IELTS Academic Writing Tips

Do you want to study, work, or live in an English speaking country? If so, taking the IELTS is probably in your future.

Once you’re clear on the IELTS meaning (“IELTS” means International English Language Testing System), you’ll need to figure out whether you need to take the Academic IELTS or the General IELTS. The Academic version of IELTS has different Reading and Writing sections than the General version, so your study materials need to be specific to the version you’re taking.

Keep reading for advice about how to succeed on the IELTS Academic Writing section!

Tips for Academic Writing Task 1

The IELTS Academic Writing section is divided into two Tasks. In IELTS Academic Writing Task 1, you must describe the information in a given graphic, table, chart, or diagram.

Here are three tips to keep in mind when writing your response.

1. Don’t over-complicate the question

IELTS recommends you spend 20 minutes on Task 1. The examiners don’t expect (or want) you to write down every possible detail about the visual you’re analyzing.

Instead, try to notice three things about the data:

  • What is the general topic? (You can usually find this in the caption above the visual.)
  • What is being measured and in what units?
  • What are two or more general trends?

Let’s take a look at an example:

The graph below shows the pollution levels in London between 1600 and 2000.

Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.


So now we can go through our checklist.

What’s the general topic?

Pollution levels in London between 1600 and 2000.

What is being measured and in what units?

Smoke and sulphur dioxide are being measured in micrograms per cubic meter.

What are at two or more general trends?

1)   Levels of both pollutants formed a similar pattern during this period.

2)   There were always higher levels of sulphur dioxide than smoke.

This is the main information you should include in your Task 1 response.

2. Organize your ideas logically

Once you know what the question is asking, you can start your essay. Grouping ideas together logically will make your ideas less jumbled and easier to read. Try using this three-paragraph organizational template when writing your Task 1 response:

  • Paragraph 1- Introduction and overview: The three answers from the last tip will make a great introduction.
  • Paragraph 2 – Describe main features more specifically: Focus on the general trends, but support them with numbers from the visual.
  • Paragraph 3 – Draw a simple conclusion: Keep it short and sweet, for example: “Air pollution was a much bigger problem in London between 1650 and 1950  than it is today.”

3. Understand your limits when interpreting data

There is a lot of specific grammar and vocabulary that people use when talking about data, so it’s better for you to stick to common vocabulary than to use technical words you aren’t sure about.

Also, never guess about specific numbers that aren’t on the visual. For example, when writing about the graph of “Pollution levels in London” it would be better to say that sulphur dioxide peaks at “just under 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter” rather than “at 9,000 micrograms per cubic meter” because we can’t tell the exact number just from looking at the graph.

Tips for Academic Writing Task 2

For IELTS Academic Writing Task 2, you must write an essay to discuss a given problem and possible solutions to it. Here are three tips to help you construct a good essay.

1. Break down the question

Unless you fully answer the question, you cannot score higher than a band 5. Luckily, once you learn how to correctly analyze a question, you can quickly improve your score.

Spend time reading the question carefully and think about exactly what the question is asking you to do. Try identifying these three things in the question:

  • The general topic
  • Specific sub-topics
  • What is being asked

Let’s try it with an example:

Some people feel that certain workers like nurses, doctors and teachers are undervalued and should be paid more, especially when other people like film actors or company bosses are paid huge sums of money that are out of proportion to the importance of the work that they do.


-To what extent do you agree with this statement?

-What criteria should be used to decide how much people are paid?

  • The general topic here is:
    • Fair payment.
  • The subtopics are:
    • Nurses, doctors, and teachers are undervalued
    • Film actors and company bosses are paid too much
  • You are being asked to explain:
    • To what extent do you agree?
    • Your suggested payment criteria

Therefore, in your essay you must discuss if you agree that the current payment system is unfair as it applies to doctors and teachers versus actors and bosses, and provide some criteria for improving it (if you think it needs improvement).

If you don’t cover these things, you won’t have answered the question and you can’t get over a band 5.

2. Make a plan before starting to write

A lot of students don’t plan out their essays before they start writing. If you do this, it’s very likely that you’ll get lost in the middle and either end up with a very disorganized essay, or you may even have to start over completely.

Try to spend one or two minutes analyzing the question, and at least five minutes planning out your paragraphs before you start writing.

3. Write slightly over the word limit

It’s a lot of work, but the IELTS examiners actually do count every word of your writing test to make sure it meets the minimum word requirement. For Task 2 you have to write at least 250 words. That means writing 249 words for Task 2 will cost you points.

Obviously you don’t have time to count every single word, so the best thing to do is shoot for writing above the word limit, just to be safe.

However, you don’t want to write too much over the word limit, because the questions are designed to be answered in 250 words, and writing more than is required often leads to adding information you don’t need (plus more grammar mistakes). It’s generally a good idea to aim for around 275 words.

Try familiarizing yourself with how much space a 275-word essay takes up on a page, versus an essay with 250 or 300 words, so you can get a feel for how much you’ve written on test day just by looking.  

Now try it out!

The best way to learn is by doing. Get ready for the real thing by trying out these tips for IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and 2 on a free practice test!


By Molly Kiefer

Molly completed her undergraduate degree in Philosophy at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She has been tutoring the SAT, GRE, and LSAT since 2014, and loves supporting her students as they work towards their academic goals. When she’s not tutoring or blogging for Magoosh, Molly takes long walks, makes art, and studies ethics. Molly currently lives in Northern California with her cat, who is more popular on Instagram than she is.


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