Top Tips for IELTS

Planning IELTS essays and finding ideas

This lesson looks at how planning better can help you write better essays. I focus in particular on “ideas” – something that catches many candidates out. The two key points are that the ideas you need to write an IELTS essay are fairly simple and it helps to make a difference between ideas, reasons and examples. You will also  find a model essay to download based on this lesson.

 

Problem 1 – not enough ideas

This is one of most common reasons for candidates to go wrong in the writing paper. They see a question. Try to think of ideas. Come up empty and panic. You will find part of my solution to this below. For now, I will just say that you need very few ideas to write a good essay and those ideas can be simple ideas too. Don’t buy a book on ideas for essays, instead learn this tip:

Tip – you need only 2 ideas to write an essay and those ideas are often found in the question

Problem 2 – the ideas are confused

This is also a very common mistake. There are plenty of ideas to write an essay. The problem is that the reader/examiner does not know what the main ideas are.

Tip – make sure you have one main idea per paragraph. This should be clear from the first sentence of the paragraph

Problem 3 – too many ideas

Yes, some people do have too many ideas. This is a trap for candidates aiming for a high score. In particular, if they are used to writing academic essays. IELTS is a 250 word essay marked on language. That means it is probably much shorter than you are used to and there are no marks for quality and quantity of ideas.

Tip – select only enough ideas to write a complete essay – that means one per paragraph

Finding ideas for essays

Step 1 – understand the difference between ideas, reasons and examples

When I ask my students in a class for “ideas”, they quite often stare at me in silence. When I ask them the question “why” or ask them to give me an example, they (normally!) have plenty to say. That should tell you there is a difference between ideas, reasons (why) and examples.  The good news is ideas are not the problem in IELTS, what you need are reasons and examples. They are normally much easier to find.

A paragraph is one idea: supported with reasons and examples. You only need two ideas.

Step 2 – learning where to find ideas for essays?

The ideas you need for an essay are nearly always found in the question. They are typically so big that you think they are too easy to be a real idea. That’s the trap. What do I mean? Take this example:

Human activities have endangered many animal and plant species. Some people think it is too late to save them, while others think humans should still take some action. Discuss both views and express your own opinions.

This is one of the harder questions I have seen recently, but the ideas you need are simple enough.

  1. It is too late to save endangered species
  2. It is not too late to save species
It is that easy. Those two ideas are your two main topic paras. All you need now are some reasons and examples.

Step 3 – finding reasons and examples – ask yourself questions

Here you have different options. One trick is simply ask yourself the questions “why?” or “how?” or “when?” or what?” That is often enough.

Step 4 – thinking vocabulary gives you more “ideas”

This is something else I use with my students a lot. It might also work for you. The concept is that once you have words, then “ideas” come naturally from those words. Try thinking of “planning words” and see if it works for you.

Organising and selecting your ideas reasons and examples

Key concept – one idea per paragraph supported by reasons and examples

Look at these two sample paragraphs from the essay and see how I use simple ideas from the question:

Read paragraph 1 and notes

Much of the argument against taking any action to save these species is that the process is irreversible. Just to take one example, there are now so few Giant Pandas left in the wild, they will in all probability become extinct in the foreseeable future. There are simply too few bamboo forests left in order for them to survive. This is also the case with many other endangered species who have lost, or are losing, their natural habitat.

Notes

The first sentence outlines what the paragraph is about. It is the idea from the question: Some people think it is too late to save them. The rest of paragraph is an explanation of that idea

  1. Giant Pandas arre threatened and will die out (example)
  2. Problem with habitat (extended example)
  3. Other species have same pattern (explanation of example)

Read paragraph 2 and notes

The opposite view is that it is the responsibilty of mankind to act and try and save these species for posterity. There is a moral aspect to this argument because most of these species are only endangered because of man’s actions and it is our duty to make amends. Another consideration is that advances in science, especially in the field of genetics, mean that we may be able to recreate some of their lost habitats. It is no longer the case that the only option is to preserve these species for future generations in zoos and botanical gardens.

Notes

You should see that this paragraph follows almost the same model. There is one clear and simple idea in the first sentence. It relates back to the question words: while others think humans should still take some action. The rest of the paragraph explains that idea:

moral duty because it is our fault (reason why)

science can now help through genetics (second reason why)

zoos are not the only solution (extended second reason why)

Key concept – you don’t need to include all your reasons and examples

My “notes” for this essay included all this. They are my notes, so you don’t need to understand them all. What I want you to see is that I have not included everything. In an academic essay I might have. Here I have selected the ideas that were easiest to write about.

  • zoos (example)
  • breed in captivity (example extended)
  • preservation (how)
  • giant pandas (example)
  • medical benefits (why)
  • loss of habitat (why)
  • river dolphins (example)
  • biodiversity (reason)
  • logging and rainforests (example)
  • dams (example)
  • progress of man (why)
  • deforestation (how)
  • bamboo forest (where)
  • science (why)
  • cloning (example)
  • genetics (example)
  • moral responsibility (why)

Key concept – balance your paragraphs

There are a number of different possible essay structures. My default (normal) structure is to have 2 paragraphs that balance each other – it is surprising how often this structure works. It is good for the coherence of the essay, it also makes it easier to write – especially if you are short of “ideas”. You use the second content paragraph can reflect the ideas in the first paragraph, but from the opposite point of view.

See how to balance ideas

Much of the argument against taking any action to save these species is that the process is irreversible. Just to take one example, there are now so few Giant Pandas left in the wild, they will in all probability become extinct in the foreseeable future. There are simply too few bamboo forests left in order for them to survive. This is also the case with many other endangered species who have lost, or are losing, their natural habitat.

The opposite view is that it is the responsibilty of mankind to act and try and save these species for posterity. There is a moral aspect to this argument because most of these species are only endangered because of man’s actions and it is our duty to make amends. Another consideration is that advances in science, especially in the field of genetics, mean that we may be able to recreate some of their lost habitats. It is no longer the case that the only option is to preserve these species for future generations in zoos and botanical gardens.

Download the complete essay

Endangered species (3479)

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21 Responses to Planning IELTS essays and finding ideas

  1. Jiss January 16, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    hi sir …..great lesson

  2. Aziza January 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    GREAT THANKS! I also have mentioned problems, just I’ll try to solve my problems with your tips )
    Thanks a lot!

  3. Dominic's Fans January 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Once again, the more lessons you post on your website, the easier it is to obtain the score what we want.

    Therefore, do you have any plans to offer us more about the General Task one, because sometimes it’s very hard to suit examiner’s tastes, even though we’ve answered the three points in that task(Letter).

    Here is the link which I found in your blog:

    http://www.dcielts.com/writing-2/sample-questions/

    Thanks

    • Dominic Cole January 17, 2012 at 1:17 am #

      I’ll post something on GT this week – probably Saturday.

  4. Dominic's Fans January 17, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    TA 🙂

  5. Christina January 17, 2012 at 2:52 am #

    that was my ielts essay question in Australia in Dec

  6. kisses January 17, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Thank’s for this blog,it was really a great help for us, I just want to ask something, How does GT differs from ACAD module?

    • Dominic Cole January 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Only in the reading and the writing. In the writing, you do a letter for part 1 and the essay is more general interest than the academic essay. The reading questions (particularly part 1) are shorter and supposedly easier and include less academic texts.

      • kisses January 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

        thank’s again;)))

  7. ALEXIS January 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Great lesson!!!
    THANK YOU!!!

  8. Dinaz January 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Undeniably, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the harm that we have caused to the various animals and plants that inhabit our planet. There is the view that believes this damage to be irreparable. However, a more optimistic view believes we can still put check and balances into place to ensure we safeguard our ecosystem. This essay will discuss both these opinions in further details.

    Practiced an intro for this topic !

    • Dominic Cole January 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      Has the making of a very good essay. “Checks and balances” is especially good, but you put them in place not into place.

  9. Dinaz January 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    The problem is when you need to think on your feet —words like “irreversible” -( even though I knew it well ) —does not come to your mind and you end up using a much lesser word like “irreparable” —-!!

    • Dominic Cole January 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

      Agreed. I was “showing off” with that word. This is where I suggest you spend plenty of time thinking got vocab before you write. If you try and think on your feet, you are very likely either or repeat or choose the wrong word.

  10. Dinaz January 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    i will remember that advice and practice it for sure – many thanks !

  11. Angie January 28, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Hello Dominic, greetings from Brazil! Thank you for your posts, videos, down to earth tips, strategies and ideas. I’m preparing for the IELTS and the writing paper is the one that worries me the most . We might be used to talking and even working on grammar, structure. Writing? emails and short messages, if so. I can now picture the task right in front of me and I’m feeling much more secure. A well spent afternoon reading and watching your posts.

  12. Victony Sanjau February 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I’ll do my best to remember all knowledges that I have gained in ur blog……by the way,thx 4 everything….:)

  13. paramjit singh March 16, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    sir,
    i want to IELTS test but my english is very poor , how can i write the essay and letter in ielts and send some comments

  14. MOF April 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    I did regreted because I’ve known this blog too late!

    By the way, I really would like to say a big thank to you! Thank you so much for showing me a very helpful way to improve my writing.

  15. jithin April 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    blog really a worthy one for us,can you bring more comparison graph models(task 1)

  16. Ana Cvetkovic January 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Hello to everyone devoted to Ielts and specially to this amazing site. I have just felt a strong necessity to show a great admiration and gratitude to Dominic. Thank you very, very much for your time and efforts to simplify and explain the ielts test. I wish I would be in a situation in near future to repay you somehow for all what you have done for ielts test takers. Big thanks again!

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