In this lesson I talk you through the process of planning an IELTS essay – or one possibility! The key idea is that you should have a method of planning that works for you. It’s not really enough just to say “I’m going to spend the first 5/10 minutes planning” – you want to know HOW you are going to do it.
At the end of the lesson, there is a downloadable example for you to consider.
How to plan
There is no easy answer to this question. Planning tends to be very individual and what works for one candidate may not work for another. However, there are one or two guidelines to follow:
- be methodical: before you get to the exam, know exactly how you are going to plan your essay and stick to that plan in the exam.
- give yourself enough time: you only have 40 minutes to write in the exam, but don’t start writing too quickly. Time spent planning is rarely wasted and candidates who fail to finish are generally those who start to write too soon.
- remember it’s a language exam: IELTS is a test of language, so make sure your plan helps you produce good language – this is something lots of candidates forget
- keep it simple: your plan is there to help you write. If it is too complex, it may not work in a 40 minute exam scenario.
- read the question: make sure your plan relates directly to the question.
How long to plan
Again, there can be no exact answer here, but I would suggest 10 minutes is approximately correct. That may seem a long time, but the longer you stop and plan for the better and the more quickly you will write. People who fail to finish in time are very often those who start writing too soon. For more on this see my 10 minute solution post.
What to plan – vocabulary and examples
Most text books suggest planning ideas. This is hard to do in practice when you are under pressure in the exam.
My suggestion here is to focus first on vocabulary and examples. Vocabulary will give you ideas and examples will allow you to develop those ideas in coherent paragraphs.
The elements of the planning process illustrated
(if you’re curious about the URL and header below – this site started out as a class wiki many years ago – my advice is still much the same though)