IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 involves composing a formal five-paragraph essay in 40 minutes. This is the second of two writing tasks on the IELTS. The first section—Task 1—should take you only 20 minutes. Why spend more time on IELTS Writing Task 2? This basic comparison offers a few reasons:
- Points: Task 2 counts more towards your Writing band score
Task 1 = 1/3rd of your score
Task 2 = 2/3rds of your score
- Word count minimums: Task 2 is longer
Task 1 = 150 word minimum
Task 2 = 250 word minimum
- Planning your response: Task 2 questions require more thought
Task 1 = transfer of information from a visual into writing
Task 2 = answer an open/abstract question with no clear or “correct” answer
Even though Task 1 is by no means easy, most students find IELTS Writing Task 2 more challenging. It is well worth your time to write many Task 2 practice essays as you prepare for exam day. Understanding Task 2 deeply and developing an approach to the various question types you might face will make your practice even more effective.
The purpose of this guide is to help you master the IELTS Writing Task 2 skills you need in order to do well on this important section of the IELTS exam. Click on a section in the table of contents to skip directly to that topic, or continue reading below to start learning all about IELTS Writing Task 2.
Table of Contents
This post is all about the IELTS Academic Writing Task 2. If you’re looking for IELTS Writing Task 1 tips, click here!
IELTS Writing Task 2 Basics
Let’s begin with some basic tips for IELTS Writing Task 2:
The IELTS is a pencil and paper exam, so your responses will be handwritten. It is essential that you handwrite (don’t type!) your practice essays for Task 2. Writing by hand helps you develop a sense of pacing. In other words, you will learn how quickly (or slowly!) you write with pencil and paper in English.
Importantly, as you’re probably aware, precious points will be deducted if you do not meet the minimum word requirements in the Writing section. But it is a huge waste of time to actually count your words on exam day. If you take the additional step of using official IELTS Writing Task 2 response sheets (download and print them here), you can see how many words you typically write on each page. You won’t have to count because you will know what that number of words looks like on the IELTS answer sheet.
Writing speed varies a lot from student to student. How you allocate time depends a lot on how fast you can write. The more you practice Task 2 responses, the quicker you will become. Your goal should be to allow enough time for these three things:
- Essay planning 2 – 10 minutes
- Writing 25 – 32 minutes
- Editing 5 minutes (or more if possible)
As you practice, try very hard to cut down on the amount of time it takes to plan your responses before writing. Some students can take up to 10 minutes to brainstorm and plan. For most people, however, using 10 minutes at the beginning will take away too much time from writing and editing. I usually recommend three to five minutes of planning as a reasonable target. The more practice questions you answer, the faster you will become at generating ideas before you write.
The IELTS expects you to use an academic/formal writing style. This means you should use the same kind of language that you would when writing a report for work or an essay for school. Obviously, you would avoid using “slang” words. You would also write in complete sentences and use proper punctuation. Here are some additional features of academic/formal writing to keep in mind for Task 2:
- Organize ideas into separate paragraphs: You will lose points if you do not divide your essay into paragraphs. In the next section of this post, I’ve included an IELTS Writing Task 2 response template. The template includes the essential paragraphs you should include in your Task 2 response. Generally speaking, your essay must have an introduction paragraph, 2 – 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
- Write in complete sentences: Make sure each sentence you write has an independent clause with a subject and verb. When you write complex or compound sentences, use “connectors” like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, etc) or subordinating conjunctions (when, although, because, etc).
- Avoid repetition of words and ideas: Your ideas should move from one to the next logically, and you should show off your vocabulary by avoiding redundancy (don’t repeat the same words over and over).
- Avoid “slang:” The English you hear in the movies or read on social media is often inappropriate for formal writing. It is a big problem to use words like “dude” or spellings like “U” (for “you”) on the IELTS.
- Thoughtful and Neutral Tone: Academic/formal writing has a very careful and thoughtful tone. It rarely sounds angry, excited, or overly certain about an idea. It is also best to avoid broad generalizations in formal/academic compositions. Here are some examples to demonstrate:
NOT ACADEMIC: I hate this idea! (Too excited/angry)
ACADEMIC: This idea has some problems to consider.
NOT ACADEMIC: Everyone is distracted by cell phones these days.(Too broad)
ACADEMIC: Many people are distracted by cell phones these days.
NOT ACADEMIC: I have the best solution to the problem. (Too certain)
ACADEMIC: I would suggest this solution to the problem.
IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 Essay Organization & Example
In this section, we will look at the overall structure of an IELTS Writing Task 2 response. Before we get to that, however, let’s take a look at a sample Task 2 question. Read it over and take a moment to think: How would you respond?
IELTS Writing Task 2 Sample Question
Planning Before You Write
When you first encounter an IELTS Writing Task 2 question, try to decide what perspective you will take fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the IELTS doesn’t give you much time to do this. Making matters worse, it is fairly likely that you won’t have strong, well-developed opinions about the topic. Don’t worry. Task 2 questions are (intentionally) debatable, with no clearly “correct” answer.
Fortunately, unlike an essay you might write for work or school, it is not important to present your true opinions on the IELTS. Remember, the IELTS is an English language test. It is not a test of what you know about the topic of your Task 2 question. While you should present reasonable ideas in a clear and logical way, you can argue any side of the question and do well. Therefore, rather than worrying about (and spending time on) formulating your true opinion on your Task 2 topic, ask yourself the following question instead:
“What is the easiest way for me to answer this question?”
Can you think of some main ideas and/or examples quickly for one side of an argument? Even if these ideas don’t fully represent your perspective, just go with them on the IELTS. You don’t want to waste too much time thinking about how to express your true opinions.
Once you’ve chosen a perspective on your question, you can do some planning/brainstorming. Below are some planning notes for our sample Task 2 question (introduced above). On exam day, you won’t have a chart like this to fill in. The chart simply helps to make the information easier to read in this post. Basically, your goal in the planning phase is to come up with a main idea for each paragraph of your essay. We will discuss each of these paragraphs in more detail below the chart.
Writing your Essay
When you’ve done some initial planning, you’re ready to dive into a writing. Let’s take a closer look at how to organize your Academic Writing Task 2 response paragraph by paragraph. After you read about each paragraph, look at the sample Task 2 essay immediately below this section as an example.
The Introduction Paragraph
An introduction is a very important element of your Task 2 essay. Practicing introductions can really pay off, even if you don’t follow through and write a full practice essay every time. Many students get stuck at the very beginning, not knowing how to respond to the question in the introduction. Let’s look at what to do.
IELTS Writing Task 2 introductions can be short and simple. A two-sentence introduction should be your goal. There are two main parts of a Task 2 introduction to include every time:
- Topic Presentation:
In this first sentence of your introduction, you simply need to paraphrase the topic described in your question prompt. In other words, find a way to accurately state the topic in your own words. Try to avoid using the same words and phrases as the prompt.
After presenting the topic, you need to provide your perspective on it. This is your thesis. It is a sentence that expresses the main idea of your essay. At a minimum, you need to provide a general answer the question prompt in your thesis: “I believe that…”, or “I agree that…”. A really great thesis also introduces the main ideas of each body paragraph in a general way. Take a look at the sample essay below. Notice how the thesis introduces the main idea of both body paragraphs.
Important! You MUST answer the essay question directly in your thesis. Students sometimes lose points because their thesis does not answer the question directly enough. Read your question prompt carefully and make sure your essay will answer every part of the question.
2-3 Body Paragraphs
The next two (or if necessary, three) paragraphs of your IELTS Task 2 essay are your opportunity to explain your thesis. Each body paragraph should present ONE main point. If your question prompt includes several questions, you should write a body paragraph for each one. The main point of each body paragraph must relate directly to your thesis statement in the introduction. Use supporting details and/or examples to explain your main point before moving on to the next body paragraph.
Don’t spend a long time on your conclusion. A good IELTS Task 2 conclusion should be one or two sentences long. Simply paraphrase your thesis and main points from your body paragraphs to close out your essay. This means you should avoid using the same words, phrases, and sentence structures as your thesis statement. Definitely do not copy your thesis statement word-for-word as your conclusion.
Before we dig into an example IELTS Task 2 essay, check out the video below and try your hand at writing an introduction paragraph.
Sample IELTS Task 2 Essay
Let’s take a look at an example essay containing each of the Task 2 paragraphs described above.
Some parents may worry that pushing their children towards a particular career could be harmful. While I agree it is unwise to predetermine a child’s profession, parents should still offer guidance through open communication.
Young people need freedom to make choices, especially when it comes to their careers. Even parents who agree with this idea may still feel some anxiety about it. Ultimately, most parents hope their children will be financially secure. Deep down some parents may also want their children to choose prestigious careers, or jobs that will impact society in some way. These wishes are normal and not necessarily harmful. Yet, it can be problematic if these desires turn into firm expectations. In such cases, the main motivation for a child becomes fear of disappointing her parents. It can lead to resentment if she spends her life doing something she doesn’t enjoy. With freedom to explore, by contrast, she can take ownership of her career decisions and develop internal motivation to reach her goals.
Yet, offering a child freedom does not imply that parents should be absent. To the contrary, parents should strive to foster open communication about career decisions. If a child’s aspirations do not line up with his parents’ wishes, he may fear that approaching them could lead to judgement and confrontation. However, if he feels that his parents will listen carefully and maintain an open attitude, he may let down his guard and welcome their feedback. When this happens, parents can provide guidance and, importantly, even critiques of their child’s plans. In this way, open communication creates opportunities for young people to benefit from their parents’ wisdom and experience.
In conclusion, even though parents should avoid pressuring their children to follow specific career paths, they should not abandon the discussion. Parents should strive to create an environment where they can offer caring guidance through open communication.
IELTS Writing Task 2 Question Types
No matter what question you get for IELTS Writing Task 2, your goal should always be to answer the question completely and directly. Take time, every time, to read the prompt carefully and understand it fully. In Task 2, you are always required to provide your perspective on a topic. However, there are a variety IELTS Writing Task 2 question types you may encounter. The charts below present the five basic IELTS Writing Task 2 question types, and offer some tips on how to organize your responses for each one.
Improving Your IELTS Writing Task 2 Score (By Scoring Category)
There are four scoring categories for IELTS Writing Task 2:
- Task Response
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
- Lexical Resource
- Coherence and Cohesion
Here are some tips to help you improve your score in each category.
IELTS Writing Task 2 Scoring Categories
1. Task Response
This his is a measurement of how well you fulfilled the basic requirements of the task based on the instructions. Following the template and organization advice above helps you most in this category.
2. Grammatical Range and Accuracy
This is a measurement of your ability to use a wide range of grammatical structures without making a lot of grammatical errors. If you have enough time (a few months or more) before you take the IELTS, consider taking an English class or investing in a good grammar book for self-study. I often recommend this grammar book to intermediate and advanced students. It offers clear grammar explanations and contains many practice exercises.
Here are some additional grammar tips to help you, even if your IELTS exam is coming up soon and you don’t have time to take a class or study a textbook!
Grammar Tip 1: Don’t use the same simple sentence structures over and over.
The next time you write a practice response, take a close look at your sentence structures. Do you use a variety of sentence patterns? English language learners often develop a habit of using forms of the “BE” verb (am, is, are, was, were) very frequently as the main verb of the sentence. Using “BE” verbs is not a problem (I have used many in this blog post!!), but using them too often makes your writing sound very basic. Importantly, using “BE” verbs repeatedly also limits your grammatical range. Choosing more descriptive verbs opens up many grammatical possibilities. For example, you can use adverbs and adverbial phrases to describe an action. By limiting yourself to forms of “BE” as the main verb, you will mainly rely on adjectives for description.
To work on this, go back through your practice essays and try to change every sentence that includes a “BE” verb as the main verb. Don’t worry about sentences with “BE” auxiliary verbs like this:
She is running.
“Running” is the main verb of this sentence and “is” is an auxiliary. There is no need to change this. You want to edit sentences that look like this:
Michael is a history professor at my college.
“Is” is the main verb of the sentence. When you revise these sentences, don’t change the meaning of the sentence too much. The sentence should still fit logically in your essay. This can be tough! Making these changes will force you to use different sentence patterns and, importantly, more descriptive verbs and adverbs when you write. Please note—you do not need to avoid all “BE” verbs when you write for the IELTS exam. This exercise simply helps you to develop your ability to use a variety of grammatical structures. Review the following examples:
Original sentence: Mary is an excellent teacher, so students always love taking her class.
Revised sentence: Mary teaches so well that students always love taking her class.
Grammar Tip 2: Use complex sentence structures
On the IELTS, you need to prove that you can write advanced sentences without mistakes. Therefore, you should include some complex sentence patterns in your writing. What is a complex sentence? Complex sentences include “subordinating conjunctions,” which introduce a variety of dependent clauses in English. Look over this review of dependent and independent clauses if you need to. Below are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:
Adverbial Subordinators (there are many!):
Adjective Clause Subordinators:
Noun Clause Subordinators:
A few complex sentence examples:
Even though it rained all weekend, we had a great time.
I like playing chess because it provides a mental challenge.
I threw the ball to my friend, who was not ready to catch it.
Academic Writing: Part 2
Introductions and Conclusions
Most students know that essays should start with an introduction and end with a conclusion. However, beginning and ending the essay is often far more difficult than writing the main body. Introductions are especially difficult because they give the examiner his or her first impression of your essay writing skills. Conclusions are the last thing the examiner will read before deciding your grade! Therefore, it’s important to know what should and should not be included in each of these sections.
The purpose of an introduction is to clarify what you understand the title to mean. You may also want to mention briefly why this is an important issue. Finally you need to outline how you intend to answer the question. Let’s examine each of these ideas in more detail.
1. Clarifying the meaning of the title
What are you being asked to do? Define any keywords. If there are no words which require a definition, it is still a good idea to interpret any keywords in the title. Look at this essay title, for example:
Illiteracy has traditionally been viewed as a third world problem. However, in developed countries, illiteracy is increasing. Examine possible causes for this and its effect on society.
You should define ‘illiteracy’ in the introduction. It’s also important to make it clear that you understand the difference between ‘third world’ and ‘developed’ countries. You also might want to interpret the word ‘society’. What exactly does ‘society’ mean in the context of this essay? Clarifying this will help you to write a focused, relevant essay.
2. Mention briefly why this is an important issue.
You may want to include one sentence addressing why this issue is interesting or important, and to whom. However, take care. Students often begin essays with a statement such as ‘Illiteracy is a hot topic in today’s society’. Try to avoid this. It sounds as if you are reciting a phrase you have learnt and you are not thinking about the issue itself. Consider why illiteracy is important, who it affects and whose job it is to solve the problem.
3. Outline how you intend to answer the question
This is a very important part of the introduction. The last sentence of your introduction should outline exactly what you aim to do in your essay, and how you aim to do it. This sentence is called the Thesis Statement. The thesis statement is very similar to the title. For example, a suitable thesis statement for the title above could be:
This essay will firstly describe some reasons why illiteracy is increasing in developed countries, and then examine the effect of illiteracy on society.
A good thesis statement will show the reader how the essay will be structured. For example, by reading the thesis statement above, the examiner will know the number of sections in the essay, and the topic of each paragraph. He or she will also know that the writer understands the question in the title and is addressing it directly. Obviously, you cannot write a good thesis statement unless you have planned your essay outline first.
One more important thing to remember is that you must not start answering the question in the introduction. Do this in the main body of the essay.
Conclusions are actually quite simple. The purpose of the conclusion is to answer the question in the title. Do this by referring to the points you have already made in the main body. Don’t repeat whole sentences, just summarise the main points. It is also important that you do not raise any new ideas in the conclusion. The conclusion need not be long. Keep it brief and make sure it is directly related to the question.