Top Tips for IELTS

Improve your IELTS essays – ask yourself 4 simple questions

This is a quick lesson based on something I do in class with my students. It’s a simple idea, but it really can help improve your IELTS essays. How? It’s both practical in exam conditions and it also helps you answer the question – and not answering the question is crime number 1 in IELTS.

Understand the instructions

The first step is to read and understand the question. The good news is that the instructions are always the same. They always say:

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

To be clear, they tell you to do 3 things:

  1. answer the questions
  2. give reasons why
  3. give examples for those reasons

This brings me to my simple suggestion. DO NOT PLAN IDEAS. Rather, I suggest you plan much more precisely. You plan the 3 things the questions tells you must write about:

  1. your answer (point of view)
  2. reasons
  3. examples

A  practical technique – ask yourself questions

I find that if I ask student in class for “ideas”, they often look at me and say nothing. Thinking about “ideas” is difficult. But if I ask the same student the question “Do you agree that….?”, they will give me an answer. Then if I ask “Why?”, they will tell me. Then if I ask for examples, they will be able to give me those too. So, this is what I suggest you do in your thinking/planning time. Forget about “ideas” – you may go blank like my students. Instead ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the question? (this is a really, really, really important first step that too many people forget to do – there is always a precise question that you need to answer)

2. What is my point of view? (the answer to this will depend on the question of course, but very often the answer is surprisingly simple: something like “I agree” or “I disagree” or “I agree up to a point”)

3. Why? (You must ask yourself this because the question tells you to give reasons.

4. What examples can I think of? (Again, this is compulsory as the questions asks for examples)

Further ideas and resources

I’ve kept this lesson short on purpose. Sometimes it’s good to say one thing simply! But if you are looking for more ideas about this, here are one or two suggestions.

  1. This lesson is really about being coherent – 25% of your mark – you may want to look at this lesson on coherence and my PEE model (© Dominic Cole 1965)
  2. If you are a teacher, try this video featuring Sam McCarter.  I too am a big fan of “because”, “for example” and “if”.
  3. Just go back over some old essays and see if every paragraph has a reason and an example. If it doesn’t, then you may well have a problem. (Tip: look for how many times you use “because” and “for example”.)


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