band 8 and 9 students tend to only use cohesive devices when
necessary and they use them appropriately and effectively i.e. correct
meaning and grammar. In fact, many students have criticised Band 9
answers because they dont have enough discourse markers. Take a
look at the extract below from an academic journal (The Power of Human
Rights by Stephen C. Ropp).
Meaning and Grammar
The next problem students have is learning long lists of cohesive devices
and not learning the meaning of each word or how it should be used in a
sentence. If you use the wrong word it confuses the reader and this
lowers your mark for both coherence and grammar. It is better to use
no word than use a word incorrectly.
Learn just the words you need and learn them 100%. By 100% I mean
that you know exactly what that word means, when it should be used
in a sentence and how it should be used in a sentence. Until you know
all of this 100%, dont use it.
Finally, dont try to use very complicated words and expressions, if you
are not already comfortable with the simple terms. Being able to use

and or but effectively is much better than trying to use more

complicated words incorrectly. Again, look at some academic texts or
good IELTS sample answers; simple words are used more often than not.
How to Improve
You cant simply learn a long list of words and then hope you can use
these correctly in an essay. That would be like Ronaldo telling you how
he scores so many goals and thinking you can do the same thing by just
listening to him.
Also, you cant look at just one example sentence and hope to learn
everything you need to know about that word.