If you’re stuck at band six, then it’s likely that you have some bad habits and ineffective approaches to the writing exam. These are things that might work well at band six, but they won’t help you to get band seven.
I’ll show you what these ineffective habits are, and how you can change them.
One point: I’ll be focusing on the academic IELTS exam in this video, because most of the students I meet need academic IELTS. If you’re taking general IELTS, most of the advice in this video is still very relevant for you.
Also, one more thing: there’s nothing wrong with getting band six! I’m not trying to be rude or discouraging to anyone. When I say that something is a bad habit, or that you need to change something, I mean if you want to get band 7.0 in the IELTS writing exam.
1. Understanding how IELTS Writing Scores Work
Do you know how IELTS scoring works?
You should. Here’s why:
The IELTS scoring system is very specific. The examiners don’t just look at your writing and say, “Hmmm, this feels like a… six!”
If you get band six in the IELTS writing exam, there are specific reasons why.
There are specific things which you did or didn’t do which explain your score.
Similarly, to get band seven, there are specific things you need to do, and not do!
Most importantly: these things are very different between bands six and seven. If you keep taking IELTS, and you keep getting band six in the writing, then you can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get a different score.
You need to change what you do.
The things you need to do to get band seven in your IELTS writing aren’t magic or some kind of dark secret. They’re publicly available. You can read what they are: task one scoring scheme; task two scoring scheme.
You can do it right now! I highly recommend you read the scoring criteria and think about what band seven means.
At the very least, you need to understand that your IELTS writing score is made up of four different parts: task achievement, coherence and cohesion, lexical resource (which means vocabulary) and grammar.
Think now: where are you weakest? What do you need to work on from these four areas?
In the rest of this lesson, we’ll talk about each of these four areas. You’ll see common examples of ‘band six thinking’, and you’ll see how you can improve your approach to get a higher IELTS writing score.
Let’s start with task achievement and how you can get band seven in your IELTS writing exam.
2. How to Get IELTS Band 7.0 for Task Achievement
Here are the some ideas that are great for getting band six:
- “In task one, I need to include every statistic and piece of data.”
- “In task two, I just need to write something about the general topic in the question.”
By the way, to save myself saying ‘task achievement’ again and again, I’m going to call it ‘TA’.
Getting band 7 for TA is both easy and hard.
Here’s why it’s easy: you just need to do everything which the question asks you to do, and nothing else.
Here’s why it’s hard: most people can’t do that without a lot of practice.
TA is also slightly different for task one and task two, so we’ll talk about those separately.
Let’s start with task one. Here’s a sample question:
- The graph below shows the sales of five different food products in the UK between 1980 and 2010.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
Getting a good TA score depends a lot on what you do before you start writing. You need to analyse the task and make a clear plan. If you start writing without a clear plan, it’s very hard to get a good TA score.
In task one, it’s important to find connections or trends in the information you’re given.
For example, in this question, how could you connect the data?
Here’s one idea: you could group the five products into, first, products whose sales fell over the period (ice cream and frozen burgers), secondly, products whose sales rose (tofu and chili sauce) and finally, products whose sales stayed the same (salted peanuts).
Here’s another suggestion: group the five products into big sellers (ice cream, frozen burgers, and also chili sauce at the end of the period), and small sellers (tofu, salted peanuts, chili sauce at the beginning of the period).
Which way do you think is better?
Actually, there isn’t one correct way to do this, but you need to do something. You can’t just write about each product, one after another. Well, you can, but you’ll probably get band six for TA!
Whatever data you’re given, you need to find connections and put the information into groups which you create. These groups will be separate paragraphs in your answer. This is how your answer will have structure, which is also important for your coherence and cohesion score.
What about task two?
Let’s look at a sample question:
- Some people believe that young people benefit from working while studying at school or university. Others think that young people will achieve more by focusing on their studies. Discuss both of these viewpoints and give your own opinion.Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
The most common problem in task two is leaving something out.
To get band 7 for TA, you need to do all of the things the question is asking you to do, and only the things the question is asking you to do.
What does that mean here?
The task says, ‘discuss both of these viewpoints.’
First, you need to discuss the idea ‘that young people benefit from working while studying at school or university.’
One word here is particularly important. Do you know which one?
‘Benefit’ is a key word here. What does ‘benefit’ mean? How do you understand it?
Next, you need to discuss the idea, ‘young people will achieve more by focusing on their studies.’
Again, there’s a key phrase here: ‘achieve more’. What does this mean?
You need to have answers to these questions.
IELTS tasks often contain abstract, general words like advantages, benefits, problems, success, etc. To write a good answer, you need to analyse and interpret these words yourself.
Here, think about ‘achieve more’. How do you understand this term in this question?
Does it mean getting good exam results, learning more knowledge, learning practical skills, getting a better job, living a full, satisfying life, or something else?
Again, there isn’t one right answer here, but you need to have your own ideas about this.
Next, the task says, ‘give your own opinion’. So, you need to explain which side you agree with.
Finally, the task tells you to give reasons and include examples. This means that you need to support your ideas. You can’t just say something like:
- Young people who focus on their studies will achieve more.
If you make a point like this, you need to support it somehow. How will they achieve more? What examples can you give to show that this is true?
Let’s review: for this question, you need to do four things to get a good TA score:
- Discuss the idea ‘that young people benefit from working while studying at school or university,’ and analyse what ‘benefit’ means.
- Discuss the idea that, ‘young people will achieve more by focusing on their studies,’ and analyse what ‘achieve more’ means.
- Give your own opinion and reach a clear conclusion.
- Support your ideas with reasons or examples.
If you can do these four things, you can get band 7 for TA in your IELTS writing exam.
Remember though, it’s not as simple as it looks. You will probably need to practise to get this right.
Next, let’s look at your coherence and cohesion score.
3. How to Get IELTS Band 7.0 for Coherence and Cohesion
I’m going to refer to coherence and cohesion as C&C, to keep things simple.
Here are the habits which can limit your C&C score to six:
- “I need to use more linking words to get a higher score.”
- “My essay should have an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.”
Let’s look at each point separately.
Oli 1: Oh, hey, Oli! How was your IELTS exam?
Oli 2: Amazing! I totally nailed it. I used nevertheless, furthermore, however, in spite of the fact that, AND in addition. My band 7 score is GUARANTEED!
No, it doesn’t work like that.
First of all, linking isn’t just about linking words. It’s about the logic and flow of your ideas.
Look at a sentence:
- Air pollution is a serious problem. However, food prices are higher than ten years ago.
Using however here doesn’t magically make these ideas connected. These two ideas aren’t connected, and you can’t create a connection by using a word like however.
Next, there’s nothing in the IELTS scoring system which says you get a higher score for using more linking words.
It’s more important to make sure you use linking words accurately.
Using more linking words won’t get you band seven. However, using linking words incorrectly will get you band six.
So, don’t use linking words just to use linking words. Use them because they fit your ideas.
Don’t think, “I have to use nonetheless to get a high score!” You don’t.
Next, let’s look at our second point: paragraphing.
Many IELTS candidates use the same structure for everything they write. For example, for task two, most people write an introduction, two body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
That might be fine. However, to get band 7 for C&C, you need to “present a clear central topic within each paragraph.”
Those aren’t my words. That’s straight from the IELTS scoring scheme.
Many students, especially in task two, write paragraphs like this:
- There are many advantages to…
This kind of writing is likely to get a score of 6 for C&C.
Because, if you do this, you’re trying to put too much in one paragraph. That means your paragraph won’t have a clear central topic.
So, what’s the solution?
First, plan your essay carefully. Make sure you know exactly what you’re putting in each paragraph before you start writing.
Secondly, make sure your paragraph starts with a clear topic sentence. Your topic sentence should be relatively short and simple. If your topic sentence is very long and complicated, then your topic probably isn’t clear.
Then, after your topic sentence, spend the rest of the paragraph developing and extending your main idea. This means that you aren’t adding any new ideas or changing the topic in the middle of your paragraph.
Also, this means you might need different numbers of paragraphs depending on how many main ideas you have.
Do you have two body paragraphs in your essay? That means you have two main ideas. Do you have three main ideas? Then you need three paragraphs!
Another point: paragraphs don’t have a minimum length. There’s no such thing as a paragraph which is too short. Paragraphs can be any length.
So, let’s review this section.
To get band seven C&C in your IELTS writing exam, you need to focus on using linking words accurately and appropriately.
You also need to make sure every paragraph has a clear central topic, which means you shouldn’t try to put many different ideas in one paragraph.
Next, let’s look at vocabulary and how you can get to band seven.
4. How to Get IELTS Band 7.0 for Vocabulary
Here’s a band six idea that students often have:
- “I need to learn lots of synonyms and uncommon vocabulary. If my vocabulary is bigger, I’ll get a higher score.”
There’s one important difference between band six and seven for vocabulary.
At band six, you need two things: range and clarity. If you at least try to use some more advanced or uncommon vocabulary, you can get six if your meaning is clear, even if you make mistakes, even if you make lots of mistakes.
However, for band seven, you need three things: range, clarity and accuracy. It’s no longer enough just to try. You need to use vocabulary “with flexibility and precision”—again, this is a quote from the official scoring scheme.
You can’t make many mistakes for band seven. You can produce “occasional errors” and still get band seven.
What does this mean for you?
It means that your priority should be avoiding mistakes.
I see many IELTS students trying to learn lots of idioms, phrases, academic vocabulary and so on.
But then, they often don’t know how to use this vocabulary. They use it in their writing, because they think it sounds nice, and their meaning might be clear, but it’s not correct.
That’s fine for band six, but not for band seven.
So, what should you do?
Look, first of all, vocabulary learning is hard work and it’s slow. There aren’t any magic solutions here.
But I’ll give you one tip:
When you’re learning vocabulary, focus on quality and depth, not quantity.
Don’t try to learn 50 words or phrases. Learn five words or phrases, but really learn them. Spend an hour learning and practising five new words and phrases.
Find example sentences. Write your own example sentences. Ask a teacher or whoever you can find to give you feedback. Make sure you know how to use your new vocabulary correctly.
Another point: in the exam, if you have a choice between a simple word which you know is correct, and a more advanced or academic word which you aren’t sure about, what should you do?
Use the simple word. Only use vocabulary you’re sure you understand and that you know how to use.
This is the opposite to band six. For band six, you can use the more advanced word, even if it’s wrong.
But remember, to get band seven, you need to be accurate. You can’t make many mistakes. So, in this situation, take the safe choice!
Finally, let’s look at the grammar score and how you can get to band seven.
5. How to Get IELTS Band 7.0 for Grammar
Here’s the band six idea which students often have:
- “Grammar’s not so important, so long as people can understand what I mean.”
Again, band six and band seven are very different. This is especially true for your grammar score.
What’s the difference? Like vocabulary, you need to be accurate to get band seven.
At band six, it doesn’t really matter how many grammar mistakes you make so long as your meaning is clear.
At band seven, the quantity of grammar errors you make matters. It really matters!
To get band seven for grammar, you need to “produce frequent error-free sentences”—again, these words are directly from the official IELTS scoring scheme.
That means if you make a lot of small mistakes, it’s almost impossible to get band seven for grammar.
All mistakes count: you use the wrong preposition? It’s a mistake. You forget to use the? Mistake. You forget the ‘s’ on a present simple verb? Mistake.
If your writing is around band six, you probably make more mistakes than you realise.
So, what can you do?
First, you need to identify the common mistakes which you make. For this, you need a teacher to show you where you make mistakes in your writing.
Every time you do some writing, look at the grammar mistakes you make. Sort them into two categories.
One: mistakes with things you don’t know.
Two: mistakes with things you already knew.
For example, if you write ‘childrens’ instead of ‘children’, this is probably a type two mistake. Most likely, you knew this already. You just made a mistake, because you were in a hurry, or you were tired, or you weren’t paying attention, or something like that.
With type one mistakes—things you don’t know—get a good grammar book and study to fill the gaps in your knowledge.
With type two mistakes, put your errors into a digital flashcard app like Anki or Quizlet or something like that.
I’m not here to recommend any particular program, but I’ve used Anki in the past and I find it quite useful.
These apps allow you to set questions for yourself. Put the incorrect sentence as the question, and the correct sentence as the answer.
- Question: This is one of most serious problems in today’s world.
- Answer: This is one of the most serious problems in today’s world.
Every time you write something, add your mistakes as questions to your flashcard app. Review your mistakes regularly—every day is best!
This approach requires a lot of patience, but it’s the only effective way to get rid of those bad habits which can stop you getting band seven in IELTS writing.
Okay, so now you should have some ideas about how to get band seven in your IELTS writing exam.
There’s a lot of information in this lesson, and there’s also a lot which I didn’t say! Band seven is a high standard, and you should accept that it will take time and work to get there.
Thanks for watching, and see you next time!