9 ways to score a band 9 on the IELTS Writing

Last Published: 23/02/22
The Writing section is a challenge for IELTS test-takers around the world. Many universities require a minimum writing score of 6.0 or 6.5, but the average writing score was just over 5.5.

The key to acing the IELTS essay is all in the grading rubric. What are the examiners looking for? You can see a copy of the rubric here.

Basically, there are four aspects you will be graded on:

  • Task response (do you actually answer the question and make relevant points)
  • Coherence and Cohesion (how well does your argument flow from one point to the next)
  • Lexical Resource (your vocabulary)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (number of grammatical errors, complexity of sentence structure etc)

Here are some handy tips to make sure you hit these four rubric elements.

1. Read the question twice

There is nothing worse than starting to answer the wrong question. Take the time to read the question ... twice ... slowly. Underline the action word - 'describe', 'compare', 'evaluate', 'argue', 'explain' - at the end of the prompt. This action word defines how you should structure your argument - are you comparing two alternative points of view, giving your own opinion etc.

2. Plan your response

You have 40 minutes for the Writing part 2, the main essay section which asks for an essay of 250 words or more. Spend the first 3-4 minutes writing a plan in dot-point form. Your plan should contain:

  • main thesis (what is your one-line response to the question)
  • 3-5 supporting points, each with at least one piece of evidence

3. Plant your flag

Many essays lose points on the "Task Response" section of the rubric because they do not clearly answer the question. In the first line of your essay, answer the question directly and make your stance clear. This is the backbone of your whole essay, which you will come back to in the conclusion. E.g. "Although many argue that governments should not fund professional sports, I believe that the benefits of supporting the athletic community more than justify the expenditure." 

4. PEAL paragraphs

The best way to structure your paragraphs to ensure you meet the "Cohesion" rubric is to follow the PEAL paragraph structure.

  • P: Point - State the main point of the paragraph. e.g. "Many argue that the shift of young people from rural to urban areas is leading to major social problems."
  • E: Evidence - Provide some evidence to support the topic sentence above. This can be a statistic, quote, or simply a line of reasoning. e.g. "This urban shift has been linked to a spike in youth unemployment and a consequent rise in criminal activity."
  • A: Analysis - Critically evaluate this evidence. What does it actually mean? How trustworthy is it? E.g. "There are other factors besides urbanization that contribute to youth unemployment, including increasing automation and a higher retirement age. However, the rapid migration to urban areas is certainly putting strain on the job market and leaving many new arrivals out of work."
  • L: Link - Link back to your overall thesis statement, and if possible to your next paragraph. E.g. "Despite these issues with youth unemployment, there is significant long term value for both the individual and the community when young people relocate to cities."

5. Linking phrases

Another way to bring structure and flow to your writing is to use linking phrases - "In addition", "By contrast", "By the same token".... There is a nice list of phrases here.

6. Sentence complexity

One of the aspects of the Grammar rubric is using complex and compound sentences. These linking phrases can help you achieve that. You can find more information about complex and compound sentences here. The essence is that sentences are made up of units called clauses. A sentence with two or more independent clauses = compound sentence e.g. "Jim walked the dog, and then he watered the plants." A sentence with at least one dependent clause = complex sentence e.g. "Jim walked the dog because it was sunny outside" [Clauses separately underlined]

7. Strut your vocab

Often, the simplest writing is the best. However, for the IELTS section it is important to demonstrate the range and complexity of your vocabulary. Don't overdo it, but using the occasional 'big word' can be helpful.

8. Watch your numbers

You should be aware of two numbers throughout - time and word count. You have 1hr total for the writing section, of which around 20 minutes should be spent of Part 1 and 40 minutes on part 2. You want a few minutes at the beginning to plan your response, a few minutes at the end to proofread, so that gives you around 15 minutes to actually write Part 1 and 30-35 minutes for Part 2.

9. Proofread

This is critically important. Leave 2-4 minutes at the end of each writing section to read over your work and correct any basic errors - spelling, apostrophes in the right place, capitalization done correctly, 4-6 paragraphs etc. If you are doing the IELTS on a computer, it is easy to make edits to your writing at this stage.

Follow this formula and you can achieve a Band 9 in the IELTS Writing. Use the Graid writing coach to see how your essay would score, and get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses according to the IELTS rubric. You can try to Graid tool for free here.