One of the most common mistakes students make when approaching their IELTS Task 2 writing is to just start writing. If you start to write before you think about what you are going to say there is a high probability that your essay will be incoherent and not relevant to the task response, and together these two marking criteria make up 50% of your score. Therefore, it is 100% essential that you spend 3 to 5 minutes planning your IELTS Task 2 writing—before you begin writing. As the bulk of your points will be picked up in your 2 body paragraphs, I recommend that you start your essay by first brainstorming what ideas you will write about and what examples you will include to back up the ideas. Let’s look at how to do this in the IELTS writing Task 2. Get an even better, more in-depth idea with our IELTS prep. In this blog post, we’ll first go through an overview of the steps, before going into greater detail describing how to accomplish each one.
How to plan your IELTS Writing Task 2
- Understand the type of question being asked.
- Brainstorm ideas.
- Choose an idea/ideas.
- Take short notes about your ideas.
- Start writing!
Ready for a little more detail? Let’s do it!
A step by step guide.
Step 1: Understand the type of question being asked.
In an earlier post, I examined the 3 main types of questions that you might see in the IELTS exam.Have a look at these.Classifying the question, will help you make sure that you are answering the task response correctly. Look at the example Task 2 question below.How would you classify it? (Answer: Problem + Solution)
Step 2: Brainstorm ideas.
Let your mind wonder for 30 to 60 seconds with all the possible ideas that come to instantly come to your mind. There is no need to make notes here, just mentally explore as many ideas as possible. Below, I have written out some of the thoughts that initially came to my mind when I read the Task 2 question above.
Step 3: Choosing the idea.
Whilst brainstorming ideas, several ideas should come to your head. After you’ve thought about a few you need to choose one for each question you need to answer. However, before you decide to go with an idea, ask yourself these questions:
- Does my idea relate exactly to the question?
- Can I explain this idea with reasons and examples? (Note: it is better to choose an idea that you can explain clearly over your best idea.)
- Is it a simple idea? (Note: You have limited time and words to explain your idea. If the idea is too complex you will not be able to develop it fully and this will cost you points! A simple idea can still impress the examiner as long as you develop it well and provide relevant reasons and examples.)
Step 4: Write down short notes around your chosen ideas.
In the ‘Problem + Solution’ type question in IELTS Task 2 writing, there are usually two questions that need to be answered.You must first come up with an idea that answers the first question, and then provide an example that backs up that idea. Then you must come up with an idea for the second question and provide and example that backs up the second idea. Below are the ideas I went with and the examples I created on the above IELTS writing Task 2 question.
Step 5: Start writing
Now that you have the main ideas confirmed, your essay is practically written.Just follow this simple formula for constructing your essay and you will easily complete Task 2 within 40 minutes.
This may seem like a lot of work to start, but trust me, by brainstorming and planning your ideas first, your easy will relate to the task response, be more coherent and cohesive and will actually be easier to write as the hardest part is now practically written!
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Like all things in life, “Practice makes perfect!”So as part of your IELTS preparation, find a list of example Task 2 questions, and practice brainstorming ideas and examples for each.After some practice, you will notice that it gets easier to generate ideas and your planning and brainstorming stage will become quicker, leaving you plenty of time to complete your IELTS Task 2 writing!
Stick to one idea and one example per paragraph!Too many ideas and examples complicate your essay.
Brainstorming ideas for essays in exams
Writing essays is a task you are very likely to have to do for Cambridge First, Advanced and Proficiency, as well as IELTS.
Even if you've got the right level of grammar and vocabulary for your written exam, there's one more thing you need to be good at to get the best marks: having ideas and organising them. And you need to be able to get that done in about ten minutes.
Failing to plan essays is one of the biggest reasons candidates fail their writing exam. There are two reasons why you should never overlook this stage.
- It gives you a structure to follow and ideas to include so you actually save time while writing. You don't want to have to think about writing correct English and varying your vocabulary at the same time as coming up with ideas!
- If you run out of time at the end of the exam, at least you have some notes which you could quickly add as sentences to round off the final couple of paragraphs. This way the examiner can see that you had a complete idea and a conclusion for your essay, so you'll lose fewer marks for organisation and cohesion.
Many candidates get stuck at the brainstorming stage. The good news is that, just like with anything else, practice is the answer.
How to brainstorm
The point of brainstorming is that ALL your ideas go down on paper. You select the good ones afterwards, not before you write them down. Many people think everything they write has to be good, but that's not true at this stage. Turn off the "editor" in your head and just write whatever comes into your mind on the topic.
For essays, draw two columns:
Not all essays have to be answered with this two-sided structure but it's the best way to start brainstorming as it makes sure all your ideas will go into the brainstorm.
Now write 4 or 5 ideas for each column. Let's use an FCE-level exam question as an example.
Famous people, such as politicians and film stars, deserve to have a private life without journalists following them all the time.
- It's just their job like anyone else so they deserve privacy too.
- The level of media attention can cause celebrities psychological/physical damage.
- The "gossip culture" that is created by this kind of press is harmful to society in general.
- The media attention can stop them actually doing their job as it takes up so much of their time.
- These gossip stories waste news space when we could be reading about more serious issues.
- If you do these kinds of jobs, you have to accept the bad parts as well as the good, like money, nice lifestyle, free clothes etc.
- These people use the media when they want to promote something, like a film, so they can't complain when they don't want the attention.
- The public have a right to know if influential people are doing bad things like drugs etc.
- There are famous people you never see in the papers, therefore only the ones that want to be followed are followed.
- Gossip magazines provide entertainment for people.
Not all your ideas should go into your essay. Choose the strongest arguments and the ones you think you can develop and give supporting arguments and examples for.
Another way to make sure you have a solid essay is to match arguments with their counter arguments. Which points from the "agree" side match up with points from the "disagree side"?**
Which ideas do you think you could develop?
Planning a structure
Once you've chosen, then it's time to organise your ideas into a structure.
- Cross out the ideas you're not using.
- Write a little number next to the points you want to use to show which order they're going to go in.
- Make brief notes – one or two keywords – to remind you how you're going to support or develop the arguments. For example, Agree 2: Britney Spears, Princess Diana.
- Plan your introduction to focus the direction your essay will take.
Practice essay planning until you can get it done in ten minutes.
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3:3/5 and 5
Article contributed by Nicola Prentis who is a teacher and materials writer, based in Madrid and London. She is the author of Speaking Skills (B2+) - a self study book with Collins.