IELTS Writing Task 2: The Essential Study Guide

Do you want to get a band score of 7 or above for IELTS Writing Task 2? If so, this post is for YOU!

In this post I will give you 11 tips for success in IELTS Writing Task 2 as well as my 4 Step Approach to IELTS Essay planning. I’ll also give you tell you how examiners assess the IELTS Writing Test, I’ll give you a list of common IELTS topics, some key information about the test, and a link to my page of IELTS essay questions.

So let’s get started on the road to Band 7!

IELTS Writing Task 2: Key Facts

  1. You should spend around 40 minutes on Task 2
  2. You should write at least 250 words, although I recommend around 280 to 300 words. Read this article to find out why!
  3. Task 2 is worth double the marks of Task 1: in other words, two thirds of your overall writing score comes from Task 2
  4. You sit the Writing Test immediately after the Listening and Reading Tests.
  5. For the vast majority of IELTS test takers all over the world, writing is the hardest part of the IELTS test.
  6. Your task is to write an essay in response to a question about a specific topic.
  7. IELTS Examiners assess you against 4 criteria: Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Each of the 4 criteria are worth 25% of your score
  8. IELTS Writing is NOT just a test of your English language skills. It also tests your academic writing skills.
  9. All questions are on topics that you should reasonably be expected to have a view on. No question requires specialised knowledge. 
  10. There are a variety of different question types, which require you to address the topic in different ways. These include essays where you may be asked to discuss 2 contrasting views on an issue, or to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of something.

The IELTS Writing Task

In task 2 of the IELTS writing test, you write an academic-style essay in response to a question about a topic, such as the environment, health or education.

Your task is to present and explain your views on a topic. You should explain your ideas using a logical structure, using language that makes your ideas clear to the reader.

NOTE: you do NOT need to persuade your reader that you are correct. You only need to show the reader that you have thought about the issue in a balanced, thoughtful way.

Here is an example of the kind of essay you will write in Task 2:

Some people say that the best way to improve public health is by increasing the number of sports facilities. Others, however, say that this would have little effect on public health and that other measures are required.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

The Statement

First, you are presented with a statement about a topic. (In this example the statement presents two different opinions on the topic, but it might include one opinion, a factual statement or a problem).

Some people say that the best way to improve public health is by increasing the number of sports facilities. Others, however, say that this would have little effect on public health and that other measures are required.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

The Question

Then you are given a question: this tells you how to respond to the topic.

Some people say that the best way to improve public health is by increasing the number of sports facilities. Others, however, say that this would have little effect on public health and that other measures are required.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

In this example, you need to discuss the two views and make your own opinion on the topic clear. However, there are other ways you might be asked to respond to the statement.

Question Types

The above example is often called the “Two Sided Discussion” question type. However, there are five main question types that appear in IELTS Writing Task 2:

  1. Two-sided discussion
  2. Agree or disagree
  3. Advantages and disadvantages
  4. Problems and Solutions
  5. Direct questions

So you might be asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of something, or whether you agree or disagree, or to come up with solutions to a problem. Or you might simply be asked 1 or 2 direct questions about the statement.

All of these questions basically ask you to do the same thing: to make your own views on the issue clear. You can read more about these different question types in this post.

So that is your task: to respond to a statement about a topic by answering a question (or questions) about the statement.

So how should you approach your task? Here is my 4 Step Approach:

IELTS Writing Task 2: The 4 Step Approach

Writing an IELTS essay is quite a challenge. Like any difficult task, you should break it down into smaller chunks. I tell my students to break the writing process down into 4 easy steps.

Step 1: Analyse The Question

Read the statement carefully. Look at the key words (the main content words). What is the topic about? Then look at the question. How does it want you to address the issue?

Step 2: Decide Your Position

What do you really think about this issue? In other words, what’s your position on this issue?

Step 3: Generate Your Ideas

Why do you hold this position? What are the reasons for your views? 

Many test takers get stuck at Steps 2 and 3, so here are some ways to help you generate ideas for IELTS Writing Task 2. 

Step 4: Develop Your Ideas…logically

Finally, you need to develop your ideas in more detail. You can do this by explaining your views in more detail, and by giving examples of what you mean.  You should also put your ideas, explanations and examples into a logical order.

To learn more about my 4 step planning process, read this page about IELTS essay planning.

IELTS Academic v IELTS General Training

The information in this guide is for both the Academic and the General Training IELTS. Your task is broadly the same in both tests and IELTS examiners use the same assessment criteria when they assess the tasks. There are 2 main differences between General Training and Academic:

The topics in the General Training exam are usually related to more everyday topics than the Academic test.

Questions in the General Training Test are sometimes slightly different to questions in the Academic Test: for example, in the General Training Test, you may be asked to “discuss the advantages and disadvantages” of something, whereas in the Academic Test, you may be asked whether “the advantages outweigh the disadvantages“. However, many questions are exactly the same in both tests: e.g. you may be asked to “discuss both views and give your own opinion” in both the General Training and Academic Tests.

Read more about the differences between the Academic and General Training tests here (external website).

The Computer-Delivered IELTS Test

In a growing number of test centres around the world, you can do the writing test on computer instead of on paper. The questions in the computer-based test are exactly the same as for the paper-based test.

The only difference between the paper-based and computer-based writing tests is that your question is on the computer screen, and you type your essay on the computer keyboard. You will also see the word count on the screen, so you don’t need to count your words to see how much is written. But there is no spell-check tool, and you won’t be able to use a dictionary. You can use paper to plan out your essay before you type it.

If you prefer typing to handwriting, the computer-based test is perfect for you.

Here’s a short video from IELTS about the Computer-Delivered IELTS Writing Test.

How Is IELTS Writing Task 2 Assessed?

The IELTS Examiner will assess you using 4 separate criteria: Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

Task Response

Task Response (TR) is about how relevant your response is – in other words, have you answered the question – as well as how well you develop your ideas, and how clear your position on the issue is.

✅ To get a high band score for TR, you need to explain and support your ideas well, and make your views clear throughout your essay. 

❌ If you don’t answer the question, or if your views are unclear, you will get a low band score for TR.

Coherence and Cohesion

Coherence and Cohesion (CC) is about the overall clarity and fluency of your writing.

✅ To get a high band score for CC, you should ‘unpack’ your ideas in a logical sequence and link your ideas and sentences well, using a variety of “cohesive devices” (such as pronouns, relative clauses, connectives and conjunctions).

❌ If you don’t organise your ideas, you will get a low band score for CC.

Here is some more information about coherence.

Find out more about cohesion, where you can look at a word bank of cohesive devices.

Lexical Resource

Lexical Resource (LR) means your vocabulary.

✅ To get a high band score for LR, you need to use a variety of words and phrases to convey precise meanings. This usually means using some topic-specific vocabulary. You should also use this vocabulary in an appropriate and accurate way.

❌ If you only use basic vocabulary and make lots of errors in word formation, you will get a low band score for LR.

Find out how to improve your vocabulary for IELTS.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Grammatical Range and Accuracy (GRA) is about the variety and accuracy of your grammar.

✅ To get a high band score for GRA, you need to show that you are broadly ‘in control’ of grammar and that you can use structures in a fairly natural way.

❌ Lots of errors, especially errors that make your writing difficult to understand, will restrict your band score for GRA.

Here are 5 tips for improving your grammatical range and accuracy.

Together, Task Response, and Coherence and Cohesion, are mainly about your academic writing skills, while Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and Accuracy are more concerned with your English language skills. In other words, IELTS writing is not only an English language test, it’s also a test of your ability to complete a piece of academic writing.

11 Tips for IELTS Writing Task 2

Here are some tips for getting a high band score for IELTS Writing Task 2. 

Plan Your Essay

The single and most important tip is this: PLAN YOUR ESSAY! 

Before you write, you should plan your ideas and arguments for 5 to 10 minutes. A good plan helps you to write a well structured, easy to understand essay, which answers the essay question.

Read this post on planning your IELTS essay, where I give you a step-by-step planning structure.

Answer The Question

This seems obvious, but it’s very easy to write an essay that doesn’t answer the question. (I’ve done it myself!). If you do not directly answer the question, you will get no more than a Band 5 for Task Response.

What’s the best way to ensure you answer the question? Plan your essay before you write!

Make Your Views Clear

When you write, it’s important to remember that someone is going to read your essay. We all know who: the IELTS Examiner! But don’t think about that. Imagine you are writing for your teacher, or an intelligent friend. You need to write so that they can understand your ideas.

Note: they do not need to agree with your ideas, but they do need to understand them. So focus on making your views clear. Present your main ideas clearly and concisely and then…

…Develop Your Ideas

If you want to get a Band 7 or above for Task Response, you need to develop your ideas. This means that you need to explain your ideas in more detail, so that your reader understands them fully. This could also include some examples of what you mean, so that your ideas are even clearer.

One common mistake: I’ve seen lots of essays with lots of interesting, relevant ideas…but NONE of them are explained in any detail. It’s just a long list of good ideas. This restricts your band score for Task Response to a Band 5.

Write more than 250 words

If you develop your ideas properly, your essay is almost certainly going to have a word count well over 250 words. If you write less than 250 words, it’s likely that your ideas are not developed enough. So always aim to write more than 250 words.

Writing well over 300 words is not necessary. In fact, if you write too many words, your writing is likely to be repetitive, which can restrict your band score for Task Response to a Band 6. Aim for the sweet spot: around 280 to 300 words.

Ideas First – Language Second

Many takers are understandably concerned about their language skills: they worry about the accuracy of their grammar, and they try to use “advanced” grammar and words. But this is the wrong way to approach writing an IELTS essay.

Instead, focus first on your ideas: when you plan and write, you should be asking yourself:

  • have I presented and explained my ideas clearly?
  • is the structure of my essay easy to follow?

You should NOT be asking yourself:

  • have I used enough complex sentences?
  • have I used lots of “advanced” words?

The role of vocabulary and grammar is to make your ideas clear. That’s all. In other words, your ideas are the MASTER, your language is the SERVANT.

Use a clear, logical structure

Your essay should have a clear, logical structure:

  • every paragraph should have one central idea (e.g. the advantages of something, a discussion of one viewpoint, or one reason for writer’s opinion).
  • within each paragraph, your ideas should be gradually ‘unpacked’ and explained to the reader.

If your explanations are disorganised and repetitive, you won’t score more than Band 6 for both Task Response, and Coherence and Cohesion.

Read this post for more information on how to structure your IELTS essays properly.

Use clear, concise, precise vocabulary

You should write your essay in a clear, concise style, not a “fancy” style with lots of long sentences. Don’t try to be Shakespeare! Just try to explain your ideas. 

To do this well, use precise vocabulary. Explain your ideas precisely, using topic-specific vocabulary. Don’t be vague or too general. Be precise.

One very common mistake made by many test takers is throwing in “advanced” or “rare” words. They think this weill get them a high band score for vocabulary. This approach usually fails, because it actually makes your ideas unclear and confusing.

Focus On Phrases, Not Words

Also, it’s important to understand that vocabulary is not just about individual words; it is about how words go with other words to form phrases and collocations. So when you choose vocabulary to explain your ideas, think about phrases and collocations, not just individual words.

Watch The Time

Timing is very important. Make sure you only spend around 20 minutes on Task 1. This will give you 40 minutes on Task 2. You will need 40 minutes to think about, plan, write and check a Task 2 essay. Many students spend too long on Task 1, which means they do not have enough time to write a good Task 2 essay.

Here’s how long I think you should spend on each part of the writing process:

  • Essay planning: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Writing: 25 to 30 minutes
  • Checking: 5 minutes

At The End Check Your Writing

When you have finished writing, spend a few minutes checking your essay. Make sure you check:

  • spelling
  • punctuation
  • handwriting (if any words are not easy to read, cross it out and write it clearly)

So those are some of my key tips for getting a high band score, at around Band 7 or above.

Getting IELTS Writing Task 2 Re-Marked

If you don’t get the score you need for IELTS Writing, and you think you should have been given a better score, don’t worry! You could apply to IELTS for a re-mark of your writing test. Read this guide to the IELTS Remarking Process to find out more.

Common Topics in IELTS Writing Task 2

Here are some of most common topics which appear in IELTS Writing Task 2:

  • education (e.g. teaching creativity at school)
  • environment (e.g. protection of endangered species)
  • technology and communication (e.g. parental control of children’s technology)
  • health (e.g. obesity)
  • family and children (e.g. the generation gap)
  • society and social change (e.g. the effects of overpopulation)
  • jobs and the workplace (e.g. decision-making in companies)
  • sports (e.g. salaries of famous sports personalities)
  • crime and punishment (e.g. imprisonment v rehabilitation)
  • transport and travel (e.g. benefits of public transport)
  • art and reading (e.g. eBooks v printed books)
  • food (e.g. healthy diets)
  • language and culture (e.g. disappearance of local languages)
  • media and advertising (e.g. censorship)
  • and many more!

As you can see, there are a lot of different topics that you could be asked to discuss. But don’t worry! You do NOT need specialised knowledge on these topics. However, it is VERY useful to be able to use vocabulary that is specific to these topics. For example, “endangered species”, “the generation gap” and “rehabilitation” are all examples of topic-specific vocabulary. So you should try to grow your vocabulary in these areas.

Sample IELTS Writing Task 2 Questions

It’s important to do your IELTS Writing practice using authentic IELTS essay questions, so I have created a page which contains lots of IELTS Writing Sample Questions for Task 2. These questions cover the full range of IELTS Task 2 question types, and I’ve also added my own comments about each question to help you write it. So if you want to practise some essay questions, go to this page and read my comments before you write.

Any Questions or Comments?

I hope you found my guide to IELTS Writing Task 2 helpful. This page is often updated, so please check back again, or bookmark this page. If you think other IELTS test takers will find it useful, please share using one of the buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments about IELTS Writing Task 2, please add them in the comments below. Good luck with your IELTS Test!

Posted in IELTS Writing Task 2, Study Guides.

6 Comments

  1. Confused about where i am lacking in writing module. the above tips are basic, need to understand how i can improvise my writing skills.

    • Hello Jaspreet. I’ve recently added a lot more information to this oage, so hopefully this will help you to imperrove. Also check out my other posts.

    • Hello Jyoti. What material do you need? You can get my “7 Steps To Band 7” eBook on this site. Please let me know if you still need it.

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