Timing and preparation in IELTS Writing
One of the biggest concerns for people doing the IELTS exam, particularly in the writing section, is time management.
I have had many students who get to the IELTS writing section and start stressing out because their time management becomes an issue and they can’t finish the essay or leave only 10 minutes for task 1. You will only have around 40 minutes to write a 250+word essay, so straight away this tends to create anxiety. Then there is writing task 1 which should only take 20 minutes. That’s 1 hour in total for the writing section. It is easy to feel pressure in this situation.
If you don’t finish your essay and fail to write a conclusion then you will end up with a Band 5 in task response.
There are two things to consider here :
1. Lack of preparation
Time management issues come from not being prepared. If you feel that you are not quite ready for the exam or if you are in a hurry to get to Band 7 or more, it will only cause anxiety and you will end up under huge pressure to finish in a set amount of time. Fear creeps in and you stress about timing and worry about failing. This is not a good mindset to have in IELTS.
It takes weeks or months of consistent preparation, practice and good feedback to get from a Band 6 to a Band 7.
2. Planning issues
You should allocate 10 minutes to planning your essay. Some students think they are wasting time planning or they only spend 2 minutes planning. So they start writing and suddenly get new ideas and think, ‘maybe I should put that in’ hoping to impress the examiner with sophisticated ideas. I have had a few students who did this, they couldn’t finish their essay and ended up with a Band 6 even though they were capable of a Band 7.
Do not go into the exam until you have found your weaknesses and got feedback from an IELTS expert on your writing.
It could be just two or three areas which are causing problems such as grammar (articles, plurals, faulty complex sentences) or wording issues (wrong collocations, memorised words from lists) Maybe it is task response (going off-topic, not covering both sides in a discussion essay, not supporting your ideas etc..)
I advise anyone doing IELTS to spend at least a few months preparing so that when you go into the exam you will feel relaxed. When you feel confident in your writing then you can practice timing your essay in 40 minutes and 20 minutes for a task one.
Begin by giving yourself over an hour to write an essay. WHen you get the hang of it bring that down to 1 hour, then 50 minutes, then 45 minutes, and finally, start timing yourself to get the essay written in 40 minutes. Start slowly and work at it over time.
Planning is very important in the writing exam. Set aside 10 minutes to plan your essay. It sounds like a long time but you need this time to analyse the question, think of ideas and supporting points and get an idea for the structure. Once you have decided on your plan and got your main points with supporting points, stick to them, don’t suddenly change your ideas when writing, you will only confuse yourself.
See this lesson here about the 5 things you need to do before you begin writing an essay.
Are you stuck at Band 5.5?
If you have issues with grammar and vocabulary and you are stuck at Band 5.5 then you will have a lot of work to do that could take months or even a year. It really depends on your study schedule.
Ask yourself this: are you finding the time to study or are you finding excuses not to study?. Remember that to jump from a Band 5 to a Band 7 is a huge task.
The IELTS test is quite simply testing your English. If you are a Band 5 your English level is around Pre-intermediate (B1 on the CEFR scale) so you will need lots of good feedback on your writing and speaking.
To have a good chance at a Band 7 your English level should be at the higher end of B2 and close to C1 on the CEFR scale below.
Are you doing the IELTS exam over and over?
Many people studying for IELTS think that by doing practice test after practice test and doing the exam over and over it will give them different results. It doesn’t. Why? because you need to get feedback on what your weaknesses are. For example, if writing is an issue ask yourself lots of questions.
- What part of the writing is the problem? is it paraphrasing? grammar? vocabulary? can’t think of ideas? relevant supporting points? Or maybe it’s your task 1 writing that is weak and dragging your score down.
- What exactly is the issue? if it is grammar then what needs to be fixed? prepositions, tenses? infinitive /gerunds? relative clauses? …and so on
- Have you made a study schedule? are you finding at least 1 hour per day to work on your weak areas?
- What feedback are you getting? Can you take criticism on your mistakes? Are you taking action to fix your mistakes?
- Are you just relying on IELTS practice tests? What about real-world English like reading news stories, podcasts, reading books? It’s not just about doing practice tests over and over.
- How are you developing your vocabulary? Are you just memorising lists? <-(bad idea) Vocabulary work takes a long time and needs focus.
Spend 15 minutes asking yourself questions about your preparation and you will find many areas that need improvement. It’s a big job to jump a whole band score. Your goal is to raise the level of your overall English abilities.
Find your weaknesses and start fixing them. It will be worth it in the end.