How to count number of words in IELTS Essays, reports and letters?

Students are instructed to write a minimum of 250 words on IELTS Writing Task 2 or essay writing. On IELTS Writing Task 1 of the module (that is Academic or General Training) you must write at least 150 words. Students don’t think of it too much until they actually start writing. It is only after having written the introduction, that most students have a sheepish expression while asking us “how to count words in IELTS essay?” the question they mean to ask is often two-fold: one, what counts as words in IELTS, and two, how do you physically count the words before you submit the paper? We aim to answer both questions by the end of this blog.

Simply put, anything that contributes to the meaning of a sentence is considered as a word in IELTS. We will spell some rules out below. Secondly, the trick to word counting is to observe your handwriting and how many words you write in a line. Then divide it with the number of words you need to write to understand how many lines you would need to reach the word count.

Watch the video lesson.

What counts as words in IELTS Writing section?

Let’s take a sentence as an example: 

“75% of the six million people who voted for backtracking the policy on 11th July 2017 were young adults (eighteen to twenty-four year demographic).”

This sentence displays some of the most confusing aspects of what counts as a word for IELTS Writing Task 1 and 2. 

  1. Numericals count as one word: ‘75’ is going to be considered as one word. But the ‘%’ symbol is not counted as a word if attached to a numerical. If ‘%’ was spelled out as ‘percentage’, it would be counted as its own word. 
  2. If the numbers are spelled out, as in the case of ‘six million’, they would be considered as two separate words. Removing either of those words is going to adversely affect the meaning of the sentence, and hence have to be added to the word count. 
  3. Dates are considered as one word if it is written in numerical order, like 11-07-2017. But if they are written in the manner in the example ‘11th July 2017’, it is going to be counted as three separate words. Similarly ‘11:45 am’ counts as one word. 
  4. Compound words, or words with two words in them, count as one word. The example we have here is of ‘backtrack’, which if written as ‘backtrack’ would be considered as two words. Remember, in this case, spacing makes all the difference as it can change the meaning of the sentence! 
  5. Hyphenated words count as only one word, as in the case of ‘twenty-four’. This is another case of spacing impacting the word count and meaning of the sentence. So, be careful, especially when spelling out double-digit numbers. 
  6. Words in brackets are also counted. This might come as a shocker for some students since they expect brackets to have information that is beyond what is needed, and therefore should not be counted. But as we have said before, anything that contributes to the meaning of the sentence and the idea is counted!
  7. Lastly, contractions and articles count as their own words, every time you use it. “It’s” is going to be considered as one word, but “it is” is going to be two words. “A, an, the” are all separate words that would be counted as many times as they are used. 

Keep in mind these basic rules when writing your IELTS Essay, reports and letters. You will be able to accurately calculate how many words you have written for your Writing section. 

How to Count Words Written IELTS Writing section: 

Now we come to the other aspect of writing the exam – checking your paper. Students often want to know just how much they have written to ensure they have crossed the word limit, or not written too much. There is a rather simple trick for that. 

On IELTS paper-based

Let’s assume you write about 6 words in a line. Make sure you get this number based on a typical answer sheet given by IELTS, otherwise there can be a severe difference in the number of words you end up writing on the paper. You know the minimum number of words you need to write for the essay is 250. So in this case, divide 250 with 6, to get 45 – the number of lines you will need to write to reach the word count. You would need about 3 extra lines to leave some space between each paragraph, so add it to 45 and you are left with 48 lines. 

Similar counting strategy can be implemented while writing IELTS Writing Task 1: either a report or a letter.

Pro tip: 

Before you start writing, you can divide the lines on the answer sheet according to each paragraph. That way you would have a physical reminder of how much space you have left to write every paragraph. 

It is important to remember that this is just a guideline for you to make counting easier. Writing a couple of extra or few lines in the whole essay should not affect your overall word count. But if you are still worried about having written less than the minimum, you can always count each word from scratch. Just ensure that you have followed the rules mentioned above when counting your words to be as accurate as possible!

On IELTS Computer-delivered test

On computer-delivered test, the screen is going to display the word-count. So, you need not bother about how many words are you going to write. 

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