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Writing Task 1 – What you need to know about the band descriptors

IELTS WRITING TASK 1: Band Descriptors (public version)

11 key phrases from the descriptors:

  1. Address/cover the requirements of the task
  2. Overview (academic) or purpose + correct ‘tone’ (general)
  3. Present key features = describe details (choosing detail)
  4. Arrange ideas logically, including use of paragraphs
  5. Progression of ideas
  6. Cohesive devices, including referencing
  7. Vocabulary range, flexibility, and precision
  8. Less common vocabulary (a group of words, collocations)
  9. Vocabulary errors (word choice, word formation, spelling)
  10. Range of grammatical structures (complex structure)
  11. Mistakes, error-free sentences (important!)

Grammar Scoring

Important note:
1. There are no half bands for the four criteria
2. So, you can’t get a 6.5 for grammar.
3. You’ll either get a band 6 or a band 7 The examiner has to decide which descriptor matches your writing best

BandGrammatical range and accuracy
9– uses a wide range of structures with full flexibility and accuracy; rare minor errors occur only as ‘slips’
8– uses a wide range of structures
– the majority of sentences are error-free
– makes only very occasional errors or inappropriacies
7– uses a variety of complex structures
– produces frequent error-free sentences
– has good control of grammar and punctuation but may make a few errors
6– uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
– makes some errors in grammar and punctuation but they rarely reduce communication
5– uses only a limited range of structures
– attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
– may make frequent grammatical errors and punctuation may be faulty; errors can cause some difficulty for the reader
4– uses only a very limited range of structures with only rare use of subordinate clauses
– some structures are accurate but errors predominate, and punctuation is often faulty
3– attempts sentence forms but errors in grammar and punctuation predominate and distort the meaning
2– cannot use sentence forms except in memorized phrases
1– cannot use sentence forms at all

The grammar score is an assessment of two things:

1. Errors / mistakes

Tip: The ‘errors’ aspect of the grammar assessment is more important than the ‘structures’ aspect. This is what examiners notice first, and it’s almost definitely going to decide what score you are given.

2. Variety of structures/complex structures

This is the part that confuses students/candidates. But these ‘structures’ are not as difficult as people think. So, what are these ‘structures’? Let’s look for clues in the band descriptors:

– Band 4: limited range of structures, rare use of subordinate clauses 
– Band 5: attempts complex sentences
– Band 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
– Bands 7 to 9: a variety of complex structures, a wide range of structures

Notice that there is nothing in the descriptors that says you need to use conditionals, passives, or any special verb tenses. You should not try to force these structures into your essays!

Here’s my tip: Just make sure that you link your ideas to create some longer sentences. By linking ideas, you will automatically create sentences with more than one clause.

In writing task 1, you will almost certainly link ideas when you make comparisons or describe more than one number or piece of information in the same sentence.

Here are some ex-examiner tips with regard to improving your grammar score:

  1. Stop worrying about complex structures, and instead aim for more error-free sentences.
  2. Ask a teacher to underline every mistake in your essays. Count the error-free sentences.
  3. You may need to simplify your writing in order to reduce the number of errors.
  4. From the number of errors, it should be very clear which band you are achieving.
  5. Practice using words like and, but, because, if, when, while, although, that, which, who to link ideas and create longer sentences. This will satisfy the ‘complex structures’ requirement.

Grammar scoring – Excercise

The three pie charts below show the changes in annual spending by a particular UK school in 1981, 1991 and 2001. Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

Read the task 1 answer below (which was written by a student), and answer the following two questions.
1. How many error-free sentences can you find?
2. What grammar score do you think the answer would get?

Yellow = errors are mostly small and rarely affect communication
Green = there are two error-free sentences

The three charts compare the changes in the yearly expenditure by specific UK schools in three particular years.

Overall, greatest amount of cost was spent on teacher’s salaries during 1981, 1991 and 2001 consecutively. While, the figure of expenditure dropped for other worker’s pay and other resources for example books. However, yearly spending increased significantly for insurance and furniture equipment.

In 1981, a specific UK school spent 40% on staff salaries while only 2% on insurance. In 1991 the figures for insurance and teacher’s salaries increased up to 1% and 10% respectively. Therefore, 28% of total expenses were spent on other worker’s pay which dropped around 8% in 1991. The total cost fell dramatically up to 5% for furniture equipment as compared to 1981, but the expenses for other resources remained relatively static.

In 2001 almost half of the total budget was allocated to the teacher’s salaries while the figure for insurance jumped up to 8%. On the contrary the amount spent on other worker’s salaries and the costs spent on book resources dropped significantly as compared to 1991. However, there was an obvious rise from 5% to 23% in the amount spent on furniture equipment between 1991 and 2001.

What can we do to help this student to improve his / her score? 3 key things to work on

  1. Possessives: singular and plural
    e.g. teacher’s and teachers’
  2. Understanding ‘to’ and ‘by’ after increase and decrease
    e.g. something increased from 10% to 11% = something increased by 1%
  3. Using ‘while’ correctly to make a complex sentence
    e.g. “Spending on salaries increased, while spending on books decreased.”

Error-free:
The three charts compare changes in the yearly expenditure by a specific UK school in three particular years.

Overall, the largest amount of money was spent on teacher’s salaries during 1981, 1991 and 2001, while the figure for expenditure dropped for other workers’ pay and other resources, for example books. However, yearly spending increased significantly for insurance and furniture equipment.

In 1981, the UK school spent 40% of staff salaries but only 2% on insurance. In 1991 the figures for insurance and teachers‘ salaries increased by 1% and 10% respectively. Therefore, 28% of total expenses were spent on other workers’ pay, which dropped by 8% in 1991. The total cost fell dramatically to 5% for furniture equipment, as compared to 1981, but the expenses for other resources remained relatively static.

In 2001 almost half of the total budget was allocated to the teachers‘ salaries, while the figure for insurance jumped up to 8%. By contrast, the amount spent on other workers‘ salaries and the costs spent on book resources dropped significantly, when compared to 1991. However, there was an obvious rise from 5% to 23% in the amount spent on furniture equipment between 1991 and 2001.

Modal answer2:
The pie charts compare the expenditure of a school in the UK in three different years over a 20-year period.

It is clear that teachers’ salaries made up the largest proportion of the school’s spending in all three years (1981, 1991 and 2001). By contrast, insurance was the smallest cost in each year.

In 1981, 40% of the school’s budget went on teachers’ salaries. This figure rose to 50% in 1991, but fell again by 5% in 2001. The proportion of spending on other workers’ wages fell steadily over the 20-year period, from 28% of the budget in 1981 to only 15% in 2001.

Expenditure on insurance stood at only 2% of the total in 1981, but reached 8% in 2001. Finally, the percentages for resources and furniture/equipment fluctuated. The figure for resources was highest in 1991, at 20%, and the proportion of spending on furniture and equipment reached its peak in 2001, at 23%.

(158 words, band 9)


Vocabulary mindset

Focus on ideas, expressing yourself, communication, expanding your knowledge of words, collocations, phrases.

Trigger words: linking words, connect two clauses, create a complex sentence,
e.g: while, which, when, who

The first roundabout is at the intersection of City Road and Hospital Road, while the second is at the other end of Hospital Road, at the junction with the hospital ring road.
In 2007, staff and visitors used the same car park, which was situated to the east of Hospital Road and accessed via the ring road.
It is stated several times in the article that the market will be open until New Year’s Day, when in fact it is due to finish much earlier than this, on the 22nd of December.
It is vital that you give accurate information to readers who follow your travel advice.

Not worry so much about grammar!

The lexical resource descriptors

Blue: more interesting

Key things:
1. “Less common” vocabulary: band depend on how much less common vocabulary you are able to use.
2. Awareness of style and collocation
3. Paraphrasing: range and flexibility

Deeper into vocabulary

  • Word choice
  • Collocations
  • Range, flexibility, and precision

Tip: The three points above are all related, so don’t see them as separate things.

  • For example:
    • We often use the verbs increase and decrease in academic writing task 1.
    • We can also use rise and fall.
    • Or we can use nouns: an increase in, a decrease in, a rise in, a fall in.
    • Add precision using adverbs or adjectives: increased dramatically, a dramatic increase in.
  • These are also examples of collocation.

Note: There’s no need to learn lots of synonyms for increase and decrease. The options above show enough range and flexibility. If you use synonyms like ‘soar’ or ‘plummet’, your writing will seem less natural because the style is slightly wrong (too exaggerated).

Also, remember that this ‘trend’ language is only part of your answer, and therefore only part of the range aspect of your writing. You’ll demonstrate range, flexibility etc. in various other ways in your answer.

Look at the following analysis of the vocabulary in one of my sample answers:

The table below gives information about changes in modes of travel in England between 1985 and 2000.

Average distance in miles travelled per person per year, by mode of travel

Sample answer

The chart shows average distances that people in England travelled using different forms of transport in the years 1985 and 2000.

It is clear that the total number of miles travelled by English people using all modes of transport increased significantly between 1985 and 2000. The car was by far the most used form of transport in both years.

In 1985, the average person travelled 3,199 miles by car, and this rose to 4,806 miles in the year 2000. The figures for miles travelled by train, long distance bus, taxi and other modes also increased from 1985 to 2000. Travel by taxi saw the most significant change, with more than a threefold increase from 13 miles per person per year in 1985 to 42 miles in 2000.

There was a fall in the average distances for three forms of transport, namely walking, bicycle and local bus. In 1985, English people walked an average of 255 miles, but this figure fell by 18 miles in 2000. Bicycle use fell from 51 to 41 miles over the period shown, while the biggest downward change was in the use of local buses, with average miles per person falling from 429 to 274 over the 15-year period.

Analyzing

  • increased significantly, this rose to, saw the most significant change, more than a threefold increase
  • there was a fall in, this figure fell by, fell from… to…, the biggest downward change was, falling from… to…
  • people in England = English people
  • distances travelled = number of miles travelled = the figures for miles travelled
  • forms of transport = modes of transport
  • in the years 1985 and 2000 = in both years
  • average distances that people travelled = the average person travelled = per person per year
  • by car, by train, by bus, by taxi
  • people walked (instead of using ‘by’)
  • bicycle use (instead of using ‘by’)

If you look closely, you’ll see that I make small changes to avoid repetition and give some variety (range and flexibility) to my writing. These small changes might seem easy, but most IELTS candidates repeat the same phrases throughout their answers.
Note: It is tricky to avoid repetition when describing a graph, chart, table or diagram. Your changes (paraphrasing) will be subtle, and they need to be precise.

References

[1] What are simple, compound and complex sentences? – https://www.theschoolrun.com/what-are-simple-compound-and-complex-sentences-0

Simple, compound, and complex sentences1
A sentence is a grammatical unit made up of one or more words
 (Go! is a sentence, as is The cat sat on the mat.). Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, a question mark or an exclamation point. Sentences can be structured in different ways.

1. A simple sentence has a subject and ONLY ONE verb:
– The girl sprinted after the tiger.
– The cat purred.


2. A compound sentence is formed when you join two main clauses with a connective. In a compound sentence the clauses are linked by coordinating conjunctions/connectives (and, but, so, or). 
– I like bananas and I like grapes.
– Zoe can be rude at times but she is a nice girl.


3. Complex sentences can also be referred to as multi-clause sentences. A complex sentence is formed when you join a main clause and a subordinate clause with a connective. A subordinate clause is one that relies on the main clause to make sense.
The connectives in complex sentences are subordinating conjunctions and they tell us about the order or the place in which things happened or specify a cause or effect relationship between events. Connectives used in complex sentences include after, although, as, because, if, since, unless, when.
– I love roast potatoes, although my mum prefers them mashed.
– You need to prepare for the spelling test tomorrow if you want to get all your spellings right.
– The big dog barked whenever I knocked on the door.

Complex sentences can also be constructed by including relative clauses (which are subordinate clauses), for example
Tom, who liked to read, settled down happily with his new book.

[2] https://ielts-simon.com/ielts-help-and-english-pr/2014/10/ielts-writing-task-1-pie-charts-essay.html

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