1.) Contractions of verbs
Avoid contractions of verbs in formal essays. For example, don’t write “isn’t; don’t; won’t; can’t”. Instead use: “is not; do not; will not; cannot” etc.
This is for formal essays that you will be asked to write in Academic IELTS both Task 1 and Task 2 and in General IELTS Task 2.
You can still use contractions of verbs in General IELTS Task 1 when they ask you to write a letter to a friend. If it is a formal letter though, don’t use contractions.
2.) Express your ideas clearly
You usually take this for granted or you never think about that at all, but you need to express your ideas clearly. This is extremely important. Sometimes you have many ideas that you express in your own personal way of thinking assuming that the reader will understand everything you say or everything you think about.
But the reader is not in your mind! Take your ideas one step at a time and express them on paper as clearly as you can giving explanations for them. Always ask yourself, “If somebody else reads this right now, will he understand what I want to say?”
3.) Complex phrasing is great but it can cost you marks
I know that you think that if you write in a complex way you get more marks. This is true only when you actually know how to use complex phrasing.
If you don’t, this will count against you. So, avoid complex phrasing unless you are 100% sure you know what you are doing.
Otherwise, you’re bound to make important mistakes both in grammar and syntax. If you want a step by step guide on how to use complex phrasing the right way, you can read this post here.
4.) Use vocabulary the right way
Using a variety of academic vocabulary is very important too. However, again, keep in mind that you shouldn’t use words you’ve just heard once and you’re not really sure how they are used in context.
Many students use “difficult” words thinking that this will make their essay more academic. BUT!! If these words are not appropriately used in context, you will lose marks for that.
Only use words you know well and learn new vocabulary in context with examples. Don’t just memorise it. The vocabulary section of this website will really help you with that! Check it out here!
5.) Be the leader and guide your reader
What do I mean by that? Tell your reader what you are going to write about. You can do this in your introduction and in every opening sentence of the rest of the paragraphs.
If you state what you are going to discuss precisely, the reader knows what to expect and you’ve got his full attention while you are organised and not chaotic.
6.) Paragraphs are your friends
Never forget to structure your essays in paragraphs! They should be clearly separated too.
You are usually expected to use an introduction, 2 -3 paragraphs for the main body and a conclusion. Remember that because you’re going to lose valuable points if you don’t do it.
This is vital and I always see students making these mistakes in their essays. Punctuation is considered very important to your examiner and “yes, really, it’s going to cost you if you forget just a comma“.
It is going to affect the whole appearance of your essay so do not underestimate the power of punctuation.
When do we use punctuation?
- To separate similar things in a list
EG: She went shopping and bought a blouse, a dress, a lipstick, and a pair of shoes.
- To peparate parts of a sentence
EG: Firstly, I’d like to discuss the advantages of implementing this method into the project. Secondly, […..].
- To separate two parts of the same sentence
EG: Although he had drunk lots of water, he was still thirsty.
He had drunk lots of water. However, he was still thirsty.
- With conditionals
EG: If they do that, more animals will be in danger of extinction.
- With linking phrases
EG: For example, for instance, finally, on the one hand-on the other hand, also, in my opinion, in conclusion, to sum- up, therefore etc.
Always use a comma after these linking phrases!
8.) Avoid informal vocabulary
Don’t use informal or casual vocabulary that you may use in Speaking. For exampple, avoid casual phrasal verbs and phrases such as “okay, of course, really, alright, maybe“.
You might use them in General Task 1 and this is allowed ONLY if you send a letter to a very close friend or relative.
9.) Stay on topic throughout your essay
This may sound self explanatory but students usually in very difficult Task 2 topics tend to get off track, especially when they have a lot of ideas.
Never forget what is the actual question of the topic and be specific in your answer. Always underline the most important points on the topic and be precise in your plan. This will help you very much not to get carried away with irrelevant thoughts or ideas.
10.) Passive Voice
As a general rule, prefer using the passive voice whenever possible in your essays as it is considered more formal. For example, “I implemented the method” can become “The method was implemented“.
If you need to refresh your memory on passive voice, you can do it here.
11.) “Ands – Buts”
Avoid using “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. This is very common in less advanced users of English but please don’t do it; it is considered abrupt.
Instead of “but” use “however” and istead of “and” you can use “also, in addition, additionally” and don’t forget their commas!
12.) Linking Phrases
Use linking phrases between paragraphs. It is very good to use a linking phrase when you start a new paragraph.
If you add a new point that justifies the same idea you can use a linking phrase that will add new information such as “also, in addition, another point I would like to make etc“.
If you start a new paragraph to say something different you can use contradictory linking phrases such as “on the other hand, however, etc”.
There are linking phrases for everything you want to say so don’t forget to use them as they will improve the overall appearance of your writing and they will make it more cohesive and coherent something which leads us to our next tip!
13.) Cohesion and Coherence
Your writing is marked regarding these two friends–cohesion and coherence–and if it lacks on these two you’re about to lose a great deal of points.
Basically, in practice this means that your writing should be organised and your ideas should follow one another smoothly.
For details on how you can achieve cohesion and coherence the right way you can check out this lesson here.
14.) Task 2 is worth more
Task 2 is worth double the marks of Task 1. It is considered more important, so make sure that you dedicate enough time in order to do your best in both tasks. As a general rule, try to spend at about 20 minutes the most in Task 1 so as to have 40 minutes to focus on Task 2.
15.) Underlining is your friend (as always)
Underline what you are asked to write about in the topic. You’d better do that in all tasks.
In General Task 1, the topic guides you and gives you the points you need to write about. Underline them and write ideas about them so as not to forget something.
In Academic Task 1, you have a lot of information to consider. Underline key words on the topic and read the picture carefully in order to understand it by underlining and circling important data. (the 2 axes–if they exist–the highest values, the lowest ones etc).
In Task 2 the topic is going to be more demanding so underline what you need to write about. Also, decide beforehand if it is a discussion essay, a problem – solution essay, an advantages – disadvantages essay, an opinion essay etc. and what kind of plan you are going to follow.
This will greatly help with your cohesion and structure.