The IELTS Writing Paper

The IELTS academic and general training writing papers each include two essays (or "writing tasks") that must be completed in a total of one hour. Each essay is timed separately, with 20 minutes allotted for the first and 40 minutes for the second. IELTS lists four assessment criteria, the last three of which are the same for both versions of the IELTS: task achievement (academic) or task response (general training), coherence and cohesion, lexical resource, and grammatical range and accuracy. The 40-minute essay contributes twice as much to the final writing paper band score (reported from 0 to 9) as the 20-minute essay.

IELTS Writing Paper Essay Types

The IELTS description of the longer essay, for which the recommended length is 250 words, is identical for the academic and general training tests. Students must write a "discursive essay" in which they are given an "opinion, problem or issue" that they "need to discuss." Discursive essays may ask students to "provide a solution, evaluate a problem, compare and contrast different ideas or opinions, or challenge an argument or idea." The shorter essay on the IELTS academic test, which should be about 150 words in length, is characterized by IELTS as a description and summary of "visual information," either a diagram, map, graph, or table. On the general training test, students must write a 150-word "letter in response to a given situation."

Examples of Writing Paper Essay Prompts

Writing Task 1 (the shorter essay) on the academic IELTS has a uniform essay prompt, which reads as follows: "Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant." Test-takers are presented with graphic representations of information, such as tables or maps, and they must accurately describe primary characteristics and connections between the different components of the graphics. Prompts for the discursive (longer) essay present statements and then ask students to react in written form. Essay instructions will commonly direct test-takers to "Discuss both these views and give your own opinion," or ask questions such as "How true do you think this statement is?" or "To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?" Discursive essay topics are general and on issues such as government policies, public health, or trends in the workplace. Writing Task 1 on the general training test requires students to write correspondence in professional situations, such as a resignation letter to a supervisor that explains the employee's reasons for leaving.

IELTS Writing Paper Skills

All students taking the IELTS must possess essay writing skills, which include the ability to organize information, clearly articulate opinions, and properly use standard language conventions (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.). Writing Task 1 on the academic test is not an exercise that is commonly encountered in high school or college coursework, and test-takers must therefore practice describing visual information in clear and concise prose. For many students, the shorter academic essay may actually be more of a challenge than the discursive writing task, and adequate preparation is therefore essential. General training test-takers should become familiar with many different professional situations that require written responses, such as cover letters, communicating with supervisors, or soliciting clients. For all writing paper exercises, students must develop the ability to complete the tasks quickly, because time is obviously limited while taking the test. Students are advised to gradually reduce the timing of their practice exercises to the point that they duplicate test conditions. Efficient writing is just as important to high IELTS scores as effective writing.

IELTS Writing Paper Requirements at Universities

Some universities will automatically reject applicants with IELTS scores that are below their requirements, but others will offer provisional admission to students who are slightly below the given benchmarks. This admission is usually contingent on student completion of some type of remedial English course. The Graduate School at the University of Maryland, for example, requires IELTS total and sectional band scores of at least 7.0 for full admission, but applicants with scores of 6.0 or 6.5 may qualify for conditional acceptance under the English Bridge Program or Intensive English. The former option, intended for applicants with IELTS scores of 6.5, requires completion of a "semi-intensive" English course, while the latter (for scores of 6.0) mandates more intensive remediation. Students who meet Maryland's requirements on all sections of the IELTS except writing can secure full admission if they complete the Advanced English Writing Class at the Maryland English Institute.

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