Today is the final post in a four part series about the most common mistakes that candidates make in each of the different papers of the IELTS exam. Today we finish the series with a post about Academic Writing Task 2. The following 10 errors could cost you precious marks yet can be so easily avoided with a little awareness and preparation.
⦁ Not using an appropriate essay structure for the specific task
There are generally 5 different types of IELTS Task 2 essay structures – Opinion; Advantages and Disadvantages; Problem and Solution; Discussion; Two-part Question. The type of essay question you get dictates the overall structure you should use to score highly on Coherence and Cohesion. This blog post looks at the difference between the different essay types and suggests appropriate structures for each.
⦁ Misinterpreting the instructions
Your answer must be relevant to the task. How you are expected to approach the task will be clear from the question or instruction which will include words like discuss, analyse, argue, support or refute. If you discuss an issue in general when you have been instructed to give and support your opinion, your answer will be considered irrelevant to the task. You must address the specific question.
⦁ Only partially answering the question
Here are some examples of Task 2 essay questions:
Discuss both views and give your opinion.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a solution?
What are the dangers of global warming? What can be done to combat climate change?
If, in the case of the first example above, you only discussed one view or you didn’t clearly express your own opinion, you would not fulfill the task requirement in full and therefore you would score lower for Task Achievement as a result. The same applies if you only discussed the advantages for example 2 or only addressed the second question in example 3.
⦁ Memorising answers
This is never a good idea because of the points made above. In order to achieve a higher band score, your answer to the task must do what the specific instructions tell you, your essay should be appropriately structured and the content should be relevant. When you memorise answers, there is a high risk that the answer you have in your head will not exactly fit the task you are given and parts will be irrelevant and redundant. More than that, though, examiners are trained and experienced in picking out candidates’ answers that have been memorised and your chance of being found out and penalised is very high.
⦁ Too long or too short
The word count is 250 words minimum. You will be penalised if you write less than that. However, don’t assume that ‘more is better’ because the longer your essay, the more chance you have of making careless mistakes or your writing lacking structure. Remember to spend 5 minutes at the start brainstorming then selecting your ideas, then organising your points and supporting detail into paragraphs so that you clearly introduce and expand on at least two main points.
⦁ Not developing your ideas
This is a very common issue, especially with advantages and disadvantages essays. Too often, candidates will write a number of advantages and disadvantages but not actually discuss them or provide supporting details. This not an essay, just a list of undeveloped ideas. Instead, pick two or three ideas and develop them fully with explanations, reasons and examples. A good tip is one idea and one example per paragraph.
⦁ Connectors and linking words
Cohesive devices play a crucial role in helping readers follow a piece of text easily so it is important that they are used correctly and appropriately. Using the wrong linking word makes a text sound jumbled and is confusing for the reader. Also, it is a misconception that using more cohesive devices is better. They should actually be used sparingly, a rule of thumb is 2-3 per paragraph.
⦁ Repeating instead of paraphrasing question
This is the same issue as for Writing Task 1. The examiner will be assessing you on your ability to rephrase the question task in your own words. Not only will you not get any marks for repeating the question task, you will be penalised. You need to demonstrate your ability to paraphrase, which is considered a crucial skill for IELTS.
⦁ Grammatical inaccuracies
Even though your grammar errors may be small, if they occur in most of your sentences you will not be able to score over a Band 6. The most frequent errors include articles, countable/uncountable nouns and subject-verb agreement. Avoid using contractions (don’t, can’t, etc) and write full words instead of numbers. Make sure you leave 2-3 minutes at the end of the test to proofread your writing.
⦁ Inappropriate tone
Academic essays are always formal in style and neutral in tone. This means you should not use idioms, slang words or abbreviations. Be careful not to repeat words or use too many basic verbs like does, makes, get. You should use complete and complex sentences and a more varied range of vocabulary. Only use possessive/personal pronouns when giving your opinion and avoid expressing your ideas in a personal or emotional way.
In both parts of the IELTS Writing paper, the key to success is to prepare well before the exam by practising the various essay types. By the time the exam comes around, you should be confident that you can draft and complete any one of the five types of essay in 40 minutes, with a well-organised structure and logically-developed ideas, and a few minutes to spare at the end to proof-read to correct small but costly errors.