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How to Write an IELTS Essay – Tips from an ESL Teacher

How to Write an IELTS Essay – Tips from an ESL Teacher:

As an ESL teacher, I have coached hundreds of students and working professionals who aspired to study or work in a country where English is the primary language of communication. Most universities and employers in the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand require a good score on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

This is easier said than done.

For the average IELTS test-taker, English is a second or even third language, and unfortunately one whose unpredictable spelling and tricky grammar make it extra challenging to master. If you have set your sights on a high IELTS score, let me make it easier for you.

Some Background About the IELTS

Established in 1989, the IELTS is a standardised international test to judge English language proficiency for non-native speakers. Simply put, the IELTS is an easy way to figure out whether your English is good enough to make you eligible for immigration, admissions, or employment in the above-mentioned countries. The test comes in two versions; the Academic version is for employment-seeking professionals and students seeking to enroll in institutions of higher studies. The General Training (GT) version is for potential immigrants and for people seeking non-academic training.

The IELTS tests 4 important language skills – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The Listening and Speaking sections remain the same for both versions of the test; the Reading and Writing sections will vary, depending on the version you choose to take.

IELTS scores range from band 1 (non-user) to band 9 (expert), although it is also possible to get scores ending in .5, for instance, 4.5, 5.5 and so on. You will get individual scores for each section as well as an overall score for the entire test. The overall score is the average of your individual scores for each section and represents your mastery over the English language. An overall score of 7 is generally considered desirable, regardless of the version.

If this sounds daunting, let me assure you, it is not. If you have practiced your English diligentlyfor afew months and are familiar with the test format, you will probably breeze through it.

However, most of my students agree that the Writing section is not exactly a cakewalk. Task 1 of the Writing section consists of Report Writing for IELTS Academic, and Letter Writing for IELTS GT. This part is generally considered tough but doable. Task 2 ( IELTS Essay Writing), on the other hand, is far more challenging.

Things to Know About the IELTS essay

  • This task requires candidates to write a formal essay in response to a problem, argument, or point of view, using a minimum of 250 words.
  • This is a time-bound task – you have 40 minutes to write a well-structured essay, keeping mistakes to a minimum
  • You need to identify the essay genre – Opinion essay, Discussion essay, Direct Question essay, Advantages/Disadvantages essay, Solution essay – and draft your response accordingly
  • GT essay questions are usually (but not always) easier and have simpler topics.
  • GT essays can be personal in style, while Academic essays must be formal
  • Essays are scored on the basis of Task Response (information, detail, and accuracy of key features; Coherence and Cohesion (organising, paragraphing, and linking of information); Lexical Resources (vocabulary, spelling, and number of mistakes) and Grammar (sentence structure, tenses, range, and accuracy).

Tips to Write a Great Essay

1. Read

The IELTS essay tests your English language skills and, to a certain degree, the extent of your knowledge about a given topic. Extensive reading is one of the best ways to ace the IELTS; it builds vocabulary, promotes analytical thinking and fills your mind with all sorts of knowledge that might come in handy when writing the essay. You can also read a variety of sample essays online to understand how to structure your own essay. So, before you embark on the IELTS essay voyage, make sure you’re reading more than Facebook updates or the directions on your cereal packet!

2. Brainstorm

Before you begin writing, take a few minutes to organise your ideas and plan your essay. Use a pencil to jot down all of the different aspects and perspectives you can think of. Have a clear vision of your essay. This will help you to save time while writing your essay.

3. Structure

The IELTS essay is structured just like your regular essay, in that it has an Introduction, 2 or 3 body paragraphs, and a Conclusion. But you only have about 40 minutes to write it and some of that time must be spent on planning. Therefore, you must keep your Introduction fairly brief and get to the Body Paragraphs sooner than you normally would. A good Introduction has:

  • A sentence that lays out the essay topic, using facts contained within the question itself
  • A concise statement of what you are going to write about in the Body Paragraphs

Each Body Paragraph must appear coherent and cohesive. A good Body Paragraph has:

  • One controlling idea
  • 4 or 5 sentences that support the controlling idea

The Conclusion is the shortest part of the essay and should not be more than 1 or 2 sentences. A good Conclusion has:

  • A sentence that re-states what the essay is about
  • A sentence that contains references to the future of the topic under question
  • A conclusion serves to sum-up the discussion points of your essay and brings your discussion to an end
  • A conclusion should only refer to what has already been discussed in the essay, it is not the place to introduce new ideas or concepts

4. Have a Personal Opinion

Aiming for a score of 8 or 9 on the essay? Merely rattling off facts and figures, no matter how accurate, is not going to cut it. The IELTS essay is your brainchild that must reflect your personality and opinions on a solid base of factual information. Remember, it is the infusion of a personal voice that sets a great essay apart from a passable one.

5. Ask Yourself Questions

If you find yourself running low on ideas while writing the essay or if the topic seems a little dry, re-read the essay topic and ask yourself questions (who/what/where/how/when). This will stimulate your brain into generating more ideas that you can expand on.

6. Manage your Time

The IELTS essay is also a test of your time-management skills. A lot of people have reported running out of time and leaving the essay incomplete or without a proper conclusion. This is a big NO NO and will most certainly lower your score. The solution is to have a strategy in place before you take the test. Read the essay question carefully. Do not spend more than 5 minutes planning the essay and make sure that you set aside the last 5 minutes to proofread it. Divide the rest of the time between the different sections of the IELTS essay. Avoid unnecessary stress during the test by adhering to these time limits. Take this quiz to learn more about your time management skills.


Writing a great IELTS essay is all about reading, brainstorming, structure, having a personal opinion, asking questions, and time management.

If you have more tips or suggestions about scoring well on the IELTS essay or would like to share your IELTS experience, feel free to leave a comment!

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