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IELTS Writing Band Descriptors: How to Improve Your IELTS Writing Score

Wondering how to improve your IELTS Writing score? In this post, we’ll review the IELTS Writing rubric for Task 1 and Task 2 so you understand how to get a good score in IELTS Writing. We’ll highlight the most important elements of the IELTS Writing rubric to make it more approachable and understandable. To do this, we’ll look at the rubric on a broader scale by identifying the features of lower-scoring responses (band scores 5-6) and higher-scoring responses (7+) in each of the four rubric categories. Finally, we’ll share how to improve your IELTS Writing score, with tips to help you move from a low-scoring response to a high-scoring response.

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Table of Contents

IELTS Rubric: IELTS Writing Band Descriptors

For a lot of students, writing can be the hardest part of IELTS. Part of this has to do with the intimidation of writing: many of us aren’t comfortable writing at length in our first language, much less in a foreign language! However, it’s important to remember that the IELTS is a standardized test. The “standard” part of that means that the fundamental aspects of it remain the same between different versions of the exam, which you’ll see in the IELTS Writing rubric. The rubric contains what are commonly referred to as the IELTS Writing band descriptors, which are the explanations of what you need to achieve on the test in order to earn a certain band score.

The IELTS Writing rubric evaluates four different aspects of your responses: Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, and Task Achievement (or Task Response, for Task 2). You can view the rubrics at the links below.

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Scoring Category 1: Coherence and Cohesion

What does it mean for a task response to be coherent and cohesive? This IELTS Writing rubric category has to do with how well your ideas flow together. Does the sequence of ideas make sense? Are your paragraphs effectively organized? Here is the main difference between low- and high-scoring responses on Coherence and Cohesion.

Point 1

How well do you organize your ideas into paragraphs?

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Overview

Low-scoring responses show that the writer had significant problems organizing ideas into paragraphs logically, and/or that the writer had trouble expressing those ideas clearly.

High-scoring responses have ideas that are clearly organized into paragraphs, each with a clear main point and a logical connection to the rest of the essay.

Here’s what that looks like on each of the IELTS Writing tasks.

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Task 1

When you approach Task 1, remember that you are not writing a standard essay like you would in English class or even for other tests. Task 1 is more like a report than it is like an essay. You should not put your personal opinion in Task 1. Luckily, no thesis is required, so you won’t need to present your opinion.

A high-scoring Task 1 essay will have three to four paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 should be a very basic description of the visuals—the charts, graphs, or other images—included in the question. If you don’t know where to start, remember that it’s often possible to simply paraphrase information from the prompt and the headers on the visuals in one to two sentences. Just make sure that you are paraphrasing and using different vocabulary as much as possible.

Paragraph 2 should provide an overview of the key information from the visuals. You still don’t need details from the visuals in this paragraph, so forget about specific numbers for now. Just provide a general overall description of the two or three most interesting pieces of information shown on the visuals.

In Paragraphs 3 and 4, it’s time to include key details from the visuals. To do this, return to the visuals and find numbers that directly relate to the points you made in paragraph 2.

While you don’t need a thesis statement (and shouldn’t have one in this task), each of these paragraphs should separately be organized around one main, controlling idea. For example, you could write: “The charts show that attendance for musical events grew much faster than attendance for sporting events over the last 10 years.” The remainder of each of these paragraphs should each focus on a controlling idea that includes details (these details are usually descriptions of the numbers) from the visuals that demonstrate the main idea.

For even more on IELTS Writing Task 1, check out Magoosh’s Complete Guide to Task 1.

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores: Task 2

For Task 2, you can use a standard 5-paragraph essay structure. In this structure, the first paragraph is an introduction, followed by three body paragraphs and a conclusion.

For IELTS essays, keep your introduction pretty short. This is one place where it’s easy to overwrite and then run out of time for the rest of your essay! Keep it simple: two or three sentences work well. Your thesis statement (you will need one for Task 2) should be clearly stated within those sentences.

The most important thing to focus on in Task 2 is developing your body paragraphs. Each of these should have a topic sentence that clearly states the main point the paragraph will make. The rest of the paragraph should set forth the evidence supporting that main point. Then, a paraphrase of that main point and a transition to the next paragraph work well to end each paragraph.

The advice for your introduction also applies to your conclusion: don’t overthink it! Here again, two or three sentences are fine. This is another place to restate your thesis and, ideally, summarize how the points you made in the essay support it.

For even more on IELTS Writing Task 2, check out Magoosh’s Complete Guide to Task 2.

Tips for Improvement in Coherence and Cohesion

If you’re wondering how to get a good score in IELTS Writing, Coherence and Cohesion work is a good place to start. This is one area where editing and revisions can really pay off, even if you don’t have a teacher guiding you.

However, you’ll need to be critical of your own work if you don’t have a teacher guiding you. Here are some self-editing questions you can use to mark your own task responses.

  • Do I have the appropriate number of paragraphs for my Task 1/Task 2 essay?
  • Do my paragraphs each contain one controlling idea that I discuss throughout the paragraph?
  • Is there information that is out of place because it does not fit the main idea of the paragraph containing it?
  • Are there places where I should break one paragraph into 2 or more paragraphs because I move from one main idea to another?
  • Do my Task 2 body paragraphs relate directly to my thesis statement?

Point 2

Are your ideas easy to follow? Do they flow logically from one to the next?

If this point sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is! We mentioned the same point for IELTS Speaking, and it applies equally to your IELTS Writing band score. In case you missed it, here it is again (and it’s worth repeating!).

Low vs. High Coherence and Cohesion Scores

Low-scoring responses in coherence and cohesion have gaps in logic. In other words, ideas may not be connected in a way that makes sense (or a way that is clear). This is particularly true for longer responses. IELTS responses that are low-scoring in coherence also tend to overuse connecting words. They use the same transition words and phrases repeatedly.

High-scoring responses in coherence and cohesion use a variety of cohesive features and discourse markers with ease. These are features that help communicate ideas clearly and logically, and without any noticeable gaps.

Tips for Improvement

  • Add transition words/phrases to your repertoire. By not repeating the same connecting words, you’ll make your response more coherent; the more you practice with different connecting words, the greater you cohesion will become. If you’re not sure where to look, this is a helpful resource for transitions.
     
  • Coherent responses use “referents” to connect ideas. A referent is a word that refers back to another. For example, you might write, “I get along well with Jim. I find that he has a lot to say about politics.” Notice that this appears more cohesive than “I get along well with Jim. I find that Jim has a lot to say about politics.” If you find that you’re repeating words a lot in your responses, that’s a sign that you should work on using referents. Mastering pronouns can help you with this; start your study here.

     
    What does this look like in practice? Here’s another example, incorporating two referents this time.

    • Low-scoring for coherence and cohesion: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. Adam often forgets to wash his dishes.
    • High-scoring for coherence and cohesion: Adam’s roommate was upset because he didn’t wash his dishes after dinner last night. This is common for him.

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Scoring Category 2: Lexical Resource

The IELTS Writing rubric has Lexical Resource as its own category. In short, this rubric category evaluates your vocabulary. What will examiners be looking for? They’ll assess your ability to use words appropriately (in the right context) and accurately (with the correct meaning and grammar). It’s true on every section of the exam, and it’s equally true here: IELTS Writing rewards test-takers with large vocabularies.

Point 1

Do you have sufficient vocabulary to respond effectively to the question?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

Low-scoring responses frequently repeat words or use words that mean the same thing (creating redundancies) through the response. In addition, the overall message may be unclear or imprecise due to limited vocabulary.

High-scoring responses use a wide range of vocabulary precisely (showing your understanding of their meaning), appropriately (demonstrating your understanding of context), and accurately (illustrating that you you’re your grammar).

Tips for Improvement in Lexical Resource

  • Seek variety in the reading and listening materials you use to study. You can’t know beforehand what your task will be: you may be asked to write about a social topic, education, raising children, the environment, or something completely different in Task 2. You should be studying varied reading and listening materials that discuss similar topics.
     
  • Study successful IELTS essay responses. It can be difficult to know exactly what a high-scoring IELTS essay looks like until, well, you read one! Magoosh includes exemplary essays with its practice questions. Most textbooks provide sample responses as well. You can learn a lot of useful vocabulary and phrases from these essays to include in your own writing.
     
  • For Task 1, study words and phrases that you can use to describe visuals and make comparisons. This includes describing increase/decreases over time; describing increases/decreases of various sizes/degrees (“slight,” “drastic,” “huge,” “minor,” “significant,” etc); and describing time (“over the last 5 years,” “during this period,” “by 2016,” “from 2012 to 2015,” etc.).

Point 2

Do you make errors in word choice, spelling, or word formation?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

This one’s pretty simple: Low-scoring responses make many errors. High-scoring responses don’t.

Tips for Improvement in Lexical Resource

  • Improve your diction (word choice). If at all possible, get feedback from a native speaker about your word choices. Dictionaries are often insufficient—they don’t provide the full range of appropriate/inappropriate uses of a word. Sometimes a word may sound like precisely what you want to say, but actually have associations that you don’t want to make. Also, keep in mind that there are many “false friends” in English, which may sound like words in your native language but mean different things. For this reason among others, direct (word-for-word) translations from your native language to English tend to lead to inaccuracies. Try to formulate your ideas directly in English. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it!
     
  • Improve your vocabulary. It’s hard to improve your word choice if you don’t have the words to choose from! Luckily, we can help you out there: study Magoosh’s guide to vocabulary to help maximize yours.
     
  • Improve your usage. If you’re not sure whether you’re using a word correctly, study how native speakers use it. A simple online search for a word will often reveal some instances in which it is used. You can also use what’s called a “corpus.” If you search for a word or phrase in a corpus, it will provide you with a list of example sentences in which the word or phrase is used. Remember, too, that usage can and does change depending on whether you are using American or British English. Here’s an excellent corpus for American English, and one for British English.

Point 3

Do you use idioms and collocations (with accuracy) in your writing?

Low vs. High Lexical Resource Scores

Low-scoring responses contain hardly any idioms or collocations, or if they do, use them with frequent errors.

High-scoring responses use idioms and collocations accurately and naturally across a wide range of topics.

Unfortunately, idioms and collocations are one aspect of learning a foreign language in which there are few shortcuts. You learn idioms naturally through consistent exposure to a foreign language, as well as frequent communication in that language.

That’s not to say that there is nothing you can do, though! You can certainly learn idioms and collocations, then work them into your communications; just make sure that you have a native speaker double-check your usage!

Tips for Improvement in Lexical Resource

Spend time studying useful resource lists and attempt to use what you learn as you practice writing:

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Scoring Category 3: Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This is another category that might look very familiar to you. Your Grammatical Range and Accuracy is also assessed on IELTS Speaking. In case you missed it, here’s what you’ll be evaluated on.

Point 1

Do you use a wide range of grammatical structures, including grammatical forms that are considered “advanced?”

Low vs. High Grammatical Accuracy Scores

Low-scoring responses for grammatical range and accuracy can have a variety of issues. Assess your recorded responses. Do you notice either of the following patterns?

  • Relying mainly on simple sentence patterns (subject + verb).
     
  • Overusing the BE verb as the main verb of a sentence (am, is, are, was, were). It is not incorrect or necessarily bad to use BE as a main verb. Even non-native speakers tend to overuse it. However, it does lead to a lot of repetition, and actively trying to limit BE verb use can be a fantastic language development exercise. BE is very limiting as a main verb for several reasons. Not only do you lose the descriptive possibilities of other verbs, but sentences also tend to follow one pattern: Subject / complement. Furthermore, overuse of BE does not permit adverb or adverbial phrases/clauses, leading to an overreliance on nouns and adjectives for description.

High-scoring responses for grammatical range and accuracy use a wide range of sentence patterns and grammatical structures accurately and appropriately. There are a lot of word types and structures to master. As you work on your IELTS Writing band score, evaluate how well you use structures like these with ease:

  • Connectors like transition words/phrases
  • Coordination
  • Subordination
  • Gerund subjects
  • Passive voice
  • Noun, adverb, adjective clauses
  • Modal verbs
  • Irregular verbs
  • Transitive vs. intransitive verbs
  • Pronouns
  • Verb tenses

The important thing here is to evaluate, rather than spend a lot of time studying, each area. When studying for IELTS, it’s not a good idea to spend a significant amount of time studying tenses that occur rarely in the course of regular interactions, like past perfect progressive or even future perfect. It is a much better use of time reviewing the complexities of the most common verb tenses. Not sure what those are? Here’s a quick refresher:

  • Simple present
  • Simple past
  • Present continuous
  • Present perfect
  • Past continuous
  • Future simple
  • Future continuous

Tips for Improvement in Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Study and review grammar as you prepare for the exam! Here are some resources I recommend.

Point 2

Do you make frequent grammar errors when you write?

Low vs. High Grammatical Accuracy Scores

Low-scoring responses for grammatical range and accuracy make consistent “systematic” errors. These are errors that reveal you’re having problems with a particular feature of English grammar–let’s say adjective clauses or verb tenses. In other words, they are repeated errors in the same grammatical errors.

High-scoring responses for grammatical range and accuracy can have occasional grammar mistakes! Making a few mistakes doesn’t mean that you can’t still score very high for grammar in the writing section. However, the mistakes should be isolated, not revealing general gaps in your grammar.

Top Tips for Grammatical Range and Accuracy

If you have grammar problems, consider signing up for a class or working with a tutor if that is an option. This can be the best way to discover and fix your grammar problems. If that is not an option, you’ll have to find ways to identify your own errors when you write. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Record your responses.
     
  • It is likely, even without the help of a native speaker or teacher, that you will be able to identify grammar mistakes you make. For example, you probably learned very early that in simple present tense, subject/verb agreement requires you to add an “s” to the end of a verb. However, even though you may know this rule very well, it is still one of the most common mistakes students make (even very advanced English students)!
     
    The biggest issue in this case is not finding the mistakes…it’s about finding them and then correcting them. It’s likely you will be able to catch many other similar mistakes when you listen to recordings of yourself. If you can limit these kinds of errors, especially if they show a pattern of errors, you can boost your grammatical range and accuracy score.

So you’ve found a mistake you make consistently. What can you do about it?

  1. Identify it: What is the mistake and what is the rule that’s giving you trouble?
  2. Practice it: Find some exercises in a textbook or online to practice the rule.
  3. Performance: Try to incorporate what you learned/practiced in your IELTS Writing responses.
  4. Repeat!

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Scoring Category 4: Task Achievement and Task Response

In this scoring category, you are assessed on whether or not you completed the requirements for the task. The “Task Achievement” part of this IELTS Writing score category applies only to Task 1, while “Task Response” applies only to Task 2. Remember, Task 1 is more like a report, which is why you are evaluated on “Task Achievement,” or how well you achieved the goal of reporting all the main information. Task 2 requires a response from you, thus the label “Task Response.”

Point 1

Did you respond fully to all parts of the task?

Low vs. High Task Achievement and Task Response Scores

In this category, low- and high-scoring responses are separated by two qualities.

Low-scoring responses do not meet the minimum word requirement and/or do not meet all of the requirements presented in the prompt.

High-scoring responses do meet both the minimum word requirement and the requirements presented in the prompt.

Tips for Improvement in Task Achievement and Task Response

How can you write more in response to Task 1? If you are not meeting the word requirement, you must find ways to write faster. There are a few strategies that can help you do this.

First, reduce the time you spend brainstorming before you write. For Task 1, aim for no more than two minutes planning your responses. For Task 2, this increases—but not by much. Plan on spending no more than three to four minutes planning.

Second, write faster. Some people write slowly with pencil and paper. If this is you, you may need to build more speed drills into your practice. The problem is that writing practice takes a lot of time (an hour for 2 full IELTS essays). Because of this, it’s important set a realistic target for the number of mock writing tests you can complete.

You should also be doing (much shorter) daily writing practice exercises. Choose an IELTS-like topic (such as one of these) and write about it for 10 – 15 minutes only. Try to spend very little time brainstorming (30 seconds) and write as much as you possibly can in 10 – 15 minutes. Most students find that they can increase the amount they write for these mini-responses with practice—but remember, it takes time!

Point 2

Are the ideas in your essays fully developed?

Low vs. High Task Achievement and Task Response Scores

Low-scoring responses leave out required information from the prompt.

High-scoring responses satisfy each part of the question.

Tips for Improvement in Task Achievement (Task 1)

  • Practice paraphrasing information from the prompt for your introductory paragraph. It’s worthwhile practice to simply write Paragraph 1 without completing the remainder of the essay every time. Why? Because Paragraph 1 is straightforward: you simply need to put the information from the prompt and the labels on the visuals in your own words. It has its own challenges; paraphrasing requires strong vocabulary skills. But the more you practice it, the easier it becomes!
     
  • Task 1 responses almost always require you to make comparisons between two visuals that are at least somewhat related. Many students lose Task Achievement points because they struggle with this requirement. Instead, they simply report about the visuals separately, in separate paragraphs. Your goal should be to do some synthesis. Find ways in which the information on both visuals relates.

Tips for Improvement in Task Response (Task 2)

Make sure that you answer the question posed in the prompt! That sounds funny, but you’d be amazed at how many students lose Task Response points because they haven’t answered that question. It’s a common problem.

Let’s look at a sample question:

Increasingly, people choose to shop online instead of in stores. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this trend for shoppers and communities?

To get full points for this question, you would absolutely need to address all the points in the prompt. Therefore, at a minimum, you would need to include a discussion of:
1) The advantages and disadvantages of online shopping for shoppers
2) The advantages and disadvantages of online shopping for communities

Very frequently, test-takers only address (or fully develop) one of the ideas, either because they run out of time, or they don’t realize they need to cover all of these points.

An even bigger problem is when test-takers fail to respond directly to the main assignment. In this case, that’s to discuss advantages and disadvantages. You might wonder how this happens, but, for example, it’s fairly common to see essays that discuss why a writer does most of his or her shopping online. This is related to the essay, but it doesn’t directly answer the question when presented in this way.

If you’re missing Task Response points on Task 2, slow down! Spend some time (10 minutes or more) planning your essays before you actually start writing them. Really think about the question and how you will respond to each of its parts in a direct way.

If you’re stuck, find a sample essay and really study it. What is the main point of each paragraph? How does the main point relate to the thesis statement? How does the writer use details to support the main idea of each paragraph? How do all of these cover each required point in the essay prompt?

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How to Increase IELTS Writing Score: A Final Word

IELTS Writing tasks can be intimidating, but the best way to make it less scary is to look at it systematically. Each IELTS band descriptor category evaluates a particular aspect of your writing; by addressing that aspect, you can improve your overall IELTS Writing band score. That’s not to say that every aspect is easy to improve. Some, like learning idioms, take more time than others. However, with hard work and practice, you can level up on IELTS Writing to get the score you need!

Interested in improving your score for the other parts of the IELTS? See our accompanying posts on the band descriptors for Speaking, Listening, and Reading.

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