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IELTS Academic: Writing Task 2 - Tips for achieving a high band score

Table of Contents

by Philip Askew

ILAC Pathway Teacher


The second IELTS Academic Writing essay (Task 2) is a problem for many test takers.  Task 2 asks you to consider an academic topic, and present your formal written answer in at least 250 words, and 40 minutes!  If Task 2 is giving you trouble, don’t worry – this guide will help prepare you for the IELTS Academic Writing Test with some strategies for maximizing your result.

woman writing on notebook
Practice your IELTS Writing skills before the test so you feel comfortable with the format, timings and how to answer different types of tasks.

Step 1: Analyze the question carefully

The first step is small, but very important.  

Identify the answer type

Before you do any writing, read the IELTS test question carefully, and make sure you understand what kind of answer you need to provide.  Do you need to:  

  • Provide your opinion?  
  • Suggest a solution to a problem?  
  • Identify advantages and disadvantages?  
  • Show both sides of an argument?  
  • Show to what extent you agree with the argument?  
Make a plan!

Every IELTS Academic Writing question has a different topic, so you will need to spend some time planning your answer.  Check out this link to see some sample Academic Writing questions, so you are prepared when you take the real IELTS test.

During the test, you might be nervous and want to start writing immediately so you finish your IELTS test sooner.  However, first spending 5 minutes making a basic plan means your essay will be much clearer, and your IELTS Writing result will show a big improvement.

woman biting pencil while sitting on chair in front of computer during daytime
You might be nervous and want to start writing immediately. First spend 5 minutes making a basic plan and your essay will be much clearer.

Step 2: Think about your ideas and where you’ll discuss them 

With Writing Task 2 (Academic), divide your answer into different paragraphs.

Plan paragraphs by content

The first paragraph is your introduction, where you identify the key issues in the question, and outline what main points you will focus on in your answer.

In the next paragraphs, you should present your main points in the body of your essay.  If you have many distinct points, you could divide them each into separate paragraphs.

Finally, the last paragraph is your conclusion, where you briefly summarize what you have discussed. 

This might sound like a lot to write in 40 minutes, but is manageable with a little more planning.

Plan paragraphs by timings

A good recommendation is to also divide your writing time between each paragraph.

For example, spend 5 minutes making a plan for a four-paragraph answer.  Then, you know you have 35 minutes left to divide between each one – this works out at about 8 minutes per paragraph.  Keep checking the time as your write your answer.  Once you are almost out of time for that paragraph, finish off and move on to the next one. 

Plan paragraphs by word count

You may also want to divide the number of words by paragraph as well.  Remember, if you write under 250 words for Task 2, it will affect your IELTS results.  Similarly, writing much more than 250 words will not award you any extra marks and may even affect your coherence and cohesion score.  

So, if you’ve planned a four-paragraph essay, keep a count of about 70-80 words per paragraph.  This is much easier if you’re taking a computer-delivered IELTS test as the screen will show a word count as you type. (Paper-based test takers can instead practice writing 70-80 words on paper before their test, and remember roughly how many lines this is, in their handwriting.)

Remember that the structure of your writing should be in a formal academic style.  Notes or bullet points are not acceptable in an answer.

Divide your essay plan into paragraphs, and note a rough time limit and word count for each section.

Step 3: Be careful using big words, idioms and slang

In the IELTS Academic Writing test, you might feel like you need to use big, technical words to get a high band score.  In reality, it’s more important to write clearly and accurately.  Using big words that you do not understand will in fact lose you marks, as this will affect your Coherence and Cohesion, as well as Lexical Resource (vocabulary) scores.

Instead, try to stick with familiar language that you are comfortable using.  There are no extra points for using high-level technical vocabulary on the IELTS test, but you will lose points for inappropriate word use. 

Similarly, be cautious when using English expressions or idioms, even if you are already familiar with them.  They tend to be informal and are not appropriate for an IELTS Writing question (although may be used in the IELTS Speaking test, as this is more informal). 

two men talking
Idioms and slang should not be used for IELTS Writing because they are too informal. Informal language, however, is more accepted during the IELTS Speaking test.

Step 4: Remember! Idea, evidence, explain

Writing Task 2 of the IELTS Academic test asks you to provide a clear argument, relevant to the question, with examples and evidence to support your points.  

What evidence should support my idea?

It’s important to note the following:

No original research is necessary – supporting points should always come from your own personal knowledge or experience.   

For example, if the question topic is about parenting styles and raising children, you could talk about your own memories of your family or your experiences as a parent.  

The examiner is not assessing the facts or data you provide, but they are looking at how you use the appropriate language to develop your point.  You can have and present any opinion about the question topic, as long as you support it with examples and your argument is coherent (i.e. your points flow logically from one to the other).  So, spend time arranging your points into an order that makes sense.  Try to include connectors such as:

  • “First, I will discuss…”,
  • “Next, I’ll move onto…”,
  • “Finally…”

to help organize your thoughts as you write. 

black and white nike sneakers
If the topic is about parenting styles, you could talk about your own memories of your parents or your experiences as a parent (if you are one!)

Step 5: Sum up your argument

Your conclusion should sum up everything you have already discussed in the body of your answer.  It should:

  • emphasize your main points,
  • and provide a brief and direct response to the original question.
Tips for your conclusion
  • Follow the 3 C’s:
      1. Complete: Have you included all the main arguments you have presented?
      2. Concise: Make sure these points are summaries only; there is no need to go into detail again.
      3. Clear: Is your conclusion as easy to understand as possible?
  • Don’t introduce any new ideas.  The conclusion is not the place to suddenly add new ideas.  Put them in the body of your answer, or leave them out.  This is one reason why planning your ideas before you write is so important.
  • Don’t “fill out” the word count with pre-learned phrases.  If you haven’t reached the 250 word minimum, try to avoid filling out the word count with pre-learned phrases to “show off” your English skills.  This won’t improve your IELTS results.  Your answer must be relevant to the question and your conclusion should be as concise as possible.  Keeping track of the number of words you write for each paragraph will help you avoid this situation. 
Make sure your conclusion clearly and concisely sums up your answer to the original question topic.

Don’t forget!  A good academic writing answer starts with a good plan.  Make sure each paragraph has its own job, making a clear point, supported by examples.  In your plan, note how much time and how many words each paragraph will need.  Focus on keeping your language clear and formal, rather than too technical or impressive.  Finally, be sure to use personal examples and experiences relevant to the topic, rather than prior or invented research. 

If you are still unsure about how to approach the IELTS Writing test (or any part of IELTS), consider enrolling on a dedicated preparation course available in Vancouver.  Find more information about how to enroll in a course, or book an IELTS test, at the links below. 

Useful Links

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Practice under test conditions
Go through common topics, look into sample questions and practice them under test conditions.

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