Top Tips for IELTS

What to think about before you start writing an IELTS essay

What do you need to think about before you start writing an IELTS essay? The answer will depend on you slightly and the essay question a bit, but here are some things for you to consider.

Points to note are

there are several different things here – “planning” is not a simple thing

you’ll need time to do all of this

a lot of these points involve thinking – the best thinking often takes a little time

if you don’t do any of these things before you write – then you’ll need to do them as you write. That’s normally much harder and often takes longer

General strategy

Know what you are going to think about before you start writing and know how long you’ll spend on it. The time you use here you’ll save later by not needing to stop and think so much as you write.

Understand the question

The first thing that everyone – absolutely everyone – should do is spend time reading and understanding the question.A lot of essays go wrong because they either

fail to answer all the question

they are irrelevant (not really about) to the question

Some people choose to underline words in the question. You can do that but also make sure you read all the question first. My suggested technique here is

read the question 2/3 times

turn over the paper

then try and rephrase the question in your words

check to see if you’re right

then underline key words

This isn’t a waste of time because you need to rephrase the question for the introduction anyway and you can now be sure that you understand what you have to do.

Read all the question and make sure you have the task right. Don’t just concentrate on the topic

Find your position

This is what you generally think about the question – your answer to the task. This is something else I would make a must before you write. It’s key to do this as your consistent should be clear and consistent throughout the essay – that means you must know what it is before you write the introduction.

Be prepared to spend a little time on this. Remember there are no points for being right or wrong but you need to make sure that you can complete a 250 essay about that position.

Think about what main ideas you have and how well you can support them in English before you fix your position

Get main ideas

This is something some people find very difficult. Sometimes though it can be easier than you think. The ideas you need are just the main ideas of each body paragraph. They can be as simple as “Libraries are good for the community” or “There are problems with digital technology”.

Main ideas are often very general points – the detail comes later
See if you can state your main idea in one simple sentence. If you can’t, it may be too complex for a main idea

Select the best main ideas

There are no prizes in IELTS for having lots of ideas or trying to include all your ideas. Sometimes the best ideas to use in an IELTS essay may not be the cleverest ideas you can think of! Before you start writing you just need to answer these:

is the idea relevant to the question?

does it support my position?

can I develop that idea in one paragraph with reasons and examples?

do I have words to write about the idea?

Remember to delete ideas that you can’t support in English in a timed essay. If it’s an idea you need lots of time to think about, then it may not be the best idea to include

Think of reasons and examples to support main ideas

This is something a lot of people fail to do before they write. It can cause lots of problems. It really helps to make sure that that you can support your ideas before writing. Otherwise you may start a paragraph and just get blocked and not know how to continue. If that happens then you will probably use/waste more time than if you had spent timing thinking before writing.

You should make sure that the reasons and examples do support the main idea.

One way to find these supporting arguments is just to ask yourself simple questions like “Why?” “When?” Who?”  – the answers should gibe you the detail you need

Organise your essay into paragraphs

This is also key. You should know before you write how many paragraphs you’re going to use and what each paragraph is about – one main idea per paragraph is standard. Something else you need to check is that structure of your essay is logical. Check

does each main paragraph link to your position in the introduction?

how does each main paragraph link to each other? What is the relationship to paragraphs A and B? Do they make similar points or are they making completely different points?

Some people prefer to learn a set structure for each type of essay. That can work but can also cause problems.

Organise your paragraphs!

Very few people do this I suspect. There are, however, points for writing well-organised paragraphs (that’s coherence) and so it’s something to consider.

If you don’t do this before you start writing, you should certainly think about doing it before you start writing each paragraph. If you don’t do that, then there’s a good chance that your ideas will become confused. Your plan will be wasted.

Before you start a paragraph it helps to know

the main idea – that’s normally your first/topic sentence

what precise points you are going to make – the supporting details

the order you’ll put them in

the connections between the sentences – whether they’re reasons, examples or results etc.

Find the words

Even fewer people do this I suspect. You can leave this until you start writing of course. You can also consider doing some of it before writing. Why? Two reasons.

If you think of words then you may get more ideas. There’s a strong connection between words and ideas. For example, if you have an essay about education generally then thinking of the words “further education” “higher education” “primary school” and “vocational college” may give you ideas to use in your essay.

Your idea may be great but it’s useless for IELTS if you don’t have enough words to express it in!

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One Response to What to think about before you start writing an IELTS essay

  1. Kumar April 4, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi Domnic,

    Nice article.
    I would labelyour “What to think about before you start writing an IELTS essay” article as “Checklist for a band 9 essay wrt given 4 IELTS criteria”

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