How to Get a Top Mark in the IELTS Writing Section (General Task 1)

Last Published: 04/03/22
Let's have a look at an example from one of the writing questions on GRAID.

Here's the Question:

You are planning a vacation and you need someone to look after your cat while you are away. Write a letter to your neighbour. In your letter,

explain why you are going away for a week

describe the cat

ask the neighbour if they can perform specific duties to care for the cat


Here's the Answer

Dear Stuart,

I am writing to you to ask for your assistance in looking after our cat Reginald (or "Reggie") as we are going a much-needed break. We think that you would be perfect for this task as you have cared for your own cat for many years now.

This holiday has been a long time coming as both Lauren and I are terribly stressed at work. We are hoping that taking a week of rest and relaxation will re-energize us and help us tackle life's challenges for the rest of the year.

Reggie should not cause you any trouble as he is a friendly and good-natured cat. He has black and white fur and, due to a transition from being an "outdoor" cat to being an "indoor" cat, he has developed a bit of a belly. This transition occurred due to an unfortunate incident where he lost his left incisor.

As a result, we are hoping that you would be able to accommodate some specific dietary requirements. He is a bit pampered. He only eats the finest steak and since he is missing a tooth, we cut the steak into bite-sized chunks so he doesn't have to tear the meat himself.

Thank you in advance for your help. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

Tom and Lauren


The Breakdown

This is a good response to the question and here is why. The author has been able to address all the parts of the question while showing off their mastery of the English language. They have been able to do this by taking advantage of one key element of the IELTS exam.

Remember, the content of your writing is not marked.

How does this help me? This is a very useful feature of the exam as it means you can use your imagination to create interesting scenarios or events that will allow you to showcase the breath of your vocabulary, your skill at crafting various sentence structures, and to answer all aspects of the question. The author of this piece managed to do this effectively by creating an interesting scenario about an unusual cat! So let's break the essay down into the four rubric categories that the markers judge your responses on.

Task Response

In this category the marker will be looking for whether you have addressed all parts of the question. For these types of questions (it will be the same for all task 1 general questions) the marker will concentrate on how well you have addressed the dot points. For this question that will be:

  • explain why you are going away for a week
  • describe the cat
  • ask the neighbour if they can perform specific duties to care for the cat

It is generally good practice to answer these questions in the order in which they are presented, and as you can see in the image below the author has managed to do that effectively.

Point 1 - Why are you going away for a week: Lauren and Tom are stressed at work

Point 2 - Describe the cat: Black and white cat with a bit of a fat belly

Point 3 - Ask the neighbour to perform specific duties of care: The cat only eats the finest steak and could you please cut it into small pieces.

Cohesion

With this the marker will be looking to for you to utilise cohesive devices and paragraphing in such a way that they do not draw attention to themselves while making it seem fluid to the reader. What does that mean? This means that the markers will be looking for pronouns (he, she or it), linking words (words which combine two or more ideas together) and for you to split your response into multiple paragraphs. As you can see the author has been able to do this effectively. They have written the response in multiple paragraphs and used linking words such as "As a result" and pronouns such as "he" when describing the cat to link their ideas fluently across these multiple paragraphs.

For the task 1 general test, there are two special features that have to be added to your response since you will be asked to write a letter. Firstly, you have to address the letter to someone. This is easy to do. Start with a greeting ("Dear...," "Hello," or "Hi") the safest option to use in most cases is "Dear," followed by a proper noun (e.g. a persons name or a company name) and finish with a comma. You can then start a new paragraph. In this example the author has used "Dear Stuart,".

The second thing you have to do is finish the letter with a sign off. The sign off is also easy but depends on the formality of the letter. You begin with a short sign off phrase (e.g. "Cheers," "Kind regards," or "Yours sincerely," followed by a comma and a new paragraph). You can then add the author of the letter (your name). In the example above the author has used "Kind regards," and finished with "Tom and Lauren".

Vocabulary

This is where your spelling and word choice will be judged. The marker will be looking for your vocabulary range (the complexity of your word choice) and your accuracy. So if you are not sure about how a word is spelled, or if you are unsure if you have got it in the right place, it is better to re-write the sentence with different words (even if they are simpler) just to make sure you are correct. Remember that it is very important to read over your response once you have finished because you can pick up mistakes in your writing by editing effectively. If you look above, our author has used a wide range of complex vocabulary and has not made any errors.

Grammar

This is the final category that the marker will assess you on. The marker will be looking for you to write a variety of different sentence structures and in English there are 4 basic sentence structures:

  • Simple Sentence
  • Complex Sentence
  • Compound Sentence
  • Complex Compound Sentence

We will be discussing simple, complex, compound and complex compound sentences in upcoming videos and blog posts. Responses need to show a wide variety of these sentence types without making any errors.

Estimated Mark

If you would like to find out more about how the markers will assess your response have a look at the public band descriptors, and then head to graid.com to practise your writing. At graid.com you can write as many responses as you would like and in less than one minute you will get a predicted mark and feedback about how you achieved in accordance with the public band descriptors.