How To (And How Not To) Organize Your Thoughts on the Writing Exam – Part 1 – Task 1

March 30, 2017 by Lauren McKenzie Lauren McKenzie

Whether writing the General Training or Academic Exam, an IELTS candidate must first familiarize themselves with the general topics, format and band score descriptors associated with both Task 1 and Task 2. Each task has specific requirements and the more prepared you are to meet the expectations of the writing marker, the better the outcome will be.

Being Strategic when Preparing for the IELTS

Of course, you should practice (with a timer) before the exam to know exactly how long it takes you to write the minimum word requirement: 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2. Set your timer for 20 minutes for Task 1 and 40 minutes for Task 2. You may want to practice these separately as it will help you to see the Tasks individually and to use the right approach for each.

On exam day, there should be no surprises, even though you will not have seen the prompts before the exam. For example, the Task 1 prompt for the General Training Test may ask you to write a letter requesting information or assistance from a person or business or even a letter to a friend. It's essential that all parts of the prompt are addressed and paragraphs are easily organized according to the criteria. Let's look at an example.

You play a team sport with some friends. Last week a member of the team had an accident and wasn't able to play with you on the weekend. You decide to write to him in the hospital telling him about the match.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter,

  • tell him which team won
  • describe the conditions on the day
  • say how you felt about the match

Knowing that each point must be addressed and the response must be 150 words, simple math and logic dictates that three, 50-word paragraphs will suffice. One sentence is usually 8 - 10 words, so 5 or 6 sentences on each topic should help you reach your word count. Of course, writing compound and complex sentences will show a greater facility in Grammatical Range and will mean fewer sentences are required. 

Expanding Ideas

A quick brainstorm will help you save time and avoid including irrelevant information. For the first point, the response can be expanded to include which players scored the goals, how the goals were scored and the highlights of the game's winning goal. Develop each point of the prompt in a similar way and address each one equally so that your response is balanced. Test-takers should be creative but must stay on topic.

Adding a sentence at the beginning which paraphrases and summarizes the prompt in your own words will enhance the reader's experience. Perhaps you want to express sympathy to the friend about their accident. At the end, a sentence to wish them a speedy recovery in the hospital will provide the writing marker with a clear conclusion to your letter.


Task 1 on the Academic Test requires you to summarize and highlight the relevant information on a chart, graph or diagram of some type. Read the prompt and look at the diagram carefully before writing. For example:

The graph below shows population figures for India and China since the year 2000 and predicted population growth up until 2050.

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

The key to Task 1 on the Academic Text is making decisions. What is important to mention about the data? There's not enough time to discuss each and every point, therefore you should choose the main features and focus the response on these.

The Fifth Skill for the IELTS Exam

Effective time management is the 5th skill needed for the IELTS exam. When preparing for IELTS, remember that Task 2 has more value than Task 1. As a result, you may want to begin the Writing exam with Task 2. However, going over the time recommendations for each Task is not a good strategy. The best way to prepare is by timed practice at home where its quiet, or even a coffee shop with some background noise when you are ready.

Getting feedback from a friend, co-worker or classmate will give you with an excellent opportunity to understand the experience of the reader. Ask them: Is it logical? Does it answer all parts of the prompt? How can the response be improved? 

Getting feedback can be difficult - so it's very important to state very clearly to yourself and anyone who helps you that you have no emotions about your writing. To be effective, feedback must be as honest as possible. Good luck!



Lauren McKenzie

Lauren has been teaching English for close to fifteen years in universities and language schools in Halifax, NS. To meet the needs of her students, she began her own study of the IELTS exam nearly five years ago and has since taught preparation workshops. Lauren lives in Halifax, NS where she enjoys hiking and live music as well as travelling, studying languages and reading nonfiction.

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