IELTS Speaking IELTS Writing Study Tips Uncategorized

How We Crushed IELTS! Secrets of an 8.5 Score

More than two million IELTS tests are taken each year and the average candidate’s score is around 6.0. The score needed to enter a university course is typically 6.5 to 7.5.

But some candidates went beyond the call of duty and achieved IELTS 8.0 or 8.5. How did they do it? We asked, and here’s what they said.

Kanako from Japan, IELTS 8.0

I took the test five times and my highest overall score was 8.0 (9 9 7 7). The reason why I took the test so many times is because I got 6.0 or 6.5 for Writing at the first four attempts but I needed to get 7.0. In the end it almost drove me crazy but I did it. I probably did more than twenty Writing practice tests but it was worth it. I asked for feedback from different people including some friends who are native speakers and professional writing coaches such as this website. The range of feedback was surprising! Sometimes it was: Well done this looks fine to me! But I tried to listen more carefully for the criticism. The most important thing I learned was how to organise the essay into four clear paragraphs because I believe that structure is the first thing the examiner notices. I’m sure that was the key to getting 7.0.

Anna from Russia, IELTS 8.5

My overall score was 8.5 with 9 for Reading and Listening, 8.5 for Speaking and 7.5 for Writing. For Speaking: just keep talking! Whatever! As long as it is grammatically correct, the examiner doesn’t really want to know the details of your biography or what you truly think of the topic. They want to hear you speak. I was asked about public buildings. Yeah, right, I can’t sleep without thinking about public buildings. I recite poems about public buildings every day and sometimes at night. NOT! So I just launched an endless speech inventing things but trying to stick to the subject and connect all the ideas that came to mind to the public buildings, bless them 🙂 It worked. Dont try to use texts you learned by heart. You must sound as natural as possible. For this, read out loud, talk to yourself (yes, ignore haters:)), watch movies and don’t be afraid! And under no circumstances say “I don’t know” and then stop. Say instead: Hmm, I have never given it a thought, but this is an interesting idea. I would say… and blah-blah-blah!

Pie from Thailand, IELTS 8.5

I took the test a few years back and the score was 8.5 with a 9 in both Reading and Listening. I personally relied on neither tricks nor techniques at the time. With that said, I realized later that I should have, especially for the speaking and writing sections. I believe the key for those two parts is to make sure you don’t steer away from the given topic and the best way to do so is to answer positively if and when you can. By that I mean if asked whether you agree or disagree, try not to go with the latter and when asked to describe something, for example your favorite toy, don’t say that you don’t/didn’t have one.

Liz from Romania, IELTS 8.5

I finally scored 9 9 8 8 for my IELTS exam and now I’m waiting for my visa to be processed. The help I got from IELTS Academic with my Writing tasks and Speaking practice was great. What was the secret? Practice practice practice! I took many full tests at home, I timed myself, sat down and did Listening, Reading and Writing without moving, just like at the real exam. I also learnt special language requested in different topics in the Speaking exam. The Writing practice tests I took with IELTS Academic helped me to realise what I was doing wrong, and made a big difference for my overall score. I remember reading my first essays, then comparing them to my latest. Huge improvement. I also created the best conditions for myself before the exam, I slept as good as I could one week before, tried to keep calm and don’t exhaust myself, and really, the last time I took it I KNEW that I had done my very best and that it was hard to go any higher. A newcomer should take into consideration EVERY variable he/she can and not leave anything to chance.

So there’s your answer: there’s no single way to crush IELTS and achieve a Band 8 score. The candidates above all put in different amounts of effort, for sure.

Interestingly, all four candidates achieved the highest possible score of Band 9 in Listening and Reading, which suggests they already had an excellent understanding of English before taking the test. But they all found Writing and Speaking a bit trickier, as these sections are based on a more subjective assessment of skills.

For Writing and Speaking, the basic guide to success appears to be: (1) Get expert feedback on your Writing tasks and analyse what factors help to improve your score. (2) Maintain a positive outlook in Speaking and say as much as you can.

Study Tips

IELTS in 30 Minutes! Your Daily IELTS Workout

IELTS test coming soon? Seriously out of shape? Give yourself an instant IELTS workout with these 30-minute exercises.

1. Bench-press these TED talks

Watching TED talks can be great entertainment. However, when watched passively, TED talks don’t always make for good language learning. The solution? Try these four short TED talks, which come with authentic IELTS Listening questions. It should take you around 30 minutes to do all 40 questions, just like the real test.

2. Build your listening stamina

How often do you exercise your ears? The BBC’s 6 Minute English is a great way to build your listening stamina. Each recording discusses a topic of the day and comes with questions to test your comprehension. Try listening to four in a row to develop your powers of concentration.


3. Do some accent training

Are you easily confused by unfamiliar accents? Baffled by Brits? Afraid of Aussies? Here’s an easy way to get familiar with a variety of English accents in just 30 minutes. This post on English accents features ten native speakers with ten different accents reading the same three-minute script.

4. Hit the spelling gym

English is rightly famous for its irregular spellings. As a result, it takes years of hard work to become a true spelling master in English. But in the short term, it pays to learn some of the basic spelling rules and common errors. This article introduces some common spelling mistakes in IELTS.

5. Train your eyes

Your IELTS workout needn’t be strenuous. Wordsearches are a fun way to train your eye to scan for words in a text – an essential skill for IELTS reading. The website features hundreds of wordsearches arranged by topic. Try this one on natural disasters to get started.

Wordsearch: Natural Disasters

6. Exercise those hand muscles: write a letter

How often do you write things by hand? It’s no wonder that many of us are unprepared for the handwritten tasks in IELTS Writing. Get out some paper and a pencil (you do own these items, right?) and practice writing a letter to a friend. Or see these letter-writing topics for inspiration. Writing a letter, of course, is a requirement in IELTS General Training.

7. Obey the data: analyse charts and graphs

Let’s face it, we’re as likely to study charts and graphs in everyday life as we are to write a letter! No wonder that some people are lost in IELTS Writing Task 1. As part of your regular IELTS workout, train your brain to analyse visual data. These tables, charts and graphs from Cliff Notes include some questions to test your understanding.

IELTS Speaking

Speak IELTS! Your Guide to Spoken English

Spoken English is what you hear on TV, in bars and cafes, and when meeting new classmates at university. You hear it everywhere, but are you using it properly in IELTS?

In IELTS Speaking, your score is based on how well you use Spoken English, not Academic English, even if you’re taking the Academic version of the test. Confused? Read on.

The Speaking module of IELTS is the same for Academic and General Training candidates and there are no extra points for sounding like an academic essay. In fact, your score could even go down!

To get a high score in IELTS Speaking, be aware of the common features of Spoken English and apply them in the test. Here’s my list of eight things that make Spoken English unique.

IELTS Speaking Part 1

Spoken English begins with greetings

At the beginning of a new conversation, we start with greetings. The actual contents of our greetings are usually meaningless. The true purpose of greetings is to communicate the mood we’re in and announce that we’re available to talk. So, if asked ‘How are you?’ never reply with ‘I’m tired and I think I’ve caught a cold.’ Smile and respond quickly with ‘Great, thanks’ and let the conversation begin!

Spoken English is simple

In speaking, we use a lot of one-syllable words like ‘I’ ‘think’ ‘you’ ‘are’ ‘great’. We don’t say ‘It is my personal belief that you have superior qualities’. One mistake that IELTS Academic candidates make is in trying to pack their speech with academic jargon. It doesn’t make you sound clever: it only increases the work the listener must do to understand you. Keep it simple and use plain language.

Spoken English is interesting

Sometimes we just have to read boring books as part of our studies. But we don’t want to hang around people whose conversation bores us. The most common reasons for boring speech are flat intonation and slow speed. Record yourself speaking on your smartphone or another device. Now listen back to the recording (don’t worry – NOBODY likes doing this!) Be honest: are you an interesting speaker? If not, practice varying your intonation and speed, and try to use more fluency expressions to keep your listener engaged.

Spoken English is cultural

When you read books written by British, American, or Australian authors, you will rarely find any differences in the language, except for a few spellings. But Spoken English is much more dependent on the culture of the speakers. Different groups uses accents, slang and idioms to communicate their shared identity. As an IELTS candidate, you don’t need to worry about accents and you should avoid slang completely. However, using a few common idioms can help to show that you’re familiar with the conventions of Spoken English.

Spoken English involves two people

In any conversation, there is always a speaker and a listener. But how is that different from a reader and a writer? The difference is something called synchronicity. When reading a book, if there’s something we don’t understand, we go back and read it again. The responsibility is on the reader. In speaking, however, the speaker must pay attention to the listener’s cues and be ready to reword it or explain again if something wasn’t clear the first time. The interview format of IELTS Speaking allows you to do this.

Spoken English is where new words are tested and learned

Do you spend many hours of the day cramming your brain with new English vocabulary? Memorisation is useful to a point, but most linguists agree that new words are only truly learned when we use them in speech. Look at the vocabulary that you’ve studied in the last 12 months. How many words have you actually used in conversation? You’ll find that the words you’ve actually used are easier to remember. However, don’t forget my second point, which is that you should not use words that may cause problems for your listener.

Spoken English is about more than just words

In conversation, the listener pays attention to far more than just our words. Our posture, clothing, hairstyle, facial expression, eye contact and voice quality are all important signals that we are friendly, competent, trustworthy, or the opposite! Of course, in IELTS Speaking there are no scores awarded for non-verbal communication or body language. IELTS examiners claim that they completely ignore such factors when scoring a candidate. However, is that really possible to believe?

Spoken English is social

Spoken English is how we maintain our relationships with friends and family. But it’s also how we introduce ourselves to strangers and form new relationships. If all your conversations are with people you already know, you may be uncomfortable speaking to a stranger in the IELTS Speaking test. Make sure you overcome any shyness by meeting new people in the weeks before you take the test. This will also give you many opportunities to practice talking about yourself.

IELTS Writing

Write IELTS! Your Guide to Academic Writing

Academic writing is the style of English that we must produce in the IELTS Writing Academic module in order to get a score of Band 6 or above. It’s no use writing in an eighth-grade homework style when the purpose of IELTS Academic is to gain entry to a university or profession. So what is academic writing and how can we reproduce that writing style under severe time pressure in IELTS?

Academic writing is linear

Academic writing in English is usually a way for a writer to establish and defend a position. That means the writer’s position should be clear from the beginning, and the points that follow should support that position. When opposing ideas are introduced, they should be refuted. The conclusion follows logically from the body of the essay.

This essay will give two reasons for the lack of progress.

The first reason for the lack of progress is the lack of a political consensus.

The second reason for the lack of progress is the poor state of the economy.

For these two reasons, almost no progress has been made in strengthening workers’ rights.

Academic writing is complex

The assessment criteria of IELTS Writing reward candidates who write in both simple and complex sentences. As a rule, try to make at least 50% of your sentences complex. Use participles (V+ing, V+ed) or relative pronouns (‘which’, ‘that’) to add subordinate clauses, or include special punctuation like the colon (:) or semi-colon (;).

Global temperatures are expected to rise further, threatening the livelihood of millions of people worldwide.

The rise in global temperatures, which began at the start of the industrial revolution, shows no signs of slowing down.

Many reasons have been cited for the rise in global temperatures; however, most climate scientists agree that human activity is the main cause.

Academic writing is clear

Wait a minute: didn’t I just say that academic writing is complex? Now it should be clear? Well, here’s the difference: make your grammar complex but your points clear. State your opinion clearly using recognisable phrases such as ‘I am against’ or ‘It is my view that’. Then link your ideas with discourse markers such as ‘on the other hand’ and ‘furthermore’.

At first glance, the data reveals a clear pattern.

This essay will give three reasons for the long-term decline in violent crime.

In conclusion, I am in favour of stricter punishments for hate speech.

Academic writing gives evidence

Task 1 in IELTS Academic Writing requires you to describe a set of data or a diagram. For every claim you make in your answer, be sure to support it with evidence from the question. The evidence may be in the form of precise numbers, or you could use ‘round numbers’ to make it easier for your reader to understand. Both are fine in IELTS.

According to the diagram, there were fewer than 100 murders committed nationwide last year.

From the data we can also see that the overall rate of crime has almost doubled.

The chart shows that violent crime has decreased significantly as a proportion of all crimes committed, from 18% in 1980 to just 7% in 2015.

Academic writing uses ‘hedging’ where it can’t give evidence

Task 2 in IELTS Academic Writing requires you to state an opinion or discuss an issue, but there is no opportunity to conduct research or gather evidence. Some statements like ‘English is spoken in the United Kingdom’ require no evidence. But when you make claims that others might dispute, use hedging strategies like the ones below.

The majority of the world’s people would like to speak a second language.

English is highly likely to remain the world’s global language.

Chinese could be described as a much more difficult language to learn.

Academic writing is impersonal

While it’s not a mistake to use ‘I’ in academic writing, try not to overuse this precious little word. Your writing should contain some objective arguments and not be simply a description of your personal beliefs. Try using the ‘This Essay’ method to add a more impersonal style to your academic writing.

This essay will examine the issue of identity theft and propose solutions.

The issue of censorship is too broad to be covered in this essay.

The purpose of this essay is to examine both sides of the argument.

Academic writing is formal

Formal writing means that we avoid contractions (‘can’t’), phrasal verbs (‘put up with’), casual words (‘kids’, ‘cops’), exclamation marks (‘!’), question tags (‘isn’t it?’, ‘don’t you think?’), and vague expressions (‘sort of’, ‘a lot of’).

Teachers have to put up with lots of bad kids.

Teachers have to endure many cases of bad behaviour.

Cops can’t catch all robbers!

Police cannot solve all the crimes that are committed.

So racists should be punished more, shouldn’t they?

In conclusion, I am in favour of stricter punishments for hate speech.

Read more about formal and informal vocabulary here.

IELTS Speaking Scoring

IELTS Speaking Scores: What Are FC, LR, GRA & P?

Yesterday we looked at how IELTS Writing scores are calculated. Today it’s the turn of IELTS Speaking scores.

The first thing you may notice is a close resemblance between the codes used for IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking scores. We’ve met LR and GRA before, haven’t we? FC looks familiar: maybe it’s a cousin of CC. But P? Where did he spring from?

If you’re serious about improving your IELTS Speaking score, you’ll want to match your speaking style to the four assessment criteria. Let’s look at each of them in turn and how they might influence your way of speaking.

IELTS Speaking Scores

FC = Fluency and Coherence

Fluency and Coherence is similar to Cohesion and Coherence, which we encountered before. In IELTS Speaking, however, it’s a measure of how well you can keep talking and be understood, including:

  • Do you avoid silence or hesitation?
  • Do you speak at length on each topic?
  • Do you use words to connect your ideas?

LR = Lexical Resource

Lexical Resource refers to your use of vocabulary, including:

  • Do you use a wide range of vocabulary?
  • Do you use idioms and collocation common to spoken English?
  • Do you paraphrase to avoid repetition?

GRA = Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This refers to your skill with English grammar, including

  • Do you speak in complex sentences?
  • Do you use a variety of grammatical forms?
  • Do you avoid too many grammatical mistakes?

P = Pronunciation

Pronunciation is naturally part of the IELTS Speaking assessment, including:

  • Do you pronounce words accurately?
  • Do you join sounds together?
  • Do you vary intonation?

There’s no quick fix to improve your English vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation: all of these require hard work and practice over months and years. A more immediate way to improve your IELTS Speaking score is to learn fluency techniques, including spoken English phrases, collocations, and emergency language for use when things go wrong. A good teacher can coach you in speaking techniques for better fluency.

How IELTS Speaking scores are calculated

The examiner gives you a score for each of the criteria based on your performance throughout the test, in particular Parts 2 and 3. There are no individual scores for each part of the speaking test.

The criteria are equally weighted so that each is worth 25% of your IELTS Speaking score. The scores for each criteria are added together and divided by four to give an average, which becomes your overall score. Scores of .25 and .75 are rounded up. For example, 7+7+7+6 = 6.75 is rounded up to 7.0 overall.

IELTS Writing Scoring

IELTS Writing Scores: What Are TA/TR, CC, LR & GRA?

If you’ve taken IELTS before, you probably noticed a secret language at the bottom of the IELTS Writing answer sheet. What do those mysterious acronyms TA/TR, CC, LR, & GRA mean?

As you might have guessed, they refer to the assessment criteria which decide your IELTS Writing score. This is where the examiner writes in a number for each of the four assessment criteria, which is then divided by four to give your overall score for that task.

Let’s take a look at the four criteria and how they should influence your writing.

IELTS Writing Scores

TA/TR = Task Achievement/Task Response

Task Achievement is measured in Task 1, while Task Response is measured in Task 2. In both cases, they refer to how well you answer the question, including:

  • Do you write enough words?
  • Do you stick to the topic in the question?
  • Do you cover all parts of the question?

CC = Coherence and Cohesion

This refers to how well your essay is organised, including:

  • Do you write in paragraphs?
  • Do you connect sentences and paragraphs with logical links?
  • Do you use reference links (‘they’) to connect ideas and avoid repetition?

LR = Lexical Resource

This refers to your use of vocabulary, including:

  • Do you use appropriate academic words and collocations? (Academic Writing module only)
  • Do you paraphrase to avoid repetition?
  • Do you spell words correctly?

GRA = Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This refers to your use of grammar, including:

  • Do you use a variety of grammatical forms?
  • Do you write in a mixture of short and complex sentences?
  • Do you avoid too many grammatical mistakes?

The fastest way to improve your IELTS Writing score is to learn techniques for paragraphing, paraphrasing, and linking, as these skills are less likely to be taught in regular English lessons.

How IELTS Writing scores are calculated

The four individual scores are added together and then divided by four to give an average, which is your overall score for that task. For example: (6+6+7+7) ÷ 4 = 6.5. Numbers are rounded up, which means that (6+7+7+7) ÷ 4 = 6.75, which is rounded up to 7.0.

As there are two tasks of unequal length, your final score in IELTS Writing is not an average of both tasks but is weighted towards Task 2. For example: Task 1: 6.5 + Task 2: 7.0 = Overall 7.0. This is why you should always spend more time writing Task 2.

Classroom Resources Free Downloads IELTS Speaking

IELTS Speaking Feedback Sheet

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Are you looking for an easier way to calculate IELTS Speaking scores?

The assessment criteria for IELTS Speaking are publicly available, but the official document is not exactly classroom-friendly. Not only is the language filled with jargon, the complexity is so great that explaining it all in class would drastically reduce any speaking practice time available to students.

IELTS Academic has produced a simplified version of the IELTS Speaking scoring rubric that is faithful to the official version but designed to be more accessible for students. This IELTS Speaking Feedback Sheet organises the IELTS Speaking assessment criteria into 12 basic attributes. Try using it as a tool for pair practice in your next IELTS Speaking lesson.

IELTS Speaking Feedback Sheet

Download this IELTS Speaking Feedback Sheet as a PDF for classroom use.

Fluency and Coherence

Does your partner:

  • Avoid silence or hesitation?
  • Speak at length on each topic?
  • Use words to connect ideas?

Lexical Resource

Does your partner:

  • Use a wide range of vocabulary?
  • Use idioms and collocation?
  • Paraphrase?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Does your partner:

  • Speak in complex sentences?
  • Use a variety of grammatical forms?
  • Avoid grammatical mistakes?


Does your partner:

  • Pronounce words accurately?
  • Join sounds together?
  • Vary intonation?

Scoring:  Students can give their partner a score of 0-3 for each skill where 0=Not at all, 1=A little, 2=Sometimes, and 3=Always. Dividing the total by four will produce a rough estimate of the student’s overall IELTS Speaking score.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

IELTS Listening Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Listening

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Spelling, distractors, paraphrase, and different English accents are all common problems faced by candidates in the IELTS Listening module. These ten IELTS Listening teaching tips should help both new and experienced IELTS teachers get the best out of their students.

IELTS Listening is a paper-based test of 40 questions that takes around 40 minutes to complete. Candidates hear four passages in total and answer ten questions about each. The passages, or sections, follow a set order:

  • Section 1: A conversation on an everyday topic
  • Section 2: A monologue on an everyday topic
  • Section 3: A conversation on an academic topic
  • Section 4: A monologue on an academic topic

The Listening test is the same in both the General Training and Academic modules of IELTS. Speakers may use a range of accents and varieties of English.

While listening, candidates must read and answer a variety of question types. There are short interludes before and during each passage to allow candidates to read the questions in advance. Analysis of the questions therefore forms a major part of any IELTS Listening strategy. 

After all four passages have been played, candidates have a further 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. At this point, poor spelling can seriously affect a candidate’s score.

As you can see, there are some important skills that need to be worked on in order to raise students’ listening scores. Read on for some practical classroom tips on how to teach IELTS Listening.

Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Listening? Read this first: IELTS Listening: Introduction

Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

1. Set realistic goals

In order to achieve a good score of IELTS 7.0, your students need to answer 30 out of 40 questions correctly. You should really drum this point into them. Why? It means they can quickly recover from any answers they miss and focus all their attention on the next question. Lead them out of the perfectionist mindset and get them thinking more pragmatically about what constitutes a good performance in the test.

2. Analyse the questions together

This is a controversial point, but I always like to give my students much more time to read the questions than they will receive in the real IELTS Listening test. First, I allow them to read through all ten questions at their leisure. I don’t want them distracted while we’re discussing a particular question. The we analyse each question for information type, troubleshooting, and grammatical clues. Later on students can be pushed to perform similar analysis under much more time pressure.

3. Predict possible answers

As well as analyse the questions, students should be encouraged to predict answers. Predicting is not the same as guessing, since you’re not asking them to write down their prediction. What prediction does is reveal if students have properly analysed the question for content and grammatical form. Thus, it’s a great complement to the previous tip.

4. Practice targetted listening

I like to use this analogy with my students: imagine you arrived at the airport one hour ago for a flight that departs soon. Now recall what all the announcements in the past hour have said. Of course you can’t, because we only listen for information relevant to our own flight. That’s the essence of targetted listening: having a goal in terms of what information we want to receive. It follows naturally from proper analysis of the ten questions.

5. Accent exposure

Unlike in TOEFL, candidates in the IELTS test can expect to hear a variety of accents, from regional British accents to North American and Southern Hemisphere accents such as Australian and South African English. It’s a curious footnote to the history of IELTS, which began as ELTS but gained its initial ‘I’ when more English-speaking countries were invited to recognise the test for immigration purposes. If you’re not a natural show-off who enjoys flipping between accents in class, there’s a comparison of different English accents here.

6. Drill spellings

IELTS candidates are expected to be able to spell answers correctly. However, English allows for multiple spellings of names, so you can expect these words to be spelled out, e.g. I.E.L.T.S. This is most likely to happen in IELTS Listening Section 1 where filling out personal details is a common question type. Drill spellings multiple times, paying special attention to the errors that are most common for your language group. The letter ‘W’ is notoriously problematic as it’s easily confused with the ‘double-X’ modifier in spelling.

7. Drill numbers

Just like for numbers above, IELTS candidates can expect to write several numbers, including at least one long number such as a product code or phone number. The good news is that numbers require little in the way of comprehension. Concentration is key, along with anticipating the number in the first place.

8. Listen for corrections

Among the many distractors that test-writers incorporate, one of the most common is to have the speaker correct a previous statement, especially if it’s a spelling or number. Therefore, students should write down the final version that they hear, not the first. Add a bit of variation to your spelling and number drills by introducing corrections.

9. Self-correct for spelling and grammar  

Students should be given some time after the recording to check their answers for spelling and grammar. Allow generous time for this stage and walk around the classroom, calling out question numbers where you can see that students have made mistakes. Give them the satisfaction of correcting their own mistakes before you do it for them.

10. Model good listening

Don’t just tell your students the correct answers. Walk them through the recording one more time, pausing at the critical moments to explain how each answer is given. The difference between a mediocre IELTS teacher and an outstanding one is that the best teachers are active and alert during listening passages for signs that reveal where their students are struggling.

Find more IELTS Listening techniques at IELTS Listening Tips: How to Improve Your Score.

Stuck for listening practice ideas? Try these IELTS Listening tests based on TED talks.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

IELTS Writing Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Writing

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

These ten IELTS Writing teaching tips should help both new and experienced IELTS teachers get the best out of their students.

Writing lessons can be challenging as they rely on a great deal of theory: fascinating for language geeks but not for everyone!

Cultural differences may also come into play which affect how students were taught to organise their ideas in writing. Remember that by teaching IELTS Writing, you are helping your students not only pass a test but also organise their thoughts in writing in ways that are most likely to cross cultural boundaries.

So, what exactly does IELTS Writing involve? As you’re probably already aware, it’s a one-hour paper test comprising two tasks:

  • Task 1: Write a 150-word report on a diagram or set of data (Academic module)
  • Task 1: Write a 150-word letter (General Training module)
  • Task 2: Write a 250-word discursive essay (both modules)

Assessment is based on four criteria:

  • Task Achievement or Response: How well the candidate fulfills the requirements of the task
  • Coherence and Cohesion: How well the candidate organises and connects their ideas
  • Lexical Resource: The candidate’s use of appropriate vocabulary
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy: The candidate’s use of appropriate grammatical forms

To teach IELTS Writing effectively, connect your feedback to the four assessment criteria, guiding students towards improving their English in ways most likely to be recognised by the IELTS examiner. The ten IELTS Writing teaching tips below are by no means a comprehensive list, but should function as a useful starter or refresher course on how to teach IELTS Writing.

Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Writing? Read this first: IELTS Writing: Introduction

Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

1. Cover all the question types

Students have a tendency to panic when they encounter the unfamiliar, and IELTS Writing Task 1 in particular throws up some bizarre tasks. While Task 1 in the General Training module sticks to the letter-writing genre, in the Academic module it can be anything from a set of pie charts to a flow diagram, a country comparison chart to an architectural drawing. For Task 2, all students should be familiar with the difference between an opinion essay and an argument essay, as well as appropriate structures for describing problems and their solutions. It’s your job as a teacher to prep your students for all eventualities.

2. Teach paragraphing

The first thing an IELTS examiner will pay attention to is whether an answer is conventionally paragraphed. That means an introduction and several body paragraphs followed by a conclusion. The body paragraphs should be approximately equal in length, with the introduction and conclusion slightly shorter. Different languages use different conventions for paragraphing, so make sure that English paragraphing norms are well and truly drilled into your students.

3. Introduce academic writing conventions

Many IELTS candidates are recent high school graduates with limited knowledge of academic writing style. Not only are they still learning English, they must now start to incorporate features like hedging strategies, passive voice, and logical links into their writing. It’s all too easy to start drowning in theory, so show some examples and get students to notice for themselves how academic writing differs from writing a letter to a friend.

4. Teach logical links

This cannot be stressed enough. One of the most basic influences on a candidate’s score is how well they connect ideas. It sounds simple enough, but some cultures are much more ‘high context’ than English, which means that readers are expected to infer connections between ideas. In English, it’s the writer’s job to make these connections clear, so make sure your students are liberally spraying their essays with ‘furthermores’ and ‘on the other hands’.

5. Practice joining sentences

One interesting thing about the IELTS Writing assessment criteria is that they reward risk or complexity. That is, your students can get a higher score if they write in longer, more complex sentences, even if that results in more mistakes overall. So get your students linking simple sentences to form complex ones using conjunctions, relative pronouns, and subordinate clauses.

6. Make sure your students write enough words

In IELTS Writing, students are penalised if they fail to write 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2. Students are most likely to fall short in Task 2 after spending too much time on Task 1. Make sure they understand that Task 2 is twice as important and that they need to start writing Task 2 after 20 minutes even if they have yet to write a conclusion for Task 1. For five ways to help your students meet the word requirement, see our article IELTS Writing Tips: How to Write 150 or 250 Words.

7. Use a modified answer sheet for writing practice

Making use of the official IELTS Writing answer sheet is a good way to familiarise students with the test, but there some flaws in the document from a teaching perspective. One problem is the narrow line spacing which leaves little room for corrections. Another is the acronym-heavy marking section which can leave students confused about where they have performed well and poorly. Of course, this document was never intended to be used for feedback purposes. As a teacher-friendly alternative, use this modified practice version instead.

8. Encourage self-correction

There’s nothing more demotivating as a teacher than seeing students fail to learn from their mistakes. One reason for this is shallow processing. Make sure students are involved in fixing their errors by highlighting mistakes for their own self-correction. Expert writing teachers usually develop a system of writing correction symbols. Here’s a good example to get you started.

9. Create an action list for each student

As well as guiding students towards correcting their own mistakes, you also need to provide a framework for their further study. Create an action list of no more than five error types that are most frequent and easiest to spot and correct. Your students can’t possibly avoid all mistakes, so an action list gives them something to look for while proofreading as well adding more focus to their study of grammar.

10. Teach to the test

It may surprise you to know that many IELTS textbooks make no direct reference to the IELTS Writing assessment criteria, even though it is publically available. Textbooks are therefore of limited use, especially when you have a small group of students who would benefit more from your feedback on their writing with direct reference to the scoring criteria. Avoid overdependence on lengthy courses of study and make your students’ own IELTS Writing answers the basis for your next lesson.

No time to write model answers for your students? See our full list of IELTS Writing Task 1 and Task 2 answers with band scores and analysis.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.


Top 10 Posts on IELTS Academic in 2015

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In case you discovered IELTS Academic recently, here are the top ten most viewed posts published during 2015. Did you miss any?

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IELTS TeacherFinal Message

Well, that ends a great year! You may have noticed other new content on this website, including four new pages of IELTS tips and two IELTS practice tests. You can access all of this content from the top menu.

There is much more to come in 2016, including more IELTS vocabulary and more IELTS Reading practice. Good luck to everyone taking IELTS next year!