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Improve IELTS Essays with Paraphrasing – Video

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In this lesson, you can learn about paraphrasing in IELTS essays. Paraphrasing means saying the same thing in a different way.

Probably, you’re watching this video because you think you need to paraphrase the question in your IELTS essay introduction, and you aren’t sure how to do it.

So, in this lesson, you can learn the truth about paraphrasing in IELTS essays. You’ll see the number one mistake that IELTS students make with paraphrasing, and you’ll learn how to use paraphrase effectively in your IELTS writing exam.

QUIZ: Improve IELTS Essays with Paraphrasing

Test your knowledge of paraphrasing with this quiz. There are 20 questions; the first half are true/false questions about the ideas you saw in the lesson, while in the second half, you need to look at attempted paraphrasing and choose the best options.

When you have finished, click ‘Finish Quiz’ and then ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers.

1. You Don’t Need to Paraphrase the Question


But wait, I saw this video, and it said I should paraphrase the question in my introduction.

But wait, I read this article, and it said I should paraphrase the question in my introduction.

But wait, my teacher told me I should paraphrase the question in my introduction.

Okay, we know. There’s a lot of IELTS advice out there that says, ‘paraphrase the question in your introduction.’ Why should you listen when we say you don’t need to?

Don’t pay attention to us; pay attention to the official IELTS scoring scheme. To save you time, we’ve added links to the official scoring scheme under the video. You can read it right now!

Go ahead; read the scoring scheme and find the word ‘paraphrase’.

We can save you some time: it isn’t there. Remember, this is the official scoring system, which the examiners use to mark your IELTS writing exam.

The writing mark scheme does not talk about paraphrase AT ALL. Why not? Because you don’t have to paraphrase the question in your introduction.

Okay, you think, so how do I start my essay? Surely paraphrasing the question is better than nothing? I don’t know what else to do…


2. No Paraphrase is Better Than Bad Paraphrase

Here’s how a lot of students approach paraphrasing. See if this looks familiar to you.

Let’s take a question:

  • Robots, computers, and machines are becoming more advanced, and can perform many jobs which used to be done by people. What problems does this cause, and how can these problems be solved?

IELTS Essays - How to improve with paraphrasing - robot image

So, let’s practice bad paraphrasing!

Let’s see now, we need to change the words. Let’s find some synonyms:

  • robot = automaton
  • advanced = cutting-edge
  • machine = apparatus
  • job = assignment
  • people = folks

Wow, great synonyms, right? Let’s plug them into our sentence to create a bad paraphrase:

  • Automata, computers, and apparatus are becoming more cutting-edge, and can perform many assignments which used to be done by folks.

Let’s change a couple of small things so it’s not so close to the original:

  • Automata, computers, and apparatus are more and more cutting-edge, and can do many assignments which were done by folks in the past.

Finished! What a great paraphrase!

No, no, no! This is terrible, and it will only hurt your IELTS score. Don’t do this!

This is what many IELTS students do, but it’s a bad idea. Let’s see why this doesn’t work.

First, a question: what’s a synonym?

You probably said something like, ‘a word with the same meaning as another word.’

That’s more or less true. However, a true synonym is a word which c’n replace another word in any sentence.

So, imagine you have two words: A and B. If word A can be replaced with word B in any sentence, they’re synonyms’

If word A can be replaced with word B sometimes, but not always, they’re not true synonyms. Maybe they have a similar meaning, but they aren’t the same.

What’s the point of all this?

The point is that there are very few true synonyms in English, or any language.

Just because two words have the same meaning does not mean they can be used in the same way.

The words people and folks have the same basic meaning, but that doesn’t mean that you can say folks any time you say people. They aren’t true synonyms.

Why not? Because vocabulary usage depends on more than just meaning. Register and collocation are equally important.

Also, many words which have a similar meaning don’t have exactly the same meaning. Machine and apparatus are similar, but they aren’t the same. Job and assignment are similar, but they aren’t the same.

So, that’s problem number one. When you use words that you think are synonyms, they probably aren’t true synonyms. That means you’re changing the meaning (which is dangerous) and also making language mistakes, which can hurt your vocabulary score.

There’s a second problem: this is a really weird and unnatural thing to do.

Imagine someone asks you a question. What do you do?

Do you repeat the question back, using different words?

Kae: Hey! How was your weekend?

Daniel: Ah… You wish to enquire about my recent non-working days?


Daniel: How’s the weather in the US?

Kae: So…You want to know about the climatic conditions in North America?


IELTS Essays - How to improve with paraphrasing - weather image

No! This is weird! When someone asks you a question, you answer the question.

Your IELTS essay is the same. The task asks you a question. Your essay should answer the question.

Your answer starts from your first sentence. Bad paraphrase adds nothing to your answer.

No paraphrase is better than bad paraphrase.

A bad paraphrase is only an empty sentence with language mistakes. That’s all the examiner will see. For your IELTS score, this is only negative.

Okay, you think, so how do I start my essay?

You have two options, and it depends on your target score. Let’s look.

3. Just Don’t Paraphrase

This is going to be a short section.

If your target score is 6.0 or maybe 6.5, and you don’t know how to start your essay, here’s what you do:

Write an introduction which is one sentence. Write a thesis statement. That means you explain what you’re going to talk about and what you’re trying to prove with your essay.

For example:

  • In this essay, I will discuss possible solutions to the problems caused by robots and computers taking people’s jobs.
  • I intend to show that the problems caused by robots and computers taking people’s jobs are serious, but also possible to solve.
  • Robots and computers are replacing people at work. This is a serious problem, and I will discuss how we can solve it.

That’s all you need.

But, you say, isn’t that too short?

No…not at all.

First of all, your introduction can be any length. Your introduction can be one sentence.

Here’s an important point: your introduction is the least important part of your IELTS essay.

Are the example introductions you saw above great? No. They’re not great, but they are easily good enough.

Your conclusion is super-important. How you organise your ideas into paragraphs is very important. How you support and connect your ideas is extremely important.

Your introduction is not that important. You can get a high score with a very basic introduction. So, here’s a simple solution: if you don’t know what to write in your IELTS essay introduction, don’t write much at all.

Write a short thesis statement, and then start the body of your essay.

This is good advice if your target is 6.0 or 6.5, but what if you’re aiming for a higher score?

4. How to Paraphrase Effectively

So, what does effective paraphrase look like?

Remember, you’re thinking about writing a strong IELTS essay here. That means an essay which scores between seven and nine.

Here’s the thing: when you write a strong essay, you can’t think about it as lots of separate things.

Lots of IELTS students write essays in this way: ‘Okay, first I have to paraphrase the question, then I need to write a thesis statement. Okay, first body paragraph: I need a topic sentence, then a supporting example, then a linking phrase, then a second supporting example… et cetera.’

That can work for intermediate IELTS scores: 5.5 to 6.5, but it’s not a good approach for higher scores.

For higher scores, your essay needs to be one coherent, connected piece.

What does that mean, practically? And what does it have to do with paraphrasing?

First point: your first sentence should be connected to everything else in your essay.

That means you need to know exactly where your essay is going before you start writing. Before you put one word on the page, you need to know all the important things you want to say.

Practically, that means you need to know what your conclusion is going to be before you start writing.

You also need to know exactly how many body paragraphs you’re going to have, and what you’re going to put in each one.

To be clear, that means when you write your first sentence, you aren’t just thinking, ‘How can I find a synonym for this word?’ Good paraphrasing isn’t about that.’You already know the conclusion you want to reach, and you know the ideas you want to discuss.

Effective paraphrasing includes this. It shows your reader (the examiners) where your essay is going.

Effective paraphrasing shows how you understand the key ideas in the question, and what conclusion your essay is trying to reach.

So, the main point: paraphrasing depends on planning. It’s not a simple thing; it’s not just taking some words and replacing them with other words, it’s connected to other parts of your essay.

It’s connected to your ideas and opinions. If you don’t know the conclusion of your essay, you can’t write a good introduction. To write a good introduction, you need to know exactly where you’re trying to go.

Let’s see how this can work in practice.

To paraphrase effectively, you need to take the ideas in the question and add your own interpretation.

Here’s the question you saw before:

  • Robots, computers, and machines are becoming more advanced, and can perform many jobs which used to be done by people. What problems does this cause, and how can these problems be solved?

Some questions:

The question talks about robots, computers, and machines. What do these words mean in this context? Can you think of specific examples?
What exactly does advanced mean? Advanced in what way?
The question mentions jobs which used to be done by people. Like what?
The question asks: what problems does this cause? Are these problems serious, or not? Why or why not?

Pause the video and think about these. If you want to write a good introduction, you need to have clear answers to all of these questions!

Now, let’s see how you could effectively paraphrase this question:

  • Advances in technology have led to the automation of many jobs, especially low-level or manual positions. This has led to many serious problems, including unemployment and increasing rates of poverty and inequality.

This is what a good paraphrase looks like.

Here’s a question: which way do you think this essay is going? Do you think the writer will be positive, negative or neutral about the effects of automation?

It sounds negative. You can guess that the essay will conclude that automation causes serious problems which are not easy to solve.

Someone who reads the first sentence of your introduction should be able to do the same thing; they should be able to guess where your essay is going.

Remember: this starts in your head. Everything needs to be clear in your head before you write anything.

Another point to notice: our paraphrase doesn’t have the same sentence structure as the task. The paraphrase is two sentences, while the task is just one.

The task asks a question: ‘What problems does this cause?’ Our paraphrase replaces this with a statement: ‘This has led to many serious problems.’

Also, our paraphrase replaces general ideas in the question with more specific ideas. The question mentions “many jobs,” but our paraphrase talks about “low-level or manual positions.” The question mentions “problems,” but our paraphrase talks about “serious problems, including unemployment and inequality.”

To review, to write an effective paraphrase, you need to do three things:

One: have a clear plan in your head, with a clear conclusion, which should be obvious to your reader from the first sentence of your essay.

Two: don’t try to stick too closely to the sentence structure in the question. Paraphrasing is about ideas, not just words.

Three: interpret and develop the ideas in the task, so that you replace general ideas in the task with your own more specific ones.

Now, you should understand more about how to paraphrase in your IELTS essay. Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon! See more free Oxford Online English IELTS preparations lessons here:

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