- Common problems in writing too quickly
- The benefit of planning longer
- How much time you really need to write
- An outline of what things you need to plan
Common mistake – starting to write too quickly to make sure you finish on time
Starting to write too quickly can cause lots of problems. Here’s a quick summary of them.
Problem 1 – you get stuck half way through and don’t know how to finish it
This is very common. If you don’t spend time planning the whole essay and in some detail, you may not complete it or write an essay that is incoherent.
Problem 2 – you write about the wrong question
This also happens lots. If you don’t focus exactly on the question – and that takes a little time – it is quite possible to write about a similar question – perhaps one you have written about before. That is very bad for your task response.
Problem 3 – you include irrelevant ideas and examples
This is perhaps the most common mistake. The ideas – including reasons and examples – need to relate to the question as closely as possible. Write too quickly and you’ll very probably include irrelevant reasons and examples. This can affect both your coherence and task response score.
Problem 4 – you don’t use your best language
It’s not just ideas you need to think about before you write, it really helps to think of language too. If you start immediately. you’re very unlikely to get your best language. That’s bad for your vocabulary score.
Problem 5 – you choose a bad essay structure
It’s tempting to spend no time thinking about your essay structure. You choose a “model structure” before the test and decide to follow that for your essays to save time. The problem with that is that you may get a question you don’t expect and you may need to use a slightly different structure as you don’t have the right ideas and language for your normal model.
The benefits of thinking and planning longer – you write more quickly and better
The heading says it all really. If you know
what you want to write about
the words you want to use
the structure of your essay
then you will write more quickly and almost certainly more clearly. Very little time will be wasted. Your timing will look like this:
10 minute thinking
25 minutes writing
5 mintes to check
25 minutes is plenty to write 275 words
Your goal is probably to write around 275 words – just to make sure you get to 250. The maths is quite simple:
approximately 12 words a minute
approximately a sentence a minute
That should be enough for anyone. If you know what you want to say and how to say it, then a sentence a minute is lots. You might consider how in TOEFL the goal is to write 300 words in 30 minutes.
A planning checklist
This is a list – with quick explanations – of what you can do in your planning time. You should see that there is a lot here. How quickly can you do all of this? Do you want to do it quickly or well? I suggest you want to do it well. Efficiency over speed.
The question and what it means
This is key. You must (and I very rarely say must in IELTS) do this before you start. Don’t just read the question. Spend time understanding it. Don’t and your task response score will dive.
Your point of view
This too is key. Before you start writing you must decide what your overall view/opinion is. You really want it to be clear throughout your essay.
Selecting your main ideas
These are key too. Your main ideas are how you structure your essay – one per main topic paragraph normally. You need to spend a little time on this to make sure you they are relevant to the question and you have reasons and examples to support them. More time.
I’ll add that you need to select the best ones for you and the essay and not just include them all. That’s thinking time.
Reasons and examples
This is very similar. Each idea needs to be supported with reasons and examples. That’s your coherence score. You want to make sure you can support your ideas before you start writing.
Few people do this I suspect. I do strongly suggest it though. Vocabulary is 25% of your score is part of the reason and so it makes sense to think about it. It also helps to do it in the planning stage because words can give you ideas – something a lot of people find hard.
Essay and paragraph structure
Again this is something many people don’t spend much time on – they prefer to use a “model structure they have already learnt. This can be dangerous. Your model structure may not fit that question and what you know about it. You need to be sure that you have a structure that works for you and that question – it might be that this time you need a 5 paragraph essay.
Can’t you plan as you write?
Yes I think you should. But that is as well as planning before you write. In brief the idea is that before each paragraph and perhaps each sentence you go back and look at the question and what you have just written to make sure you are on track. Not all plans work.
I explain this is some/great detail in this lesson: the process of writing an IELTS essay and the following series of lessons.
More connected lessons
One problem many people have with the planning process is finding ideas. In this older lesson I show one way to get and organise ideas and help your vocabulary:
This lesson shows you how an essay can go wrong if the reasons and the examples are not planned well: