The IELTS or International English Language Testing System is an English proficiency test. Along with the CELPIP, TEF, and TCF, it is a language test accepted by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
To measure a candidate’s overall English language skill, the IELTS tests four language areas- listening, reading, writing, and speaking.
Each language area has its own test and the scores of each contribute to a candidate’s IELTS score.
The IELTS has two types called modules. One is the General Training IELTS, which is for immigration and work. The other is the Academic IELTS, taken by candidates who seek higher education in Canada.
The two modules are distinguished by their respective reading and writing tests.
As writing is a skill in academia, the IELTS Academic Writing test consists of tasks. These are tasks you may encounter in your university or postgraduate coursework. That said, doing well in this part of the test may give you the momentum you need for your future academic (and professional) life in Canada.
If you want to know more about the writing test for the Academic IELTS, read on. This article is about the Academic Writing Test of the IELTS and how you could do well in the test.
Who Needs To Take The Academic IELTS?
The Academic IELTS may be the one to take for the following circumstances:
Applying For A Study Permit
One of the requirements set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is a language test result.
In Canada, all universities and post-secondary educational institutions recognize and accept the IELTS as proof of English proficiency. In line with IRCC’s minimum language requirement of CLB 7, the minimum score for the IELTS is 6.0.
If you are applying for a study permit to pursue postgraduate studies in Canada, the minimum language requirement may be a bit higher. According to the International Development Programme, you may have to get 6.5 in the IELTS.
To Work In A Regulated Profession In Canada
Some jobs in Canada are regulated. These professions require registration with a regulatory body in Canada before being practiced. Examples of these professions are nurses, doctors, and pharmacists.
Immigrants who plan to work in these types of professions also need to take the Academic IELTS. The minimum requirement for most occupations like pharmacists is 6.0.
For foreign-trained nurses and physicians, the minimum scores vary and are higher. Nurses need to get an overall IELTS score of 7.0. No score should go below 7.0, except for the reading test score which should at least be 6.5
What Are The Parts Of The Academic IELTS Writing Test?
The Academic IELTS Writing test takes about 60 minutes and is the final written test of the IELTS.
The test consists of two tasks, with task two accounting for the lion’s share of your writing score. More specifically, task one is worth about 40% of the overall writing score and task two 60%.
As well, 20 minutes is allocated for task one while task two could take 40 minutes, as per the instructions on the test.
Task One: Report Or Description
In task one, a candidate needs to summarize the data presented in a graph. The graph may be one that shows changes in values across time (e.g. line graph).
At times, it could be a graph or table that compares figures.
Though rare, maps may also be included in the test.
As well, there may be a flow chart showing a process in the test. This one was from the IELTS Academic test in 2016.
You can expect any of these on the day of the test. Whichever one you encounter, you will have to write a description or report. This description or report needs to be at least 150 words.
Task Two: Essay
The second task of the IELTS Writing test is a 250-word essay. Candidates are expected to respond in writing to a topic. The topics in the IELTS writing test are general interest topics for a non-specialist audience. Examples of these general interest topics are:
- The Internet
- Environmental issues
The question for which you have to write a response could be one which asks you for your opinion.
At times, you may have to present and justify two opposing views.
There are also questions in the IELTS writing test that might require you to present the cause, effect, and solution involving a given issue or state of affairs. You may also have to write an essay that answers two different questions.
In one question type, you might also have to present the pros and cons of a certain trend or course of action.
How Are Writing Tests Marked?
Unlike the results of the IELTS listening and reading tests, there is no raw score conversion for writing. Instead, IELTS writing examiners base marks on band descriptors.
Band descriptors are a list of characteristics that make a response eligible for a certain band score. In a way, these function similarly to the descriptors of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB).
Since tasks one and two involve slightly different skills, each task has its own set of band descriptors.
For task one, these are the band descriptors.
For task two, examiners refer to these band descriptors:
IELTS writing examiners evaluate writing tests based on four characteristics. Each one is 25% of the writing score for a given task (task one or two)
Task achievement refers to how well a written response addresses the requirements of a task.
For task one, examiners might look at whether or not a report or description summarizes the data sufficiently. As well, examiners may score a report based on the selected data and the clarity and completeness of an overview.
For task two, the areas of evaluation are the relevance of the response, main ideas, and supporting statements or details.
Examiners also check whether instructions like the word count were followed for both tasks.
Coherence And Cohesion
Whether the response is a report or an essay, it must be organized, separated into paragraphs, and have a logical or clear progression.
This is coherence and cohesion. To score these, IELTS examiners may look for signs of thematic unity or organization like proper paragraphing, idea arrangement, and the use of words that link sentences and paragraphs logically (“linkers and cohesive devices”).
This refers to the usage of words. Otherwise referred to as vocabulary, this includes everything from the right usage of words to variety.
In addition to variety and accuracy, the presence of errors in spelling and capitalization also affect the marks for vocabulary.
Grammar Range And Accuracy
Grammar accuracy includes:
- The correctness of sentences and punctuation
- Command of different sentence structures
- The ability to use simple, compound, complex sentences correctly
On the other hand, grammar range refers to a candidate’s ability to correctly use less common structures and grammar conventions. This may include lesser-used structures like inversions of negative adverbials, usage of subjunctive clauses, and the usage of elliptical sentences.
How To Get Your Desired Band Score For The Writing Test
In the IELTS, there is no such thing as a passing or failing mark. Your desired band score will depend on the language requirement. The requirement is determined by a country or academic institution.
For Canada, the minimum requirement for language ability is CLB 7. To get this score, you need to get 6.0 in the IELTS, especially in the writing test. Again, this is the minimum language requirement, so scoring higher may be a better goal.
Here are some tips to help you achieve your goal score:
The IELTS is a test. Like any other test, there are instructions that you need to follow.
One example of an instruction in the writing test is the minimum word count for each task. Although you may go over the prescribed number of words, writing less than that can affect your writing score negatively.
Another instruction is the use of a pencil. Also, there are parts of the answer sheet on which you are not allowed to write. This is the area below the answer sheet separated by a boldly drawn line.
To Save Time On Introductions, Paraphrase
Indeed, there are numerous ways to begin an introduction. A simple yet effective way to do this might be to paraphrase.
In task one, there is a sentence that contains what the graph, chart, table, or map is about. You may start an introduction by rewording this and re-arranging its sentence structure.
The graph below shows how people buy music.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant
You may be able to begin an introduction right away by paraphrasing the sentence that describes the graph.
It may look like this:
Data on how people gain access to music for a fee is presented in the graph.
You may also use this technique for essay introductions.
“In some countries, health care and education are only partially funded by the government. Some people argue that the government should be responsible for covering the full cost of these services.
Do you support or oppose the opinion?”
You can start an introduction by rewording and restructuring the topic. Doing this, you might end up with an introduction that is akin to:
“Governments in some countries partly subsidize education and healthcare. It is believed by some that the government should shoulder the full costs incurred by these expenditures.”
Doing this could save time as well as potentially display your lexical and grammar range.
Summarize Information In Task One
This is related to following instructions but might deserve a special mention.
In task one, a candidate is required to write a report describing trends, comparisons, and processes. One of the instructions is to “summarize the information by selecting relevant information and make comparisons where relevant”.
This means that it may not be a good idea to mention every bit of data in a graph, table, or chart. Instead, you only have to describe trends and details that “stick” out.
For example, in this graph:
You do not have to mention the exact figures of fish and chips consumed every year. Rather, it would be a much better idea to simply include the increase in consumption between 1970 and 1990. You may even include the initial and final figures. Hence, a sentence showing this could look like this:
Nearly 100 grams of fish and chips were consumed in 1970 before being eaten five times more, two decades later.
Doing this can save time, as well as write guided by the instructions.
Write An Overview In Task One
One of the requirements of the band descriptors for scores above 5.0 is a clear and complete overview. This overview must give a “bird’s eye view” of the presented data. Hence, the information selected needs to be appropriate and complete.
The following are good pieces of information to mention in an overview:
- General trends, peaks, and bottoms (for line graphs or bar graphs describing changes across time)
- The highest and the lowest (for comparative data)
- Significant changes (for maps)
- The number of steps; the start and end of a process (flowcharts)
You May Go Over The Minimum Word Count- But Not By Too Much
In task one, the instruction requires 150 words. There is a 250-word requirement in task two. Consider these minimum word counts, so do not worry if you feel like you will write more.
However, it might not be a good idea to write 500 words for task one. Nor would it be advisable to write a 600-word essay in task two although there is no rule against this.
A longer essay or report is not necessarily better. It is just longer. Also, writing a long essay or report can take more time. Right away, this approach does not favour time management.
Reports and essays are more readable if separated into paragraphs.
In task one, there are many ways to observe appropriate paragraphing. One way is to separate the introduction which contains the overview and the body paragraph which contains more details.
For task two, you can separate the introduction from the body paragraphs and the conclusion. As well, paragraphs should not have too many main ideas in them.
Respond Based On What Is Required
This tip is especially important for task two.
As mentioned earlier, essay questions come in different forms. Some ask for an opinion while others require an impartial discussion of two opposing views.
It is vital to present responses and ideas based on what the question requires.
For example, if you encounter a question that asks for the cause, effect, or solution to a certain problem, it may not be advisable to give an argumentative answer. Nor would it be a good idea to write one that presents two different opinions.
For Task Two, One Main Idea = One Body Paragraph
You can increase your chances of doing well in task achievement and coherence and cohesion by writing paragraphs that have “clear central ideas”. As much as possible, you might want to have just one for every body paragraph you write.
While there is no rule against this, having too many ideas in one paragraph could do two things:
- It could make the entire paragraph confusing (lacking coherence and cohesion).
- Doing so might not allow you to fully explain one idea.
You may develop a body paragraph however you want. What is important is that:
- There is a main idea
- There is at least one sentence that proves why the main idea is true.
- There is an example (as per the instruction)
If you can do this, you could be on your way to writing a body paragraph that is both logical and easy to read. This can increase your score for task two, at least.
Minimize Repetitions Wherever And Whenever Possible
This suggestion is for grammar and vocabulary.
Remember that one of the areas examiners are assessing is vocabulary. That said, you may want to show that you have a full range of synonyms at your disposal. Using synonyms would indicate a broad vocabulary.
As well, you may use the same word but in its other form.
“The consumption of fructose causes insulin insensitivity which contributes to body fat gain.”
may be rewritten into:
“CONSUMING fructose is the CAUSE of BEING INSENSITIVE TO INSULIN. This is a major CONTRIBUTING factor to GAINING BODY FAT.”
From this example, some words were indeed repeated but in different forms. Doing this not only displays lexical range. Because changing word forms is a sign of grammar awareness, it may show off your grammar skills as well.
Repeating sentence structures is not necessarily something you have to avoid. It is repeating the same one too often and throughout the response that can affect your grammar score negatively.
This is why it is important to practice various sentence structures when addressing grammar.
In The Conclusion, Summarize
No essay is complete without a conclusion. Your conclusion in task two should restate your main ideas and your opinion (if the essay is argumentative).
With that in mind, the conclusion might not be the best place to introduce new ideas. Ideas that need development need to be in body paragraphs. Not the conclusion.
How To Prepare For The Academic IELTS Writing Test
Your application of the tips and tricks mentioned can be better if you work on these areas in preparation for the test:
The Language Of Movement Vs. The Language Of Comparison
In task one, not all graphs will present changes in number across time. Some might present comparative data. In some cases, you might get both a line graph and a pie chart or table.
When describing data, it is important to be aware of the difference between describing trends and describing comparisons.
To describe trends, you may have to report data in terms of increases and decreases. Some helpful words are:
- Increase/ rise/ climb/ peak (if a number increases to its highest point)
- Decrease/ fall/ dip/ drop
- Stabilize/ remain constant
On the other hand, when comparing figures, the following verbs and the like might be more appropriate:
- Account for
As mentioned earlier, having mastery of different sentence structures can lead to a better score in grammar.
If you are planning to improve in this area, here are some topics with which you may start:
- Different simple sentence structures
- Compound sentences
- Complex sentence structures (with conjunctions and clauses)
Once you have mastered them you can probably move on to:
- Past and present subjunctive
- Relative clauses after prepositions
- Noun clauses
The IELTS is an English test. Like any language test, vocabulary is assessed.
To improve vocabulary, you can read various materials. You might also want to tune in to programs in English. If you encounter an unfamiliar word, you can always look up its definition and usage and add it to your existing vocabulary.
You may also try using the words you already know in other forms. As mentioned earlier, this may sharpen both your lexical resources and your grammar.
For many, a lack of ideas is a common concern for task two (and IELTS speaking).
First, bear in mind that the IELTS exam is an English proficiency test. It is not a test of knowledge. Hence, you do not need to possess specialized knowledge in any field to do exceptionally well in the test.
Nevertheless, it might help to do some “light and leisurely” reading on some subjects. To broaden your general knowledge, you can read or watch videos on a range of topics like:
- The Internet
- Environmental issues
The only way to be faster is with practice. For this reason, you might want to consider writing tasks within a time limit.
In the beginning, you can have a slightly longer time limit like 30 minutes for task one. Over time, you can reduce the time limit until you can finish consistently in less than 20 minutes,
You can use this approach for task two as well.
The Academic IELTS writing test is one of the sub-tests that make the IELTS Academic test different from its General Training counterpart.
As a requirement for study permits and professional registration in Canada, the Academic IELTS writing test contains tasks that mirror those in a university or professional setting.
Putting some of the tips in this article into practice can get you a step closer to your ideal IELTS writing score. How well you execute these pointers depends on how much practice and preparation you have had before the test.
Always remember to practice until writing becomes second-nature to you.
From us here at Choose Canada, good luck on your Academic IELTS Writing test!