IELTS Essay Planning: the key to getting an 8 in writing

IELTS essay planning

The most important skill in IELTS essay writing is to plan your essay effectively. Writing an IELTS essay without a plan is like setting out for a new destination without a map. You might get to your destination eventually, but it will probably take a long time because you will take lots of wrong turns on the way. IELTS essay planning is the key to getting a band score of 8 or 9 in the IELTS writing test.

You should plan for 5 to 10 minutes before you start to write.

But, you say, “I don’t have time!”

Good planning saves time

IELTS essay planning means you can write faster because you already know what you’re going to write. Without a plan, you frequently have to stop and think about your ideas while you are writing.

Good planning >> a more relevant answer

IELTS essay planning means your essay will answer the question properly. Your writing will not include irrelevant ideas and examples because you planned in advance. This means you will get a higher band score for Task Response.

Good planning >> a better structure

IELTS essay planning means you can put your ideas, explanations and examples into a clear structure before you start to write. This means you will get a higher band score for Coherence.

Good planning >> better language

IELTS essay planning means you do not need to think about your ideas while you write. This means you can think about vocabulary and grammar instead. Consequently, you will get a higher band score for Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

If you do not plan you have to think about the task, the ideas, the structure, linking phrases, vocabulary, grammatical structures all at the same time. This is impossible to do well. So plan first!

Here is my step-by-step guide to IELTS essay planning.

IELTS essay planning: the 4 step guide

To help you to understand this guide, let’s look at an example question for IELTS writing task 2:

IELTS essay planning

Step 1: understand the topic

Look at the question carefully. What is the topic? To help you identify the topic, identify some important content words (keywords) in the question.

Women and men are commonly seen as having different strengths and weaknesses. Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender?

The keywords here are “men and women”, “different strengths and weaknesses”, “exclude” “certain professions”.

Incidentally, the word “professions” is a bit unclear. The word can be used to mean professional jobs, such as doctors and lawyers, but it can also be used as a synonym for ‘jobs’. I think it is safe to assume the second definition.

So the topic is concerned with the different strengths and weaknesses of men and women working in specific professions. However, the task is not to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of men and women in a general sense. You also need to clearly understand your task.

Step 2: understand the task

In Task 2 questions,  the topic statement is always followed by a question or a task. In our example, this is the question:

Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender?

Make sure you understand the language used. Here, the phrase “is it right..?” means the same as “do you agree..?” The question could be worded:

Do you agree that males or females should be excluded from certain professions because of their gender?

And, of course, do not forget this part of the task:

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words.

So your task is to state whether you agree or disagree with this idea, to explain your opinion, and to give examples to support your opinion.

When you plan your IELTS essay, always remember your task. If you write irrelevant ideas, explanations and examples, you will get a low band score for Task Response.

Step 3: generate ideas

Next, you must decide your opinion. But remember, the question also tells you to “Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.”

To get a band score of 7 or above in Task Response, you must  extend and support your main ideas with explanations and examples. If these explanations and examples are relevant to the main idea, and are clear and focused, you can get a band score of 8 or 9.

So when planning your IELTS essay, you should think about:

  • ideas
  • explanations of these ideas
  • relevant examples of these ideas

So let’s get some ideas, explanations and ideas for our question:

Women and men are commonly seen as having different strengths and weaknesses. Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender?

You don’t need to spend a long time on this. Don’t make a list of 10 amazing ideas; 2 or 3 sensible ideas are good enough. Remember, you’re trying to show off your English skills, not win the Pulitzer Prize!

Here are 3 ideas:

  • It’s not right – men and women are able to do most jobs equally well;
  • It’s not right – opening up different professions to both men and women is good because they can often bring different qualities to the same job;
  • It might be right in certain situations – men are better suited to heavy physical labour; male or female wards in a hospital.

My third idea slightly contradicts the other 2. This is ok, as long as I acknowledge the idea.

Step 4 – put your ideas into a structure

Now that you have some ideas, you need to put them into a structure.

The key to a good structure is using paragraphs effectively. Paragraphs give a clear structure to a piece of writing and they help the reader understand your message. Each paragraph should be organised around one main idea.

If you read my article about coherence in an IELTS essay, you will know about how to structure an essay and the paragraphs in an essay.

IELTS essay structure

All we need to do now is drop our ideas into this structure, and add some explanations and examples

Introduction
  • Paraphrase statement: there have always been differences in the types of work men and women have done.
  • State opinion: it’s not right to exclude men or women from certain professions
Body paragraph 1
  • Idea: Men and women are able to do most jobs equally well (or equally badly!)
  • Explain: being good at a job is down to skill and experience rather than gender
  • Example: I’ve had many good teachers in my life, both men and women
Body paragraph 2
  • Idea: having a diverse workforce is a good idea
  • Explain: men and women can bring different qualities to the same job
  • Example: male teachers in primary schools; female police officers may understand domestic violence better than men
Conclusion
  • Sum up 2 ideas
  • Restate your opinion

To make your essay even better, you could add a third body paragraph, which acknowledges the other point-of-view:

Introduction
  • Paraphrase statement: there have always been differences in the types of work men and women have done.
  • State opinion: it’s not right to exclude men or women from certain professions
Body paragraph 1
  • Idea: Men and women are able to do most jobs equally well (or equally badly!)
  • Explain: being good at a job is down to skill and experience rather than gender
  • Example: I’ve had many good teachers in my life, both men and women
Body paragraph 2
  • Idea: having a diverse workforce is a good idea
  • Explain: men and women can bring different qualities to the same job
  • Example: male teachers in primary schools; female police officers may understand domestic violence better than men
Body paragraph 3
  • Idea: good arguments for gender-specific roles
  • Explain: where there are men-only or women-only environments, may be better supervised by men or women / men better suited to physical labour
  • Example: prisons and hospitals / coal mining or logging
Conclusion
  • Sum up the 3 ideas
  • Restate your opinion

After these 4 steps, you should have some sensible ideas, which respond in a focused way to the given task, organized into a clear structure. All you need to do now is turn your plan into an essay using a wide range of vocabulary, a wide variety of grammatical structures, and with your ideas linked together with some cohesive devices.

IELTS Essay Planning: Summary

  1. understand the topic
  2. undestand the task
  3. generate ideas
  4. put your ideas into a structure

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