For those who may not be familiar with the test format as yet, IELTS Writing module comprises 2 tasks that are to be completed in 1 hour or 60 minutes. General Training candidates are expected to write a letter as their writing task 1, while the Academic version requires you pen a minimum 150-word report with reference to a graph, a pie-chart, a layout, and so on. Both have to complete a 250-word essay as part of Writing Task 2.

Many students have asked me if it is possible to prepare for IELTS Writing at home. My answer to them has always been in the affirmative. It surely is possible. At least, up to a point. The writing principles that one should follow are surprisingly simple. These guidelines alone will ensure that you score well in your writing tasks.

Tasks 1 & 2: Complete all tasks that you are expected to do

Read the question, identify the tasks, and complete them. In Task 1 Academic you are expected to summarize the information, select the main points, and make comparisons where necessary; For those giving the General version of the test, there are active verbs in the Letter next to each bullet point(‘tell/show how/describe/explain'). When you come to Task 2, answer the question/s asked. I have checked a good number of papers where the candidate has either skirted the question asked and not addressed it sufficiently/fully, or ignored it altogether. If you do not complete your tasks properly, you will score low in Task Achievement. Clearly, your response needs to be as comprehensive as possible.

Task 1 Academic: Avoid too much of hard data. Describe trend instead

You are the CEO of the company, not the technician who painstakingly drew up the chart. The figures are for all to see. What they imply is far more important. See the British Council/Cambridge samples if you don’t believe me: the higher the band score, the less hard data there is.

Task 2: Sufficiently elaborate on the points mentioned

You don’t have to give too many points but those that are presented must be fully developed. Follow the Topic Sentence > Elaboration structure. In the Essay, lovingly dwell on each point mentioned, before proceeding to the next one.

Task 1 (A/G)/2: Always be relevant and to the point

Do not write something which may be safely removed from Task 1/2. As my English teacher at school used to say ‘Son, if I can take out words/phrases/sentences without making any substantial difference to your article, then they are irrelevant.’ So, be careful.

Task 1 (A/G)/2: Avoid repetitions like the plague; use ‘loose’ synonyms

Using the same words, phrases, points, sentence structures, even sounds is a clear ‘no-no’. There is nothing grammatically wrong with ‘yesterday I saw a saw that could not saw’. But would you like to use it in a formal writing environment? I, for one, wouldn't. The living/drawing room atmosphere is more suitable for that.

Task 1 (A/G)/2: Be natural. Don’t use odd-sounding words/expressions

What do you think about ‘I opine…. ‘or ‘I am writing this epistle… ‘? To me, they all sound suspiciously like the 18th-century language of Samuel Richardson and his contemporaries. ‘Archaic’ would be a more appropriate word for it. Would you be using this kind of language when you talk with your friends, or family? What about your professional colleagues? If no, then why in the name of Heaven would you do it in the IELTS exam?

Observe basic rules of Grammar and Punctuation

English grammar is a vast subject and cannot be mastered quickly. IELTS examiners acknowledge this and do not expect 100% grammatical accuracy. You know, all of us make mistakes. So don’t fret and obsess over grammar. Just make sure you don’t commit obvious errors. Frequent errors committed regarding the fundamental aspects of parts of speech? What about that? Umm, yes, that will drag down your writing band.

Exhibit a fairly wide range of sentence structures - a mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences. Don’t worry about the fancy terms. You write/use these three variations of sentences all the time. You may find below some examples to drive home this point:

simple sentence: Joe went to the store.
compound sentence: I want hamburgers, but Lois wants pizza.
complex sentence: Because she was scoring many baskets, Elesa was considered the best player on the team.

So, avoid writing same types of sentence structures. And this should not be a problem so long as your command of the English language is not significantly weak.

Task 1/2: Write ‘balanced’ paragraphs, at least those that make up the body. They should be of the same length, give or take 12-15 words. We want a well-proportioned piece of writing, not those gym-toned torsos balanced on embarrassingly stringy legs. The same depth of treatment should be evident in both the body paragraphs. Neither of them should appear 'hurried' in any way. No one likes a rush job.

Task 2: Do not test the patience of the examiner. Answer the question/s or state your opinion in the Introduction itself. And, oh yes, don’t forget to state the reasons for your answer/position in brief. Remember, no one is interested in your answer as much as you are. If you can request your friend to ‘stop beating about the bush and come to the point quickly’, why would you expect a different treatment from the IELTS examiner? He is going to check so many answer sheets of the Writing module. What’s so special about yours to justify the special treatment that you seek?

Follow these golden rules. Obviously, one cannot teach you to write extremely well. You got to have a flair for that. But, at least, you can be taught the principles which, if developed and followed, will improve your writing significantly.