IELTS Top Tips: Preparing for the Writing Section

This week’s blog article has been provided by Terri Iwaskow, the Academic Manager at our Toronto English school. She explores some of the intricacies of the IELTS exam, focusing specifically on the written portion and how to prepare to increase your overall IELTS exam score.


Taking an IELTS preparation course is a great way to learn about the exam and what will be expected of you on test day. Not only will you get to know more about the exam itself, but you’ll feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to showcase your English. A major thing to remember is that you can’t really “study for” the IELTS like you can other types of exams; at least not in the traditional sense.


What makes the IELTS exam different?

The IELTS is not testing your general knowledge of grammar. Rather, it’s evaluating your English proficiency level as it is on the day of the test. Can you use English to do things like read advertisements? Make recommendations based on information you read? Talk about your past experiences? Understand details between two speakers on an everyday topic? It measures you’re ability to use practical English.

So how exactly can you prepare for an exam like that? The only way to improve your general English skills is to ensure you get a lot of practice in all the skill areas that will be tested during the exam (listening, reading, writing and speaking).


prepare for the IELTS exam
The best way to build your skills is to practice using English every day


Once you understand how to improve those specific elements of your English, you’ll be ready to start prepping for the exam. Here are a few key tips and tricks to remember when studying up for the Writing section of the exam:


1. Keep it clear and simple!

Don’t overthink your topic. Whether you’re writing for the General or Academic test, the key is that you are not writing a university paper. You don’t need to use overly formal or Academic language. You can even use “I” as long as you don’t overdo it. It’s much better to have simpler, clear ideas with accurate grammar than complex and elaborate ones. Choose grammar and vocabulary that you know how to use.


student preparing for IELTS
Your writing can be slightly more informal than an academic essay


2. Plan, plan, plan!

Use five minutes at the beginning of the test to plan your writing. Decide on what opinion you will take and map out the structure of your writing as a quick outline or bullet pointed notes to ensure you cover all areas you want to discuss. Make sure you practice the writing planning process well in advance of your test, as you don’t want it to take up too much time – that’s time you need to spend writing the actual essay! If you have a lot of experience, it will become second nature to you and make things much easier on test day.


Study materials for IELTS
Make a plan! It will benefit you come test day


3. Try to find a writing formula or structure that works for you….and memorize it!

Having a stock of good introductory, conclusive and transition phrases as well as a standard formula for addressing information in a graph, for example, will make things easier for you. Come up with functional language you can use and reuse. There are many websites you can find that will give you tips and tricks for stock language.


studying for IELTS written section
Make a list of different phrases you can use during the written section of the exam


4. Practice writing on A4 paper so you know what 150 and 250 words looks like without having to spend time counting.

When you prepare for the exam, write and count 250 words and then take a note of how far along on the page you are. Is it halfway? Is it three quarters? Note this for test day! The faster you are able to visualize how much space you will take up means more time for you to perfect the content. Counting the individual words on test day can take up more time than you think!


Have you taken the IELTS exam before? Or maybe you’re a first-time test taker and you’ve got a few more questions you’d like to ask. Feel free to share your questions and experiences with us on our Facebook page or in the comment section below.

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