Model answers and the invisible IELTS band 10

Using sample answers

I am often asked for sample answers to #IELTS writing task 2 questions. However, in my view, these only have a very limited use. In this post I will explain why.

An educated native speaker should be able to achieve Band 7, 8, or 9 in IELTS writing. The difference in their scores will depend on how much time they have worked on their writing skills and so how much fluency, skill, and style they have developed in their formal writing. It may be useful to note here that in most English-speaking countries, formal essay writing skills are generally not taught beyond the age of 10 or 11 unless the students study an essay-based subject such as history or economics.

A native speaker who is an IELTS writer by profession is in a completely different category. These are the people who write most of the model answers in test practice books. Most candidates are not writers by profession in their own language, yet, many expect to be able to mimic the style and level of the sample answers they find in test books.  Some even tell me that their aim is to write in a way that is similar to the passages in academic reading.  IELTS does not expect you to reach the level of a professional, academic writer. In fact, I often think of that level as the invisible band 10 of IELTS.

Model answers simply show you one answer out of countless possibilities. I am often concerned that these answers could do more harm than good because many people analyse them to try to find the one trick or formula they believe will show them how to do well in the test.  Watching a master chef at work will not help you to create your own meals. Similarly, in sample answers, you will not find a special trick or formula, or one single way to answer any question.

A further problem is illustrated by the following comment I recently received about the model 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 ingrained ideas of how to write an IELTS essay.  Native speakers naturally repeat words and phrases, and, as I pointed out in my post about writing an introduction, 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. Similarly, the use of grammatical structure or tenses are not counted in this way by the examiner. Grammatical repetition matters when the same basic structures are used because this is all the candidate is able to use. 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.

How should I use sample essays?

First, ensure that you are using sample essays written by native speakers with good writing skills.  Second, read the answers several times and focus on something different each time. Here are some ideas:

  • 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.

Recent Comments

  • Anonymous
    10th November 2019 - 12:17 pm ·

    What about your model answer (p.154) to the Writing Task 1 question in Unit 23 of Vocabulary for IELTS Advanced?
    The same pattern is repeated throughout the writing:
    1. … are classified as …
    2. … is considered to be …
    3. … are considered to weigh …
    4. … are considered to have …
    5. … are considered to be …
    6. … are categorised as …
    7. … is considered to be …
    8. … is mainly restricted to …

    • Pauline
      13th November 2019 - 11:02 am ·

      I am redoing the writing task answers for all of my books to make them more helpful. Answers like this are written as a sample and not a model. I want to create models that can be used to learn from. I will make the new models available on my website. I agree that the very ‘considered’ is overused here, however, a certain amount of reparation is inevitable in writing tasks like this.

  • Roger Waters
    30th September 2019 - 12:15 am ·

    Dear Pauline,
    Hope everything is rosy with you. Here’s some wee points of mine:

    1- It might seem weird to you, but I found IdP and British council have been moving towards two different destinations which means their policies in essay writing differ painfully. I just asked one of the IDP’s trainers to score an essay while she didn’t know that the essay was a model essay of Cambridge 7! She did so, and guess what; the score was 6.5!!! The reason: CC & unnecessary sentences. The same story happened when I sent a model answer by IDP to an ex-examiner of British Council where he believed the introduction was poor!!!! Me? Just laughing. And of course wasting some dollars!

    2- IELTS is getting more and more complex and confusing! In terms of speaking for example: the band descriptor goes: “use idiomatic language naturally and accurately”. Have u ever happened to know that if the miserable test takers are going to speak naturally it ain’t be accurate any longer! If u know what I mean! Another pain in the neck is the ” less common vocabulary”thing where the examiner’s waiting eagerly to hear some phrases that Shakespeare might have been used once in a blue moon, or else the miserable test taker cannot get more than 7 in Lexical resource whatsoever,

    3- and yet hammering the last nail they cannot get more than 7 in other items as well cos the examiner believes -according to what they have been trained on- items mustn’t or let say couldn’t be that different.

    4- So let me say what is going on when sb’s taking the test in speaking and writing part: they do not -or better say cannot- think of the very ideas and reasoning u r looking for, rather they think of the aforementioned issues while asking these questions repeatedly in their minds: ” am I penetrating uncommon vocabulary terms properly? O gosh, given that, am I speaking naturally like those native English speakers?! But the last time I was watching BBC they made some grammatical mistakes deliberately, should correct those in me speaking? I mean My speaking! O God I ain’t know what to say: sorry I mean I Don’t know…!!

    5- Dear Pauline, to make the long story short, I’d say if ielts is gonna be a good source of money and a money-grubbing thing, well, let it be, but if it’s gonna be a standard way to assess the test takers’ performance, then it will need some serious revision. This is not an exam any longer, seems to me more like taking revenge!

    • Pauline
      1st October 2019 - 8:04 pm ·

      Dear Roger
      I will try to address your (numbered) comments here:
      1) You seem to have attempted to prove a point about IELTS by pretending you wrote a model answer from a book written more than 10 years ago and asking for feedback on it by current examiners/IELTS teachers. I don’t know the model answer you are referring to, and I don’t know anything about the feedback system you used, but as the score the model was given was the same from both centres, this appears to show that the assessment is working well. The comments you received reflect that the two centres chose to highlight different problems to help you improve, but as the test centres administer the test and do not prepare or write it, it does not show more than this. A test centre cannot ‘decide’ to change their approach to the test in any way and they do not prepare any of the test materials themselves.

      2- I can assure you that the examiner is not at all waiting to hear old fashioned Shakespearean English. It does appear as though you have been following bad advice on this?

      3- I am afraid I cannot address this next part as I do not know what you mean when you say ‘’and yet hammering the last nail they cannot get more than 7 in other items as well cos the examiner believes -according to what they have been trained on- items mustn’t or let say couldn’t be that different’’.

      4- The band descriptor for fluency makes it clear that it is normal and natural to hesitate and correct oneself when speaking naturally. And the band 9 grammar says there may be slips, so, I am not sure why you believe this is not true.

      5- It seems clear that you have been following bad advice about vocabulary and perhaps grammar as well and so have not achieved the score you believe you deserve. My free book explains why learning old fashioned idioms will keep you stuck at a lower level, and also explains why many of the common myths about IELTS are incorrect. I really recommend you read it. Here is a link:

  • Taurus
    14th May 2019 - 8:34 am ·

    Hi Pauline,
    It is more of a relief actually to plan and write freely in IELTS than to follow a template. I have two queries:
    1) I have noticed that any good piece of writing, including model answers, take their time to set the context first before introducing their main point (I am particularly referring to the Body Paragraphs in IELTS). However, I am personally in a rush to just start off with the central idea of my paragraph in the first sentence, not being articulate in setting the context first because somewhere in my head I have the linear development structure of my argument which follows as [Main Idea>> Support>>> Explain>>> Example/Illustration]. Nowhere in this linear approach can I justify a sentence (or a few sentences) which are merely there to set the context.

    2) Reading the Harvard Business Review, ForeignPolicy Magazine or even some good newspapers naturally enriches your collocation, sentence structures, and argumentation. But, when I am writing, I tap into my Writing toolbox in my head and find these structures screaming to produced in my essay. I hate to admit, that I do try to emulate these in my argumentation (My own ideas phrased in the borrowed structure from these best practices of writing). How would you see this? Does the examiner spot this as a template or my style (borrowed)?

    • Pauline
      14th May 2019 - 8:40 am ·

      Hi Taurus, you raise some very interesting points here. I think that what you’re describing is a transition phase, which is always a struggle and only continual and deliberate practice will help. This is actually a key stage in learning any skill – imagine a sports person who has learned a lot of the basic moves in their sport who then has to learn to be more creative and less rigid with these so that they can advance. In the workbook I am writing now, I am trying o address this by giving you a different voice in your head – my voice! So there will be a lot of listening then writing what you hear involved so that this trains your inner voice to be more accurate and more fluent (I hope!).

      With your second point , this is exactly how language learning works and is a great idea – re-dead the chapter on grammar in The Key to IELTS Success where I describe exactly this process and how to make it work for you.

      p.s – the examiner will only ‘notice’ this as a negative when it is a template-stye learned language that does not fit the context and appears mechanical as a result.

    • Taurus
      14th May 2019 - 12:28 pm ·

      Thanks. That certainly helps. Waiting for your workbook to release, I will give my next (third) attempt with this new mindset and skills hopefully. Cheers !

  • Anam
    31st October 2018 - 12:32 pm ·

    Dear Pauline,
    I hope you doing good. After reading your books(Offical Guide to Ielts and free book) and posts on your website, I have concluded that we should understand the question in order to plan it. Most critical parts are understanding what is the topic of the question and then what is asked in the question.
    In your free book on page number 79 you have mentioned
    “You must discuss the topic and present an argument that clearly explains your
    position on the issues raised in the question”
    I am not able to understand what you explain here in this sentence. I guess by “presenting argument on issues raised in the question” you referring to the strategy of answering the question asked- but displaying your opinion as well.
    But what you mean by “discussing the topic”
    Secondly, I am experiencing extreme difficulty in concluding the task response for advantages out weight disadvantages.
    In your book Offical Guide to Ielts in practice test 2 a question is given which is :
    One of the consequences of improved medical care is that people are living
    longer and life expectancy is increasing.
    Do you think the advantages of this development outweigh the disadvantages?
    If I have to cover the topic as well as question in one essay, I will
    interpret the question in introduction,
    then will switch to body one paragraph
    where my approach would be Improved medical care has increased life expectancy by inventing body organs transplant.In earlier days liver cirrhosis was fatal now with transplant its a curable disease and person dont have to face death.
    In second would state that advantages are more, youngsters have support of their elders for long time.Elders enjoy fruition of their all life hard work.
    I know I am not right in this approach but this is what I concluded i should do in order to explain topic of the essay.
    Please excuse me for my mistakes.

    • Pauline
      1st November 2018 - 2:03 pm ·

      Hi Anam, when I say ‘discuss the topic’ I mean write about the issue in a way that shows all the sides of it (the good and the bad). Presenting an argument means presenting your position (opinion) on the specific question you are given and also explaining why you hold this position.

      With the question that asks ‘do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages’ you would be discussing the advantages and then the disadvantages of the issue and then explaining which you think is greater / better and why you think this. Does this help?

      • Anam
        1st November 2018 - 3:19 pm ·

        Dear Pauline,
        Thank you for your kind reply, I wanted to tell you one thing as you’re clearing my ambiguities, I am finding writing task interesting: specifically Task Response. I want to read more questions(authentic) and decide what should be my approach; feels like solving Maths sum. Moreover, want to teach students this concept-though I am not good in English but clearing difficulties has made me feel like helping others :). Thanks a lot for making writing task interesting for me and clearing my doubts.

        Alright, so it’s kind of same approach as you have advised in the post of ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’
        That is: Effects of not having unpaid community service
        Advantages of having unpaid community service
        Same can be applied for advantages out weight disadvantages.

        But explaining which you think is greater / better and why you think this: for explaining what I think is better my language use would convey this(in the body paragraphs), am I right? Moreover, my opinion in conclusion would also explicitly state which I think is better.
        But where I should explain: why I think its better or advantageous
        In Conclusion, or I need a separate paragraph, or any other way to explicit it that why I think its better.Can you clear this.

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IELTS Author Pauline Cullen

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