Task Achievement in IELTS boils down to following instructions. To succeed in IELTS you need to follow instructions closely. We saw this clearly in our discussion of the listening test. In the writing test, this means carefully reading the question and sticking to the topic. The examiner rubric assess your ability to do this under the categories Task Response (task 1) and Task Achievement (task 2). These rubrics are publicly available here.
It might sound obvious, but it’s very important that you actually answer the question. When you are under pressure, it is quite easy to stray the topic, or to overlook important details. You should plan your writing and check the finished product to make sure it’s in line with that plan. Here are some important points to bear in mind when answering both tasks.
Task 1 (General Training): Watch Your Tone
In the General Training test, your first task will be to write a letter. The task will specify the reason for writing as well as the audience. Take note of these and respond accordingly. If the scenario is a letter to a friend, you should not sound like this:
I am writing to inform you that I will be in London for the entirety of the week commencing 3rd June.
You would find it very strange if your friend wrote to you like that. You would assume that your friend didn’t really understand your relationship. The examiner marking your writing will draw the same conclusion and give you a low score for task achievement. A more appropriate way to convey this information to a friend would be:
I am writing to let you know I will be arriving in London on June 3rd and I’ll be there for the whole week.
What’s the Difference?
This version sounds more relaxed and friendly. This effect comes from word choice. “Inform” has become “let you know”. “Entire” has become “whole”. There is actually a very interesting thing going on here. George Orwell famously pointed out that English has an almost chameleon-like ability to switch between two vocabularies: Latino-French (formal) and Anglo-Saxon (informal). This is the product of the complicated history of the British Isles.
For our purposes, it’s important that you simply show awareness of tone and you adapt your language to fit the scenario that the test gives you. Our advanced writing course gives more detailed guidance on this task, its sub-types and pitfalls.
Task 1 (Academic): Be Discerning
In the Academic IELTS Writing Test, your first task will be to analyse data and write a report. You have to deal with the data in the question. Depending on the question type, choosing the data can be a challenge. For most tasks, you will not have enough space to simply restate every datum in the sources. At the same time, if you don’t make any concrete reference to the data, the examiner will not be able to determine whether you have understood the task.
Another common error is to fall into interpreting, rather than reporting. Your aim is to describe the what and not the why. For example, let’s imagine the data compares various countries’ spending on education. Country A devotes 15% of its budget to education, while country B only spends 5%. You might conclude from this, that country A simply cares more about its youth than country B. However, this is an interpretation that does not derive from the data. While you will not receive a direct penalty for unnecessary interpretation, you will be wasting precious space (150 words is your limit) on material that will not earn you any credit from the examiner. Our advanced writing program gives examples of how to handle all the various academic task types and satisfy this criterion.
Task Achievement in IELTS Writing Task 2: Avoid Sitting on the Fence
When was the last time you read a news article or academic article? Think back to what you read. Did the writer present a clear argument? Did you have any doubt about the writer’s point of view? You should avoid producing writing like this for the IELTS Writing test. This is true for both General Training and Academic tests. Take a position and defend it. The examiner will be looking for a clear position. To help you understand how to do this, let’s consider the various types of essay question. The IELTS Writing Task 2 question you face will most likely fall into one of three categories: problem and solution, opinion and discussion.
IELTS Writing Task 2: Problem and Solution
This kind of question will refer to a well-known issue that anybody can understand and express an opinion about. Some examples are: aging populations, climate change, migration, crime or deforestation. For this task you need to clearly describe the problem and propose a reasonable solution.
IELTS Writing Task 2: Opinion
Should we care about the national dress of the culture we come from? Is it a good idea for people to be completely free to use harmful substances? Do international sporting events make us get along better? These are the kinds of questions that you might have to write about. Notice that none of these refer to a problem per se. Rather, they are asking you to give your opinion. For a question like this, make it clear what your opinion is and motivate it.
IELTS Writing Task 2: Discussion
Home schooling or mainstream schools? State-funded healthcare or private? Public transport or cars? These questions require you to describe two opposing arguments and pick which one you prefer. It’s important that you make it very clear where you stand, because if this isn’t clear, it will be difficult for someone to say you have answered the question. By all means, consider two sides of the argument, but when you do so, make sure it’s clear which side you personally favor.
Can I Refer to my Own Personal Views and Experiences?
The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes”. You should not be afraid to talk about things from your own point of view, using the first-person pronouns “I” and “we”. Often, the question will even specify that you should do this. It is clear when someone has tried too hard to avoid using these pronouns. The writing will often sound clumsy or unnatural:
One could come to the conclusion that private healthcare is more effective.
A better way to write this would be:
I maintain that private healthcare is more effective.
Express your ideas naturally. Remember, your aim is to communicate. Drawing on your own experiences, or the experiences of other people, will almost always result in writing that sounds authentic and natural.
Task Achievement in IELTS Writing: Planning is key
It is obvious when someone has written without planning first. Often, words will be left out, erased or crossed out. Paragraphs will run on too long, straying from their original topic. It is well worth it to spend a few minutes at the beginning of your test sketching a plan before you start writing. Once you finish writing, look back to make sure you have dealt with everything. There is no penalty for requesting paper, but if you’ve planned adequately you should be able to fit everything on the first sheet you’re given. If it’s been a while since you had to plan and write an essay or report, it will be worth your while to practice this before test day.
Another handy tip for test day: make sure you know how many words you average per line in normal handwriting. If you fail to reach the word count, you will be heavily penalized. If you know how many words you typically fit into a line, you can do a quick count at the end for peace of mind. You definitely won’t have time to waste on counting word for word. Once you’ve finished writing, you should reread your essay and ask yourself questions like: Have I answered the question? Have I stuck to the topic?