What is the ideal word count for IELTS writing?
This is a common question many IELTS candidates have but there seems to be misinformation out on the internet about word count in the IELTS writing section.
In fact, you can actually lose marks if the writing is under word count. Here are some examples of what I have heard about the word count in IELTS essays and writing task 1.
Common myths about word count.
You do not need to write more than 250 words in writing task 2.
You must write over 350 words for a Band 8 essay.
In writing task 1 write more than 200 words for a high score.
You should count every single word in the essay.
It’s ok if you go under 250 words by just a few words.
Let’s take each myth one by one.
1. IELTS says that you should write a minimum of 250 words in writing task 2 and a minimum of 150 words in writing task 1. If you go under word count you will lose marks in task response.
2. A very long essay will not give you a higher band score. If you write a long essay, for example around 350 words, then two problems will arise.
- You will run out of time and may not finish your essay. Actually, if you do not write a conclusion you will lose a band score in task response.
- You will be more prone to making grammar and vocabulary mistakes, also the essay could go into irrelevant detail and there is a danger of going off-topic.
3. The same goes for writing task 1. If you write a very long report of more than 200 words you will run out of time and may include information that you just don’t need to report on. The task prompt says in writing task 1 academic: ‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting on the main features…’
4. As for counting your words, you cannot count every single word because this is not practical. Estimate generally how many words you have on a line then count the lines. Aim for more than 250 words but under 300 words in task 2 writing. In the computer-based exam, the word count is on the screen so that is very useful.
5. Some IELTS teachers say it is ok if you go under the minimum word count by a few words, such as a 247-word essay. Actually, the examiner will most likely give a penalty for this. The examiner will count your words, so I do not advise aiming for the minimum word count.
What’s the ideal word count?
My advice is to aim for between 260 to 290 words in writing task 2 and between 160 to 190 words in writing task 1. This will ensure a concise essay or task 1 report and will be realistic in terms of time management. You have only 40 minutes to write the essay and you need around 10 minutes of planning time, so you will not be able to write a long essay in 30 minutes.
As mentioned before, you will not get a higher band score for a very long essay. It must be concise, clear and direct to the point. Irrelevant detail will cause problems with your band score.
Are there any cases where the examiner doesn’t count words?
Yes! if you copy the task question word for word without attempting to paraphrase then the examiner will not count those words. Therefore, even if your word count is a little over 250 words you can still end up under the word count.
The same is true for writing the conclusion. If you just repeat the introduction word for word or repeat whole sentences the examiner will not count the words. This is why paraphrasing is a crucial part of your writing. Click the links below for lessons on paraphrasing.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you memorise chunks of model answers and plug them into the essay the examiner will know it is a memorised answer and you will get a penalty.
Note on repetition: You can repeat some words throughout the essay. You do not get a penalty for using the same word 3 or 4 times because in some cases it is difficult to find synonyms for certain words. This is where the confusion arises about repetition.
The problem is when you are repeating whole sentences or repeating the introduction in your conclusion.
Your goal is to write in a concise clear manner, your ideas should be relevant to the task and easy for the reader to follow. If you try to use convoluted language or add lots of ideas to impress the examiner, it could cause problems with coherence and end up with a high word count. Click here to see a lesson on keeping your writing simple and concise.
Any questions? leave a comment below.