What is the IELTS Writing exam all about?

What is the IELTS Writing exam all about?
Writing well is a vital indicator of one's English proficiency. Source: Shutterstock

For international students, an assessment of your English language proficiency is almost guaranteed to be part of your entry requirements to your foreign university of choice.

One popular test many students take is the widely-available IELTS, or the International English Language Testing System. In particular, the IELTS Academic which assesses language proficiency of people applying for higher education where English is used as a language of communication.

The test comprises four components: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. It’s designed to test non-native English speakers on their language abilities in real-life situations they may encounter while studying, working, or while conducting everyday life.

One of the most dreaded portion of the exam is the Writing exam, which is devised to assess a candidate’s range of writing skills.

Here are five commonly-asked questions about the Writing test:

1. What is the purpose of the Writing test?

According to the British Councilthe test is designed to assess how you “write a response appropriately, organise ideas and use a range of vocabulary and grammar accurately.”

2. How long does it take? 

Like the Reading portion, the Writing test takes 60 minutes for the two tasks assigned.

Source: Giphy

Candidates should manage their time well between the two tasks, preferably 20 minutes on Task 1 and 40 minutes on Task 2.

3. What are the two tasks assigned?

Task 1 requires candidates to provide at least a 150 word written response, while Task 2 requires at least a 250 word written response. Both must be completed.

For Task 1, candidates will have to describe, summarise or explain some visual information such as graphs, tables, charts or diagrams, using their own words. For example, the question may ask you to describe data or summarise the stages of a process or to explain an event. Keep track of your word count – responses that are too short will be penalised.

The focus of Task 1 is to assess “the ability to identify the most important and relevant information and trends in a graph, chart, table or diagram, and to give a well-organised overview of it using language accurately in an academic style” according to IELTS’s website.

For Task 2, candidates are asked to “respond to a point of view or argument or problem” through a “discursive consideration of the relevant issues”. Answers should be relevant and not in general, eg. computer sales vs. computers in general.

IELTS’s website states: “This task assesses the ability to present a clear, relevant, well-organised argument, giving evidence or examples to support ideas and use language accurately”.

The style of writing for the Academic test should be semi-formal, academic, and neutral. The issues should be pretty interesting and easy to understand.

4. How should candidates answer these two questions?

Candidates should answer in a style of writing that is semi-formal, academic, and neutral.

All questions must be answered in full (bullet points and notes are not accepted) and on the answer sheet or booklet given. Answers written on the question paper will not be marked by the examiner.


Candidates can choose to use a pen or pencil (One of each at any one time is enough).

5. How are the two tasks weighed in terms of marks?

Scores are reported in whole and half bands.

Task 2 contributes twice as much to the final Writing score compared to Task 1. This is important to note when it comes to managing time between the two tasks – failing to answer Task 2 will significantly reduce a candidate’s chance of achieving a good band.

For Task 1, the marking criteria is as follows: 

  • Task achievement
  • Coherence and cohesion
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy.

Whereas, Task 2 responses are assessed on:

  • Task response
  • Coherence and cohesion
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy.

6. What can cause candidates to lose marks in the Writing test?

If your answers are off-topic or incomplete, this will result in you losing marks. Incomplete responses do not just mean in terms of content, but also the manner in which they are written eg. in bullet point or note form, etc.

Take note that students will be severely penalised for plagiarism (ie. copying from another source).

7. Who marks the Writing test?

Certificated IELTS examiners with relevant teaching qualifications which are recruited and approved by the British Council or IDP: IELTS Australia will be in charge of marking your test.

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