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IELTS Writing: Not too long, Not too short

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


In the writing test in IELTS (International English Language Testing System), you’re required to write at least 150 words in task 1 (describing a graph or diagram, or writing a letter) and at least 250 words in task 2 (the essay).

If you don’t write the minimum number of words in either task, your answer will automatically lose marks and your band score will be reduced. Your overall band score may then be too low for you to enter a university or to migrate to another country.

Note that although a minimum number of words is required, there’s no maximum. However, this doesn’t mean you should write a long answer. For one thing, you don’t get bonus marks for long answers. For another, a long answer means you’ll have to write fast. The faster you write, the more likely you’ll make errors in your grammar and vocabulary, or that you will leave out important information. Your band score will therefore fall.

A sensible goal, then, is to write only a little over the required minimum number of words. I recommend that you aim for a maximum of 170 words for task 1, and 280 words for task 2. Writing within those limits will give you more time to think carefully about your ideas, the structure of your answer, and your grammar and vocabulary. In the writing test, quality is much more important than quantity.

Let’s look at an answer that an IELTS student wrote for me. Lisa had to answer the following essay question:
In many countries, children are engaged in some kind of paid work. Some people regard this as completely wrong, while others consider it as valuable work experience, important for learning and taking responsibility. What are your opinions on this?


Original answer
Lisa’s answer (below) has some good ideas, and her grammar and vocabulary are generally good.
However, a major problem is that her answer is under length. As it only has 199 words, it would receive a marking penalty.

Nowadays, many companies employ young workers due to their competitiveness in terms of cost. However, I oppose having children engage in any kind of paid work.

Some people may argue that a job is valuable for children’s work experience and teach them how to deal with responsibilities. However, there are many alternatives to learn about responsibilities, such as helping their family with household tasks. They learn how to organise their time so they can fulfil their responsibilities. They learn that chores have to be completed before they can play.

A job can disrupt a child’s life, especially undesirable or illegal work, ranging from selling flowers late at night on busy roads, through to selling drugs. Not only their childhood are interfered with these paid works, but also their standard of living becomes lower. They will have more risks.

Although jobs bring money, money is not everything. For children, it is important to concentrate on their studies rather than work. They should not miss out on the fun of being young by having a job. They have plenty of time to find their experiences throughout their life.

To sum up, it is completely wrong to engage children in paid work.

Rewritten answer

Lisa didn’t know how to lengthen her answer. I made a number of small additions to her answer that increased the number of words considerably. The changes are in bold italics in this rewritten answer.
Nowadays, many companies employ young workers due to their competitiveness in terms of cost. However, I oppose having children engage in any kind of paid work.

Some people may argue that a job is valuable for children’s work experience. They usually claim it teaches
 children how to deal with responsibilities. However, there are many alternative ways for children to learn about responsibilities. One approach is to get children to help their family with household tasks such as cleaning the floors or washing the dishes. They will learn how to organise their time so that they can fulfil their dutiesThey can also learn that chores have to be completed before they can play, which is what they will face as adults.

There are other major problems with getting children to work. For instance, a job can disrupt a child’s life. This is especially true if it is undesirable work such as selling flowers late at night on busy roads. Not only will their childhood be interfered with by such work, but also their standard of living will be loweredIn addition, they might face health and safety risks.

Finally, although jobs bring money, money is not everything. For children, it is more important that they concentrate on their studies rather than work. It is vital that they do not miss out on the fun of being young by having a job. After all, they will have plenty of time to explore the world of work throughout their adult life.

To sum up, it is completely wrong to engage children in paid work. Governments around the world should eliminate this unacceptable practice once and for all.

I did a few things to expand the essay from 199 to 275 words:
  • Linking words like “For instance,” “also” and “finally” have been used. These greatly improve the answer’s cohesion, which refers to the use of words to connect ideas in the same or different sentences.
  • Some simple detail has been added to make Lisa’s ideas and examples more specific. To illustrate, the original answer referred to “household tasks” while the rewrite gave examples: “...household tasks such as cleaning the floors or washing the dishes...”.
  • A clear topic sentence has been added to the third paragraph in order to summarise the content of the paragraph: “There are other major problems with getting children to work.”
  • Qualifying statements have been added, where appropriate. For instance, “They usually claim it teaches children how to deal with responsibilities” and “It is vital that they do not miss out on the fun of being young by having a job.
  • A final thought has been added to the end of the closing paragraph: “Governments around the world should eliminate this unacceptable practice once and for all.” Giving a recommendation or a suggestion like this is an excellent way to end your essay.
This article was written by David Park, a highly experienced IELTS teacher. Ajarn David teaches at Paradigm Language Institute.

If you have any questions about IELTS that you would like Ajarn David to answer,
or if you wish to do an IELTS preparation course, write to:
IELTS-training@paradigm-language.com.

IELTS is owned by Cambridge ESOL, the British Council and IELTS Australia.
 

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