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IELTS Academic Writing Task 2: The Complete Guide

IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 involves composing a formal five-paragraph essay in 40 minutes. This is the second of two writing tasks on the IELTS. The first section—Task 1—should take you only 20 minutes. Why spend more time on IELTS Writing Task 2? This basic comparison offers a few reasons:

  • Points: Task 2 counts more towards your Writing band score
    Task 1 = 1/3rd of your score
    Task 2 = 2/3rds of your score
  • Word count minimums: Task 2 is longer
    Task 1 = 150 word minimum
    Task 2 = 250 word minimum
  • Planning your response: Task 2 questions require more thought
    Task 1 = transfer of information from a visual into writing
    Task 2 = answer an open/abstract question with no clear or “correct” answer

ielts academic writing task 2

Even though Task 1 is by no means easy, most students find IELTS Writing Task 2 more challenging. It is well worth your time to write many Task 2 practice essays as you prepare for exam day. Understanding Task 2 deeply and developing an approach to the various question types you might face will make your practice even more effective.

The purpose of this guide is to help you master the IELTS Writing Task 2 skills you need in order to do well on this important section of the IELTS exam. Click on a section in the table of contents to skip directly to that topic, or continue reading below to start learning all about IELTS Writing Task 2.

Table of Contents

This post is all about the IELTS Academic Writing Task 2. If you’re looking for IELTS Writing Task 1 tips, click here!
 
Ielts writing task 2

IELTS Writing Task 2 Basics

Let’s begin with some basic tips for IELTS Writing Task 2:

Handwritten Responses

The IELTS is a pencil and paper exam, so your responses will be handwritten. It is essential that you handwrite (don’t type!) your practice essays for Task 2. Writing by hand helps you develop a sense of pacing. In other words, you will learn how quickly (or slowly!) you write with pencil and paper in English.

Importantly, as you’re probably aware, precious points will be deducted if you do not meet the minimum word requirements in the Writing section. But it is a huge waste of time to actually count your words on exam day. If you take the additional step of using official IELTS Writing Task 2 response sheets (download and print them here), you can see how many words you typically write on each page. You won’t have to count because you will know what that number of words looks like on the IELTS answer sheet.

Timing

Writing speed varies a lot from student to student. How you allocate time depends a lot on how fast you can write. The more you practice Task 2 responses, the quicker you will become. Your goal should be to allow enough time for these three things:

  • Essay planning 2 – 10 minutes
  • Writing 25 – 32 minutes
  • Editing 5 minutes (or more if possible)

As you practice, try very hard to cut down on the amount of time it takes to plan your responses before writing. Some students can take up to 10 minutes to brainstorm and plan. For most people, however, using 10 minutes at the beginning will take away too much time from writing and editing. I usually recommend three to five minutes of planning as a reasonable target. The more practice questions you answer, the faster you will become at generating ideas before you write.

Academic/Formal Writing

The IELTS expects you to use an academic/formal writing style. This means you should use the same kind of language that you would when writing a report for work or an essay for school. Obviously, you would avoid using “slang” words. You would also write in complete sentences and use proper punctuation. Here are some additional features of academic/formal writing to keep in mind for Task 2:
 

  • Organize ideas into separate paragraphs: You will lose points if you do not divide your essay into paragraphs. In the next section of this post, I’ve included an IELTS Writing Task 2 response template. The template includes the essential paragraphs you should include in your Task 2 response. Generally speaking, your essay must have an introduction paragraph, 2 – 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
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  • Write in complete sentences: Make sure each sentence you write has an independent clause with a subject and verb. When you write complex or compound sentences, use “connectors” like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, so, etc) or subordinating conjunctions (when, although, because, etc).
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  • Avoid repetition of words and ideas: Your ideas should move from one to the next logically, and you should show off your vocabulary by avoiding redundancy (don’t repeat the same words over and over).
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  • Avoid “slang:” The English you hear in the movies or read on social media is often inappropriate for formal writing. It is a big problem to use words like “dude” or spellings like “U” (for “you”) on the IELTS.
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  • Thoughtful and Neutral Tone: Academic/formal writing has a very careful and thoughtful tone. It rarely sounds angry, excited, or overly certain about an idea. It is also best to avoid broad generalizations in formal/academic compositions. Here are some examples to demonstrate:

 

NOT ACADEMIC: I hate this idea! (Too excited/angry)
ACADEMIC: This idea has some problems to consider.

 

NOT ACADEMIC: Everyone is distracted by cell phones these days.(Too broad)
ACADEMIC: Many people are distracted by cell phones these days.

 

NOT ACADEMIC: I have the best solution to the problem. (Too certain)
ACADEMIC: I would suggest this solution to the problem.

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Ielts writing task 2

IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 Essay Organization & Example

In this section, we will look at the overall structure of an IELTS Writing Task 2 response. Before we get to that, however, let’s take a look at a sample Task 2 question. Read it over and take a moment to think: How would you respond?

IELTS Writing Task 2 Sample Question

IELTS Writing Task 2 example

Planning Before You Write

When you first encounter an IELTS Writing Task 2 question, try to decide what perspective you will take fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the IELTS doesn’t give you much time to do this. Making matters worse, it is fairly likely that you won’t have strong, well-developed opinions about the topic. Don’t worry. Task 2 questions are (intentionally) debatable, with no clearly “correct” answer.
 
Fortunately, unlike an essay you might write for work or school, it is not important to present your true opinions on the IELTS. Remember, the IELTS is an English language test. It is not a test of what you know about the topic of your Task 2 question. While you should present reasonable ideas in a clear and logical way, you can argue any side of the question and do well. Therefore, rather than worrying about (and spending time on) formulating your true opinion on your Task 2 topic, ask yourself the following question instead:
 
“What is the easiest way for me to answer this question?”
 
Can you think of some main ideas and/or examples quickly for one side of an argument? Even if these ideas don’t fully represent your perspective, just go with them on the IELTS. You don’t want to waste too much time thinking about how to express your true opinions.
 
Once you’ve chosen a perspective on your question, you can do some planning/brainstorming. Below are some planning notes for our sample Task 2 question (introduced above). On exam day, you won’t have a chart like this to fill in. The chart simply helps to make the information easier to read in this post. Basically, your goal in the planning phase is to come up with a main idea for each paragraph of your essay. We will discuss each of these paragraphs in more detail below the chart.

IELTS Writing Task 2 exa

Writing your Essay

When you’ve done some initial planning, you’re ready to dive into a writing. Let’s take a closer look at how to organize your Academic Writing Task 2 response paragraph by paragraph. After you read about each paragraph, look at the sample Task 2 essay immediately below this section as an example.

The Introduction Paragraph
An introduction is a very important element of your Task 2 essay. Practicing introductions can really pay off, even if you don’t follow through and write a full practice essay every time. Many students get stuck at the very beginning, not knowing how to respond to the question in the introduction. Let’s look at what to do.
 
IELTS Writing Task 2 introductions can be short and simple. A two-sentence introduction should be your goal. There are two main parts of a Task 2 introduction to include every time:

  • Topic Presentation:
  • In this first sentence of your introduction, you simply need to paraphrase the topic described in your question prompt. In other words, find a way to accurately state the topic in your own words. Try to avoid using the same words and phrases as the prompt.
     

  • Thesis:
  • After presenting the topic, you need to provide your perspective on it. This is your thesis. It is a sentence that expresses the main idea of your essay. At a minimum, you need to provide a general answer the question prompt in your thesis: “I believe that…”, or “I agree that…”. A really great thesis also introduces the main ideas of each body paragraph in a general way. Take a look at the sample essay below. Notice how the thesis introduces the main idea of both body paragraphs.
     
    Important! You MUST answer the essay question directly in your thesis. Students sometimes lose points because their thesis does not answer the question directly enough. Read your question prompt carefully and make sure your essay will answer every part of the question.

2-3 Body Paragraphs
The next two (or if necessary, three) paragraphs of your IELTS Task 2 essay are your opportunity to explain your thesis. Each body paragraph should present ONE main point. If your question prompt includes several questions, you should write a body paragraph for each one. The main point of each body paragraph must relate directly to your thesis statement in the introduction. Use supporting details and/or examples to explain your main point before moving on to the next body paragraph.

Conclusion
Don’t spend a long time on your conclusion. A good IELTS Task 2 conclusion should be one or two sentences long. Simply paraphrase your thesis and main points from your body paragraphs to close out your essay. This means you should avoid using the same words, phrases, and sentence structures as your thesis statement. Definitely do not copy your thesis statement word-for-word as your conclusion.

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Ielts writing task 2

Sample IELTS Task 2 Essay

Let’s take a look at an example essay containing each of the Task 2 paragraphs described above.

IELTS Writing Task 2 example

Some parents may worry that pushing their children towards a particular career could be harmful. While I agree it is unwise to predetermine a child’s profession, parents should still offer guidance through open communication.
 
Young people need freedom to make choices, especially when it comes to their careers. Even parents who agree with this idea may still feel some anxiety about it. Ultimately, most parents hope their children will be financially secure. Deep down some parents may also want their children to choose prestigious careers, or jobs that will impact society in some way. These wishes are normal and not necessarily harmful. Yet, it can be problematic if these desires turn into firm expectations. In such cases, the main motivation for a child becomes fear of disappointing her parents. It can lead to resentment if she spends her life doing something she doesn’t enjoy. With freedom to explore, by contrast, she can take ownership of her career decisions and develop internal motivation to reach her goals.
 
Yet, offering a child freedom does not imply that parents should be absent. To the contrary, parents should strive to foster open communication about career decisions. If a child’s aspirations do not line up with his parents’ wishes, he may fear that approaching them could lead to judgement and confrontation. However, if he feels that his parents will listen carefully and maintain an open attitude, he may let down his guard and welcome their feedback. When this happens, parents can provide guidance and, importantly, even critiques of their child’s plans. In this way, open communication creates opportunities for young people to benefit from their parents’ wisdom and experience.
 
In conclusion, even though parents should avoid pressuring their children to follow specific career paths, they should not abandon the discussion. Parents should strive to create an environment where they can offer caring guidance through open communication.

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Ielts writing task 2

IELTS Writing Task 2 Question Types

No matter what question you get for IELTS Writing Task 2, your goal should always be to answer the question completely and directly. Take time, every time, to read the prompt carefully and understand it fully. In Task 2, you are always required to provide your perspective on a topic. However, there are a variety IELTS Writing Task 2 question types you may encounter. The charts below present the five basic IELTS Writing Task 2 question types, and offer some tips on how to organize your responses for each one.

to what extent do you agree
 
what are advantages disadvantages
 
causes solutions to a problem
 

 
thematic questions

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Improving Your IELTS Writing Task 2 Score (By Scoring Category)

There are four scoring categories for IELTS Writing Task 2:

  1. Task Response
  2. Grammatical Range and Accuracy
  3. Lexical Resource
  4. Coherence and Cohesion

Here are some tips to help you improve your score in each category.

IELTS Writing Task 2 Scoring Categories

1. Task Response

This his is a measurement of how well you fulfilled the basic requirements of the task based on the instructions. Following the template and organization advice above helps you most in this category.

2. Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This is a measurement of your ability to use a wide range of grammatical structures without making a lot of grammatical errors. If you have enough time (a few months or more) before you take the IELTS, consider taking an English class or investing in a good grammar book for self-study. I often recommend this grammar book to intermediate and advanced students. It offers clear grammar explanations and contains many practice exercises.

Here are some additional grammar tips to help you, even if your IELTS exam is coming up soon and you don’t have time to take a class or study a textbook!

Grammar Tip 1: Don’t use the same simple sentence structures over and over.

The next time you write a practice response, take a close look at your sentence structures. Do you use a variety of sentence patterns? English language learners often develop a habit of using forms of the “BE” verb (am, is, are, was, were) very frequently as the main verb of the sentence. Using “BE” verbs is not a problem (I have used many in this blog post!!), but using them too often makes your writing sound very basic. Importantly, using “BE” verbs repeatedly also limits your grammatical range. Choosing more descriptive verbs opens up many grammatical possibilities. For example, you can use adverbs and adverbial phrases to describe an action. By limiting yourself to forms of “BE” as the main verb, you will mainly rely on adjectives for description.

To work on this, go back through your practice essays and try to change every sentence that includes a “BE” verb as the main verb. Don’t worry about sentences with “BE” auxiliary verbs like this:

She is running.

“Running” is the main verb of this sentence and “is” is an auxiliary. There is no need to change this. You want to edit sentences that look like this:

Michael is a history professor at my college.

“Is” is the main verb of the sentence. When you revise these sentences, don’t change the meaning of the sentence too much. The sentence should still fit logically in your essay. This can be tough! Making these changes will force you to use different sentence patterns and, importantly, more descriptive verbs and adverbs when you write. Please note—you do not need to avoid all “BE” verbs when you write for the IELTS exam. This exercise simply helps you to develop your ability to use a variety of grammatical structures. Review the following examples:

Original sentence: Mary is an excellent teacher, so students always love taking her class.

Revised sentence: Mary teaches so well that students always love taking her class.

Grammar Tip 2: Use complex sentence structures

On the IELTS, you need to prove that you can write advanced sentences without mistakes. Therefore, you should include some complex sentence patterns in your writing. What is a complex sentence? Complex sentences include “subordinating conjunctions,” which introduce a variety of dependent clauses in English. Look over this review of dependent and independent clauses if you need to. Below are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:

Adverbial Subordinators (there are many!):

Even though
Whereas
While
When
Because
Since
Etc

Adjective Clause Subordinators:

Who
Whom
Which
That
Whose

Noun Clause Subordinators:

What
When
Where
How
Who

A few complex sentence examples:

Adverbial:
Even though it rained all weekend, we had a great time.
I like playing chess because it provides a mental challenge.

Adjective:
I threw the ball to my friend, who was not ready to catch it.
Unfortunately, I can’t find pen that you loaned me.

Noun clause:
I didn’t hear what you said.
Please show me how I can fill out this form correctly.

You don’t want to overuse these complex structures. It’s best to mix complex sentences with simpler ones for clarity. Also, don’t confuse the word “complex” with the word “long.” In general, you should try to avoid very long sentences to make your writing clear and easy to understand. Having some longer sentences won’t hurt you, but, again, aim for a mixture.

Grammar Tip 3: Check your verb tenses as you edit

Spend some time reviewing verb tenses as you study. If possible, find a teacher or a native English speaker to evaluate your writing to see if you make consistent mistakes. Tense errors are a common mistake in IELTS responses. Time is very limited, making it easy to use the wrong verb forms. Yet, these are mistakes that many students can easily edit on their own. If you notice that you forget to use past tenses when writing about the past, for example, it might not mean that you need to do a full review of past tense verbs. Instead, it might mean that you need to save a little time for yourself after writing to check your work.

When you practice writing for the IELTS, take as much time as you need to look for errors when you’re done writing. In fact, make sure you keep all your practice essays and pull them out again a week or two after you wrote them. Often, you’ll find new errors and think of better ways to express the ideas in your essays.

3. Lexical Resource

This is your ability to use a wide range of vocabulary correctly (without errors) and appropriately (in the proper context) in your written responses. It should go without saying that studying vocabulary regularly will help you improve most in this area. Magoosh has (free!) IELTS vocabulary flashcards to get you started. You should try to learn 15 – 20 new words each day! Beyond learning new words, however, there are a few additional steps you can take to improve your “Lexical Resource” score.

Practice Paraphrasing

As noted above, you must paraphrase the language from the question prompt and the visuals as much as possible in your Writing Task 2 responses. Taking large chunks of language directly from the question and visual will definitely lower your score. Whenever you practice a Writing Task 2 response, make sure to study any example essays included in your practice materials. Take note of how the author paraphrases the language in the question prompt and compare it to your own paraphrases. By doing this, you can learn a lot of helpful words and phrases.

Avoid Redundancy

A second tip to boost your Lexical Resource score is to focus on avoiding redundancy in your writing. Redundancy happens when you use the same words or phrases over and over again; however, there will be some key terms that you can’t avoid. For example, in our example response, it was difficult to avoid the phrases “computer ownership” and “education level.” Other words are much easier to replace with synonyms. For instance, in Task 2 responses, you will often write about numbers that “increase” or “decrease.” There are many synonyms for these words:

Rise – Fall
Go up – Go down
Jump – Decline
Spike – Dip
Skyrocket – Plummet

If you notice that you’re using the same words again and again as you practice writing Task 2 responses, work on building your knowledge of synonyms and paraphrases. A thesaurus is a handy tool. However, if at all possible, try to get feedback about the new words you use from a native English speaker. Often, the synonyms you find will have a slightly different meaning or use from the word you’re trying to replace. As a general rule, you should always choose a word that you know to be correct over one that you don’t know well.

4. Coherence and Cohesion

This a measurement of your ability to present ideas logically and clearly. In other words, the IELTS wants to see that your ideas make sense in the order you present them and that they work together in a logical way.

Transition words and phrases

One of the best things you can do to improve your “Coherence and Cohesion” score is to master useful transition words. Therefore, study a list of transition words likethis list to add to your repertoire. You should learn as many of these as possible to have a range of words and phrases from which to choose as you write. As noted in other places above, it hurts your score to use the same phrases over and over again. You need to avoid redundancy with transition words as well. Also, avoid using a transition word or phrase in every sentence. Only include them when it will help you to show the relationship between ideas more clearly.

Referencing

Another aspect of your “Coherence and Cohesion” score relates to “referencing.” This is your ability to use various pronouns accurately and appropriately. For example:

I learned how to knit a sweater from my grandmother. It took a long time to learn.
“It” refers to “how to knit a sweater”

We had a great time on holiday in Hawaii. I want to go back there!
“There” refers to “Hawaii.”

Referencing helps you to avoid redundancy because you don’t mention the same nouns over and over again. Importantly, it also pulls your sentences together, linking ideas and concepts. Practice using pronouns as you write and make sure to look for pronoun errors as you edit your work!

The Template

A final important aspect of your “Coherence and Cohesion” score is the overall organization of your response. Your paragraphs should be organized logically, and your ideas should progress in a clear way from one sentence to the next. This involves using transition words (discussed above), but it also relates to what we covered in the middle of this post—the Writing Task 2 Template. Mastering this template is a great way to boost your Coherence and Cohesion band score!

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Ielts writing task 2

Additional Resources

Now you’re ready to go and practice Academic Task 2 responses. You should practice regularly and try your best to create real test conditions, limiting yourself very strictly to 20 minutes and writing your responses by hand. When studying for the IELTS, finding the time and staying motivated to study can be challenging. To help you organize your time, use this IELTS study schedule if you only have a week to go before you will take the IELTS. If you have a month, this one month IELTS study schedule offers more extended practice.
 
You will also need some high-quality study materials. Here is a list of excellent IELTS study resources to get you started. And don’t forget about our IELTS Prep which includes lessons on IELTS writing Task 2 (and all other sections of the exam!) to help you prep smarter. Good luck!

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