Many native speakers have to take IELTS for immigration purposes. Their writing is judged in exactly the same way as that of non-native speakers, because not all native speakers reach the same level of literacy. Many professionals rarely write in their day-to-day life. In fact, many may not have had to write in any formal way since high school, where they may also have struggled to reach a high level in their English exams.
Native speakers who have achieved a high level of education may assume that this will be recognised by the examiner and rewarded accordingly. They may even feel that they do not need to study for the test. However, IELTS is a formal qualification and, as with all tests, if you want to be successful, you should always be aware of what is involved and how you will be assessed. The criteria used to assess answers are applied in the same way whether candidates are native speakers or not.
The following sample answer from Cambridge Practice test book 8 demonstrates this. First look at the question and sample answer and try to identify 2 main problems.
Hopefully you can see that there are 2 main problems:
- there are no paragraphs
- the candidate has ignored half of the question
Nevertheless, the language used is very natural and almost without errors, which tells us that this is most likely to have been written by a native speaker.
The examiner has awarded this answer band 7. Let us look at how the answer achieved this score.
The vocabulary and grammar scores are clearly band 9. The main issues are with Task response (the candidate ignored part of the task) and Coherence and cohesion (the lack of paragraphs). These two issues have clearly had a significant impact on the overall score. To help show why, here I have tried to identify the main ideas and divide the answer up into separate ‘paragraphs’:
When we separate the answer in this way, we can clearly see that some of the ideas are not as fully developed as others (band 6 Task response). In task response, references to ‘the task’ and ‘the question’ mean ALL of the task and ALL of the question. We cannot see elements of band 8 or 9 here because half of the task and half of the question are omitted. Band 7 also requires ALL of the task to be completed. In fact, for Task response, this answer would be classed as band 5. Some may argue that there are ‘fully extended and well supported ideas’ here (band 9) but as this is not done for all of the question, the band 5 features dominate (addresses the task only partially and the format is inappropriate).
Similarly, for Coherence and cohesion we can now see that the organisation is not always logical (the answer jumps from local travel to international holidays, then back to local travel), which is a feature of band 6 Coherence and cohesion. Thus, the logical sequencing mentioned in band 8 is missing, as is the ‘logical progression’ that shows band 7. We cannot see a ‘clear progression of ideas’ here, and there is no clear main idea identified within each ‘paragraph.’ In fact, I had to try to identify what these main ideas were myself. In spite of the accurate use of cohesive devices, and the fact that the ideas are coherent, the answer again shows features of band 6 and band 5. Nevertheless, the band 5 descriptor mainly applies here: ‘there may be a lack of overall progression’ and ‘may not write in paragraphs.’
So, although the vocabulary and grammar fall under band 9, the Task response and Coherence and cohesion scores are a confusing mix of band 6 and band 5, with band 5 dominating. As a result, the overall score is band 7, but could so easily have been band 9 if the candidate had answered ALL of the question, planned their answer, and organised their ideas effectively.
This is a good reminder that, to achieve band 7 or above in IELTS writing, you must study more than just language.
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