Your IELTS writing score is a key component of your overall IELTS rating. It may surprise you to discover that every year, over three million people take the IELTS exam. Every one of those people has to obtain an adequate IELTS writing score. Your emigration agent or sponsor will specify exactly what IELTS writing score you need. Many people achieve a satisfactory score on all the other areas of the test (speaking, listening and reading), but fall short in writing. When this happens, they have to retake all four tests, so this is a high-stakes test. It is essential that you take the necessary steps to boost your IELTS writing score.
You should aim to pass IELTS with flying colours, no matter why you are taking the exam. While many businesses today have English as a universal language and require employees to have competent English language skills, according to the Complete University Guide, most university applications from non-native English speakers require an IELTS exam score of between 5.6 – 6 or higher.
Here at Highway IELTS, we are often asked the same question:
How can I improve my writing skills for the IELTS exam?
We decided to concentrate on five key steps you can take before your exam to boost your IELTS writing score.
1. Keep Your Writing Simple
It is far better to you write correct, straightforward English, rather than make mistakes trying to show off your depth of knowledge of the English language. The IELTS writing test is about communicating ideas to an educated reader, who is not an expert in the subject you are writing about. Remember the adage “Good simple, not bad complex”.
2. Understand Contractions
A contraction happens when we put two words together. This occurs naturally when we speak: “I am” easily becomes “I’m”. In writing, this usually means that we insert an apostrophe to take the place of any letters that get lost in the combination. In general, you should avoid using contractions in task 2 (the essay), because you want to create an appropriately formal tone.
Contractions, Tone and Your IELTS Writing Score
General training candidates should be aware that in task 1 (the letter), your IELTS writing score will increase if you use the right tone. If the instructions tell you to write to a friend, then you will need to use a more relaxed tone. Contractions will be more acceptable here. Here is a list of common contractions that you should be comfortable with. If you do use contractions, in any of the tasks, but you misplace or leave out the apostrophe, your IELTS writing score will suffer:
- can’t = cannot
- won’t = will not
- shan’t = shall not
- don’t = do not
- couldn’t = could not
- wouldn’t = would not
- shouldn’t = should not
- would’ve = would have
- isn’t = is not
- I’ve = I have
- I’d = I would or I had
- It’s = it is or it has
- we’ve = we have
- they’ve = they have
Contraction Issues that Harm Your IELTS Writing Score
As we mentioned above, speech is full of contractions. One of the most of these contractions involves the use of modal verbs like would. In the sentence: I would’ve brought it, the contraction is would have. People often write what they hear as would of, which is incorrect and will draw the examiner’s attention. If you make this mistake in your writing, pay special attention to the list above to avoid compromising your IELTS writing score. If you are uncertain about the use of the apostrophe and other elements of punctuation, the Highway IELTS Writing Development Course will help you to improve your skills.
3. When it Comes to Your IELTS Writing Score, Think of Quality Over Quantity
For all the IELTS writing tasks, you are given a word limit. If you do not meet this minimum word count, your IELTS writing score will suffer. At the same time, you only have an hour to complete the test. If you write far more than necessary on one task, you might be losing time that you need to deal with the other task. Your writing must be concise. You should make each sentence as meaningful as you can. Wordiness for its own sake will not increase your IELTS writing score. Consider these two sentences:
We saw that there were many elephants that were wandering in the jungle (13 words)
We saw many elephants wandering in the jungle (8 words)
The first sentence is long and aimless. It also repeats the same phrase “there were”. This is unnecessary and takes up space that could be used to deal with real content.
Sentence length and tone
Another factor that affects sentence length is the difference between speaking and writing. When we speak, we are freer and we get creative. If we really like what we are saying, we will often pad our sentences with elements that are unnecessary or even unwanted in writing. Consider how often you start sentences in English with a phrase like I mean (to make a point), or Well, (to politely disagree with someone). This doesn’t carry well into writing. If your writing resembles your speech too closely, you might jeopardize your IELTS writing score. Here is a list of items that we use frequently in speech, with an equivalent item you can use when writing. You will notice that the spoken ones on the left are actually longer:
- a lot of = many
- one or two = several
- every now and then = occasionally
- here and there = sporadically
- all over the place = widespread
4. Understand the Active and Passive Voices
In English, we can express almost any simple statement in two ways, without changing the meaning:
South Africa won the World Cup – Active Voice
The World Cup was won by South Africa – Passive Voice
The first sentence is in the active voice because the subject of the verb (the people doing the winning) is at the beginning. The second sentence is in the passive voice because the object of the verb (the world cup) comes first. The passive sentence is longer because we had to add “was” to the verb. This relates to your IELTS writing score in two ways. Firstly, it is important that you use a variety of structures in your IELTS writing test. You cannot write an entire text in only one of the voices. Secondly, it is important that you choose between the two based on context.
Active and Passive in Context
The majority of your sentences should be in the active voice, but there are certain things that you would never say in the active voice. For instance, if someone asks you when you were born, you will reply with: “I was born in 1980″. This is a passive sentence. In the IELTS Academic Writing task 1, you might have to describe a process, such as the production of electricity. In a task like this, the passive voice will predominate because many of your sentences will have the object first: “The coal is heated in a furnace”. On the other hand, task 2 will require you to discuss abstract ideas. Therefore, you should include some passive sentences, where the context requires them, but make sure that you do not overuse it. If you do, your writing will be overworked and hard to read, negatively impacting your IELTS writing score.
5. Verb Choice and Your IELTS Writing Score
The verb is the core of any sentence. It is important that you choose the best verb to express the thought behind each sentence. You should develop the habit of reading critically, so that you can write in a way that gives precise expression to your thoughts. Consider the verb to object. You can say that a person objected to something. It is also correct to say that he made an objection, which sounds like it refers to a less immediate context – perhaps he wrote a letter about it later on. We could also say that he raised an objection, which conjures up a legal setting. If you are able to make these subtle distinctions and choose the best verb structure accordingly, you will produce writing that garners a higher IELTS writing score.