Why you will get your lowest IELTS score for writing and how not to

Most people get the lowest score for the writing component of the IELTS test. My experience as an IELTS trainer and the official statistics completely agree on this. In this post, I want to look at the reasons why and at the ways how not to.

Here is why you might get your lowest score for writing too:

1 You don’t write enough.

Tell me if that sounds familiar. The teacher gives you task after task, but you just can’t muster the willpower to write them. Finally, you become overcome with guilt, write one or two tasks, pat yourself on the shoulder and stop writing until the next fit of guilt occurs in a week or two. That’s not enough and you know it.

I usually give my students two writing tasks 1 and two writing tasks 2 per week if the test is 3 months away. Two W1 and two W2 over 12 weeks add up to 24 of each. This is about the number I think is necessary to get the score you will be happy with. Now think about your last IELTS test - how many tasks did you write?

2 You don’t write consistently.

I always nag my students to write regularly. Sometimes I even give them the number of works I expect them to write. They procrastinate and procrastinate, but at one point, as the exam approaches, they suddenly write 20 works over one week. Granted, it’s better than nothing, and it helps to practice writing within the time limit, but it doesn’t help to improve.

You see, if you write 20 works over one week, all of them will be pretty much the same quality because there is no time to follow your teacher’s recommendations and overcome your weaknesses. If you don't write regularly over a longer period, you don’t improve, you stay at the same level - the level you pretty much were at without any exam preparation at all; hence the low score.

3 You don’t rewrite.

What I mean is rewriting your poorly written works after the teacher has corrected them. More often than not, I ask my students to rewrite poorly written works correcting all the faults I have pointed out. “But it is boring. I’ve already described this graph. Give me another one, I won’t make the same mistakes again.” This is what you think if you are asked to rewrite your works. If you don’t rewrite, you will keep making 80% of your mistakes. You think you won’t, but it’s an illusion. Rewriting is especially vital if you need to work on more abstract or complicated aspects like coherence or sentence structures.

Don’t worry, rewriting is not as annoying as it sounds. It usually takes around 3 rewritten works for me to stop asking my students to rewrite.

4 You don’t know the assessment criteria.

You might think that writing is all about grammar, so writing grammatically perfect sentences is the key to a high score. It isn’t. There are 4 assessment criteria, all of which contribute to your score equally. Grammar is just as important as coherence or task response / task achievement.

The public version of the criteria is available on the official website. If you prepare with a good IELTS teacher, you can rest assured that their corrections and recommendations are based on the assessment criteria.

5 You will be tired.

Just think about the test day. You will wake up early, you will have exam nerves, and before you start writing, you will have completed reading + listening. By the time you get to writing, you will be so tired that your brain will refuse to come up with ideas or remember any good words you have memorized. Writing at the exam is not the same as writing in the comfort of your home.

I tend to think that you actually need to be 0.5 band above the desired score to get the desired score. So if your teacher says, your works deserve 6.5, there is a chance you will only get 6 even though your language really is at band 6.5. Stress and exhaustion will take their toll. That said, the more you practise writing before the test, the less toll stress and exhaustion will take.

Luckily, there is something you can do to get a high score for writing.

The magic formula: 

- write a lot;
- write consistently;
- rewrite poorly written works;
- write with the assessment criteria in mind;
- get a good night’s sleep before the test.

The formula works wonders. Good writing scores are guaranteed!

PS: Many of the reasons stem from a faulty assumption that writing is just speaking on paper, so if one's speaking skills are good, one's writing skills are automatically good too. However, writing isn’t the same as speaking. It plays by its own rules and requires special training. Please give writing the attention it deserves.


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