IELTS Writing Band Descriptors: How to Improve Your IELTS Writing Score2


16 Dec, 2019

Wondering how to improve your IELTS Writing score? In this post, we’ll review the IELTS Writing rubric for Task 1 and Task 2 so you understand how to get a good score in IELTS Writing. We’ll highlight the most important elements of the IELTS Writing rubric to make it more approachable and understandable. To do this, we’ll look at the rubric on a broader scale by identifying the features of lower-scoring responses (band scores 5-6) and higher-scoring responses (7+) in each of the four rubric categories. Finally, we’ll share how to improve your IELTS Writing score, with tips to help you move from a low-scoring response to a high-scoring response.

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Table of Contents

IELTS Rubric: IELTS Writing Band Descriptors

For a lot of students, writing can be the hardest part of IELTS. Part of this has to do with the intimidation of writing: many of us aren’t comfortable writing at length in our first language, much less in a foreign language! However, it’s important to remember that the IELTS is a standardized test. The “standard” part of that means that the fundamental aspects of it remain the same between different versions of the exam, which you’ll see in the IELTS Writing rubric. The rubric contains what are commonly referred to as the IELTS Writing band descriptors, which are the explanations of what you need to achieve on the test in order to earn a certain band score.

The IELTS Writing rubric evaluates four different aspects of your responses: Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Task Achievement (or Task Response, for Task 2). You can view the rubrics at the links below.

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Scoring Category 1: Coherence and Cohesion

What does it mean for a task response to be coherent and cohesive? This IELTS Writing rubric category has to do with how well your ideas flow together. Does the sequence of ideas make sense? Are your paragraphs effectively organized? Here is the main difference between low- and high-scoring responses on Coherence and Cohesion.

Point 1

How well do you organize your ideas into paragraphs?

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Overview

Low-scoring responses show that the writer had significant problems organizing ideas into paragraphs logically, and/or that the writer had trouble expressing those ideas clearly.

High-scoring responses have ideas that are clearly organized into paragraphs, each with a clear main point and a logical connection to the rest of the essay.

Here’s what that looks like on each of the IELTS Writing tasks.

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Task 1

When you approach Task 1, remember that you are not writing a standard essay like you would in English class or even for other tests. Task 1 is more like a report than it is like an essay. You should not put your personal opinion in Task 1. Luckily, no thesis is required, so you won’t need to present your opinion.

A high-scoring Task 1 essay will have three to four paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 should be a very basic description of the visuals—the charts, graphs, or other images—included in the question. If you don’t know where to start, remember that it’s often possible to simply paraphrase information from the prompt and the headers on the visuals in one to two sentences. Just make sure that you are paraphrasing and using different vocabulary as much as possible.

Paragraph 2 should provide an overview of the key information from the visuals. You still don’t need details from the visuals in this paragraph, so forget about specific numbers for now. Just provide a general overall description of the two or three most interesting pieces of information shown on the visuals.

In Paragraphs 3 and 4, it’s time to include key details from the visuals. To do this, return to the visuals and find numbers that directly relate to the points you made in paragraph 2.

While you don’t need a thesis statement (and shouldn’t have one in this task), each of these paragraphs should separately be organized around one main, controlling idea. For example, you could write: “The charts show that attendance for musical events grew much faster than attendance for sporting events over the last 10 years.” The remainder of each of these paragraphs should each focus on a controlling idea that includes details (these details are usually descriptions of the numbers) from the visuals that demonstrate the main idea.

For even more on IELTS Writing Task 1, check out Magoosh’s Complete Guide to Task 1.

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Task 2

For Task 2, you can use a standard 5-paragraph essay structure. In this structure, the first paragraph is an introduction, followed by three body paragraphs and a conclusion.

For IELTS essays, keep your introduction pretty short. This is one place where it’s easy to overwrite and then run out of time for the rest of your essay! Keep it simple: two or three sentences work well. Your thesis statement (you will need one for Task 2) should be clearly stated within those sentences.

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The most important thing to focus on in Task 2 is developing your body paragraphs. Each of these should have a topic sentence that clearly states the main point the paragraph will make. The rest of the paragraph should set forth the evidence supporting that main point. Then, a paraphrase of that main point and a transition to the next paragraph work well to end each paragraph.

The advice for your introduction also applies to your conclusion: don’t overthink it! Here again, two or three sentences are fine. This is another place to restate your thesis and, ideally, summarize how the points you made in the essay support it.

For even more on IELTS Writing Task 2, check out Magoosh’s Complete Guide to Task 2.

Tips for Improvement in Coherence and Cohesion

If you’re wondering how to get a good score in IELTS Writing, Coherence and Cohesion work is a good place to start. This is one area where editing and revisions can really pay off, even if you don’t have a teacher guiding you.

However, you’ll need to be critical of your own work if you don’t have a teacher guiding you. Here are some self-editing questions you can use to mark your own task responses.

  • Do I have the appropriate number of paragraphs for my Task 1/Task 2 essay?
  • Do my paragraphs each contain one controlling idea that I discuss throughout the paragraph?
  • Is there information that is out of place because it does not fit the main idea of the paragraph containing it?
  • Are there places where I should break one paragraph into 2 or more paragraphs because I move from one main idea to another?
  • Do my Task 2 body paragraphs relate directly to my thesis statement?

Point 2

Are your ideas easy to follow? Do they flow logically from one to the next?

If this point sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is! We mentioned the same point for IELTS Speaking, and it applies equally to your IELTS Writing band score. In case you missed it, here it is again (and it’s worth repeating!).

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores

Low-scoring responses in coherence and cohesion have gaps in logic. In other words, ideas may not be connected in a way that makes sense (or a way that is clear). This is particularly true for longer responses. IELTS responses that are low-scoring in coherence also tend to overuse connecting words. They use the same transition words and phrases repeatedly.

High-scoring responses in coherence and cohesion use a variety of cohesive features and discourse markers with ease. These are features that help communicate ideas clearly and logically, and without any noticeable gaps.

Tips for Improvement

  • Add transition words/phrases to your repertoire. By not repeating the same connecting words, you’ll make your response more coherent; the more you practice with different connecting words, the greater you cohesion will become. If you’re not sure where to look, this is a helpful resource for transitions.
  • Coherent responses use “referents” to connect ideas. A referent is a word that refers back to another. For example, you might write, “I get along well with Jim. I find that he has a lot to say about politics.” Notice that this appears more cohesive than “I get along well with Jim. I find that Jim has a lot to say about politics.” If you find that you’re repeating words a lot in your responses, that’s a sign that you should work on using referents. Mastering pronouns can help you with this; start your study here.

    What does this look like in practice? Here’s another example, incorporating two referents this time.

    • Low-scoring for coherence and cohesion: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. Adam often forgets to wash his dishes.
    • High-scoring for coherence and cohesion: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. This is common for him.

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Scoring Category 2: Lexical Resource

The IELTS Writing rubric has Lexical Resource as its own category. In short, this rubric category evaluates your vocabulary. What will examiners be looking for? They’ll assess your ability to use words appropriately (in the right context) and accurately (with the correct meaning and grammar). It’s true on every section of the exam, and it’s equally true here: IELTS Writing rewards test-takers with large vocabularies.

Point 1

Do you have sufficient vocabulary to respond effectively to the question?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

Low-scoring responses frequently repeat words or use words that mean the same thing (creating redundancies) through the response. In addition, the overall message may be unclear or imprecise due to limited vocabulary.

High-scoring responses use a wide range of vocabulary precisely (showing your understanding of their meaning), appropriately (demonstrating your understanding of context), and accurately (illustrating that you you’re your grammar).

Tips for Improvement in Lexical Resource

  • Seek variety in the reading and listening materials you use to study. You can’t know beforehand what your task will be: you may be asked to write about a social topic, education, raising children, the environment, or something completely different in Task 2. You should be studying varied reading and listening materials that discuss similar topics.
  • Study successful IELTS essay responses. It can be difficult to know exactly what a high-scoring IELTS essay looks like until, well, you read one! Magoosh includes exemplary essays with its practice questions. Most textbooks provide sample responses as well. You can learn a lot of useful vocabulary and phrases from these essays to include in your own writing.
  • For Task 1, study words and phrases that you can use to describe visuals and make comparisons. This includes describing increase/decreases over time; describing increases/decreases of various sizes/degrees (“slight,” “drastic,” “huge,” “minor,” “significant,” etc); and describing time (“over the last 5 years,” “during this period,” “by 2016,” “from 2012 to 2015,” etc.).

Point 2

Do you make errors in word choice, spelling, or word formation?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

This one’s pretty simple: Low-scoring responses make many errors. High-scoring responses don’t.

Tips for Improvement in Lexical Resource

  • Improve your diction (word choice). If at all possible, get feedback from a native speaker about your word choices. Dictionaries are often insufficient—they don’t provide the full range of appropriate/inappropriate uses of a word. Sometimes a word may sound like precisely what you want to say, but actually have associations that you don’t want to make. Also, keep in mind that there are many “false friends” in English, which may sound like words in your native language but mean different things. For this reason among others, direct (word-for-word) translations from your native language to English tend to lead to inaccuracies. Try to formulate your ideas directly in English. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it!
  • Improve your vocabulary. It’s hard to improve your word choice if you don’t have the words to choose from! Luckily, we can help you out there: study Magoosh’s guide to vocabulary to help maximize yours.
  • Improve your usage. If you’re not sure whether you’re using a word correctly, study how native speakers use it. A simple online search for a word will often reveal some instances in which it is used. You can also use what’s called a “corpus.” If you search for a word or phrase in a corpus, it will provide you with a list of example sentences in which the word or phrase is used. Remember, too, that usage can and does change depending on whether you are using American or British English. Here’s an excellent corpus for American English, and one for British English.

Point 3

Do you use idioms and collocations (with accuracy) in your writing?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

Low-scoring responses contain hardly any id