Top Tips for IELTS

IELTS exams and continuous assessment essay – how to avoid listing words

This is one of my model IELTS essays lessons where you can

  • read the essay
  • do a vocabulary exercise
  • get a full lesson on how to write the essay – it’s down there below

The main idea of the lesson is to help you move beyond using simple listing words such as firstly, secondly in your essays. They may be a good place to start when you are trying to be coherent, but there are better options.

Read the exams and continuous assessment essay

Some people believe that exams are an inappropriate way of measuring students’ performance and should be replaced by continuous assessment. Do you agree or disagree with this view?

There is some dispute whether the best method of assessing students is to use examinations or some form of continuous assessment. This is a complex issue and my belief is that there is probably no one method that applies to all educational systems.

There are three major arguments in favour of retaining exams. One is that they provide a clear and objective measure of what students have learned, whereas any form of continuous assessment is probably going to be far more subjective. An additional point is that testing tends to be an excellent way of motivating learners to study harder and to reward the students who do best. Likewise, examinations test the ability of students to work under pressure, and this is a vital life skill for their later careers.

On the other hand, there are still occasions when it can be better to relieve the students of exam pressure and to measure their abilities through continuous assessment. This is particularly the case in lower age groups where young children can be affected negatively by stress and under-perform in exams. It can also be argued that continuous assessment is a more effective way of testing some subjects such as design and technology, which are more creative and less academic. A further point is that often continuous assessment can allow teachers to reward students who work hard, but who may be less able and not do well in more formal testing.

In conclusion, while continuous assessment may be fairer in some contexts, there are still times when traditional exams may be more appropriate. A possible compromise would be to use both forms of testing together, allowing teachers to reward both ability and hard work.

(280 words)

Practise using the essay vocabulary

Get the lesson

Coherence and cohesion reviewed

Coherence is really just how readable your writing is. Your goal should be to make your writing as clear as possible so that the examiner understands instantly what you are saying. Some tips for you are:

  1. Essay structure: Outline your position in the introduction to the essay and summarise it in the conclusion. If you “top and tail” your essay like this, the examiner should have a clearer idea of what you are saying in the content paragraphs and finish the essay thinking that it was well-organised.
  2. Paragraph structure: start each content paragraph by explaining what the purpose of that paragraph is: Are you arguing in favour or against? Does this paragraph add to or contradict the points made in the previous paragraph?
  3. Link your sentences: make sure that each sentence links in some way to the sentence before. This does not just mean using words like “Furthermore”, you can also link by using words like “this” or by explaining the sentence before.

Paragraph coherence – count the reasons why

One possible way to structure a paragraph and make it coherent is to number the arguments for or against an idea. This is the “firstly”, “secondly”, “thirdly” paragraph. This is a useful structure for when you get a complex question where you can think of lots of different arguments. Rather than try and explain one complex idea, you outline 3 different ones in brief. I have two  connected tips for you:

Tip 1: start your paragraph by saying that you are going to make a number of different arguments. For example, some language you could use here is:

There are several arguments why…

There are a number of different reasons why…

There are at least three points that can be made in favour of …..

This works because the examiner now knows what is going to come next. That is coherence. Your writing is now more readable.

Tip 2: count your arguments and vary your “counting language” , don’t just go ‘”firstly”, “secondly”, “thirdly”. You should have seen from my example below that I “count” out the different arguments in favour of exams. I make it easy for the examiner to see what I am doing. Coherence again. It really helps if you use some variation in your vocabulary.  It’s a very simple structure so we want some more complex vocab. Possible language to use is:

The most important argument is…

Another point that can be made is…

A second reason why…

There is also the idea that…

The next argument is…

See an example of how it works

There are three major arguments in favour of retaining exams. One is that they provide a clear and objective measure of what students have learned, whereas any form of continuous assessment is probably going to be far more subjective. An additional point is that testing tends to be an excellent way of motivating learners to study harder and to reward the students who do best. Likewise, examinations test the ability of students to work under pressure, and this is a vital life skill for their later careers.

Now look at another way of doing it

On the other hand, there are still some occasions when it can be better to relieve the students of exam pressure and to measure their abilities through continuous assessment. This is particularly the case in lower age groups where young children can be affected negatively by stress and underperform in exams. It can also be argued that continuous assessment is a more effective way of testing some subjects such as design and technology, which are more creative and less academic. A further point is that often continuous assessment can allow teachers to reward students who work hard, but who may be less able and not do well in more formal testing.

Notes

You should see that this paragraph has almost exactly the same structure as the first. I have only used rather different language.

I don’t do the counting thing in the first sentence. You want to vary your writing techniques – there are marks for that. I do however say there are “some occasions“. This is the same idea really.

My linking language between sentences is different too. I use “This is the case” for the first idea and then “also” and “further” for the later ideas. The structure of the writing should be obvious and this helps make my writing clear and coherent.

 Understanding the question

Some people believe that exams are an inappropriate way of measuring students’ performance and should be replaced by continuous assessment. Do you agree or disagree with this view?

This is an agree/disagree type question that asks you for your opinion. My tip is that if you get a question of this type is to remember that there is always a 3rd way of answering it: you half agree and you half disagree. Unless you have strong feelings about the question, I suggest this approach because

  • you can use all the arguments you can think of – both for and against
  • it allows you to organise your essay in a simple way (and in IELTS simple is good)
  • you can use some good cautious academic language (good for your range of grammar)

Structuring the essay – getting the content right

The question demands that you talk about both continuous assessment and exams. You will not have answered the question fully if you only write about exams or continuous assessment. With this in mind, the sensible choice is to use one content para for exams and another for continuous assessment – then you are sure to cover the content. So my rough plan looks like this

intro: the answer depends on context – both exams and continuous assessment have points in their favour

para 1: reasons why exams work (objective) (motivation to study) (preparation for life)

para 2: reasons why continuous assessment works (good for young kids) (good for skills based subjects) (rewards hard work)

conclusion: both can work – perhaps they should be used together

 A note about academic language

Simple language can be good language. There is a danger though that you make your writing too simple. That you don’t want. One tip is to add in a little academic caution language. Done well, this can really improve your writing, not least because you will use a greater range of grammar.

How does it work? If you find yourself writing the verb “is” or “are”, you should ask yourself the question whether what you are writing is 100% true, or whether you want to qualify it in some way. In my essay, this allows me to use this language:

“there is probably no one”

“major arguments”

“is probably”

“tends to be”

“This is particularly the case”

“often continuous assessment can allow teachers to”

“may be fairer in some contexts”

“a possible compromise would be”

Put together, this language helps this essay get a band score 9.0.

See more notes on the vocabulary

Some people believe that exams are an inappropriate way of measuring students’ performance and should be replaced by continuous assessment. Do you agree or disagree with this view?

There is some dispute whether the best method of assessing students is to use examinations or some form of continuous assessment. This is a complex issue and my belief is that there is probably no one method that applies to all educational systems.

There are three major arguments in favour of retaining exams. One is that they provide a clear and objective measure of what students have learned, whereas any form of continuous assessment is probably going to be far more subjective. An additional point is that testing tends to be an excellent way of motivating learners to study harder and to reward the students who do best. Likewise, examinations test the ability of students to work under pressure, and this is a vital life skill for their later careers.

On the other hand, there are still occasions when it can be better to relieve the students of exam pressure and to measure their abilities through continuous assessment. This is particularly the case in lower age groups where young children can be affected negatively by stress and under-perform in exams. It can also be argued that continuous assessment is a more effective way of testing some subjects such as design and technology, which are more creative and less academic. A further point is that often continuous assessment can allow teachers to reward students who work hard, but who may be less able and not do well in more formal testing.

In conclusion, while continuous assessment may be fairer in some contexts, there are still times when traditional exams may be more appropriate. A possible compromise would be to use both forms of testing together, allowing teachers to reward both ability and hard work.

(280 words)

Notes

the cautious/academic language is in red

the introduction and conclusion match each other: topping and tailing the essay to make it coherent

my second content paragraph links back to the first content paragraph by using “On the other hand”. This phrase is probably best used to link paragraphs

Vocabulary

One problem with this essay is that you are bound to use the words “continuous assessment” and “examination” a lot. I get some variation by using the word “test” and some good exam collocations/phrases:

traditional exams/formal testing/exam pressure

I also use some precise educational vocabulary:

educational systems/some subjects like design and technology/academic

Other phrases to note include:

vital life skills/later careers/work under pressure

 

Get more sample essays

   

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19 Responses to IELTS exams and continuous assessment essay – how to avoid listing words

  1. jijeesh m v December 11, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    thanks,i find it very useful and good explanation about writing skills.

  2. Ben Worthington December 11, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Definitely good idea to change from the predictable: Firstly, Secondly…routine, these counting words are so overused.

    Other variations could be:

    From this we could derive…

    Also of paramount importance is…

    According to these reasons…

    Keep up the goodwork!

    Ben

    • Dominic Cole December 11, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      Nice to hear from you. I’m slowly working through a backlog of well quite a lot of things. Will be in contact properly soon. Hope all is well down your way.

  3. alia December 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Thank you so much dear, really you are a dedicated teacher and we are grateful for your
    efforts and time.
    once again many thanks .

    N.B I would like to ask you please, if I have written an essay and I want to basicaly evalute it can you advice me about a website which can assess my written essay please?
    your student
    alia

    • Dominic Cole December 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      Have you tried any of the teachers on the teacher page here? If that doesn’t work, you could take a look at writefix. It is a very high quality site and there is now a forum there where you migth get someone to have a look at your writing.

  4. varsha December 12, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    very very useful,

    Thank you very much for your great help.

  5. setareh December 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    That was great.I wish i could write like you.

    May i ask you about more vocabulary for educational subject.

  6. roshavbg January 10, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Could we use for “Firstly – One of the … (The major …)”, for “Secondly – Secondly” and for “Thirdly – And last but not least …” I have read somewhere that is not well to start sentence with “and” and “but”. But 🙂 I think is more proper to write “And last but not least …”. Sir please say is it right or not?

  7. Dinaz January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    love this essay – amazing 😉

  8. Anonymous February 5, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    thanks.had my ielts yesterday-ur lessons helped a lot

  9. mel February 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Dominic,you are doing very well in giving your tips and practice tests, it is so very helpful of you. Since you are not up to for money and your service is really genuine. I have the respect for you for that.. and all of the people who are needing your help. To be honest with you looking for an online practice tests and even from different universities could be very difficult there are a lot yet they are all so expensive, that an ordinary person could not afford to pay and end up even getting failed results.. but you put all your effort for us all in giving tips and very convenient practice tasks, which other books might be not practical anymore coz the questions are all the same if you will use it more than once.. keep it up ma’am and if all of us will notice a big improvement we will all owe it from u..thank u so much!!

  10. ign August 20, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    On the other hand, there are still occasions when it can be better to relieve the students of exam pressure and to measure their abilities through continuous assessment.

    WHY IS IT THE STUDENTS
    regarding an article ‘the’

    • Dominic Cole August 20, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      It depends on whether you are thinking of a particular group of students or not. If you have a particular group of students in mind or “students” you have eferred to before, then you want the article.

  11. Jalil Salih October 10, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    Hi dear Dominic,

    thank you for your hard efforts in order to make this invaluable way for helping non-native English speaker people around world, really I got lots of benefit from your posts and I am tracking your lessons step-by- step and trying to learn from your crucial points, I have not taken IELTS yet but I have plan to take it in soon time, I am asking for more tips in all 4 bands of IELTS until till we boost our English to the extend that we could get high score.

    Sincerely,
    Jalil

  12. Hamza Zia February 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Tank you Sir,after I read this ,I realize that you had answered many of my important questions .God bless you

  13. Ali April 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    hi i just want to clear one thing…. as u have mentioned in ur lessons that we should give examples to support or points….now in this essay u have listed points in both paras but where are the supporting examples…..please clarify this thing for me as may be i am thinking about examples in wrong way……I ll be thankful if u elobrate abt what types of examples do we have to write, i am little confuse here

  14. Buubee March 3, 2014 at 7:25 am #

    This lesson is extremely useful and I’m excited when you display the ways how to write and describe the better ideas.

    I really appreciate your works. Thank you so much.

    Bangkok, Thailand.

  15. Majd June 24, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Hi Dominic.. Another great lesson with a bunch of valuable tips and advices. Thank you very much!

  16. Azam March 25, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    It is very useful, got 100% Correct 🙂

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