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How To Write An Essay In Ielts Exam

IELTS Writing Task 2 Introduction

This post will help you write better introductions in your Task 2 IELTS essays and show the specific sentences I advise all of my students to use when writing IELTS Writing Task 2 introductions.

The introduction is the first part of the essay the examiner will read and it will give them a good first impression of what to expect in the rest of the essay.

Just like in person, first impressions last.

I often tell my students that a bad introduction in IELTS writing part 2 is the same as going in to the speaking exam and being rude to the examiner- no matter how good you are in the rest of it, the examiner won’t be happy and unhappy examiners are more likely to give you a lower mark.

Despite this warning, many good students go on to produce introductions with a few common problems in them.

Common Problems

  1. Talking too generally about the topic.

Most of these essays start off with ‘Nowadays……’ or ‘In modern life….’ followed by general information about the topic. In my opinion, this is the worst start you can possibly make. Remember that you are supposed to answer the question not write generally about the topic.

  1. Not including a thesis statement

This is the most important sentence in the essay. Not including one will lose you marks in several different ways. I will tell you more about this below.

  1. Not outlining what you are going to do

If you don’t include a sentence outlining what your essay will say, the examiner doesn’t really know what you are going to write about in the rest of your essay. This will also lose you marks. I’ll show you how to write an outline sentence below.

  1. Trying to write a ‘hook’ or be entertaining

Remember this is an IELTS exam, not a university essay. There are no extra points for being interesting, in fact being boring will probably help you. This will help you avoid ‘flowery’ language.

  1. Using an informal style

Know your audience. You are expected to write in an academic style.

Good and Bad Examples

Question: There is a good deal of evidence that increasing car use is contributing to global warming and having other undesirable effects on people’s health and well-being.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Good Introduction

Rising global temperatures and human health and fitness issues are often viewed as being caused by the expanding use of automobiles. This essay agrees that increasing use of motor vehicles is contributing to rising global temperatures and certain health issues. Firstly, this essay will discuss the production of greenhouse gases by vehicles and secondly, it will discuss other toxic chemicals released by internal combustion engines.

Bad Introduction

Nowadays, cars are a very popular way of getting around. Day by day many more people drive cars around but others feel that they cause global warming. Global warming is one of the most serious issues in modern life. They also affect people’s health and well-being which is also a serious issue.

As you can see the bad example talks about the topic very generally, copies words and phrases from the question and doesn’t include a thesis statement or outline statement.

If your introductions look something like this, don’t worry. Most of my students write introductions a lot like this when they first start in my class and the structure below always helps them fix any problems and write very effective introductions.

Structure of a Good Introduction

If you use this structure you will not only score higher marks but you will also save time in the exam. If you practice enough, introductions will become easy and you will do them in just a few minutes. This will leave you lots of time to focus on the main body paragraphs where you can pick up lots of mark.

An IELTS writing task 2 opinion essay should have three sentences and these three sentences should be:

  1. Paraphrase question
  2. Thesis statement
  3. Outline statement

That’s it. Simple! Let’s look at each sentence in more detail.

  1. Paraphrase Question

Paraphrasing means stating the question again, but with different words so that it has the same meaning. We do this by using synonyms and flipping the order of the sentences around.

Question: There is a good deal of evidence that increasing car use is contributing to global warming and having other undesirable effects on people’s health and well-being.

Paraphrase: Rising global temperatures and human health and fitness issues are often viewed as being caused by the expanding use of automobiles.

The synonyms I’ve used are:

Increasing- expanding

Car use- use of automobiles

Global warming- rising global temperatures

People’s health and well-being- human health and fitness

As you can see, I then switched the order of the sentence around.

I have therefore demonstrated to the examiner that I can paraphrase and have a wide range of vocabulary. These are two of the things that the examiner is specifically looking for and you will gain marks for including them.

You should practice this with past paper questions.

  1. Thesis Statement

This is the most important sentence in your essay. This is your main idea and I often describe it to students as how you feel about the whole issue in one sentence. It tells the examiner that you have understood the question and will lead to a clear and coherent essay.

Let’s look at the thesis sentence from the previous example:

Thesis statement: This essay agrees that increasing use of motor vehicles is contributing to rising global temperatures and certain health issues.

It is always just one sentence long so you will have to practice summing up your opinion in one sentence. It should also address the micro-keywords and not the topic in general.

You should start your thesis statement with:

This essay agrees that….. or this essay disagrees that….. (Opinion essays)

The main cause(s) of this issue is….. (Causes and solutions)

The principal advantage(s) is (xxxxx) and the main disadvantage is (xxxxxx). (Advantage and disadvantages).

For a discussion (of two points of view) essay you should state both points of view clearly.

Let’s look at another example:

Some aspects of celebrity culture have a bad influence on young people.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

To keep things simple, we have two options-

  1. Agree that some aspects of celebrity culture have a bad influence on young people.
  2. Disagree that some aspects of celebrity culture have a bad influence on young people.

My essay will argue that celebrity culture does have a bad influence and my thesis statement will there be:

This essay agrees that the some famous people’s lifestyles have a detrimental effect on the youth of today.

I have stated my opinion in one sentence and used synonyms to make sure I don’t just repeat the question.

Thesis statements are very important but only in question that ask you for your opinion. Some IELTS questions do not ask you for your opinion and in these cases you can leave it out.

  1. Outline Statement

Now that you have paraphrased the question and told the examiner what you think in your thesis sentence, you are now going to tell the examiner what you will discuss in the main body paragraphs. In other words, you will outline what the examiner will read in the rest of the essay. This should be one sentence only.

Example:

Question: There is a good deal of evidence that increasing car use is contributing to global warming and having other undesirable effects on people’s health and well-being.

Outline statement: Firstly, this essay will discuss the production of greenhouse gases by vehicles and secondly, it will discuss other toxic chemicals released by internal combustion engines.

So what I have done is just look at my main body paragraphs and wrote about what they contain. You should have only one main idea per paragraph. In this essay, I have only two main body paragraphs, so I only need to say two things in the outline statement.

Main body paragraph 1- production of greenhouse gases by cars.

Main body paragraph 2- toxic chemical produced by car engines.

Again, your main body paragraphs should have only one main idea so it should be easy to spot these and then write a sentence about them.

For advantages and disadvantages essays and problem and solution essays you could write something like this:

Advantages and disadvantages: this essay will first discuss the (main advantage(s)) followed by an analysis of the (main disadvantage(s)).

Problem and Solution: This essay will analyse the principal problem(s) and offer solutions to this issue.

Final Example

Question: Learning to manage money is one of the key aspects to adult life. How in your view can individuals best learn to manage their money?

Good answer: One of the keys to adulthood is appreciating how to budget your finances. It is clear that the best way someone can learn this, is by managing money during childhood. Firstly, the essay will discuss the importance of parental involvement during childhood and secondly, the essay will look at the importance of having a part time job during childhood.

As you can see, the above introduction follows the structure I laid out above.

Next Steps

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Writing Task 1

Writing Task 2

The key words in the title are practical and exam. Last week I ran a “competition” to write an essay on aid and poverty. The essays I received were spectacularly good and I do suggest you check them out in the comments section. My one worry though was were they really practical essays in an exam. My essay, which you will find below, is I think much simpler than almost all the essays I received – and perhaps a more practical model for exams.

I should add that these are mostly band score 8.0 writing tips and are written especially for candidates who are aiming high. The moral is:

the road to band score 8.0 often means doing the simple things well

1. Read – write – read – write – read – write – read – write – read – write – read

What does this mean? It means that you should go back and read the paragraph you have just written before you start the next one. You may think that this is a waste of time. If so, you’d be wrong.

  1. It’s important to link your paragraphs together – what more practical way to do that than just read what you have written?
  2. It helps you with words for the next paragraph – it is good to repeat some words as this improves your coherence. Look at my sample essay to see how I repeat/reflect language. In one paragraph I talk about the short term, this makes it easy to move onto the long term in the next paragraph.
  3. You may also want to check out my series of lessons on the process of writing IELTS essays – where you will find a much more detailed explanation of this,

2. Don’t be smart, be clear – select your best idea

One of my very first posts/articles on this site was headed “IELTS is not a test of intelligence”. While the post itself now looks a little old, the advice is still good. You are being tested on the quality of your English, not on the quality of your ideas.

This advice is particularly important for candidates who come from an academic background where they are used to being graded on quality and quantity of ideas. IELTS is different: it is quite possible to write a band 9.0 essay and not include some key “academic” ideas, let alone all the ideas.

The practical advice here is to select your best idea and write about that. That means not writing everything you know – leave some ideas out. Don’t worry if it is not your best explanation, worry about whether it is your clearest explanation.

3. Write about what you know – relax about ideas

This is a similar idea. IELTS is an international exam (that’s the “I” in IELTS) and the questions are written to be answered by anyone around the world. Some people stress about finding ideas. They shouldn’t. The ideas you need are generally simple (eg”I disagree”, “This is not a good idea”).

The practical solution is to think about what YOU know and what YOUR experience is. If you look at the question, this is what it tells you to do. If you come from Bonn, write about Bonn; if you come from Ulan Bator, write about Ulan Bator!

4. Examples are easier to write than explanations

In an exam you are under pressure. You want to make things as easy for yourself as possible. One practical idea to achieve this is to focus as much on examples as explanations when you write. Why?

It’s simply harder if you only think “because”. Some of the ideas may be very complex and, under pressure, it can be difficult to explain these with reasons. What may happen is that your sentences become too long and the ideas confused.

The practical bit is to concentrate as much on examples. This is a good idea as examples tend to be easier to write as you are simply describing situations. You should also note that the instructions tell you to use examples! All you need to do is make sure that your examples are relevant to the main idea.

5. Don’t write too much – the examiner is paid by the minute

There is no upper word limit I know of, but it really isn’t a good idea to write 350 words or more. Here’s why:

  1. Examiners will only spend so much time looking at any essay. Write too much and they will read what you wrote “less carefully”. It is easier to read/grade a 300 word essay than a 400 word essay!
  2. The more you write, the more likely you are to make language mistakes.
  3. The more you write, the more likely you are to go off topic. The examiner won’t read/grade anything that doesn’t directly relate to the question.
  4.  If you write less, you give yourself more time to choose the best words – and that’s what you are being graded on.
  5. If you write less, you give yourself more time to go back and check what you have written.

6. Writer – know yourself

One of the most famous philosophical thoughts is “know yourself”. How does this apply to exam writing? Did Plato really have IELTS in mind when he wrote his dialogues? Well, no, but…

The idea is that you should check for your mistakes when you write. The practical part here is that you shouldn’t check for mistakes generally – that’s too hard and probably a waste of time in the exam. What isn’t a waste of time though is to look for mistakes you know you can correct – the ones you normally make!

The really practical thing is to have your own checklist in your head before you start writing.

7. See the whole essay in your head before you start writing

It’s very important that your essay is a whole – that all the bits fit together. If you don’t do that, you may lose significant marks for both coherence and task response.

This means planning of course. Planning bothers some people and bores others. There are different ways to do this, but at the very least have a map of your essay in your head.

8. Focus on the backbone of your essay

This is a related point. All the essay matters of course, but perhaps some bits matter more than others. I’d suggest the practical thing to do is concentrate on the backbone of your essay, the bits that help you write better and the examiner to understand better. The backbone is:

  1. The introduction: this should identify the question and outline your position. Don’t rush it as it is the first thing the examiner will read. First impressions count.
  2. The first/topic sentences of each paragraph: these should be clear and to the point. They should identify exactly what that paragraph is about and show how it relates to the rest of the essay. The practical tip is to keep the detail/clever ideas for the body of the paragraph. Start off general and then build towards the specific.
  3. The conclusion: this is the easiest part of the essay normally. Most often, all you need to do is go back to the introduction and rephrase it

Get these bits right and the rest of the essay tends to take care of itself.

9. Don’t just practice whole essays

The best way to learn to write essays is to write essays? True or false? My answer is a bit of both.

Yes, you do need to practise writing complete essays, but it may be a mistake to do only that. The different part of essays require slightly different skills. To write an introduction, you need to be able to paraphrase the question. To write a body paragraph, you need to be able to explain ideas. To write a conclusion, you need to be able summarise.

The practical suggestion is to practise writing introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions separately. Focus on skills.

 10. Focus on the question and refocus on the question

I have left this one to last as it is for me the most important idea. Essays go wrong for different reasons. Some of these you may not be able to avoid: the quality of your English may not be good enough yet. The one mistake you can always avoid is that you didn’t answer the question. Too many essays go wrong because candidates didn’t read and think about the question properly.

The practical suggestion: before you write each paragraph, refer back to the question to remind yourself about what you are meant to write about.

It is very easy to get carried away in exams. You may start off on topic, then you have a “good idea” as you write. So you write about that. Sadly, that “good idea” may not fully relate to the question. Big problem.

My sample essay on poverty and aid

This essay which you can download below is intended to be an example of the ideas in this post.

  • It is fairly simple in structure.
  • It focuses clearly on the question
  • I left many of my best ideas out. I concentrated on what I could explain clearly.
  • It comes in at only just over 300 words.

Download the essay

Poverty and aid essay (28780)

 More writing advice

This is where I catalogue all my writing materials. If you are looking for more specific advice, this is the place to start.

My other essay writing tips

The ideas here are similar and you will find more general guidance on dos and don’ts in IELTS essays.

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