IELTS Essay Planning: 4 Step Approach

IELTS essay planning

The most important skill when writing your IELTS Writing Task 2 essay writing is to plan your essay properly. 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 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 7 or above in the IELTS writing test.

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

But, you say, “I don’t have time!”

Good planning saves you 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 leads to a more relevant answer

IELTS essay planning means your essay will answer the question properly. Your writing is less likely to include irrelevant ideas and examples because you thought about your ideas in advance. This means you will get a higher band score for Task Response.

Good planning leads to 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 leads to 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!

Also, by the time you get to the writing part of the IELTS Test, your brain will be tired. The writing test comes after the listening and reading tests, so you will have been doing the test for an hour and 40 minutes already.

When you are tired, you are more likely to lose concentration and write irrelevant ideas, or make mistakes with grammar and spelling. So help your brain by giving it a plan to follow!

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

IELTS Essay Planning: The 4 Step Process

4 Step Planning Process

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 Your Task

In the first step of my 4 step planning process, you need to make sure you fully understand what you need to write about.

So analyse the question carefully (not quickly!) To help you analyse the question, you can think about these 3 questions:

  • What is the topic about?
  • What is the topic NOT about?
  • How should you respond to the topic?

Question 1: What Is The Topic About?

To help you identify the topic, look at some of the 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 “women and men”, “different strengths and weaknesses”, “exclude” and “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 we can see from the keywords that the topic is about the different strengths and weaknesses of men and women working in certain professions.

What Is The Topic NOT About?

But the topic is NOT about the strengths and weaknesses of men and women in a general sense. So do not write about that!

How Should You Respond To The Topic?

In Task 2 questions,  the topic statement is always followed by a question or a task. This tells you how to respond to the topic. In other words, what to write about.

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.

Remember, read the task carefully. Many test takers read the task quickly and misunderstand the task. This will destroy your chances of getting Band 7.

Step 2: Decide Your Position

Your position is your viewpoint, your point-of-view. So in the 2nd step of the planning process, you should ask yourself: “What do I REALLY think about this issue?” Try to think about your real opinion as this is often much easier to explain than a made-up opinion.

It’s important to decide your views BEFORE you start writing, because to get Band 7, your views needs to be clear THROUGHOUT your essay. Many candidates stuck at Band 6 don’t do this: they often change their views half way through the essay. This limits their band score for Task Response to Band 6.

Let’s look at the question again:

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?

Personally, I think it’s wrong to exclude men and women from certain jobs because of their gender, but there might be a few exceptions to this. For example, men may be more suited than women to jobs involving heavy physical work.

So what do you think? Perhaps you agree with me, or perhaps you think that it’s ok to exclude people of a particular gender from certain jobs.

Step 3: Extend Your Ideas

So you have your position. But why do you think this?

IELTS questions always tell you to “Give reasons for your answer”. In other words, WHY do you have this view? Why do you think this? So in the third step, you need to come up with reasons to support your view.

These are called supporting details. Supporting details can include:

  • explanations of what you mean
  • specific examples which illustrate what you mean

You MUST support your views to get Band 7. If you fail to support ANY of your ideas, your band score for Task Response may be limited to Band 6.

Explanations

Explanations can be used to explain your main ideas in more detail.

For example, if your main idea is that men and women should be excluded from certain jobs, your explanation might be: “Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses and are therefore suited to different jobs.”

But if your main idea is that men and women should NOT be excluded from certain jobs, your explanation might be: “Men and women are able to do most jobs equally well; and because opening up different professions to both men and women means they can bring different qualities to the same job.”

These sentences explain your thinking in more detail.

Examples

Examples can be used to provide specific details of what you mean. In effect, they paint a picture for your reader. Your reader can SEE what you mean.

Using our first argument from above:

Main Idea: “Men and women should be excluded from certain jobs.”

Explanation: “Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses and are therefore suited to different jobs.”

Example: “For example, men are usually physically stronger than women, so it may be more appropriate to employ them in manual labour such as construction work.”

So your reader can SEE construction workers who are men. The example has painted a picture in your reader’s mind.

Examples therefore illustrate your thinking.

Note: using invented research studies as examples is not a good idea. An invented “study by Harvard University in 2004” is NOT why you think something! 

Step 4: Structure Your Essay

This is the easy bit!

In Step 4, you simply decide which paragraphs will contain which ideas.

So if you are writing an “advantages / disadvantages” essay, you should write the advantages in one paragraph, and the disadvantages in a separate paragraph.

Or if you are writing an “discuss both views and give your own opinion” essay, you could discuss the reasons for the first view in one paragraph, and the reasons for the other view in a separate paragraph, and your own view in another paragraph.

You MUST have a clear structure to your essay if you are aiming for Band 7.

So our essay structure might look like this:

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!)
  • Explanation: 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
  • Explanation: 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!)
  • Explanation: 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
  • Explanation: 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
  • Explanation: 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

By following these 4 steps, you should have some sensible ideas organised into a clear structure.

Conclusion

The reality is if you don’t plan your essays, you are going to struggle to reach Band 7. On the other hand, if you DO plan well, you have a great chance of getting Band 8 in Task Response and Coherence & Cohesion.

I recently helped a student who had taken the IELTS Test 6 times and was stuck at Band 6 for Writing. The problem was that he wasn’t really thinking about his position – he was just coming up with a position quickly, then he started to write, and then he struggled to think of reasons for his “position” while writing his essay. After I showed him how to plan essays carefully, he got Band 7.5 for writing!

Practise Planning

I recommend you practise planning essays. Find some Writing Task 2 questions – click on the link below for a page of essay questions – and simply practise planning them. You don’t need to write the essay, just do the plan. The more planning practice you do, the faster and better you will get at planning, so in the exam you can probably do a plan in around 5 minutes.

IELTS Writing Sample Questions: Task 2

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Posted in IELTS Writing Task 2.

Charles Cornelius is a PGCE and CELTA-qualified teacher and former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds a MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 70,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

2 Comments

  1. hi….can you please guide how to createw a good band score essay for general ielts ….i kow the format but everytime i messed up….is it good to read as many essays online as we could or write down for practise….thanks

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