Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

November 18, 2011

6 things to remember when writing IELTS tasks

1. The purpose of the IELTS writing is to demonstrate YOUR ability to write coherently in ENGLISH on a given topic

It is very important to bear this in mind when preparing for the exam. This is one of your chances in the IELTS exam to take control (the other being in the speaking) and demonstrate your great ability in English and to write good English so don’t waste it! 

Make sure that you give a lot of preparation time to this and, if possible, get a teacher to help you especially if you are looking at bands 7 and 8. The teacher will not only mark your essays but will also help you to improve it by showing you how to develop your writing to ensure that you get the band you want.

2. The key to IELTS writing is effective preparation and practice.

I know that many IELTS students work VERY hard on their IELTS but I have also met many who, despite this hard work have not been able to achieve their goal. Your practice has to be effective to work for YOU.

If you need to get band 7 you HAVE to understand what a band 7 essay looks like, what it contains and how it feels to write one. You need to know this in your muscle!  To do this you need to produce one and this may take 2 or 3 hours but it doesn’t matter, once you have it then you will not go back to your old way of writing again.

Less is more with writing – quantity does NOT necessarily produce quality. It is better to work for a long time on ONE essay than produce 4 at once. If you have an IELTS teacher or coach then they will tell you when you have managed to get your band 7 essay down. If not then you will have to rely on models. Model essays are YOUR key to great writing and don’t rely simply on the good essays of your friends, they will have mistakes. Look at what you are reading for the IELTS reading – here are great models! You can find model essays for IELTS everywhere;  study them and really go deep and find out what a band 7 truly is!

Don’t try to second-guess what the examiner is looking for.

Your job in the writing is to say “Look at my great writing ability at band 7. See how I have managed to express this topic really well and given you lots of good language to assess” it isn’t to think “I wonder what the examiner would like to see in this paragraph”.

The exam is not about the examiner, it’s about you. I can tell you that all examiners want you to do well. I know this because I have been an examiner myself and I really wanted every essay to be good and to get whatever band the candidate required. It’s sad when you see essays that have lots of silly mistakes, or weren’t planned properly or are too short or aren’t finished. Sometimes you can see that the person really has ability but they haven’t demonstrated it.

See the exam as an opportunity to demonstrate your great English rather than a ‘test’ and you’ll be much more confident.

3. Please Plan, don’t just dive in!

“There isn’t enough time to plan” I hear this all the time, yet planning well actually ‘saves’ you time! With a good plan the essay almost writes itself  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using. Without a plan you are trying not only to make sure you use good English, the right vocabulary, great structure and not too many mistakes, but also the ideas you want to express as well, all as you go along and all in about 20 or 30 minutes – that’s a lot to ask!!

A good plan will give direction to your essay and state the points you want to make  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using to express these ideas on paper.

4. Think in English

When I was learning French at school a teacher told me “If you don’t know it don’t use it!” This is very good advice – translating from your own language most often fails and you will end up with English which can at best sound ‘odd’ and at worst be gibberish thus losing you many marks in the process.

If  the idea in your head is only in your own language and you don’t know the word or expression in English then either come up with another idea or think of words you DO know that you can use to express this. I understand that you can express things in a very erudite and confident way in your own language and that you want to come across in your writing as an educated and knowledgable person BUT look at point 1 here – it’s your ability in English that is the most important thing in this exam NOT your knowledge!

In fact, if you can train yourself to think in English then your chances of producing great writing are better.

The way to do this is to immerse yourself as much as possible in English as you prepare for the exam. Read newspapers, journals, books. Listen to radio programmes, watch films and documentaries. Develop a deep and meaningful relationship with English and great things will start to happen. Firstly you will learn a lot of things using English as a vehicle and secondly you will begin to absorb the language naturally as your exposure to it increases and soon you will be thinking about ideas and topics straight into English and NOT via your own language.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of work and IELTS preparation on top too! Well, yes it is a lot of work but isn’t it worth it to get what you need? Why are you taking the IELTS anyway? Isn’t it to get you somewhere where you will be working or studying in ENGLISH every day? IELTS is simply your gateway, once you arrive at your destination you are going to need FAR MORE English than the IELTS needs so get started in this way and ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

( see my post  – Thinking in English – How to make it happen)

5. Try things out during your preparation period

In order to produce a wonderful piece of writing you need to experiment a little. All writers create several drafts of their work before they publish. This blog post has taken me quite a long time to produce as I have been revising and adding things. Obviously in the exam you have only one chance but if your preparation has really prepared you for that one chance then you’ll have no problem. On the day of your test you should know how you are going to tackle the questions, whatever they are – there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises!

The time for experimenting is in your preparation time and to get a good band you really should,try and do this. From your reading and studying of model essays and other texts you will find a host of new vocabulary and sentence types. You should choose the ones that you like or the ones that impress you and use them in your own writing. Be creative, test things see how they fit, see what the result is and then ask someone to check and see if they have worked.

Questions I always ask my students when they give me writing to check is ‘Are you writing in the same way as you did before?’ and ‘Has the way you approach your writing changed?’ I always expect the answer ‘yes’. There wouldn’t be any point in working with me and then doing the same old things. I am always pleased with the ‘yes’ answer because it shows me that their work is growing and developing and getting better and that’s what should happen. I also love it when students try things new, even if they don’t work – you have to fail to grow and when better to do this than with a supportive and experienced person to help you to use these words and phrases in the correct way.

6. Timing comes towards the exam date

Many IELTS students I meet are worried about getting their writing tasks done in the time allowed (1 hour) and spend much of their preparation time racing against the clock, doing essay after essay as fast as possible. This is putting the cart before the horse! My daughter learns the piano and her teacher keeps telling her to get it right first and then speed up. This is my advice for you also. Once you know exactly what you are doing you can easily get this done in the time and even faster leaving you extra time to check. This is what you are aiming for. So make sure you start with the content and quality of your writing and don’t worry about the time – that will come when you are ready with your perfect band 7 essay every time!

Writing is the part of the exam that most people struggle with but with some disciplined and effective practice it will soon become a joy to you to write these tasks and when you are looking forward to it then you have achieved what you need.

Here are some other posts that might help with writing:

10 Ways to increase your vocabulary

Warning! Mistakes cost marks

7  Deadly sins to avoid in your writing

7  Great virtues to help you write well in English

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

October 19, 2009

Warning: mistakes cost marks!

Why would you spend time studying for an English language exam, revise, prepare well before the exam day and then hand marks to the examiner on a plate? It doesn’t make sense, yet I see students time and time again doing this because they don’t plan or check their essays well enough in the exam itself.

Let me dispel some myths:

  1. I don’t need to plan my essays, they flow – er.. I think you do, no, they don’t and with time and exam pressures you’ll waffle and digress.
  2. I don’t have time to plan, it’s wasting my writing time – yes you do and no it doesn’t, it helps you use that time to write a good essay.
  3. I’ll check if I have time at the end – why not check as you go along?
  4. I can’t check, I have to get my ideas across – but isn’t this a language exam? the ideas are important up to a point but isn’t it the way you use language to express those thoughts the priority here?

I think students often lose sight of what they are doing which is demonstrating their ability to get ideas and opinions across in English and the key word here is English. Your exam is not medicine, or sociology although the subject may be – it’s English and it’s important not to forget this!

Two things can ensure that you produce a well written and well expressed essay to the best of your ability – planning and proof  reading.

Planning: some tips (I’m sure you’ve heard it all before!)

1. read the essay title carefully and underline the keywords – have a look at this essay title, what are the key words?

  • Juvenile crime is often ‘blamed’ on single mothers. Young parents today do not have the commitment required to maintain a relationship and look after their children. What measures are required to help young couples keep their families together?

The most important is – What measures – that tells you what sort of essay to write, the main topic is Juvenile crime, single mothers is a possible cause and the second sentence gives you some background.

2. sketch out your paragraphs (this is just an example, your version will depend on your essay and ideas)

  1. introduction: re-hash the opening with phrases like People feel, Some people think that juvenile crime etc…
  2. paragraph 1: maybe the reasons for the situation
  3. paragraph 2: the measures to support families referring to your reasons above
  4. conclusion: this should balance your introduction and may include your own opinion

3.  Decide how many ideas you want in each paragraph and make sure you support each statement and give examples for some of them

your plan will look something like this: (this would be an essay of about 200 – 250 words IELTS type)

  • Intro – juvenile crime – big problem – some people say – single mothers
  • P1 problems – lack of support, stress, commitment e.g. need to work, too busy, children look after themselves….
  • P2 measures – good free child care, parenting classes, mentors/experienced parents in a buddy system etc…
  • conclusion: – society we live in so need to help and support not criticise…..

4. write the essay – your introduction and conclusion will have 2/3 sentences and your main paragraphs perhaps between 6 and 9 (make statement, support it and give (if appropriate) examples). This should give you your 200-250 words and you simply need to convert your notes into sentences. The structure is tight and the writing therefore controlled so there is less room for mistakes.

Now make sure you proof read – don’t leave anything to chance!

Checking your writing:

You should know the mistakes you often make. If not then make sure you compile a mental list before your next exam! (see my post on Doing a language audit)

The following mistakes are very common and you should check for them:

  1. articles – are these used correctly? You will have used a lot so it’s a good idea to check as you write.
  2. subject-verb agreement – any problems here?
  3. ‘s’ on the 3rd person –  the silliest of mistakes
  4. use of present perfect tense – check any you have used
  5. past participles – are they right?
  6. check any long sentences to make sure you haven’t got ‘lost’ in them and it’s clear who or what you are talking about (if your sentence is going over 2 lines I would be inclined to look at it as this can be a sign that you’ve got lost.)

For more in-depth study check out this Gapfillers section on writing.

Practice does make perfect but only if you get good feedback 3 essays written in the same evening are likely to contain the same mistakes.

Look at good models for ideas.

Try and read your work out loud and you will see and hear any mistakes more easily.

For short one day and weekend courses in Writing skills and IELTS check here

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