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Ielts Essays Band 8

This is the next in my series of lessons in how to achieve a high band score in IELTS essays. This time the focus is on vocabulary. There is no magic bullet here – vocabulary learning takes time. That’s the bad news. What I do do though is to talk you through some of the more common problems with vocabulary in essays and give you some tips on avoiding them. You’ll also find a bonus essay to download.

A sample essay – weak vocabulary

Read through this sample essay. It is well structured and addresses the question, but it is weak on vocab. Can you see what the problems are?

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

The biggest reason for objecting to extreme sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children.

Seeing the problems – unnecessary repetition

One of the most common problems is you can get “stuck” on certain words. This frequently happens with words in the question itself. You will see my improved version retains has some repetition – there is less of it.

Don’t be afraid to repeat some words/phrases as that is good for the cohesion and coherence of your writing.

See the repetition corrected

Introduction

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

Paragraph 1

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

Paragraph 2

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. Many dangerous sports are also not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

Conclusion

I think that that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – think of vocabulary before you start writing

The idea is quite simple. If you think of the words you want to use before you write, then you can use them. On the other hand, if you start writing too quickly, then it becomes much harder to try and vary your vocab.

Tip – repetition should be on everyone’s editing checklist

One of my top tips is that everyone should have a mental checklist of the type of errors they look for when they check their work – “I’m going to look for any mistake” doesn’t really work. The point here is that even the best writers can subconsciously get stuck on words and keep on repeating them if they are not careful.

Tip – if you can’t find another word, repeat it in a different form

Sometimes there is only one correct word. In this case, the best advice is not to find another word that may well be wrong, but to change the word slightly. This can mean using the noun form and not the verb form (ban becomes impose a ban on) or to qualify it with another word so ban becomes ban entirely.

Seeing the problems – avoid language that is too simple

In general, I am a fan of the simple. There are times, however, when you want to upgrade your English, in particular

  • avoiding words like “big” that are not normally used in more formal written English
  • avoiding words like “do” unless they are part of a set phrase – there is almost always a better variation
  • finding variations for words such as “very” to show your range
  • thinking about collocations (phrases)

See the simple language improved

We live in a world where health and safety is more and more important. One of the signs of this people want the government to ban dangerous sports. While I understand that argument, my view is that people should be free to do whatever sports they want.

We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The biggest reason for objecting to dangerous sports is that they can be very dangerous and can sometimes kill people. More than that, it is not just the sportspeople who are in danger, but spectators too can be badly hurt. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may be hurt and it is possible that people in the crowd will be too. Because of this danger, it is understandable why people want the government to ban these sports.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

The opposite argument is that people should be free to do whatever risk they want. So, if someone wants to jump out of a plane, then they should be allowed to and the government cannot say what they should do. A further point is that many dangerous sports are not very risky and it is as dangerous doing everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal than bungee jumping.

I think that the government should regulate dangerous sports, but it should not ban them. It should also make certain that there is as little danger as possible because safety is the most important thing. This is most important for young children who cannot make their own decisions.

My personal view is that while the government and other authorities do need to regulate dangerous sports, it would be preferable not to impose a ban on them entirely. I would suggest that  safeguards need to be established so that any risk is minimised. What these safeguards are will vary from sport to sport, but safety has to be paramount, especially where minors are involved. 

Tip – when you learn vocabulary, learn phrases and not just words

Part of solution to this problem is to learn phrases. For example, you are much more likely to be able to use “participate”, if you have first learnt the phrase “participate in a sport”.

Finding solutions – think examples for precise language

This is one of my favourite suggestions. The idea is that if you learn to use examples well, you get to use language that is precise and sometimes relatively simple. Take a look at this revised versions of the examples. the revisions may seem quite small, but I get to use precise language – a good thing.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

The principal reason for objecting to extreme sports is of course that they can be highly dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. More than that, it is not just the participants who are at risk, but spectators too can be seriously injured. If, for example, a Formula 1 car crashes, the driver may not escape unharmed and there is also a chance that a bouncing tyre or debris will fly into the crowd. Given this level of danger, it is understandable why people call for the authorities to take action.

Finding solutions – be academic and use qualifying language

Part of the academic writing skill is learning to qualify what you say so that it is not too general. Take a look at these two examples of qualifying phrases I add in to the improved version. Again, the changes may seem small but taken together they can have a significant effect on your writing.

 We live in a world where health and safety is an ever greater priority. One of the signs of this is the demand that dangerous sports should be banned. While I understand that argument, my view is that, within certain limits, people should retain the freedom to participate in whatever sports they choose.

The counter argument is that people should be allowed to assume whatever risk they choose. So, if someone wishes to freefall from a plane at 30,000 feet, then they should be free to do so and it should be accepted that it is not the place of the government to dictate how they lead their lives. A further point is that in statistical terms there is a low probability of injury in many so-called dangerous sports and people are at greater risk carrying out everyday activities such as crossing the road or cooking a meal as bungee jumping.

Finding solutions – focus your vocabulary learning on academic vocabulary

This is in many ways the big one. Learning vocabulary takes time. One excellent way to do it is simply to read and listen as much as possible. You will absorb more new words that way than by sitting down and studying any word list. However, there is a however. To get a high band score, you want to learn the “right” words to use in essays. This is where the academic word listcomes to your help.

Academic vocabulary and IELTS

Certain words in English are simply more “academic” than others. This does not necessarily mean they are “difficult” words, it just means native speakers tend to use them more when they are writing more formally. They are in other words exactly the sort of words you want in IELTS. Take these examples from the improved essay:

  • retain
  • principal
  • assume
  • participate in

These are all excellent words to “learn” as they can be used in all sorts of different contexts. All I would add is that you also need to learn how to use them and that is where my daily word exercises come in.

Exercise on the AWL words in the essay

To see my point, have a go at this exercise based on improved essay:

AWL words in dangerous sports

This post explains the difference between band 5 and band 8 task 2 answers.

One of the keys to success in the IELTS writing test is understanding how the test is marked and using this knowledge to increase your band score. You can then give the examiners exactly what they want and focus on doing the things that get high scores.

This post will look at what each of the four criteria mean and the practical differences between typical band 5 answers and band 8 answers. I have also put each band score for each category in a helpful table for you, so it’s easy to compare and understand.

The four criteria you will be marked on are:

  • Task Achievement
  • Coherence and Cohesion
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Don’t worry if you don’t know what these mean, I will explain below. You can download the full writing task 2 band descriptors here.

The examiner will be looking for your ability to answer the question properly. What does this actually mean?

If we look at the marking criteria above we notice that essays in bands 6, 7 and 8 fully address all parts of the question. This means that if you do not fully address all parts of the question you will get a band 5 or below.

This means that you should read the questions very carefully and make sure you cover everything it asks. Let’s look at an example:

More and more people nowadays have to compete with younger people for the same job.

What problems does this cause?

What are some possible solutions?

There are two different things we need to talk about- ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’. If we don’t include these in our answer we cannot score higher than band 5 for task achievement. Also, if you talked about ‘causes’ instead of ‘problems’ you would also score 5 or below, because this is not what the question asks you to talk about.

Let’s look at another example:

Some people say that the best way to improve public health is by increasing the number of sports facilities. Others, however, say that this would have little effect on public health and that other measures are required.

Discuss both of these views and give your own opinion.

This question requires us to do three things:

  1. Discuss increasing number of sports facilities to improve public health
  2. Discuss the view that sports facilities would have little effect of public health
  3. Give our own opinion

If we don’t do all 3 of these we cannot score above a 5 for task achievement.

Now that we know how to score above a 5 we need to look at the difference between bands 6, 7 and 8 for task achievement.

The difference between these scores is about how we support our ideas with explanations and examples.

Band 6– Gives relevant ideas but these may not be fully developed with explanations or examples or the explanations and examples given are irrelevant.

Example– The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. There are lots more cars these days.

The idea is relevant but they have failed to explain why cars cause traffic jams or give examples.

Band 7- Gives relevant ideas and these are developed with explanations or examples but these ideas may be too general or lack focus.

Example- The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. In lots of cities around the world there are lots of cars and this causes traffic jams. For example, the number of cars purchased in developing countries is increasing year after year.

This student has presented a clear position, but they have given a very general explanation and their example lacks focus and is not specifically linked to the main point.

Band 8– Gives relevant ideas and these are developed with focused and specific ideas and examples.

Example- The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. When we have more vehicles than a city’s infrastructure was designed for it leads to congestion. For example, Ho Chi Minh City was designed to cope with around 500,000 cars and the city now has over 2 million cars, resulting in chronic traffic problems.

This student has explained their point very well, explaining exactly why they think too many cars are the problem and given a very specific and relevant example to prove their point. If you can’t think of a specific example, make one up. The examiners are not interested in how factual your examples are, just your ability to make one.

Task Achievement Key Points

  • Answer all parts of the question
  • Present relevant ideas
  • Fully explain these ideas
  • Support ideas with relevant, specific examples

Coherence refers to your ability to be clear and easily understood.

For answers in bands 6, 7 and 8 in this category all parts are easy to read and understand. Parts of band 5 answers are not easy to understand.

This may be because you have lots of grammar mistakes, you have lost grammatical control of your sentences, the words and sentences are in a very illogical order or you have used words and phrases that are not appropriate or accurate.

The examiner will be able to understand all parts of band 6, 7 and 8 answers but the ease of understanding will increase as we go up the bands.

Band 5 answers tend to have lots of different ideas in each paragraph. Band 7 and 8 answers have only one idea in each paragraph and they then use the rest of that paragraph to explain and support that point.

You can increase your band score by making it very clear to the examiner what each paragraph is about and then logically organise each sentence within that paragraph.

At a sentence level, main body paragraphs should follow this structure:

  • Topic Sentence
  • Explanation
  • Example

Example-The best way to improve the health and fitness of the public is through advertisement campaigns. Many people are unaware of the health benefits regular exercise and a healthy diet brings and an advertising campaign could be used to educate people. For example, the ‘5-a-day’ campaign used in the UK was extremely effective in getting people to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The topic sentence makes it clear to the reader what the main point is and this is extended with an explanation in the second sentence and a relevant example in the third. If we were to order these sentences differently, they would be more difficult to understand.

At a paragraph level, task 2 essay should have:

  • Introduction
  • 2-3 Main Body Paragraphs
  • Conclusion

You can further increase your score for coherence by writing an effective introduction and then linking your points to this introduction.

Cohesion refers to your ability to link ideas, sentences and paragraphs together and one of the ways we do this is through the use of cohesive devices.

Cohesive devices are also sometimes called ‘linking devices’ or ‘linking words’. Below are some examples:

Band 5 answers either fail to use any of these devices or use them inaccurately. Some band 5 answers use these devices but they overuse them. You don’t get any marks for using them in every sentence and you will actually lose marks for using them too much.

Band 6 answers tend to use linking phrases but their use is not appropriate or there is too much repetition of the same phrase. Try to vary your phrases by using synonyms.

Band 7 answers use a good range of these linking phrases effectively but there might be some over or under use.

Band 8 candidates make no mistakes when using cohesive devices. They are used accurately and there is no over use.

Coherence and Cohesion Key Points

  • Structure your answers in logical paragraphs
  • One main idea per paragraph
  • Include an introduction and conclusion
  • Support main points with an explanation and then an example
  • Use cohesive devices accurately and appropriately
  • Vary your linking phrases using synonyms

Lexical resource is just a complicated name for the words and phrases you use, or in a word, vocabulary.

Band 5 users have very limited vocabulary and rarely use ‘topic specific’ words. For example, if we were asked this question:

Nowadays lots of young people don’t have a job.

What are the main causes of this?

A band 5 answer might say:

Lots of young people don’t have a job because there is no money. There is no money because countries are not doing well with money now. For example, countries in Europe don’t have any money and lots of young people don’t have jobs.

This candidate has repeated words from the question because they are not aware of synonyms for words like ‘young people’ and ‘job’. They are also unable to express their opinion effectively because they don’t know vocabulary that is specific to the question like ‘unemployment’, ‘recession’, ‘financial crisis’ and ‘economic’.

A good candidate would use topic specific vocabulary to improve the answer like so:

Many of today’s younger generation are unemployed because of the financial crisis. The financial downturn caused huge economic problems all over the world. For example, European nations find themselves with massive youth unemployment, with over half of 18-25 year olds out of work in countries like Greece.

This answer has basically the same meaning but the author’s points are clearer and more developed because of a wide ranging vocabulary.

Band 6, 7 and 8 answers generally have some question specific vocabulary but as we go up the bands their word choices are more accurate and question specific vocabulary is used more frequently.

Band 6 answers attempt to use lesson common words, but there is some inaccuracy and there are some errors with word formation and spelling.

Band 7 answers have far fewer of these errors, however some errors are permitted. The words chosen here are more likely to show use of correct style and collocations. There is still some repetition of words permitted.

Band 8 answers have very few spelling or word formation errors and use very appropriate words to convey meaning precisely. There is also very little repetition of words.

It should be noted that the cohesive devices mentioned above do not contribute to your score for lexical resource.

Finally, getting a high score for lexical resource is NOT about including lots of long or complicated words. If you do this and they are not appropriate and accurate, you will lose marks. To get a high band score you do need to use less common words but these need to be used precisely.

Lexical Resource Key Points

  • Try to vary your vocabulary using accurate synonyms
  • Use less common question specific words that accurately convey meaning
  • Check your work for spelling and word formation mistakes

In order to understand this section you should first appreciate what a ‘complex sentence’ is and understand and analyse a complex sentence. 

A complex sentence does not need to be very long, complicated or even difficult to write and my guide on how to write a complex sentenceshould help you improve your score.

Band 5 answers use mostly ‘simple sentences’ and frequent errors occur when ‘complex sentences’ are attempted. Most of the sentences have grammatical errors. The errors make it difficult for the reader to understand the points being made.

Band 6 answers use a mix of ‘simple’ and ‘complex sentences’ and frequent errors still occur when attempting ‘complex sentences’. The majority of sentences have errors but these errors rarely stop the reader understanding the points being made.

Band 7 answers use a variety a ‘complex structures’ and around 50% of the sentences are completely error free.

Band 8 answers have wide range of appropriate structures. Most of the sentences are completely error free.

It should be noted that the more small errors you make the more likely you are to get a lower band score, especially if these errors prevent the reader understanding what you have written. You should therefore only use structures you are comfortable using and you know are 100% error free.

Have your writing marked by a teacher and establish your common errors and fix them.

Grammatical Range Key Points

  • Use a variety of complex and simple sentences
  • Use a variety of appropriate structures
  • Check your writing for errors

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