Top Tips for IELTS

Improve your writing by using an IELTS essays checklist

This is a very simple exercise to help you to improve the quality of your IELTS essays. It is particularly useful if you are just starting out on IELTS or if you find you are not making progress. The idea is that you learn how to check your essays as an examiner would by looking at the specific band score criteria. To help you do this, there is an IELTS essays checklist to download of the most important points an IELTS examiner looks for in your essays. Using this checklist every time you finish your essay can help you

  • not to make “silly” mistakes that seriously affect your band score
  • learn the correct essay writing process

The IELTS essays checklist

IELTS essay checklist

Check IELTS essays


Essay writing checklist (55943)

Be specific when you use the checklist

The main idea of the checklist is that you are very specific what you check for and when you use the checklist you should try to underline or mark in some way something in your essay. Don’t do the lazy thing and just tick yes. So if, for example, you are looking at the question: “Do my sentences link together?”, you might do this:

The first point to make is that politicians have a responsibility to spend public money on projects that bring a benefit to the general public. This has not been the case with space research as most developments have been limited to helping astronauts in space or have been very specialised. For example, it is not of great value to the general public that we now have pens and biros that can write upside down. This does not merit the huge amount of money spent.

You now know that your writing is coherent. If, however, you cannot underline something in the essay, you now know what your problem is  and you should mark it in the “my mistakes” table.

How often to use the checklist

You need to use the checklist on a very regular basis to make this work best. If you fill it out every time you write an essay, then two things happen:

  1. checking your writing becomes an automatic process
  2. you learn what makes a good IELTS essay
It may look boring, but you need to trust me here that this time boring is good. Two of the main reasons why candidates do badly are failing to find the time to check and not knowing what to check for. You should also find that after you have done this 4/5 times, you become much more efficient when you check.

What the checklist includes

The band score criteria

You will note that the checklist is organised according to the IELTS writing band score criteria. The main point to note here is that each of these is equally important and all need to be checked. It is not enough just to write an essay without “grammar” mistakes.

If you’re new to IELTS writing, then you really do need to become familiar with the rules of the IELTS game and learn how essays are marked. YOu’ll find lots of help from the pages linked to here:

IELTS writing band scores

If you’re confused by the 15 – 25 words per sentence idea the I suggest you check out this lesson. It’s important that you use a range of different sentences:

Simple and complex sentences in IELTS essays

The writing process

The section headed writing process asks you to note down how long you spent planning, writing and checking the essay. It is a good idea to keep a note of this because:

  1. if you write down the time of the planning and checking phases, you will actually plan and check your essays – the chances are that if your essays score badly it is because you didn’t spend enough time planning and checking
  2. you learn how long you need for each stage in the exam when you are under time pressure
  3. you can check your progress on how long it takes you to write an IELTS essay. I certainly don’t suggest you start by trying to write one in 40 minutes

Again, if you’re not sure why I ask you to think about how long you spend planning, this lesson should help:

Planning an IELTS essay – the 10 minute solution


Your mistakes

The “your mistakes” section is vital. We all use language in our own way and we all make our own mistakes. The idea is that you keep a record of the types of mistake you make so that you can check for those mistakes in the checking phase. If you don’t have a teacher, you can always try typing one of your essays into Microsoft Word and using the grammar check feature: it isn’t perfect but it can help.

The checklist is too simple?

If you think that the checklist is too simple for your needs. I would suggest that you take a look at my sample essays and experiment by analysing them with this checklist – you should find that it works for them!

But the smart learner is the one who adopts and adapts: so feel free to amend it to your needs.


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8 Responses to Improve your writing by using an IELTS essays checklist

  1. imitation hermes belt May 5, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Hello, your articles here How to check an IELTS essayDominic Cole’s IELTS and Beyond to write well, thanks for sharing!

    • SALAH August 24, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

      When tutors set an essay question, they are trying to get you to show them how much you know about a particular aspect of a subject, and if appropriate develop a convincing argument. You must always answer the specific question set. Many students go wrong because they don’t answer the question; they get side-tracked and focus on the wrong aspect of the subject, or just write “all they know” about the subject.

  2. Nice tips August 2, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    Candidates should work on this checklist than just writing rough essay.

  3. nguyen April 6, 2016 at 4:13 am #

    I want to ask a question:
    In your checklist, you worte that “one criteria for marking task 2 is (all my sentences have to be 15 to 25 words long)”
    Is it true?
    if in task 2 of ielts writing, I have two or three sentences below 15 words, will examiners reduce my score?

    • Dominic Cole October 14, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      No. But it’s a good idea to keep most of your sentences between that length. If you write many shorter then the probability is that you aren’t using enough complex structures. If you have many longer then the chances are you aren’t writing coherent sentences

  4. Amirhossein May 10, 2016 at 6:45 am #

    Hey, would you please check it?

    The following map depicts the dramatic change of an island in process of development for touristic purposes. From the illustration it’s obvious that the island has undergone a significant change from a lonely place to a congested one harbouring different amenities for tourists.
    Before these constructions, the island contained some trees and a beach only. However, after development, there was a swimming facility contrived on the westernmost part of the island, near the beach; numerous accommodations were erected all over the island, expect for the eastern side; a restaurant in the centre of the island and a reception centre south to it were constructed; and a pier for boats was created in the southern part of the island. Footpath and roads were built between the accommodations, the swimming facility, the restaurant, the reception centre and the pier for the convenience of the tourists. Surprisingly, and rather admirably, none of the trees was felled for the sake of construction.
    Overall, the island which was once part of the virgin nature, is now able to welcome huge numbers of tourists thanks to its many facilities.

  5. said July 29, 2016 at 3:00 am #

    For a long time, parents thought corporal punishment is the best way to teach children right from wrong. However; nowadays, the number of parents who agree with this continues to drop. Therefore, this essay will argue that corporal punishment does not benefit children’s development. This is because it could be unhealthy and leads to bad behaviour.
    Firstly, scientists have proved that smacking children in unhealthy because Corporal punishment can lead to mental health problems. For one thing, corporal punishment can cause a lack of self-esteem. For example, when parents use violence to discipline their children, this can negatively affect children’s self-confidence. Therefore, it might lead to low self-esteem. In addition, corporal punishment may cause physical health problems. For instance, when parents smack their children, this can expose them to bodily injury. As a result, this could cause health problems on children’s bodies.
    Secondly, research shows that smacking children leads to bad behaviour. For one thing, corporal punishment can cause aggressive behaviour for children. For example, when parents use violence to discipline their children, this makes them think that using violence is the best way to solve issues. As a result, it could make them aggressive. Moreover, corporal punishments often lead to anti-social problem for children. For instance, if parents use smacking to discipline their children, children may become introvert. As a result, this could lead to anti-social problems for children.
    In conclusion, it is likely smacking children in order to teach them has many negative effect problems on their health and behaviour. Therefore, corporal punishment does not benefit children’s development. Parents should contend with their children gently to improve their future.


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