Handwriting, Paragraphing and the IELTS Answer Sheet

Key things to consider for IELTS writing:

Handwriting, pencils, paragraphs and using the IELTS official answer sheet.

I often get asked questions like: Should I use a pen?  Can I use cursive writing? Should I use the IELTS answer sheet? Do I lose marks for bad handwriting? How do I separate the paragraphs? Do I get a higher band score for a very long essay? ..and so on.

This post should clear up any confusion regarding these questions. Handwriting must be clear to the reader and I highly recommend using the answer sheet to practice. I also recommend using a pencil because it is easier to erase mistakes in the exam. The official IELTS answer sheet for writing task 1 and 2 can be downloaded here…click to download the answer sheet

Handwriting and using a pencil

You can use any style of writing, either cursive or non-cursive (joined-up writing) , the main thing here is to make sure your writing is easy to read. If the examiner cannot read your writing you will get a penalty. The examiner will probably mark it lower for coherence and this is part of the marking criteria. To put it simply, coherence means that the essay is easy to read and makes sense. If your writing is hard to read it will not make sense to the reader. You will get a penalty for it being illegible This is on the official IELTS answer sheet which you can see below.

I also recommend using a pencil in the IELTS exam because if you make a mistake you can easily erase it. If you use a pen you can only cross out the wrong words or sentences and that makes the writing look very untidy. Practice using a pencil because you need to get used to this for the exam.

It can be tricky using a pencil to write an essay in 40 minutes but it is better to practice this so that you are ready for the exam.

Paragraphing and skipping a line

I have seen many essays where the paragraphing is not clear, as many students indent the paragraph. I always advise my students to skip a line (leave an empty space) to make sure paragraphs are very clear. If you just write one big paragraph you will lose marks because this is mentioned in the marking criteria. Make sure your paragraphs are balanced too. If you have main body 1 at 100 words and main body 2 is 50 words, then that will be seen as undeveloped and unbalanced.

An example of bad paragraphing.

In this example below, the student will lose marks (apart from grammar and coherence) with the way the paragraphs are laid out. There are too many paragraphs and they are indented so it is not clear to the reader. There should be a maximum of 5 paragraphs for IELTS writing task 2.

It would be better to have an empty line between paragraphs. It needs to be structured with an introduction, 2 main body paragraphs and a conclusion.

Practice using the answer sheet

Use the IELTS official answer sheet to practice writing, you can download it by clicking here.. In the exam, you will not be given extra paper to make notes, so you have to plan your essay on the question paper. Using the answer sheet is a good way to practice your handwriting and it is easier to count your sentences.

Counting words

When counting your words it is better to count how many words you fit on one line, then count the lines.

 For example, if you write around 13 words on each line and most lines are around that word count, then you just need around 21 lines for a total word count of 275 words. Do not count every individual word as you will not have time.

  • If you run out of space when writing and need an extra answer sheet you can ask the supervisor for it.
  • Remember that for Writing task 1, the minimum word count is 150 words. I advise writing 170 words to make sure. I also recommend writing around 280 words for writing task 2.
  • You will get a penalty if the word count is under 250 words for task 2 or under 150 words for task 1
  • Do not memorise sentences or whole body paragraphs and then put them into your essay. If you do this you could lose a band score. Examiners are looking out for memorised sentences.
  • Make sure your writing is easy to read or you could lose a band score or get a penalty.
  • You do not get a higher band score for a very long word count (over 350 words for example) you will not have time to write such a long essay anyway. Aim for around 280 to 290 words.
  • Don’t count every single word as you will not have time. Count the lines instead.

Analysis of the examiners part of the answer sheet


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Going off-topic, being under 250 words (task 2), memorising sentences and very hard to read handwriting will just create problems for your overall band score.

To download the IELTS writing answer sheet click here


ielts speaking

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