Top Tips for IELTS

Why simple can be best in IELTS

This is the next in my series of video tutorials on IELTS essays. This time I look at ideas again and try and show you how simple ideas can work even if you want a band 9 score. The central point I make is that even if your ideas are simple, you can still produce excellent language and IELTS is essentially a language testing system.  In the video I take a potentially difficult question, write one simple 4 word idea and then produce a band 9 score sentence from that idea. It takes me 10 minutes: too long. In the exam, I expect you to do it in 1 minute!

Why simple is best

Before you watch, look at this essay question and try and write down one idea for the essay:

Advances in science and technology have made great changes to lives of ordinary people, but artists such as musicians, painters and writers are still highly valued. What can the arts tell us about life that science and technology cannot?

Now try and turn that idea into a sentence.

Now watch listen and think

Compare your idea to mine. Two questions:

  1. Whose idea is better?
  2. Whose final sentence is better?


As a philosophy graduate, I know that simple is sometimes the hardest thing – particularly for academic people. To learn this skill, you do of course need to practise. Here is my suggestion, don’t write whole essays. Try writing sentences first. If you can write a sentence, you can write an essay. You can’t write an essay, if you can’t write a sentence.

Step 1

  • don’t practise writing long sentences at first – that is the end product, not the start
  • find an IELTS essay question
  • try writing at least 2 ideas that are 6-9 words long for each question – short sentences
  • focus on words in the question
  • ask yourself questions: “why?”
  • make sure your ideas are clear

Step 2

Once you have written the simple ideas, then try and expand them into proper “topic sentences” in IELTS language. If you post one or two here with the original questions, I will leave my comments.

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16 Responses to Why simple can be best in IELTS

  1. Gaukhar July 23, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    HI Mr.Cole !!! FIRST OF ALL I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR BLOG! It’s really HELPFUL! and i would like you to have a look at my essay below and to comment if it’s possible)))) I’m waiting for your ANSWER!!!!

    Q: Television has had a significant influence on the culture of many societies. To what extent would you say that television has positively or negatively affected the cultural development of your society?

    We live in the world where technology is valued higher than ever. One of these widely spread thing is Television. And today it’s believed that TV has crucial effect on culture. Me too, believe that it has some negative effects to my society.

    First of all, nowadays on the television is shown many violence scenes and it’s the main point which i want to express. As you know culture is a kind of thing which is inherited by generation to generation and the youngest generation will develop the culture. Today this youngest society is affected by TV very much.Violence which is shown on the television are likely to be copied by teens of these day. The bad characters in those violence films are shown like a heroes and their actions are taking place in our real life. Not only films but also overseas celebrities, who are famous all over the world, have huge effect through the this TV on our teenagers. They are also are being copied. Take a usage of drug for instance, some celebrities use drug when they get stressed and these days many teenager tries to use drug when they have difficult periods.

    Second point is that Television getting us to the sedentary lifestyle. People are sitting in front of it whole day and even eat their meals there. It affects to my culture especially. That is because, in our culture it is assumed to have meals with all members of family together. And nowadays the importance of it is being lost. As an evidence of it, I would say that in our country many teenagers became “casual dinners” and “convenience seekers” as well.

    To sum up, my belief is that Television has affects crucially to my culture and that some values of culture are being lost. And I suppose that not only my society but also other societies have this problem.

    • Dominic Cole July 23, 2011 at 9:17 am #

      Sorry Gaukhar. I don’t really have time for this service – checking complete essays. What I will do is look at “idea sentences”. It may seem boring but in truth the best way to practise is not to just practise essays but also to practise the bits of an essay. Write a sentence and you can write a paragraph, write a paragraph and you can write an essay.

      If you want your essay checked, can I suggest you contact one of the teachers here.

      • Gaukhar July 23, 2011 at 11:44 am #

        oh, well… that’s ok, i understand u 🙂 thanks for link to he teachers 🙂

  2. AscariKZ1 July 24, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Not bad!
    Gaukhar, are you from Kazakhstan?

    • Gaukhar August 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

      yeah~ u too?!

  3. Amel July 31, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    I have recenlty discovered your blog and for me it has been the best help I could find in all the net. I would like to thank you for giving the oportunity for students like me to make clear most of the questions about IELTS. Thanks again!!!

  4. Jake August 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Hello Dominic,
    I can not see the lesson embedded in this page. Would you please have check?

  5. Dominic Cole August 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Thanks. It does seem to have disappeared. I’ll get it fixed. May I ask what browser you are using?

    • Jake August 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      I’m using Chrome on Mac now. But I’ve already tested it with Firefox on Mac, IE on PC (windows XP) and Chrome/Firefox on PC. None of them works.
      Aha, I’m a software developer!

      • Sushma November 29, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

        Hello Dominic
        Your website has been a great help to me. Could you please check my sentence in response to the following question.

        Some people argue that the government should give every unemployed person a mobile phone and should make sure they have access to the Internet. They believe this is the best way of using public money to reduce the problem of unemployment. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

        – It is not justified if people’s hard earned money is used to provide mobile phones and internet access to unemployment citizens. This is because, majority of them will take these government facilities for granted. They will instead use them for pleasure and crime at a substantial expenses to the tax payers.

        Many thanks in advance


        • Dominic Cole December 4, 2011 at 7:45 am #


          That looks pretty good. One point to note, you need to write “the majority”. I would also join the second and third sentences together bu using a “but”

  6. Dominic Cole August 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Hopefully, fixed now. But why use Chrome on a Mac?

  7. Sillu November 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Thank a lot for your helpful blog – it’s just amazing.

    I wrote down some ideas to your exercise “What can the arts tell us about life that science and technology cannot?”

    -feelings and emotions

    1) One of the reason why the arts matters is that they are a source of great deal of feelings in their work.

    2) There is no doubt that the songs provide a lot of emotions to people.

    Are these two sentence possible?

    Thanks =)

    • Dominic Cole November 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

      Be careful: “One of the reasons why the arts matter is that they …” Also, There is no doubt that songs (general and so no “the”)…”

  8. Amna November 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    I am grateful that i found your blog before my tests. You have shared quite practical approach. Thanks!

    Tobacco and alcohol are drugs that cause addiction and health problems. Should they be made illegal? Or should all drugs be legalized? (Essay Writing)

    Idea 1 – It is incumbent on a society’s sane heads or responsible citizens to take due action against practices, such as tobacco and alcohol, for the general well being of the society or people.

    Idea 2 – They should be made illegal for the general well being of people.

    Idea 3 – Legalizing of tobacco and alcohol might have grievous consequences if people lack strong will.

  9. angela June 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Hi Dominic,
    thanks for such a great help to prepare for IELTS.
    but i have a question, as you explained in your video that 2 ideas for 4 paragraphs and 3 ideas for 5 paragraphs are enough so you man to say that there is not a particular pattern for writing an essay. we can write as many paragraphs we want?

    but i have been writing 4 paragraphs for task 2.
    can u please help me how can i improve my writing from 6.5 to 8 band score.
    looking forward to hear from you soon.

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