Looking for the listening and reading sections? Click here for Part 1 of the IELTS Academic Overview
IELTS Writing Overview:
Writing is actually divided into two parts: task 1 and task 2. You have 60 minutes to finish both tasks. Task 1 is worth 1/3 of your total score and Task 2 is the other 2/3. Likewise, you should spend 1/3 of the time (20 minutes) on Task 1 and the other 2/3 of the time (40 minutes) on Task 2.
Task 1 Writing: Report
For Task 1, you need to write 150 words or more (aim for about 170 to be comfortable) about an information graphic. The information graphic can include one or more charts, tables, line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, flow charts, maps, or process diagrams.
Common Problem 1: “I can’t understand the chart/table/etc.”
Solution: This problem is surprisingly common with students who say math isn’t their strong suit. The good thing is that the information graphics on the IELTS exam tend not to be very complex. This is one of the few times that I recommend learning in your own language first if you really need the help with charts and graphs. After you understand how to read the charts and graphs, doing the same thing in English will be much easier.
Common Problem 2: “I don’t know where to start.”
Solution: Task 1 organization is surprisingly simple. You start with an introduction that summarizes the data being displayed and overviews the main features (try for three main features). Then you spend 1-2 body paragraphs explaining the main features by making comparisons between the specific data on the graphic. Done!
Task 2 Writing: Essay
For writing Task 2 you need to write at least 250 words in an essay. As I mentioned before, Task 2 is worth 2/3 of your writing score so you’ll want to use more time for it than Task 1 (aim for 40 minutes). The topics usually ask you to 1) discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a topic and give your opinion, 2) explain whether you agree or disagree with a statement and why
Common Problem 1: “I don’t know how to answer the topic.”
Solution: This is something you need to prepare for and practice. On one hand, reading lots of sample questions and sample answers can help you to get ready. I recommend this as a good first step. However, on test day you might get a topic you haven’t been prepared for. It’s for these times you need to practice coming up with your own ideas as well.
Common Problem 2: “I don’t know how to organize my writing.”
Solution: Practicing a good structure for IELTS Task 2 writing is important. Most writing can be divided into four paragraphs (introduction, body 1 + 2, conclusion). These sections can also be sub-divided into a rather clear formula (more detail in a future post). Taking some time to plan before writing can also be very helpful.
IELTS Speaking Overview:
The speaking section takes about 15 minutes total and is divided into three parts.
In the first part, the examiner will ask you some personal questions that should be relatively easy for you to answer. This will last 4-5 minutes.
In the second part, you’ll need to give a presentation. The examiner will give you a topic card and you’ll have 1 minute to prepare. Then you need to speak for 2 minutes about the topic.
In the third part, the examiner will ask you some questions related to your topic in part 2. Compared to part 2, these questions will be more abstract so you should talk in more general, abstract terms and not about your personal experiences (like in part 2). This will last around 5 minutes.
Common Problem 1: “I get so nervous when I see the examiner.”
Solution: Know that the examiners want you to get a good score. It’s actually heartbreaking for them to see a candidate do worse than their potential. Also, practice relaxation techniques like visualization and box breathing to calm yourself down mentally. This can make a huge difference in your score.
Common Problem 2: “I don’t know what to say about this topic.”
Solution: This is common with my students. They’ll get a topic they haven’t practiced and they won’t know what to say. You can’t switch topics so you just have to make up an answer the best you can. My advice is to pick the easiest answer possible and talk about that. The examiner is more interested in how you use your language than how complicated the answer you’re giving is (e.g. If you’re asked about your favorite food, talk about one you’re familiar with in English, not something that’s difficult to explain).
Getting a high score on the speaking test requires a lot of practice, preparation, and feedback. Make sure you start going through topics and practicing them early.
The IELTS is a long, difficult test. However, with hard work, persistence, and smart preparation, you will succeed in getting the score that you want. I’m here to help make sure.