Make the Most of Your 20 Minutes on Task 1 of the IELTS Academic

The fact that the IELTS academic writing test is only an hour long may be a relief or it may make the prospect seem even more intimidating. Either way, the trick is to manage the time allotted to you so that you can do your English writing skills justice; this includes carefully managing the 20 minutes on task 1 of the IELTS Academic Writing test that you’re given.

During task 1 (of 2), you’ll be asked to write 150 words, and you should finish this in 20 minutes or less. Why? Because task 2 is more heavily weighted (that is, it’s worth more twice as much) and requires a longer answer (250 words). So let’s talk about maximizing your time on task 1!

What to do with your 20 minutes on Task 1 of the IELTS Academic

The clock is ticking. You’ve got to read the prompt, examine the image, and write a 150-word description. This means, technically, you have less than 20 minutes to write as many words as you have just read in this article. Imagine, then, allocating your time something more like this:

  • 3-5 minutes: Reading the prompt, taking a first look at the image(s), and preparing to answer.
  • 10-15 minutes: Responding to the prompt in paragraph form
  • 3-5 minutes: Proofreading your response and double checking it’s long enough.

The last point is important because this is where you can catch any errors or missing words that result not from poor English, but from writing under pressure and against the clock. Remember, you’ll also lose points if your answer is less than 150 words, so here you can double check the length of your answer.

Mock-Task 1 Exercises

Practicing Task 1 exercises before the test day will be invaluable for a few reasons:

  1. Get comfortable with the task of describing visual images in written form.
  2. Know what 150 words looks like, either typed onscreen (if you are taking the computer-delivered IELTS), or in your handwriting (for the paper-based IELTS).
  3. Depending on whether you’re taking the IELTS on paper or on computer, get accustomed to writing 150 words by hand in 10-15 minutes, or typing 150 words in that time.

The exam is inflexible, so your practice should be too; try replicating the exam as best as you can. Start by printing some practice prompts for task 1 and a few copies of the Task 1 Answer sheet. Get a timer and a pen or a pencil, and give the following structure a go:

  1. Prepare to Answer. Breathe. Set a timer for 5 minutes and go! Read the prompt and examine the image. Underline the key points in the prompt, and make any notes that may guide you as you construct your answer. This phase ends when the timer goes off.

    Make the Most of your 20 minutes on Task 1 of the IELTS Academic -magoosh

    photo borrowed from

  2. Answer the Prompt. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Begin to answer the prompt using the notes you made for yourself. It may be helpful reread the prompt about halfway through to double check that you are on task. Stop writing when the timer goes off.
  3. Review Your Answer. Set the timer for 5 minutes. Reread the prompt and then read your answer, correcting any errors that you find. Did you miss a point from the prompt? Add this to your answer. Are you shy of 150 words? Add more. Stop when the timer goes off.

Repeat this exercise as many times as you can. Try adjusting the amount of time you give to each step in the process; maybe you need more preparation time and less writing time, or perhaps vice versa.

By familiarizing yourself with the amount of time, the word count, and the task of describing visual information, you’ll be maximally prepared when it’s time for the actual test. If you have more questions or doubts about the academic writing test, check out these helpful Magoosh articles and practice videos:

Vocabulary for Academic Writing Task 1

Academic Writing Practice Test

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Trisha Alcisto

    Trisha is an IELTS blogger at Magoosh. She has a B.A. in Foreign Language and Literature and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics at UMASS Boston. Before blogging for Magoosh, Trisha taught Spanish and English to students of all ages, helping them master their foreign language or writing and reading comprehension skills. She writes and works as an academic editor from Bali, Indonesia where she enjoys yoga, slogging (slow jogging), and practicing her Indonesian with stray dogs.

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