I am often asked for sample answers to #IELTS writing task 2 questions. In the past, I believed that these had limited value and I have always been concerned that they encourage people to learn answers to use in the test. I am also worried about providing just one answer when there are multiple possible ways to approach any task. This is why it is important to see the answers supplied in textbooks as a ‘sample’ rather than a ‘model’. The distinction is an important one: a ‘model’ sets a standard that students can learn from, while a sample answer often does not.
Sample answers produced by professional writers also tend to result in a level of English that goes beyond the scope of the test. These answers are written in the comfort of the writer’s home, perhaps in several drafts. If an answer is too long, the writer has time to edit and cut. Before publication, the finished product may also be checked and edited by more professionals, all of which can result in a rather nuanced and subtle response to the task that is closer to a reading passage. In fact, I often think of that level as the invisible band 10 of IELTS.
Understandably, this process does not produce the same results as an individual candidate writing in a timed test situation. Because of this, in my view, the test book sample answers often don’t serve as useful models for candidates or for the classroom. Furthermore, although there are many sample answers online that claim to be band 9, the majority of those I have seen actually show band 6 skills in some criteria. Looking at typical sample answers made me realise that the answers provided as a solution are causing a great deal of the current problems in IELTS writing, and that while there are ‘sample answers,’ good ‘model answers’ are scarce.
To address these problems, in The Key to IELTS Writing Task 2, I set out to produce model answers that set the right standard for the test. These models have been produced using a 40-minute time limit so that they reflect what a band 9 candidate can realistically produce in IELTS, and I asked two experienced examiners to assess the level to be sure that they are Band 9.
I was very surprised to learn that I had to change the way I normally plan in order to achieve band 9 Task response and Coherence and cohesion within the strict time limit. Whether I was working on a computer or on paper, if I did not do the right planning, my efforts were problematic in terms of these criteria.
The truth is that teachers and professional writers seldom practise what we preach. As a result, we don’t always appreciate the problems associated with successfully completing the task in exam conditions, and so our advice may not always be practical or effective. This is something I have tried to address throughout this course. I teach you the type of planning I used for my models, and show you my own planning notes. The same advice applies whether you are taking the computer or paper version of the test.
How should I use model answers?
A further problem is illustrated by the following comment I recently received about the sample answers in The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS:
‘In your Official guide to IELTS, you have provided sample essays. In the essay for test 2, ‘look after’ is repeated three times and ‘than + past simple form’ is repeated 3 times.’
The one clear benefit of a sample answer is that it can show how native speakers write. This benefit is lost if you read a sample answer and critique it using your own ideas of how to write an IELTS essay. Native speakers naturally repeat words and phrases, and, as I show you in the book, so can you.
Repetition is not measured by counting words or phrases, it is something that the reader (and you yourself) can ‘hear’ when you read an essay. It is not at all unusual to find the same word written 3 or more times in an essay, particularly when the word is crucial to the whole topic. For example, if I was writing an essay about hospitals, I would not be at all surprised to have to write that word at least 4 or more times throughout the essay. To put this into perspective, I recently assessed an essay sent to me that used the word ‘language’ 19 times, and half of those where within one paragraph. That is the type of repetition that matters and that is very clear to the reader.
The Key to IELTS Writing Task 2 has 16 model essays at band 9 and shows you how to change a band 6.5 essay into a band 8+ essay. There are listening exercises based on the models as well as other language exercises to help you learn the most from them.
This is a typical listening exercise, where you listen to the recording and fill in the blanks:
Because these exercises are interactive, you can type your answers directly into the spaces and get immediate feedback on whether your answer is right or wrong.
There is a guide in the book showing you how to make the most of the model answers. This includes ideas like these:
- Read the answers several times and focus on something different each time.
- To focus on task response, think about how the writer has made their position clear in the essay.
- To focus on coherence and cohesion, identify the main idea within each paragraph. Think about how this idea is explained, supported, and connected to the question.
- To focus on grammar, look at one paragraph at a time and think about 1) tenses 2) connecting ideas 3) articles 4) relative pronouns
- To focus on vocabulary, notice any words you would never use yourself. If there are none, think about how a native speaker uses vocabulary to talk about this topic. Try to write out 5-10 words and phrases you would like to be able to use. Make a note of how they are used and then try to use them yourself.
- Read the essay aloud – this is often helps you to notice something you may have missed from reading alone.
- Without looking back at the sample, try to write the same answer yourself, in your own words, but practising as many of the words and phrases you noticed as possible.
Read the grammar and vocabulary chapters of The Key to IELTS Success, as well as the chapters about task 1 and task 2, to learn more about repetition.