Writing Descriptors and What You Need to Know

June 15, 2018 by Lyla Hage Lyla Hage

If you 've read previous blog posts on this site, you'll no doubt know the importance of understanding how you'll be evaluated on the IELTS exam. One important aspect of evaluation is getting to know the IELTS band descriptors for the writing tasks. The good news: it’s easy to get your hands on the public version of the band descriptors – check here for details! The band score descriptors, which range from Band 1 – 9, are used by IELTS examiners to evaluate the writing tasks and to determine the band score for the writing tasks.

You may be aware, there are an IELTS Academic and an IELTS General Training version of the exam. Candidates must choose which version to take depending on their individual requirements. There are two writing tasks on the IELTS. For the General Training exam, Writing Task 1 is a letter. For the Academic exam, the first writing task is describing a table, graph, chart or diagram. Writing Task 2 is an essay for both versions of the exam.

For Task 1 and Task 2, there are four categories with detailed band descriptors:

  • Task achievement/response
  • Coherence and cohesion
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy

Female College Students at desks in a classroom

The details for each of the above are as follows:

Task achievement/response – this descriptor looks at how thoroughly the task has been achieved. For Task 1 of the General Training exam (the letter), the examiner will look at whether the purpose of the letter is clear. The examiner will also look at whether the key features/bullet points from the task question are included in the response. Another important element of task achievement for the letter is whether the tone is appropriate and consistent. For example, the tone of a letter to a manager is quite different than the tone used in a letter to a friend.

For Task 1 of the Academic version (a table, graph, chart or diagram), the examiner will look at whether there is an overview (a summary, not including all details), as well as whether information about the key data, trends, etc. is included.

For Task 2 (an essay), the examiner will look at the development of the writer’s position, and whether that position is clear. The examiner will also look at how well the main ideas are developed and the relevance of those ideas.

Coherence and cohesion – this descriptor looks at how well the answer is organized and how well the answer progresses. For the Academic Task 1 and the Task 2 essay questions, there should be a clear introduction, body (with reasons and support) and a conclusion.

The examiner will also look at the effective use of cohesive devices, such as pronouns, conjunctions, articles, etc., as well as the use of referencing and substitution. Referencing is the ability to correctly replace a noun or noun phrase with a pronoun. Substitution is using substitute forms for words and phrases, instead of repeating the same thing over and over again. Using referencing and substitution properly will help make the writing sound more natural.

Under this descriptor, the examiner will also look at how effectively paragraphs are used and whether they are well-organized.

Lexical resource – this descriptor looks at the use and variety of vocabulary used in the writing. Here the examiner will look at the range of vocabulary, and, at higher band levels, style and collocation. Another important consideration in this descriptor is the frequency of spelling errors, word choice and word formation.

Grammatical range and accuracy – this descriptor looks at the range of structures used in sentences, i.e. simple vs. complex sentence forms. The examiner will also look at the frequency of grammatical errors and punctuation.

male and female students sititng on a bench in front of a school

As you can see, there are a number of things the examiner evaluates when looking at the writing tasks on the IELTS. For a more detailed description of the band descriptors, I suggest you become familiar with the online public version, available here. Before taking your IELTS exam, I suggest you spend some time familiarizing yourself with these descriptors so that you have a good sense of what your IELTS examiner will be looking for when evaluating your writing.  

Good luck and happy writing!



Lyla Hage

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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