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Kathy Zheng from China asks:

I am going to sit the IELTS test but I am very worried about the writing task. Could you give me some suggestions, please?
Roger replies:

For those of you who don't know, the IELTS (the International English Language Testing System) provides an assessment of whether candidates are ready to study or train through the medium of English. It is recognised by higher and further education institutions as fulfilling English language entrance requirements and by professional bodies such as the General Medical Council. It is readily available in 251 approved test centres in 105 countries around the world who arrange tests according to demand.

For the academic module, there are two writing tasks, as I'm sure you know, Kathy. In Task 1 you need to write a minimum of 150 words in about 20 minutes and in Task 2 a minimum of 250 words in about 40 minutes.

In Task 1 you are asked to look at a diagram or table or bar chart and then to organise and present the data in your own words in the form of a general report suitable for a university lecturer or tutor. Scripts are assessed on the criteria of:

task fulfilment
coherence and cohesion
vocabulary and sentence structure.

So that you satisfy the task fulfilment requirements, it is a good idea to spend a minute or two at the beginning, making sure that you understand the information given and can represent it accurately in your answer. Remember all that your are doing is transferring tabulated information to a continuous discourse medium. You are not required to comment on it.

It is also a good idea at the beginning to take a little time to think about how you will organise the information in your response so that it has appropriate coherence and paragraphing. Make sure you know how to use cohesive devices like ‘firstly? ‘secondly?etc, so that your text hangs together both within and between sentences.

And finally, in your reply to this question, try to use an appropriate range of vocabulary and sentence structures, as suggested by the question itself. The focus should be on appropriacy rather than breadth of expression.

In Task 2, you are presented with a point of view or argument or problem and you are assessed on your ability to find a solution, justify an opinion and compare and contrast evidence. Thus, you will need to formulate and develop an argument and to show a degree of personal response. Let's look at a sample question which appears in the IELTS April 2000 Handbook:

Present a written argument or case to an educated reader with no Specialist knowledge of the following topic:

'It is inevitable that as technology develops, traditional cultures must be lost. Technology and tradition are incompatible ?you cannot have both together.'

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Should you choose to agree with this proposition, your opening paragraph might read as follows:

'Technology has developed rapidly over the past fifty years and technological developments are accelerating at an even faster rate now. I think it is the case that with these developments traditional culture has to a large extent disappeared. Take my own country for example.'

That is already forty-four words. All you then need to do over perhaps three or four paragraphs is to present, say, three instances of disappearance of traditional culture relating to, e.g. dress, food and customs and then perhaps cite one example of traditional culture that has been maintained to justify your ‘to a large extent?claim in the opening paragraph.

You are ready then to introduce a final paragraph which summarises your viewpoint:

In conclusion, it seems fairly clear that in the culture that I grew up in only those traditions with the strongest roots in people's beliefs and values are likely to survive the unrelenting progress of technological advance.

Give it your best shot, Kathy! And to all of you taking IELTS over the coming months, think clearly and organise your thoughts well as far as the writing is concerned. Then utilise the best linguistic resources that you possess.


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