IELTS Writing Task 2 tips

Summary: Loads of vital advice on how to prepare for, plan, write and edit IELTS Academic and General Task 2 essays

This article gives exactly 100 tips on how best to prepare for, plan, write, edit and do extra work on all the different possible IELTS Writing Task 2 essays, including advice on self-study, working together with friends, using resources, etc. There are also similar articles on this site with 100 Task 2 teaching tips and 100 Task 1 tips.

IELTS Writing Task 2: Planning and paragraphing tips

  1. When you look at Task 2, quickly underline important words in the question (including the instructions), then quickly decide how you will split the body into two or three paragraphs
  2. To make sure that you plan and stick to that plan, it’s best to always write a very quick plan on the question sheet before you start writing
  3. With practice, you should be able to go from first looking at the Task 2 question to starting to write in four minutes
  4. If you find that you can’t usually analyse the question and plan within four minutes, don’t think twice about which words you underline, don’t think about your opinion before making a plan, and write a very short plan (e.g. “Body 1: for, Body 2: against”).
  5. The body should always be two or three paragraphs, so you can’t write one paragraph per advantage and one paragraph per disadvantage
  6. Unless the question tells you that you have to look at both sides, it’s okay to either do that or to give your opinion at the beginning and then have one reason for it in each body paragraph
  7. If you have a question for which you don’t have to look at both sides, the best way to choose which plan to use is to think about the strength of your opinion and only look at one side if you have a strong opinion, or look at both sides if you have a weak opinion
  8. You should divide all paragraphs with an indent or a blank line (not both). A blank line is better because it is clearer and leaves space for making changes later
  9. All paragraphs must have at least two sentences – a sentence is not a paragraph
  10. A good body paragraph should be a clearly different topic to the other body paragraphs, match what you have write about the body in the introduction and/ or final paragraph, and preferably be readable on its own without reading the rest of the essay
  11. Starting new lines with each sentence makes your writing look like a list or a poem, so within paragraphs make sure sentences start on the same line as the previous sentences end on
  12. If you planned to look at both sides (when you had a choice) but find that you can’t write the second side, it should be possible to split the body 1 paragraph into two, add another argument on the same side, then change the introduction to match the new body
  13. If you planned to only look at one side (when you have that choice) but find that you can’t think of enough arguments on one side to reach the word limit, it should be possible to use an arrow to put those arguments together as one paragraph, write a paragraph on the other side, then change the introduction to match your new plan
  14. If you change your mind about paragraphing, it’s okay to use a slash and “new paragraph” with an arrow to show that an extra one is better, or to draw an arrow to show that you want to put two paragraphs together


IELTS Writing Task 2: First paragraph tips/ introduction tips

  1. An opening paragraph should have at least two sentences: rephrasing the question and explaining the structure of your essay
  2. Although you will see model answers without it, it’s best to always explain the structure of your essay in the last sentence of your introduction, as it will force you to plan carefully, will show that you have done that, and will help the reader understand
  3. An opening paragraph often has three or four sentences, with background to the question before rephrasing the question and/ or your opinion between rephrasing and explaining your plan
  4. Some introductions start a little suddenly if the first sentence is rephrasing the question, so you can start with the background to the question, e.g. why the question is interesting, topical, or important
  5. If you have the option of only looking at one side and have decided to do so, make sure you give your opinion in the introduction to make it obvious why you aren’t going to look at both sides
  6. If you will look at both sides, don’t give your opinion in the introduction, as being able to see the opinion at the start would make reading the essay pointless and make it difficult to write a conclusion
  7. If you can’t usually write the introduction in under six minutes, try leaving out the background to the question (maybe leaving a blank line where it could be put in later), not worrying about repeating words when you rephrase the question, quickly writing any opinion (as it can be changed later after the body is written), and always using the same phrase for explaining the organisation of your essay (such as “I will… and then…”)


Body of an IELTS Writing Task 2 essay tips

  1. Common mistakes with starting body paragraphs include using phrases with just numbers like “Secondly,…”, and using words which link to ideas in other paragraphs like “However,…”
  2. If the question asks you to look at something like advantages or solutions, you need at least two of each thing in order to have followed the instructions
  3. Try to back up your arguments with as many different kinds of support as possible, e.g. a personal anecdote, something you read, some (approximate) data that you remember, and cause and effect.
  4. The support for each argument that you make should be just one or two sentences
  5. One common weak point in the body is taking a long time to make just one kind of support for your arguments, e.g. a three-sentence personal anecdote, rather than lots of different support
  6. You shouldn’t make up fake data, references, etc, so if you happen to know some real info, you should explain how well you remember it and why
  7. As long as they have at least two sentences each, there is no need for the body paragraphs to be the same length as each other
  8. Although we might include lists with bullet points or numbers in similar essays in real life, these should be avoided in IELTS, as they make the language too simple and make it difficult to reach the word limit


IELTS Writing Task 2: Final paragraph tips/ summary or conclusion tips

  1. All Task 2 essays need a final conclusion (= your opinion, based on what is in the body) or summary (= paraphrasing the body, plus one more sentence if you need it)
  2. One of the most common weak points of final conclusions is jumping from looking at both sides to choosing one side without the reason for that choice being obvious. You should therefore be sure to eliminate the least important arguments, say which argument is most relevant, etc.
  3. To make the final conclusion match the rest of the essay, it’s best to base it on the strongest arguments in the body, even if that doesn’t match your real opinion
  4. If your final paragraph is a summary (because you have already given your opinion in the intro), it’s often necessary to include one extra sentence such as a recommendation to the government or a prediction of the future situation. This is in order to make the paragraph two sentences, and to make it worth reading
  5. If you didn’t have to look at both sides but still chose to, it makes sense for the final conclusion to have a weak opinion rather than a strong one, because otherwise it looks like half of the body is totally against what you believe and so has no value


IELTS Writing Task 2: Time management tips

  1. Although Task 2 is twice as important as Task 1, it’s easy to use the whole 60 minutes that you are given for Writing on Task 2, so it’s better to rush through Task 1 and then spend the remaining time on Task 2
  2. Typical good timing for Writing Task 2 is four minutes to analyse the question and plan the body, five minutes to write the intro, 25 minutes to write the rest of the essay, and five or six minutes for a final edit
  3. Although some people recommend brainstorming before writing, this takes time and concentrates on ideas instead of language, so is rarely a good idea
  4. IELTS Writing is just a language test, meaning stupid arguments with great language will get a good mark and clever arguments with bad language will get a bad mark, so there is no point wasting time trying to think of good ideas
  5. If you can’t write 250 words within 40 minutes, the most common reasons are: planning too slowly, thinking too much about the quality of your ideas (when it’s just the language which is important), and overusing an eraser
  6. If you can’t decide on your own opinion on the question before you start writing, look at both sides in the body, judge which of the arguments that you have out in the body are strongest, and write that as your conclusion
  7. To save time counting words, you should always do practice tests on official answer sheets so you know how many words you write per line and how long a typical answer is on the page for you
  8. There are no extra marks for neatness, so don’t worry about your handwriting or how you edit (as long as it is readable)
  9. To save time, you should write as quickly as possible and correct mistakes, add better language, etc during the editing stage
  10. You should aim to reach over 250 words in no more than 35 minutes, so you have enough time for a final edit
  11. Although there is no upper word limit for IELTS Writing Task 2, if you write over about 270 words then you are probably going off topic and/ or being long-winded, and are wasting time that you could spend more usefully on editing or on Task 1
  12. If you get the rare task of choosing two things from a list and then comparing them, it doesn’t matter which two you write about, so just choose as quickly as you can


IELTS Writing Task 2: Task completion tips

  1. You will automatically lose marks if you are under 250 words, so you should write about 260 to make sure that you are well over the minimum word count
  2. If you need to estimate how much you have written, the quickest way is to count the number of words in two lines, divide by two to get the number of words per line, count the number of lines, and make sure you are well over 250 (because it might be an underestimate)
  3. If you are just a few words short of around 260 words, the best way to add them is by adding words to make longer (and therefore better) sentences as you edit
  4. If you are well under 250 words when you reach the end of the essay, the quickest way to make sure that you have reached the word limit is to add a whole sentence above, below or round the side of the essay, with an arrow to show where it should go
  5. If you finish your summary or conclusion and are still short of 250 words, it’s better to add text to the body (not to the end) such as additional support for one of your points
  6. Especially if you have a question that ask “to what extent”, you should be careful to use strong or weak language to give your answer to the question
  7. Although you can have a very weak conclusion, you cannot completely sit on the fence, as that wouldn’t answer the question and would make the whole essay a complete waste of time
  8. Make sure that all the content is related to the question on the task sheet, not just on that topic more generally


IELTS Writing Task 2: Language tips

Grammar in IELTS Writing Task 2 tips

  1. You shouldn’t spend too much time on sites and books which claim to teach useful grammar for IELTS Writing Task 2, as actually it is difficult to generalise about what grammar is important, and phrases and vocabulary are much more vital
  2. If you want to study grammar for Task 2 the most important points are probably determiners like “the”, “a” and “any” and uncountable nouns


Functional language in IELTS Writing Task 2 tips

  1. Don’t get confused between changing topic phrases that are suitable from Body 2 (“As for”, “Turning to”, etc) and more general phrases that can also be used to start Body 1 (“Looking at”, etc)
  2. A common mistake with linking expressions is mixing up ones which link two sentences like “However” with ones which link two things in one sentence like “but”, so make sure you know which are which (as most are clearly one kind or the other)
  3. Comparing/ contrasting language like “In complete contrast” and “very similar” should definitely be studied as it is useful for supporting your arguments in Writing Task 2 and Speaking Part 3, and for describing data in Writing Task 1
  4. Generalising phrases like “almost always” and “a large number” are useful for supporting your arguments and giving the background to the question, so are well worth studying
  5. Quoting people is a good way of supporting your arguments, but don’t make up imaginary quotes, be honest about how well you remember the quote, and say why you know it
  6. Make sure that you only use phrases like “There has been a lot of debate over…” and “Most people agree that…” in situations that match what you write, as using complex language in a way that isn’t quite correct is a sign of not being advanced level
  7. Most Speaking Part Three phrases can also be used in Writing Task 2, with the exception of very short, idiomatic and informal phrases like “No way!”


Vocabulary in IELTS Writing Task 2 tips

  1. Although using long formal words like “overgeneralisation” can be a good way of showing your range of language, you shouldn’t worry too much about formality in Task 2. This is because formality is not a common student problem, idioms can be another good way of showing your range of language, and the essay cannot be too formal given that you are asked to give your own opinion and academic referencing is not possible
  2. When you learn new words from model answers such as “revolution”, try to also memorise other parts of speech like “revolutionary”


IELTS Writing Task 2: Rephrasing tips

  1. The same examiner will mark your Task 1 and Task 2, so it’s best not to repeat language like “Turning to…” from Task 1 if you can think of other alternatives
  2. If it is difficult to rephrase words that are in the question or that you have used before, try to at least use another part of speech (e.g. “agreement” if you used “agree” before”), use the same word if you can’t quickly think of any alternative, then try to rephrase during your final edit
  3. You can also avoid repeating words by using referencing expressions like “this idea” and “the latter”


IELTS Writing Task 2: Editing tips

  1. When you do a final edit, as well as fixing errors, you should also try to rephrase if you have repeated language, and to add higher-level language
  2. To save editing time, you should avoid using your eraser as much as possible. Instead, cross words out, add words above the line, or even write sentences in boxes in the margin and showing where they should go with an arrow
  3. Corrections should be written above any crossed-out words (not below)
  4. Added words should be written above the line, with a little mountain symbol pointing to where the extra words are


IELTS Writing Task 2: Preparing at home tips

Doing IELTS Writing Task 2 exam practice tips

  1. Most Writing Task 2 tasks ask you to write to what extent you (dis)agree or to look at both sides and then give your opinion, so don’t spend too much time on other kinds of tasks (as there are many unlikely kinds on websites, in old exam books, etc)
  2. You should sometimes try rare kinds of questions such as choosing two options and comparing tasks, so that you get too much into the habit of writing the same kind of essay
  3. If you going to take the paper-based test, always do practice tests in pencil on paper
  4. To make doing practice tests worthwhile, always do Task 2 in exactly 40 minutes from first looking at the task, but then spend extra time improving it with the use of a dictionary, lists of useful phrases, etc
  5. To make exam practice realistic, make sure that you don’t look at the question until you have started your stopwatch, i.e. only at the start of your 40-minute timed practice
  6. If you are studying for IELTS Writing without a teacher, always do tasks timed but then spend more time on them, edit again at least a week later to see if you can find anything else that can be improved, and make sure you memorise anything useful that you found during the extra work. You could also use a checklist to make sure you have done everything that you should do each time.
  7. If you have written few IELTS Writing Task 2 essays and the real exam is coming soon, you should make sure that you have done at least two timed papers, then spend the rest of the time quickly underlining key words and planning essays for as many different real exam tasks as possible
  8. Many candidates find that they have less than 40 minutes for Task 2 due to going over time on Task 1 and/ or that it is more difficult to do Task 2 when you are tired out by Task 1, so it’s best to practise doing both together in exactly 60 minutes at least twice before your actual exam
  9. Though the examiner will count every word to make sure your essay is over 250, don’t count every word even with practice exams, as it will get you into bad, timewasting habits


Studying for IELTS Writing Task 2 tips

  1. It’s much quicker to expand your range of language than to stop making mistakes, so most of your study time for Task 2 should be on learning useful vocabulary and (especially) phrases for the exam
  2. Unlike study for real academic writing such as writing publishable research papers, IELTS Writing is a closed-book exam, so all useful language that you come across should be thoroughly memorised
  3. Almost all Task 2 model answers are either far from perfect or too perfect for a candidate to really manage in 40 minutes, so always think critically about them before you search them for useful phrases etc
  4. Although list of vocabulary for typical Task 2 topics like “society” are useful, phrases for giving opinions, looking at both sides, etc are much more likely to be useful for any kind of Task 2 task
  5. Ways of learning useful phrases for Writing Task 2 include looking at a list just before doing a practice task, looking at a list after finishing a practice task and trying to add those phrases, and having a list of useful phrases to remember which you try to memorise several times a day
  6. Ways of learning useful language for Task 2 with a list or flashcards include with gapped phrases, the beginning of phrases to complete, wrong phrases to correct, phrases with the same meaning to brainstorm equivalents of, and descriptions such as “Personal experience phrases”
  7. If you want to learn useful vocabulary for the test such as words related to typical topics (“green issues”, etc), that can be done with a list or flashcards. Useful prompts to put on them include misspelled words, synonyms, antonyms, gapped example sentences, and descriptions
  8. It’s worth having a notebook (or similar electronic document) where you collect useful language such as “Phrases for starting body paragraphs”, “Strongly agreeing”, “Weakly disagreeing”, “Logical arguments – cause and effect”, other ways of supporting your arguments, and vocabulary for typical topics such as the environment and technology
  9. If slow handwriting is a problem in IELTS tests, try handwriting more in your daily life
  10. If you don’t have a teacher but can study with friends, useful activities include trying to add good language from your partner’s essay to your own, taking turns writing paragraphs of an essay, planning together, and using a checklist to check other people’s essays
  11. If you have a private teacher who doesn’t have much experience with teaching IELTS, make sure that they give you feedback on planning and paragraphing, more impressive language that you could have used, time management tips, etc, not just a list of mistakes that you made
  12. After you receive feedback from your teacher, choose the most important suggestions and corrections by which mistakes you might make again and which could affect comprehension, and memorise the corrected versions
  13. If spelling is your weak point in IELTS Writing Task 2, you should both study spelling rules such as “magic E” and learn individual words that are typical for the exam such as “respectively” and “drawbacks”
  14. If spelling is a weak point, you should check all difficult spellings after you finish a timed task, preferably using an electronic dictionary, dictionary app or dictionary site (as they will remember what you looked up and so can be used for review later)
  15. If you have received feedback on a Task 2 essay, look at it again after you finish future tasks to make sure that you haven’t made the same mistakes


Improving a low IELTS Writing Task 2 score tips

  1. If your IELTS Writing score is surprisingly low, the most common reasons are not answering the question, bad planning/ paragraphing, and not reaching the word limit
  2. If you need a high IELTS score but your writing is stuck at a medium level (e.g. 5.0 – 6.5), it’s likely to be because the language that you are using is too basic
  3. A good tip for using higher-level language to impress the examiner with is to always try to use longer phrases, e.g. “The vast majority” instead of just “The majority”
  4. A good general tip for expanding your range of language is to always use strong or weak language

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