Very often, when I am explaining the instructions of the essay component to new students, I am met with nervous side glances. Students become uncomfortable when they realise that 250 words are too much or too little for all the ideas they have come up with while thinking about the topic. The very next question I can see popping in their head is “how many words should I write in the essay?”
Sometimes students spend too much time thinking of points and don’t have enough time for the actual writing aspect. So, they either write a hasty essay or miss out on the conclusion or second point of discussion. Such behaviour severely affects their task achievement marks as they have failed to respond to the question adequately. Students also tend to skip words in sentences because “the examiner will still understand what I was trying to convey”. Sorry to burst your bubble but examiners are not allowed to grade you based on what they think you meant, but the actual words on paper and what they mean.
Simply put, there is no upper limit to the words you can use in IELTS Writing task 1 and 2 – they only mention the minimum. In some cases, I have personally seen students writing upwards of 350 words. What happens then is that they either go off-topic, rambling about something that was not relevant to the actual topic of the question. They may even commit severe grammatical and word-choice errors which get them lesser bands than their expectations. Those students have wanted explanations about why they scored lesser than their calculations and more often than not, it is those extra words that come back to haunt them.
While it is not feasible to write precisely 250 words (no one can be that precise every time!) students must make sure that they reach at least that limit. Ideally, a student can write up to 270 words, without leaving too much room for error, and covering all their points as thoroughly as required. Avoid the temptation of going overboard with your words simply because there is no upper limit, even if you are confident of your language skills. Your language skills might be excellent, but time waits for no one!
So please ensure that you write around 270 words for your IELTS Writing Task 2. Anywhere between 260 to 300 words is enough for you to arrange your developed opinions on a subject, display a variety of sentence structures, and your vocabulary. At the same time, you can be coherent and least prone to making mistakes, giving you enough time to check your paper, so you leave no silly mistakes! We would suggest having a plan about the distribution of words for your writing tasks ready, and practice with that plan before you give your exam.