To score 7 bands on the IELTS Writing section of Academic or General Training module, most students think they must solve as many papers as they can. However, they don’t realise they can improve only if they know how IELTS is going to allot scores to them. That way, they can understand which aspect of the language they need to work on and improve on the areas that are currently holding them back
There are four criteria for which the examiner gives marks to candidates. These are Task Response (TR), Coherence and Cohesion (CC), Lexical Resource (LR), and Grammatical Range and Accuracy (GRA). Keep in mind that scoring well in IELTS is not about having a big vocabulary. They just want to check whether you can effectively communicate in English.
Let’s consider a sample essay question to understand the scoring system better. Consider you are faced with this task in the actual IELTS.
You should spend about 40 minutes on the given task.
Some people consider cats to be better pets than dogs.
What are some advantages of having pets?
Do you agree with the statement above?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your knowledge or experience.
Write at least 250 words.
Now, let’s analyse what is expected on IELTS Essay on the same topic. At the same time, we can study what are the most crucial evaluation criteria on IELTS.
Task Response is basically about how well the student has followed the instructions given for a particular task. Understanding the exact question is very important as that will determine whether you write a relevant essay or not.
In the above question, the topic statement says “Some consider cats to be better pets than dogs.” Upon reading this sentence, you might be tempted to think about different types of animals as pets or even say that you don’t particularly care for pets. Writing your essay about both these topics would be wrong as the restrictions on the topic are mentioned in the next instruction. The essay has to be written about the advantages of having a pet, and whether you think cats are better pets than dogs. If a student writes about anything else apart from these two aspects, they will lose marks in Task Response.
Now let’s come to the instructions written under the box. The student must provide some logic or reason behind any point they are trying to make. For instance, if the student wants to say that they disagree with the statement that dogs are better than cats as pets, they have to say why do they believe so. What makes dogs better than cats? Without this reasoning scoring well in IELTS Essays is difficult. Logic is vital for effective communication. IELTS as said before, is checking for effective communication in English, so logic and language are equally important.
Lastly, the student must also give at least two examples since that is the demand of the question. Writing two examples will also help you reach the word count. Writing at least 250 words is essential. It is the demand of the question and the minimum words you need to develop all your points. You may write more but do not write less than 250 words.
In simple words, coherence is about the link between two sentences. Cohesion is about linking two paragraphs. Students must use apt connectors between sentences and ideas within a paragraph. They must also ensure that ideas are appropriately distributed in different paragraphs. Students are graded for their flow of thoughts and ease of reading in Coherence and Cohesion. Without logical sequencing of ideas or well-connected sentences, the essay becomes challenging to read. This includes splitting paragraphs appropriately as well.
Let’s use the example above to understand this better. The two restrictions placed on the topic statement are whether the writer agrees that cats are better than dogs, and what are the advantages of having pets. To score well on CC, the student must answer these two questions in their paragraphs. Since there will be at least two points in each paragraph, the student must use words like ‘firstly’, ‘moreover’, and ‘on the contrary’ to show how the points are linked with each other. If the examiner can understand your whole essay in one reading, you are likely to score well in CC.
The word Lexicon essentially means vocabulary. This criterion is about all the resources you have related to language. This includes the range of words you used in the essay and whether there are any repetitions. It is also about the precision of word usage as well as your usage of collocations and phrases. Collocations are words that are often used together like ‘cold winter’, ‘office desk’, or ‘warm blanket’. Remember – you don’t need big or rare words to score well in Lexical Resource.
Avoid using words you don’t usually use; otherwise, you might end up losing marks if the word is not used precisely. Let’s use the above example again. What words would you replace from “Some consider cats to be better pets than dogs”? It is unlikely that someone would remember to use ‘feline’ and ‘canine’ to substitute ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ respectively. They could, however, replace pets with domestic animals, or even furry friends. Mindlessly replacing synonyms won’t work – you will have to use words effectively.
IELTS is a little lenient when it comes to spellings. They allow ‘slips’ – unintentional spelling mistakes which do not affect the meaning of the sentence. If you end up writing ‘acording’ instead of ‘according’ once, they will not penalise you for it. However, if you have made the same spelling error multiple times, or have made more than two spelling errors in general, then it means that you don’t know a few spellings. Some students might be wondering about American versus British ways of spelling. IELTS is British, but they allow both types of spelling as long as you follow it consistently.
Four main criteria fall under GRA – application of tenses, variety in sentence structures, use of articles, and punctuation. Students are usually aware of GRA, but it does not mean they don’t lose the most marks in the criterion.
This is the essential aspect of grammar since the incorrect application of tenses may change the intended meaning of the sentence despite the correct sentence structure. So, you must ensure that you are familiar with the application of different tenses in various situations. Unfortunately, many students believe that they must stick to only one tense in any paragraph. However, ensure that such thumb-rules don’t change the meaning of the sentences that you are writing.
Make sure to use a variety of sentence structures as well. They include simple, complex and compound sentences. Different types of sentences come in handy when you want to give multiple information in the same sentence. Such kind of sentence structures helps you to precisely convey a complex idea that you may find it difficult to write otherwise.
For instance, a simple sentence would be “The red house is beautiful.” There is only one piece of information in the sentence. With a complex sentence, you can say “The red house which was built in 1945, is beautiful.” This sentence gives you two pieces of information and is made up of an independent and a dependent clause. In this sentence, the independent clause (the red house is beautiful) is divided by the dependent clause (built in 1945). Finally, there are compound sentences which look like “The red house was built in 1945, but it can still withstand an earthquake.” Compound sentences are made up of two independent clauses and are connected by conjunctions like and, but, or, among others.
Students, especially Indians, tend to struggle with articles mostly because there are no articles in Indian languages. If you don’t need more than 6 bands, then you don’t need to worry about articles, but you might want to study it closely if you are aiming higher. Lastly, please focus on the correct use of commas and full stops as they change the meaning of the sentence. Punctuation is vital to indicate clauses and the end of a sentence. A missed full stop can significantly alter the meaning of the sentence, and therefore logic and coherence.
As said above, examiners will grade the student in each of the criteria out of 9. For instance, a student received 9 for TR, 8 for CC, and 7 for LR and GRA each. So, his essay marks will be calculated as (9+8+7+7)/4= 7.75. This can get rounded up to 8 bands, but there are no clear instructions given about that.
This process is a little different, as both tasks in the written component are not weighed equally. The essay has twice the weightage of task 1. The formula for calculating scores for full writing component is as follows. (Task1 * 1/3) + (Task2 * 2/3). If a student received 6 in Task 1 and 9 in task 2, the calculation would be as follows. (6 *1/3)+(9* 2/3) = 2+6 = 8. The student would get an 8 band in their written component.