Pauline Cullen: How to score well in the IELTS writing test

Florence Kemsley

Today we are sharing the recording of our Q & A webinar on the IELTS writing test with Pauline Cullen, co-author of The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS, the definitive guide to passing IELTS exams.

In the webinar, Pauline tells us why doing the IELTS writing task is like learning to cook, and answers some important questions from teachers around the world.

The IELTS writing task is like cooking

At first, students need to follow the recipe to get good results. This means using controlled practice to build up their basic skills. Do this by asking checking questions and helping students to plan their answers.

When they have done lots of controlled practice, students can try doing the task without the recipe. This is known as free practice.

There’s no point learning an answer, because it won’t answer the question properly. A learned answer is like a ready meal – it doesn’t involve any cooking!

The ingredients for a good answer

It’s important that students include all the ingredients to make a good answer. In order to do this, they need to know what the ingredients are, so make sure students are aware of the four writing task criteria and what they mean:

Task response

  • cover all the requirements of the task equally
  •  include relevant, well-supported ideas
  • make your opinion clear


Coherence and cohesion

  • logically organise your information into paragraphs
  • focus on a clear topic in each paragraph


Lexical resource

  • use a wide range of vocabulary and avoid repetition
  • check your accuracy


Grammatical range and accuracy

  • use a wide range of grammar structures with minimal errors


Here are some of the questions which Pauline answered during the webinar:

Q: Will students be marked down for bad handwriting?
A: It’s really important that the examiner can read students’ answers so I recommend lots of practice answering the writing task in handwriting. It’s also been proven that people retain more information by handwriting rather than typing, so it’s a better way to learn too!

Q: Are points deducted if you go over the 250 word limit for Task 2?
A: Points aren’t deducted but if you go over the word limit you might not give yourself time to include a range of grammatical structures and check your work. All the tasks have been designed with the word limit in mind, so students really shouldn’t need to exceed the word limit.

Q: What happens if students use a mix of British and American English?
A: It’s really important that students try not to mix British and American English. For example, if they use the British spelling of “colour” all the way through, and then change to the American spelling, “color”, it is going to look like a spelling mistake.

Q: As Task 2 is worth more points, should students do this one first?
A: It’s highly likely that if students did this, they would end up spending far too much time on Task 2 so I would recommend doing them in order.

To find out more about how to perform well in the IELTS writing task and hear Pauline answer more questions from teachers, listen to the webinar recording below.



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