Word Counts Count!

March 20, 2017 by Lyla Hage

It’s IELTS test day and you’ve just about completed your writing test. There's a short time remaining, so you look over your writing. You then realize you haven’t paid attention to the number of words you’ve written, and you ask yourself: have I written enough?

As an IELTS writing examiner, it pains me to think about this scenario because it may result in a test taker losing points because she has written too few words. It may seem like a simple thing to remember, but for a variety of reasons, including feeling nervous, running out of time, or forgetting about the word counts, test takers do not always write the minimum number of words required for Writing Task 1 and Task 2, and, as a result, they lose valuable points.

Below are some important things to keep in mind about word count:

• Writing Task 1 and 2 – the same, but different

There are two parts to the IELTS writing test: Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2. You have 60 minutes to complete both tasks. For Task 1, you must write at least 150 words. It is recommended that you spend about 20 minutes completing this task.

For Task 2, the minimum number of words is 250 – that’s quite a bit more than Task 1, so keep this in mind when you are planning what to write. It is recommended that you spend about 40 minutes on Task 2. Also, it’s important to remember that Task 2 is worth twice as much as Task 1, so you want to ensure you give this task the time it deserves.

• There is a minimum, but no maximum

While there is a minimum number of words required for each task, there is no maximum. Keep in mind, however, that you will not receive extra points for writing more than the required number of words. While it is ok to write more, especially if you think it is necessary to fully answer the question, you should consider that your time may be better spent re-reading your answer, ensuring it is complete, and checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

• Use your own words!

Using your own words is very important; if you copy phrases or whole sentences from the question, these will not be included in your total word count. In other words, when you write your answer, don’t copy phrasing or whole sentences from the question. If you do, the copied words will be taken off your total word count, and if this takes you below the minimum required word count, you will lose points.

• If I don’t count my words, how will I know?

As I mentioned above, you need to plan your time well in order to complete the writing tasks. Try to leave some time to go back and re-read your answer, and check spelling, grammar and punctuation. While you may have a short time to check these things, you probably won’t have time to count your words.

I strongly recommended that you practice for the IELTS exam before test day. By practicing the writing tasks, you'll get a sense of how much space it takes for you to write 150 and 250 words. I recommend that you take advantage of the practice tests that are available online at http://ieltscanadatest.com/prepare-for-ielts/practice-tests/ to help you prepare for your IELTS test. I also recommend that you consider taking a free IELTS seminar (http://ieltscanadatest.com/prepare-for-ielts/free-ielts-seminars/) to help you prepare.

• Write clearly

Sometimes a test taker’s writing is hard to read. While nobody expects perfect handwriting on the IELTS test, I recommend that you try to write neatly enough so that the examiner can read your writing and can count the number of words. If the words run into each other or are very difficult to read, it may be hard for the examiner to count the words you have written. At the end of the day, you want to have every word that you write count, so try to take care to write as neatly as you can!

Finally, please remember that the only words that count are those on your answer sheet; any words that you write on your question sheet are not included in the total word count.

Hopefully, these tips about word count on the writing test will help you better prepare for your IELTS test. Remember that preparation and knowledge go a long way in helping you get ready for your IELTS test. Good luck!

Word count:  724

Lyla is an English language instructor working with international students and immigrants in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lyla loves everything about her work, especially helping people reach their language and learning goals.

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