Worldwide statistics show that most people who took the IELTS General Training Writing Test in 2019 achieved a score of 6.0. How can you change a 6.0 into a 7.0+? This article is written by a former IELTS examiner for all the IELTS test takers.
TIP ONE: Evaluation Criteria
First and foremost, make sure that you understand the marking system. Far too many candidates simply re-take the exam repeatedly and are disappointed to find that their scores fail to show improvement. As the popular saying goes, this is the definition of insanity!
Here are the marking criteria for IELTS Writing Task One:
As you can see, there are four areas of assessment:
Coherence and Cohesion
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
As you might expect, a higher score for ‘Lexical Resource’ and ‘Grammatical Range and Accuracy’ demands more sophisticated and correct use of language and, again as you might expect, there is no ‘quick fix’ to improve in these areas.
However, more immediate solutions are available when it comes to getting a higher mark for ‘Task Achievement’. Note the following from the public band descriptors:
|* covers the requirements of the task
* presents a clear purpose, with the tone consistent and appropriate
* clearly presents and highlights bullet points but could be more fully extended
|* addresses the requirements of the task
* presents a purpose that is generally clear; there may be inconsistencies in tone
* presents and adequately highlights bullet points but details may be irrelevant, inappropriate or inaccurate
These are the key areas examiners consider when distinguishing between a ‘Band 6’ and ‘Band 7’ in Task Achievement.
Task One always asks you to ‘Write a letter’.
Before you write anything, you need to decide what kind of letter you are writing. Is it a letter to a friend? Is it to your boss? Is it to someone you don’t know?
Why is this important? Well, because you need to maintain a consistent and appropriate ‘tone’, or level of formality, throughout the letter.
Let’s have a look at some different ways of beginning a letter. Can you match the ‘openings’ to appropriate situations?
|1) Dear Lucy||a) a letter to your boss|
|2) Dear Mr Williams||b) a letter to someone you don’t know|
|3) Dear Sir or Madam||c) a letter to a friend|
You should have: 1c, 2a, 3b
TIP TWO : Opening and Closing
Use an appropriate ‘opening’ and ‘closing’, depending on the level of formality. Keep the tone of the letter consistent and appropriate.
Once you have decided whether the letter needs to be formal, semi-formal or informal, you need to plan your answer.
Here is a sample question:
|You live in a room in college which you share with another student. However, there are many problems with this arrangement, and you find it very difficult to work.
Write a letter to the accommodation officer at the college. In the letter,
* describe the situation
* explain your problems and why it is difficult to work
* say what kind of accommodation you would prefer.
After starting with an appropriate greeting, write a single sentence explaining the reason for your letter. With this task, you could write:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am currently living on campus at Redmond Hall, and I writing to enquire whether it might be possible to move to a different room.
In the next two or three paragraphs, you need to cover the bullet points, although not necessarily in the same order in which they appear in the question. Here, the first bullet point asks you to describe the situation, which is a logical place to start:
The reason for my request is that I have been having some problems with my roommate, Anthony Stevens. Anthony is a music student, who plays the trombone, whereas my major is astrophysics. We have been sharing a room for the last two months.
Then you need to explain your problems and why it is difficult to work:
Unfortunately, there was tension between us right from the start as we have very little in common. Initially, our schedules were different, so it was possible for Anthony to practise while I was attending lectures. However, recently this has changed and now that my study time clashes with his practice time, I have been finding it extremely hard to concentrate and tempers have frayed.
And finally, say what kind of accommodation you would prefer:
I would really appreciate it if you could arrange for me to move to another room as soon as possible. A single room would be preferable if you have one available, as I have several important exams coming up at the end of next month.
Then round off your letter, and you’re finished!
Let’s have a quick look at some different ways of finishing a letter. Can you match the ‘closings’ to appropriate situations?
1) Yours sincerely,
a) a letter to your boss
2) Best wishes,
b) a letter to someone you don’t know
3) Yours faithfully
c) a letter to a friend
You should have: 1a, 2c, 3b
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.
TIP THREE : Clarity and Task Achievements
Make sure the purpose of your letter is clear, and cover the task fully, taking care to present and highlight the bullet points.
Here is another typical question:
|You have been sent an important document in a foreign language and you need it translated quickly. One of your friends knows this language.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter,
* describe what the document is
* say why you need your friend’s help
* explain why you need it translated quickly.
What is one key difference between this task and the previous one? Well, this time you are writing to a friend, so you need to write an informal letter.
Here is a sample answer:
Hope all is well with you. Has it stopped raining in London yet?!
I’m wondering whether I could ask you a favour. I’m not sure if you remember, but I applied for a job in Istanbul a few weeks ago. I wasn’t holding out too much hope after so long, but when I opened my e-mail this morning, I discovered that they have offered me the job!
The only problem is that the contract is written in Turkish. My Turkish is pre-intermediate at best and I’m not confident that I’ve understood everything. Would you mind translating it for me? I’m attaching a copy of the contract in case you have the time.
I’m sorry to have to do this to you, but I’m afraid that they would like me to sign and return the contract by Monday 10th at the latest. If there is any way you could get this back to me in the next few days, I’d very much appreciate it.
I’m sorry to drop this on you but the offer really did come out of the blue. If you can help me out, the drinks will definitely be on me next time!
Coherence and Cohesion
Here are the public band descriptors:
|Band||Coherence and Cohesion|
|* sequences information and ideas logically
* manages all aspects of cohesion well
* uses paragraphing sufficiently and appropriately
|* logically organises information and ideas; there is a clear progression throughout
* uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately, although there may be some under-/over-use
|* arranges information and ideas coherently and there is a clear overall progression
* uses cohesive devices effectively, but cohesion within and / or between sentences may be faulty or mechanical
* may not always use referencing clearly or appropriately.
What are the key differences between the bands?
Have a look at this question:
|Your local public library wants to make improvements to their services and facilities. In order to get ideas from the public, they have asked library users to send them suggestions in writing.
Write a letter to the librarian. In your letter,
* describe what you like about the library
* say what you don’t like
* make suggestions for improvements.
As with the previous example of a formal letter, begin with a single sentence outlining the reason for your letter.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to your invitation to local residents to share their ideas about enhancing Scarborough Public Library.
As the bullet points are logically ordered, it makes sense to start by saying what you like about the library.
I would like to begin by saying that I have always been impressed by the way in which the library endeavours to cater for all the members of our community. For example, the children’s section is beautifully decorated, with the brightly-coloured carpeting and beanbags making youngsters feel instantly at home, while older adults can access large-print or talking books, and even arrange to have them delivered to their homes.
Then go on to talk about something you don’t like.
My only criticism relates to the lack of up-to-date technology at the library. The long-awaited e-book service, which was finally introduced in 2018, has been extremely disappointing. Not only is the process for borrowing a book tedious and frustrating, it has also been beset with technical glitches from the outset.
Next, suggest how the situation could be improved.
I strongly recommend that Scarborough Public Library should investigate ways to make the e-book service more streamlined and user-friendly. Although I appreciate that this may involve a substantial investment, to my mind it is an essential step that must be taken by any library wishing to remain relevant in the digital age.
Finally, wrap up your letter, and you’re done!
I trust that you will give this matter your consideration, to prevent our library from becoming obsolete.
TIP FOUR : Structure
To achieve a higher score, your letter needs to be well-organised and you need to link your ideas together smoothly.
Lexical Resource / Grammatical Range and Accuracy
As you might expect, to achieve a higher score in these two areas, you need to use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures as accurately as possible.
The examples we have looked at so far have involved a variety of different functions, such as describing a situation, explaining a problem, making requests or making suggestions.
In the second model answer there are requests, such as:
* I’m wondering whether I could ask you a favour.
* Would you mind translating it for me?
Avoid making mistakes like:
* I’m wondering whether could I ask you a favour?
* Would you mind translate it for me?
Let’s have a look at another task, which focusses on making a complaint.
|There is a problem with the changing rooms at the sports centre that you visit. You have complained several times but with no success.
Write a letter to the manager of the sports centre. In your letter,
* describe what the problem with the changing rooms is
* say what happened the last times you complained
* explain what you want the manager to do.
With this type of letter, you could begin:
* I am writing to complain about…
* I am writing to make a complaint about…
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to complain about the state of the ladies’ changing rooms at Hillview Sports Centre.
I have been a member of Hillview for the last two years and I swim twice a week. Recently, the standard of cleanliness has reached an all-time low. The showers are particularly disgusting. This morning there were muddy footprints leading into the shower area, and soggy toilet paper on the floor. In addition, the drains were blocked with hair, so the water was overflowing onto the floor.
I have tried several times to bring this matter to the attention of the staff. Each time I was assured that the showers would be cleaned more regularly, but this is clearly not happening. In fact, the situation has been getting steadily worse.
I would appreciate it if you could look into this matter and rectify the situation as soon as possible. In my opinion, the best solution would be to organise a roster so that the showers are checked and cleaned at regular intervals. This system appears to work very well at other sports centres I have visited.
I would be grateful if you would let me know what action you plan to take.
I look forward to hearing from you.
TIP FIVE : Functional Language
Spend time learning functional language which will help you to write these types of letters, making sure that you can use it accurately.
Here is one more example of a task which requires the use of ‘functional language’:
|You recently missed a meeting at work.
Write a letter to your boss. In your letter,
* apologise for missing the meeting
* explain what happened
* say what you will do to compensate.
Dear Mr. Walters,
I am writing to apologise for the fact that I was unable to attend this morning’s staff meeting. I appreciate how important it is for all members of staff to be present at our weekly meetings, but unfortunately on this occasion I am afraid that my absence was unavoidable.
My internet connection cut out about five minutes before the meeting was due to start. Not only did this mean that it was impossible for me to join the meeting, but it also meant that there was no way to let either you or my colleagues know about the situation beforehand. The connection was restored about ten minutes ago and now appears to be working normally.
I plan to contact my internet provider to seek their assurance that this will not happen again, as a reliable connection is clearly essential when working from home. I will also get in touch with my colleagues so that I can get up to speed on the content of today’s meeting. Finally, I had a couple of suggestions to make regarding next month’s team-building sessions, so I will send these directly to Mark Stewart in Human Resources.
Once again, please accept my apologies.
TIP SIX : Collocations and Phrases
Learn how to use natural collocations and phrases such as ‘attend a meeting’ or ‘my absence was unavoidable’ rather than learning items of vocabulary in isolation.