IELTS Academic Writing Test Overview
The IELTS Writing Test lasts for 60 minutes. In that time you have to complete two tasks:
- Writing Task 1 is a description. You have to describe a graph, chart, table or diagram. You have 20 minutes to write 150 words or more.
- Writing Task 2 is an opinion essay. You have to answer a question (or two) and give your opinion on a topic. You have 40 minutes to write 250 words or more.
Word Counts in the IELTS Writing Test
You must write over the word count for both tasks. Writing less than the word count will lead to you getting a lower Band Score (at least 0.5 lower than you should get).
If you cannot easily write over the word count for both tasks in under an hour, I suggest not taking the test yet. Keep practising until you can!
Introduction to IELTS Academic Writing Task 1
In IELTS Writing Task 1 you have 20 minutes to describe visually presented data using 150 words or more. The data may be presented as:
- A line graph
- A bar or pie chart
- A table
- A combination of the above (for example; a pie chart and a table)
- A process diagram (how something is made or how something works)
- Two maps (showing changes over time)
Note that 150 is the minimum word count. A high-scoring essay is likely to be 180-220 words. It is unlikely to be longer than this due to the time limit.
The instructions for Task 1 state:
‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.’
This all you have to do. Describe what you see in words. But do not describe every little detail –
- Summarise the main features
- Make comparisons
That’s it. Do not give your opinion. Do not explain. Do not predict. Just describe.
I’ll repeat that because it is so important: Just describe. The biggest mistake students make in Task 1 is giving their opinion or trying to explain the graph. That is not relevant and will lower your score.
In order to get a high score in WT1 you must describe ALL the key features of the graph / diagram. Therefore, the first thing you need to be able to do is to identify the key features (not insignificant details).
Introduction to IELTS Academic Writing Task 2
IELTS Writing Task 2 is an opinion essay in which you have to answer a question (or two) on a topic. You have 40 minutes to write 250 words. Note that 250 is the minimum word count. A high-scoring essay is likely to be 280-320 words. It is unlikely to be longer than this due to the time limit.
There are five common task types:
- Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.
- To what extent do you agree or disagree?
- Advantages and disadvantages
- Problems and solutions / Causes and solutions
- Two questions
And the following are common topics for Task 2 essays:
- Government spending
- International Development
- Social Issues / Changes
In order to get a high score in Task 2 you must stay on topic AND fully complete the task / answer the question or questions. Students often get lower scores than they should because they fail to do one of these two things. Let’s look at an example question to make this clearer:
In some countries young people are encouraged to work or travel for a year between finishing high school and starting university studies.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages for young people who decide to do this.
The first thing you need to ask yourself – before you start planning your answer or writing your essay is ‘What is the topic?’ and ‘What is the task?’
So, for this example essay:
- Topic = taking a gap year (working or travelling for a year between school and university)
- Task = discuss advantages AND disadvantages
An examiner will read to your essays carefully and give you a band score from 1 to 9 based on your performance in four areas. You can find out more about the IELTS writing test marking criteria here.