IELTS Writing Task 2: 8 steps towards a band 8

by IELTS — January 9th, 2020

To achieve a Band 8 in Writing Task 2, you will need to produce an essay that contains all the positive features contained in the band 8 writing assessment criteria. Let’s take a look at these in the table below.

Task response
  • sufficiently addresses all parts of the task
  • presents a well-developed response to the question with relevant, extended and supported ideas
Coherence and cohesion
  • sequences information and ideas logically
  • manages all aspects of cohesion well
  • uses paragraphing sufficiently and appropriately
Lexical resource
  • uses a wide range of vocabulary fluently and flexibly to convey precise meanings
  • skilfully uses uncommon lexical items but there may be occasional inaccuracies in word choice and collocation
  • produces rare errors in spelling and/or word formation
Grammatical range and accuracy
  • uses a wide range of structures
  • the majority of sentences are error-free
  • makes only very occasional errors or inappropriacies

Using the band descriptors as a guide we are going to go through the 8 steps to get you on your way to a band 8 in Writing Task 2. We will start with the task response before moving through all the criteria to show you what an examiner will be looking for in your response.

Step 1: Answer is relevant to the question

Answer what you have been asked in the question. Don’t produce an essay that is close to a topic you have previously prepared. Make sure your examples and ideas are relevant. If you generalise too much and are not specific enough this will affect how your ideas are presented to the examiner.


  • Make sure your ideas are directly related to the question
  • Use ideas and examples that you are familiar with, and that relate directly to the topic
  • Extend your answer to include a number of ideas that will support the question.


  • Include irrelevant information
  • Over-generalise
  • Produce a memorised essay
  • Present ‘recent’ research or statistics related to the topic “At least 41% of all men…”

Step 2: Answer all parts of the question

You must read the question carefully and decide how many parts are in it. You must answer all parts of the question to reach a band 6 or higher.

Let’s look at some example IELTS question prompts and see how many parts are in each, and if you need to present your opinion. Remember, it is very important to present a clear position when answering the statement to show that you understand the question being asked and to keep that position clear throughout the essay.

Question Type How many parts? Opinion required?
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? 1-part question Yes, agree or disagree, or decide why you agree/disagree equally.
Discuss both views and give your own opinion. 3-part question – discuss both views as stated Yes, present your opinion, it may be one of the views or a combination of both.
Why is this so? Give reasons for this and solutions? 3-part question A position is presented on why this is so, the reasons for this issue and solutions to solve the issue.
Do the disadvantages of international tourism outweigh the advantages? 2-part question Yes, you must clearly say if there are more advantages or more disadvantages.
Why is this so? What effect does it have on the individual and the society? 3-part question Yes, you must give reasons for the statement and then present the effect it has on 1) the individual and 2) society.


  • Read the question carefully and decide how many parts are in it
  • Present your opinion and support it throughout the whole essay
  • If asked to present both views, make sure each view is presented equally (similar paragraph length)
  • Watch for plurals. If you are asked to give ‘advantages’, you must present a minimum of 2
  • Watch for ‘and’. You may need to comment on more than one element
  • Write more than 250 words.


  • Ignore parts of the question
  • Assume that your opinion is clear, use the first person to ensure the examiner knows it’s your opinion ‘I think’
  • Tell the examiner what you are going to say and what you have said
  • Produce a short essay.

Step 3: Organise your essay logically, with clear progression using linking phrases

Ideas must be expressed and ordered clearly – starting with an introduction and moving through to a conclusion.

If you are asked to present both views and your opinion, state your opinion at the beginning of the essay and then move on to present both views. You can then come back to your own opinion and then conclude the essay. This is a logical way to present these ideas.


  • Use a range of linking words and phrases, but don’t overuse them
  • Use adverbial phrases, rather than single basic linkers
  • Use referencing and substitution to avoid repetition (this/them/the issue/the problem)
  • Use punctuation to make your writing coherent
  • Make sure your ideas are sequenced correctly
  • Make sure your ideas are logical and easy to follow
  • Use a separate paragraph for the introduction and the conclusion
  • Use one paragraph for each idea or topic area.


  • Overuse basic linking words like firstly (instead, try using ‘The first reason for/ The primary reason for this’)
  • Start every sentence with a linker (Try to put it in the middle of a sentence. Eg. “Some people believe, however, that individuals must also take responsibility for the environment” or “I believe, on the other hand, that individuals do have a responsibility to…”)
  • Use numbers, symbols or abbreviations (1, 2, etc, &, +)
  • Use headings or subheadings
  • Underline words or phrases
  • Use one-sentence paragraphs
  • Start every sentence with a linking device.

Step 4: Organise your essay into paragraphs

Use paragraphs to organise your essay into clear parts. Make sure each paragraph contains a clear and developed topic and has a minimum of two sentences.

You can use the acronym “PEEL” when writing your essay:

Point – introduce your topic or topic sentence

Example – an example that supports your point

Explain – why this evidence supports your point

Link – transition to the next topic or paragraph

You must use enough paragraphs to clearly show a structured response. This will show that you can organise and present your thoughts and ideas logically.

 Here are some ideas on how many paragraphs you could include in an essay:

Question Type How many paragraphs? Paragraphs
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? 4/5 1. Introduction

2. Reason why I agree/disagree

3. Another reason why I agree/disagree

4. Concession paragraph reason why I don’t agree/disagree

5. Conclusion

Discuss both views and give your own opinion. 5 1. Introduction

2. One view

3. Other view

4.Your opinion

5. Introduction

Why is this so?

Give reasons for this and solutions?

5 1. Introduction

2. Reason why it is so

3. Reasons for this

4. Solutions for this

5. Conclusion

Do the disadvantages of international tourism outweigh the advantages? 5 1. Introduction (more advantages)

2. Advantage

3. Another advantage

4. Disadvantage

5. Conclusion

Why is this so?

What effect does it have on the individual and on the society?


5 1. Introduction

2. Why this is so

3. Effect/s on individual

4. Effect/s on society

5. Conclusion


  • Use paragraphs
  • Use linkers between and within your paragraphs
  • Leave a space between each paragraph (a line)
  • Use a paragraph for each topic
  • Use an introduction and a conclusion.


  • Use single-sentence paragraphs
  • Use very long paragraphs that cover a whole page (paper test)

Step 5: Use less common vocabulary and spell it correctly

You will see in the band descriptors that a band 8 writer skilfully uses uncommon lexical items. When we learn a language, we use common and uncommon terms. Common terms are words and phrases we use everyday to refer to personal experience and daily habits. Uncommon terms are used when we discuss specific topics or when we use idiomatic language (phrasal verbs).

Words that are old-fashioned and not used in everyday speech should not be used. If you choose a synonym, the meaning must be the same and must not alter the idea being presented. For example, adolescent/teenager have close meaning and can be used interchangeably, however, toddler/baby have quite different meanings.

Collocation is also mentioned in band 8, and it is assumed that you know which words go together, and which words are suitable to use for different topics.

If you are discussing child crime, you could use the term ‘minor’ as this is a legal term used to describe children under the age of 18.

If you use phrasal verbs, make sure that you are using the correct preposition as it can change the meaning:

throw out/away = discard

throw up = vomit/get sick Idioms (cultural language) should only be used if you understand them completely and if they fit the topic you are discussing.


  • Use precise word choices
  • Use language that we use in everyday speech
  • Use words that you understand
  • Use words and phrases that are related to the topic
  • Use collocation and phrasal verbs (words that go together naturally – environmental pollution | major issue | promising future)


  • Make spelling mistakes
  • Make typos
  • Mix up American and British spelling (You should use one or the other)
  • Use a word if you don’t understand it or cannot spell it.
  • Use imprecise words like ‘stuff/thing’
  • Use slang like ‘gonna’
  • Use old-fashioned language [the masses| denizens | myopic view | Hitherto]
  • Overuse synonyms, one is enough
  • Use idioms/clichés
  • Use contractions (can’t, doesn’t)

Step 6: Don’t use memorised language, phrases or examples

Don’t use any memorised language, phrases or examples throughout your essay. They are easy for examiners to spot and don’t demonstrate your ability to write fluently.

Overused phrases, idioms, proverbs and clichés should also be avoided, again, they are often used when speaking. These include phrases like:

  • The grass is always greener on the other side
  • Love is blind
  • Off the top of my head
  • Old is gold
  • A friend in need is a friend indeed

Additionally, the following terms should not be used when writing as they are vague and do not address a task appropriately. You should always be using clear language and make appropriate word choices that will express your ideas clearly.

Bad Good Bad Good
Nowadays In recent times Crux of the discussion The main/key issue is…
Can’t cannot Stuff/thing Use the correct word!
Controversial issue Major issue e.g. For example, …
The pros and cons Benefits and drawbacks Every coin has two sides/faces There are both disadvantages and advantages…
Firstly The primary reason why A double-edged sword The solution can also cause issues as…
Secondly Lack of education is another reason why… In a nutshell In conclusion…

Step 7: Use a variety of complex sentence structures

At band 8 it is expected that you can use a wide range of structures accurately to present your ideas and opinion. Show the examiner that you can use a wide range of structures and make sure your sentences are error-free.

It is important to use a mix of complex and simple sentences. But remember, your complex sentences should not be long and complicated.

Your punctuation needs to be accurate, using capitalisation, commas and full stops correctly.

The most common errors made can be found below:

Grammar Common errors
Relative Clause Using the pronoun incorrectly – who/that/which
Conditional clause Choosing the wrong tense for the clause type – Zero, Type 1,2,3
Present perfect/past Choosing the wrong tense – had/have had
Passive Choosing the wrong past participle
Gerunds Making errors with -ing
Countable nouns Making errors with singular and plural nouns
Articles Using a/the incorrectly, or not using it at all
Subject/verb agreement The girls ‘are’ – singular or plural
Prepositions Choosing the wrong dependent preposition, an incorrect preposition of place and so on.
Punctuation Used incorrectly, or not used at all.


Step 8: Checklist

Use the following checklist to make sure that your writing contains the positive features at a Band 8

Task Response

  • Did you answer ALL parts of the question sufficiently?
  • Are all your ideas and support directly relevant to the question?
  • Did you avoid over-generalising the topic?
  • Does the Examiner know exactly what you think, and do you present this position clearly for the whole essay?
  • Did you support your ideas with clear examples [not vague research and survey results]?
  • Did you write over 250 words?

Coherence and Cohesion

  • Can the Examiner follow your ideas easily, from the beginning of your essay to the end?
  • Does it progress clearly [introduction, main ideas with supporting examples, conclusion]?
  • Did you use a range linking words and phrases?
  • Did you avoid repetition and starting every sentence with a linking device [Firstly…Secondly…Thirdly]?
  • Did you use referencing [These issues…] and substitution [problems/issues] correctly?
  • Did you use sufficient paragraphs?
  • Did you use one paragraph to develop each idea?
  • Is there a clear introductory and concluding paragraph?

Lexical Resource

  • Did you use a range of vocabulary that is on-topic?
  • Did you use precise vocabulary choices?
  • Did you avoid memorised language, clichés [double-edged sword] and proverbs?
  • Did you use collocation correctly [environmental problem | global issue]?
  • Did you use appropriate uncommon words [detrimental to | cultural diversity | measures]?
  • Did you correct your spelling mistakes?
  • Did you check for typos?
  • Did you use the correct form of the word you needed [adverbs, nouns, adjectives and verbs]?

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

  • Did you use simple and complex structures accurately?
  • Did you use a range of structures [conditional, present perfect, relative clauses, modal verbs]?
  • Did you avoid long, complicated sentences?
  • Are your sentences error-free?
  • Did you punctuate correctly?
  • Did you use capital letters to start sentences and for proper nouns?
  • Did you use commas in your complex sentences, where needed? [If the government invests funds in implementing environmentally-friendly solutions, pollution in the atmosphere will be reduced.]
  • Did you use full stops(.) to finish sentences?

If you follow these 8 steps, you will be well on your way to a band 8 in Writing Task 2.

Read more

IELTS Writing Task 2: 7 mistakes preventing you from a band 7

Grammar 101: How to use who and whom correctly?

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8 steps to help you reach a Band 8: IELTS Writing Task 2