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The differences between Academic and General IELTS writing

A fairly common request is for an explanation of the differences between academic and general training IELTS writing. I asked Mike Wattie of IELTSanswers, an expert on the IELTS writing process, to give some guidance on this. If you read on you’ll discover that the two formats are graded in just the same way, but each presents slightly different challenges:


IELTS writing: General and Academic exam

The IELTS writing exam has two versions. In most cases you cannot choose which one you want to take. For instance getting into a university requires a score in the Academic version, and immigration is usually based on the General version. There are two tasks for both versions of the exam.

In terms of the content of Task 1 they are quite different. The general version involves writing a 150 word letter, whereas the academic version requires writing a 150 word report based on data in a chart or table, describing a process, or describing or comparing information on a map.  For task 2, both versions of the test require writing a 250 word essay. Both versions have a separate question on any given exam day, but the topics and types of essays seem to be about the same.

In terms of the grading, the same four criteria are used to assess both versions of the exam (Task Response, Cohesion and coherence, Vocabulary, Grammar). As well as this the same people (examiners) assess the tasks. So, from this perspective they can be considered as equally challenging to pass.

However, the general exam is easier to prepare for, and less likely to lead to a nasty surprise on exam day because task 1 only involves leaning how to write a few styles of letters, whereas the academic version requires the students to learn how to write about a wide variety of charts, different time periods, and passive tense in order to be able to write about processes and maps.


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4 Responses to The differences between Academic and General IELTS writing

  1. Peter Neu January 1, 2014 at 8:32 pm #


    Wonderful stuff!

    I teach a wide range of ability groups and ages. Your materials here can be quite useful for some of my current students in the Civil Engineering curriculum of the Hong Kong Umiversity of Science & Tech. The exercises are great!


  2. waqarunisa April 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    I am very hopeful from this side that it improve my English language skills and i an sure that i can get good band learning from this side.Thankyou

  3. gaurav khanna September 25, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Firstly, I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for your web-site. Indeed, its very helpful. However, I had a question in my mind. I read many sample IELTS General task 2 essays and all of them had 5 paragraphs. I could not find a single essay which had a four paragraph structure. Moreover, many websites and books tell us that we should write at least 5 paragraphs in IELTS General task 2. Is it correct ? I have been preparing according to a 4 paragraph essay and assumed that the task 2 for both general and academic is the same. have my exam in 1 week. Can u please guide me through it ?

    • Dominic Cole September 25, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

      There is no requirement to write 5 paragraphs. There is always more than one way to approach any one question – this applies equally to academic and general training essays.

      My best advice is that you should be able to write both a 4 and a 5 paragraph essay. That gives you more options on the day. You look at the question and decide how to answer it according to what you know.

      I have a general preference for 4 paragraphs as it is normally easier to structure a 4 para essay and if you write 5 paras there’s a danger you may write too much – be inefficient.

      I’ll review my materials on this and post something new.

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