__CONFIG_colors_palette__{"active_palette":0,"config":{"colors":{"eb2ec":{"name":"Main Accent","parent":-1}},"gradients":[]},"palettes":[{"name":"Default","value":{"colors":{"eb2ec":{"val":"var(--tcb-color-4)","hsl":{"h":206,"s":0.2727,"l":0.01,"a":1}}},"gradients":[]},"original":{"colors":{"eb2ec":{"val":"rgb(57, 163, 209)","hsl":{"h":198,"s":0.62,"l":0.52,"a":1}}},"gradients":[]}}]}__CONFIG_colors_palette__

IELTS Writing Task 2 Guide for 2021: Step-by-Step Instructions, Tips, and Sample Answers for the Writing Task Essay (Academic and General)

Hi, I'm Jan. I'm a former IELTS examiner for IDP in Toronto and I help students crack the code on Band 7+ writing.

This IELTS Writing Task 2 guide was developed by myself and other former IELTS examiners to eliminate the confusion that students face. It will teach you the SIMPLEST possible way to write an essay for the IELTS academic or general exam. We'll go over the marking criteria, best structure, powerful writing tips, and several model answers.

For the Writing Task 1 Academic guide, click here.

For the Writing Task 1 General guide, click here.

Jan Waginski - IELTS instructor

Table Of Contents

Instructions and Requirements

What are the requirements for IELTS Writing Task 2 essay?

  • You have 40 minutes to write an essay.
  • Your essay must have a minimum of 250 words. Around 300-320 words is a typical word count for a high-scoring response.
  • Your essay must satisfy the marking criteria for content (Task Achievement), arrangement (Coherence and Cohesion), vocabulary (Lexical Resource), and grammar (Grammatical Range and Accuracy). We will go over the most important criteria below.
  • There is NO DIFFERENCE in the requirements for the academic and general essay, or in how they are scored.
  • Your essay must be written using a formal tone.

Marking criteria

Your IELTS essay will be marked according to four marking criteria:

IELTS Writing Task 2 Rubric


Marking criteria - Task Response

IELTS Writing Task 2 Rubric - Task Achievement Criteria

Task Response criteria tell us what CONTENT we must include:

1. "Addresses all parts of the prompt":

  • Answer all parts of the prompt.
  • As per the instructions, you must support your answer with reasons and examples. We'll go over the kinds of examples IELTS is looking for below.

2. "Presents a well-developed response to the question with relevant, extended, and supported ideas":

  • IELTS is NOT looking for a list of reasons for your opinion. They are looking for two well-developed reasons.
  • Each reason should be "extended," which means not just stating the reason, but expanding on it. You'll see what this means when we get to the examples below.
  • Each reason should be "supported." In academic writing, every opinion must be supported by evidence. The easiest way to do this is by inventing research study results, poll results, or a newspaper story. It's perfectly ok to do this as long as what you've invented is reasonable.
  • The instructions REQUIRE an example. Invented research works perfectly well for this, but so does an extended personal example. IELTS doesn't care which you use. In fact, a common very effective pattern is to provide evidence followed by an example. You'll see this in the model responses below.
  • Use TREES paragraph structure to ensure you do this correctly: topic sentence, reason, evidence, example, significance. This structure was developed to guarantee that you include all required content in the correct order.

3. “Presents a clear position throughout the response”:

  • Your opinion must be clear throughout your essay. Include our opinion as the thesis in your introduction (the last sentence in the introduction), in the body paragraph topic sentences, in the body paragraph concluding sentences, and as the first sentence in the conclusion. At no point should the examiner be wondering what your opinion on the topic is.
  • There are 7 prompt types, and the way to make your position clear with each type is covered in depth in the course.
  • One of the 7 prompt types DOES NOT REQUIRE an opinion. If you give an opinion, you will lose marks.
  • If you try to write a balanced essay where your opinion is "in some situations, X is a better idea while in other situations, Y is a better idea," your essay is likely to NOT have a clear position and you will lose marks.

Marking criteria - Coherence and Cohesion

IELTS Writing Task 2 Rubric - Coherence and Cohesion Criteria

Coherence and Cohesion criteria tell us that our content must be clearly organized and use abundant cohesive devices (transitions) to clearly show the reader how ideas are related to each other.

1. “Skilfully manages paragraphing”:

  • Each paragraph has a SINGLE controlling idea.

2. “Sequences information and ideas logically”:

  • Paragraphs follow the order of reasons in the thesis statement. If you say "In my opinion, X is a good idea because A and B," your first body paragraph should be about A, not about B.
  • Sentences within paragraphs flow from general to specific. Use TREES paragraph structure to ensure you do this correctly: topic sentence, reason, evidence, example, significance. This structure was developed to guarantee that you include all required content in the correct order.

3. “Uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately”:

  • IELTS wants to see a variety of transitions. In general, MOST of your sentences (about ⅗) should begin with a transition (First, Next, Finally, For example, As a result) that clearly indicates the purpose of the sentence as well as its connection to the previous sentence.

Marking criteria - Lexical Resource

IELTS Writing Task 2 Rubric - Lexical Resource Criteria

Lexical Resource criteria tell us that we need to use a wide range of vocabulary, including low-frequency words and expressions.

1. “Uses a wide range of vocabulary fluently and flexibly to convey precise meanings”:

  • You cannot be repetitive with vocabulary. 
  • Use one word instead of five to express an idea.

2. “Skillfully uses uncommon lexical items”:

  • This DOES NOT MEAN that you need to use BIG words. “Uncommon” is a technical definition that refers to how frequently vocabulary is used. For example, “address a problem” is considered  upper-level vocabulary compared to “deal with a problem.” Why? It’s considered upper level simply because it's less common to say “address a problem” than it is to say “deal with a problem.”

The examiner does not have a list of vocabulary that they are looking for. They are looking for vocabulary that is appropriate and precise. It is a TERRIBLE STRATEGY to use big words where small words can be used. Your main goal as a writer is to clearly convey your ideas to the reader. IT SHOULD NOT BE YOUR GOAL to impress the reader/examiner with your vocabulary.

Your goal is to avoid any chance of misunderstanding, and complex language guarantees misunderstanding. You should pretend you are writing for an intelligent 12-year-old, which will prevent you from using long, wordy explanations. If you wouldn't use that kind of language with a 12-year-old, don't use it with an adult either - it will confuse them too.

Marking criteria - Grammatical Range and Accuracy

IELTS Letter - Grammatical Range and Accuracy Criteria - Band 6 to Band 9

Grammatical Range and Accuracy criteria tell us that we need to use a wide variety of grammatical structures and that a high percentage of our sentences need to be completely error-free if we want Band 7 or above.

1. “Produces frequent error-free sentences”:

  • Roughly half your sentences (40%+) need to be completely error-free for Band 7. This means they need to be free even from minor errors like punctuation and article issues. For this reason, your sentences should not be too long as this increases your chances of making mistakes. There is no need for sentences that are longer than three clauses. 

2. “Uses a wide range of structures”:

  • You need to use a variety of grammar and complex sentence structures. Examiners are on the lookout for the structures below, which are COMMONLY used:
  1. Passive voice
  2. Subordinate clauses
  3. Embedded subordinate clauses
  4. Unreal conditional
  5. Relative clauses
  6. Semicolon sentences
  7. Participial phrases
  8. Colon sentences
  9. Appositives
  10. Noun clause in subjunctive mood for orders and suggestions

You do NOT need to use all of these structures in your essay! However, if you want to get to Band 7 level, you MUST know them all well as they are the most appropriate, natural structures in a wide variety of situations on IELTS (and in life!).

These grammar structures are described in more detail below.

IELTS Writing Task 2 scoring - IELTS rounds down!

Most people don't know this but IELTS calculates your overall score and your writing score differently. 

Your overall IELTS score is rounded the same way that we are taught to round in math class. If you get Band 7 on reading, Band 7 on listening, Band 7 on speaking, and Band 6 on writing, you will end up with Band 7 overall. 

Overall Band Score: (7+7+7+6)/4 = 6.75 > Rounded UP to 7

However, your writing and speaking score are calculated differently. For writing and speaking, IELTS ROUNDS DOWN!  On writing, if you get Band 7 on Task Achievement, Band 7 on Coherence and Cohesion, Band 7 on Lexical Resource, and Band 6 on Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you will end up with Band 6.5 overall. 

Writing/Speaking Band Score: (7+7+7+6)/4 = 6.75 > Rounded DOWN to 6.5

How to Write an Essay for IELTS Writing Task 2

T.R.E.E.S paragraph structure: the best structure for the IELTS essay

You can write EVERY one of the seven essay types in 4 paragraphs. You NEVER need to write a 5-paragraph essay.

The key to getting Band 7 or higher is thorough development of your body paragraphs. Using T.R.E.E.S. paragraph structure for the body paragraphs ensures you include every element needed for a high Task Achievement score.

  1. Introduction: Describe the context and provide your thesis.
  2. Body paragaphs x 2: T.R.E.E.S. paragraph structure
    1. Topic sentence: The topic sentence tells the reader exactly what to expect in that paragraph. In this case, state the first reason for your opinion, summarize the first perspective, or answer the 1st question in a 2-part question. The topic sentence in the first body paragraph summarizes your answer to the first half of the prompt; the topic sentence in the 2nd body paragraph summarizes your answer to the 2nd half of the prompt.
    2. Reason: Expand on your reason in general terms.
    3. Evidence: How do you know this is true? Refer to a research study or statistic that proves what you are saying is true. As long as it's reasonable, invent the data and results.
    4. Example: Bring your point to life with an example. Invent a story of how this happened to you, a family member, or peer; you can refer to a news story.
    5. Significance: Connect the paragraph to the thesis. Explain how the evidence/example supports your opinion.
  3. Conclusion: Restate your thesis and summarize the two main reasons. You don't need anything else in the conclusion.

NOTE: The full course includes templates for each of the 7 writing task #2 prompt types. These templates include sentence skeletons for every sentence.

The best process for writing the IELTS essay

Use the ABCDE writing process for all writing tasks:

  • ANALYZE the prompt: Be 100% clear about what you MUST write about. Be clear about the structure: 2 reasons for one opinion, 2 sides of the argument with OR without your opinion, 2-part questions.
  • BRAINSTORM ideas for each paragraph using TREES paragraph structure - this ensures you include ALL the required information. Write down your ideas in POINT FORM! You'll transform your point-form ideas into full sentences later.
  • CHECK to make sure that you haven't missed anything required by the prompt, and that all ideas are 100% related to the prompt. CHUCK anything that is not 100% related - it will be considered off-topic and you will lose marks.
  • DEVELOP your point form ideas into full sentences and paragraphs. For all body paragraphs, use T.R.E.E.S. paragraph structure, which tells you EXACTLY what to include in your body paragraphs, and in what order.
  • EDIT. Read your work out loud and trust your ears to notice anything that sounds awkward. If it sounds awkward, use a simpler grammatical construction or simpler diction. Pretend you are writing for a smart 12-year-old: this will help you use appropriate vocabulary. Do not try to impress the examiner with complex grammar and big words - this always backfires and results in lower marks. Professional writers don't try to impress the reader with their grammar and diction - a professional writer's main goal is to eliminate the possibility of being misunderstood.

Use your imagination to fill in the details

You will need to invent the details in your IELTS essay. The evidence in the sample essays below was 100% invented, although it was inspired by real life events. The full course includes over 60 essays written by native speaker current and former IELTS examiners. They are written according to the system used in this course, and they are the best source of inspiration and training. 

7 Types of Essay Prompts with Model Responses

The prompt type determines the approach you need to take. It's VERY IMPORTANT to read the prompt carefully as this affects the requirements of the task.

Agree/Disagree Essays

IELTS Writing Task Achievement Tip - Each body paragraph only needs ONE main reason

IELTS is NOT looking for a list of reasons to support your opinion. They are looking for ONE main reason per body paragraph (paragraphs have ONE controlling idea). Each reason needs to include an explanation and an example (this can be a research study, a personal example/one that you heard about in the news, or both).

Agree/disagree sample response

Example prompt: More and more people today get their news on the Internet. Nevertheless, newspapers will continue to be an important source of news and information for most people. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words. 

  • Provide TWO reasons for ONE opinion.
  • The first sentence in the prompt is a given: it's the background context of the topic. IELTS isn’t asking if you agree or disagree with “More and more people today get their news on the Internet.” Everyone already knows this is true! A major killer on Task Achievement is spending time on the first part of the prompt without connecting it to “newspapers will continue to be an important source of news and information for most people.” The second statement is the only one they are asking if you agree or disagree with. It’s the only one that it is possible to agree or disagree with. 
  • Note how both body paragraphs below follow TREES structure exactly: topic sentence, reason, evidence, example, significance. The first body paragraph includes evidence followed by a personal example; the second body paragraph includes evidence with an extended explanation.


Many people believe that newspapers will continue to be a significant news and information source despite the popularity of the Internet. However, I disagree that newspapers will remain relevant for the majority of people since they are redundant and most people expect news to be free.  

In the old days, most people would get the local newspaper, which was their one comprehensive source of news and information. Today, people no longer bother because they are on their smartphones all the time and get constant updates from their favourite news websites. According to research published in The New York Times in 2019, newspaper circulation in the U.S. has dropped from over 60 million subscribers in the 1980s to about 30 million subscribers these days. I myself gave up my newspaper subscription years ago. I failed to see the point of maintaining my subscription when I never learned anything new from reading the paper; I’d already seen all the stories in my news feeds. For that reason, newspapers are unlikely to remain relevant for most people.  

Furthermore, because so much news and information is available for free online, most people now fail to see why they should pay for the news, and this is killing newspapers. According to Pew research published in 2018, a large percentage of seniors still pay for a newspaper, but only 2% of the 18-29 demographic do so. This has coincided with the rise of smartphones and a massive rise in advertising revenue for social media giants like Facebook and Google, which publish news free of charge for their users, who now favour reading on their phones. Advertisers have thus shifted their ad budgets online from newspapers. This is the new reality and newspapers cannot survive in such an environment.  

Therefore, as reading habits have changed and people now get most of their information and news online, newspapers have lost most of their readers and their revenue, and will not remain relevant for most people. 

2 Perspectives and Opinion Essays

2 Perspectives and opinion sample response

Example prompt: Some people think that children should be encouraged to be competitive. Others believe that children should be taught to be cooperative. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion. Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words. 

  • Easiest way to structure this essay type: the first body paragraph summarizes the side you DISAGREE with; the second body paragraph summarizes the side you AGREE with.
  • Note how both body paragraphs below follow TREES structure exactly: topic sentence, reason, evidence, example, significance. The first body paragraph includes evidence with an extended explanation; the second body paragraph includes an extended personal example.


There is much debate about the skills that children need to be taught as they grow. Some argue that learning to be competitive will benefit children in many ways, while others argue that encouraging children to be cooperative is far more advantageous, and I agree with the latter position. 

Clearly, being competitive is a key part of success in the world today. Children that are brought up in competitive atmospheres tend to strive more to do their best, whether the pressure comes from their parents, siblings, teachers, or peers. Therefore, when they lose, they learn what they need to do in order to try and win the next time and this is a key skill. The New York Times published an article recently showing that six out of the ten CEOs of the largest companies in the US had gone to high achieving, competitive schools as well as all stating that competition with their siblings was a huge factor in their childhood. This shows that being encouraged to be competitive does lead to professional success for some. 

On the other hand, learning to be cooperative is a life skill that benefits children far more throughout their lives. Cooperative children have far more positive social interactions and are able to make and, more importantly, keep their friends. When I was at primary school, there was a boy called Costa that wanted to win everything at all costs. He wouldn’t work with anyone and thought he was better than everyone else. This lack of cooperation and over-competitiveness meant that he had no friends throughout primary school. When I met him in the street by chance 30 years later, he commented that he had found primary school very difficult due to not having any friends. If he had been taught to be cooperative, then maybe he would have had a happier time at school. 

To conclude, although both skills are important in life, learning to cooperate will benefit children far more and lead to a much happier school life. 

Advantages and Disadvantages Essays (3 Types)

There are 3 versions of advantages/disadvantages prompts:

  1. The first type is "Do the advantages of X outweigh the disadvantages?" This type is quite similar to the "agree/disagree" essay type. You ONLY need to argue in favour of ONE side. It's enough to acknowledge the side you disagree with.
  2. The second type is "Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of X." In this prompt, notice that you are not being asked for your opinion. If you give an opinion, it's considered off-topic and you will lose marks.
  3. The third type is "Discuss the advantages and disadvantages, and give your opinion." In this case, you need to talk about both sides and simple state which one you agree with. You do not need three body paragraphs for this - two are enough.

Advantages/disadvantages sample response

Example prompt: Many people spend long hours at work but this leaves little time for leisure activities. Does this situation have more advantages or more disadvantages? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words. 

  • The is the first type of advantages/disadvantages prompt. You only need to argue in favour of ONE side.
  • Note how both body paragraphs below follow TREES structure exactly: topic sentence, reason, evidence, example, significance. The first body paragraph includes an extended personal example; the second body paragraph includes evidence with an extended explanation.


Nowadays, working hours are getting longer and longer and this has meant that people have less time to engage in leisure activities, which, in my opinion, has a number of disadvantages. 

Firstly, as people are working longer and spending more time in front of a screen, they are spending less time moving around, going for a walk, or doing sports. This has led to more and more people putting on weight as they live a more sedentary lifestyle. My cousin is a prime example of this. He works in IT and often works 10 hours a day and on weekends too. Before entering the IT market, he was a keen squash player and would often meet friends to play two or three times a week. However, as he now works such long hours sitting at a computer, he doesn’t have time to play anymore. This has led to him putting on an unhealthy amount of weight and losing contact with some of his friends. 

Furthermore, leisure activities are a great way for people to release stress that builds up due to the pressures of work, and without them, we tend to pursue more unhealthy habits. The Guardian newspaper in the UK recently published an article showing how stress at work due to working longer hours was a key government concern in terms of public health. As more and more people were not able to do what they enjoyed, whether it was painting, yoga, or tennis, they found that, for the first time in over 10 years, the number of people taking up smoking and binge drinking was on the rise. As people had no time to do a hobby or something with friends, people were looking for more destructive ways to release the stress of longer hours at work. 

Although it feels like we have more options in terms of activities we can do these days, working long hours has taken away many people’s chances of taking up or continuing an activity, and the drawbacks of this far outweigh the benefits. 

Causes and Solutions Essays

Included with full course access.

Double Question Essays

Included with full course access.

Where to Find More Good IELTS writing samples

Where to get access to our full collection of 40 Task #1 and 60 Task #2 model responses written by ex-IELTS examiners:

Models like these are one of the best ways to prepare for IELTS. 40 Writing Task #1 General and over 60 Writing Task #2 models, all written by native speaker ex-examiners, are now included in the IELTS course.

IELTS Writing Task 2 Tips

How to edit your own writing

Read aloud

Research shows that grammar is largely auditory. Your ears play a very important role! It’s just like listening to an instrument that you don’t know how to play: if the musician hits the wrong note, it just SOUNDS awkward even though you may not know why. In the same way, when you read your work out loud, if ANYTHING sounds awkward, change it to a simpler construction that SOUNDS good. Trust your ears!

If any grammatical construction sounds awkward, use a simpler verb tense.

If any vocabulary sounds awkward, describe your idea using simple words.

When editing, look for different issues separately

The brain is not good at finding problems unless you give it specific instructions. This is why doctors, even though they are super smart, have checklists to make sure they didn't forget any tools inside the patient after surgery. There are just too many things to think about so sometimes we need a small checklist to remind us what to look for. 

For that reason, for example, if you often have punctuation issues, you need to go through your writing specifically looking for punctuation problems. As mentioned previously, read your work out loud and where you find yourself pausing (to take a breath between ideas), you need punctuation.

Once you’ve gone through your writing looking for that first problem, go through your writing again looking for the next problem. Then read it out loud for a third time looking for a 3rd issue your writing typically has. 

This process is slow initially, but once you start looking for these specific problems on a regular basis, you’re training your brain to automatically look for those problems. Your brain will get faster and more accurate at identifying those problems, and pretty soon you're not going to have them. Then you can move on to the next problem. 

Take it step-by-step and look for a couple things at a time rather than looking for 10 different problems at once, which is overwhelming and doesn’t work.

Top 10 Grammar Structures for IELTS Essays

A Band 7 on Grammatical Range and Accuracy requires "a variety of complex sentences." A Band 8 on Grammatical Range and Accuracy requires "a wide range of structures."

There are 10 grammar structures you MUST know to get a Band 7+ on IELTS Writing Task 1 General. Examiners are on the lookout for these. These structures are COMMONLY used in English and are often appropriate for all written and oral parts of the IELTS exam. Band 7 means your English is at an advanced level. At this level, these structures are necessary to express yourself precisely and fluently:

  1. Passive voice
  2. Unreal conditional
  3. Subordinate clauses
  4. Relative clauses
  5. Semi-colon sentences
  6. Colon sentences
  7. Participial phrases - active voice
  8. Participial phrases - passive voice
  9. Appositives
  10. Noun clauses in subjunctive mood for orders and suggestions
IELTS Letter - Grammatical Range and Accuracy Criteria - Band 6 to Band 9

IELTS Writing Grammar Tip - Best Sentence Length for Band 7 Level Grammar

Many students write very long sentences because they believe this will impress the examiner. This certainly will impress the examiner, but ONLY if your long sentences are grammatically flawless. However, the Band 7 criteria very clearly state “produces frequent error-free sentences.” Even a SINGLE MISTAKE in a long sentence means that the entire sentence is no longer error-free.

For example, one student recently wrote Task #1 Academic in four sentences (his sentences had 45 words on average)! He was very lucky as 2 sentences were flawless; therefore, half his sentences were error-free so he received a Band 7 rating on grammar.

However, even among professional writers, this is not a normal way to write. While two of these monster sentences were technically flawless, they had so many clauses in them that I had to reread his work several times to make sure I understood it correctly. In other words, these long sentences were not at all reader friendly. Don’t take chances like this! I strongly recommend limiting sentences to three clauses. You don’t need anything longer for Band 7 performance.

In short, your #1 goal as a writer is to be clear, and long sentences do not help with clarity. In general, you can limit sentence length to 3 clauses.

As another example, Dr. Bruno had taken IELTS repeatedly and failed to get at least Band 7 on writing, which he needed to work as a doctor in Canada. After training with Toronto IELTS Prep, Dr. Bruno simplified his approach to writing and finally got the Band 7 he needed:

I appreciate all your corrections and tips. It made a huge difference to notice that [not enough] “error-free” sentences were pushing my score down. I tried to control those errors during my last test, and it seems everything went well!”

“I just wrote the texts in a simple way instead of using complex structures to give a good impression. I also paid more attention to subject/verb and tenses, avoiding those basic single/plural errors. I didn’t have time to read and correct my texts at the end (like always), but I believe that I controlled my errors during the writing process.

Dr. Bruno E.

1. Passive voice

Passive voice is useful when the subject is too obvious: 

Baby English: The bakers bake the bread at 5 AM daily. 

  • This is baby English. Only bakers bake bread so it’s unnecessary to write “bakers bake the bread.” 

Better: The bread is baked at 5 AM daily. 

  • In this case, passive voice is better. The focus of the sentence is now on when the bread is baked. We don’t need to be reminded that bakers bake the bread (instead of police officers or firefighters!). 

2. Unreal conditional

Unreal conditional is commonly used to give advice: 

  • If the government were to fund additional training for the unemployed, this would help reduce the unemployment rate.

3. Subordinate clauses

Using a subordinate clause is the most common way to make a complex sentence. 

If the subordinate clause comes BEFORE the independent clause, ALWAYS place a comma AFTER the subordinate clause. 

If the subordinate clause comes AFTER a short independent clause, do not use a comma. If the subordinate clause comes after a long independent clause, it’s your choice whether or not to use a comma between them. Use your ears to make this decision: read the sentence out loud and if you find that you need to pause between the two clauses, then you should probably use a comma.  

  • Subordinate clause 1stBecause it’s nice outside, we went to the park. 

  • Subordinate clause 2nd: We went to the park because it’s nice outside. 

IELTS Writing Grammar Tip - Use a Subordinate Clause in the Middle of a Sentence

It's easy to add a subordinate clause at the beginning or end of a sentence:

  • While he was camping, my friend encountered a bear.
  • My friend encountered a bear while he was camping.

It's less common to use a subordinate clause in the middle of a sentence. This is considered ADVANCED usage:

  • My friend, while he was camping, encountered a bear.

4. Relative clauses

The second most common way to make a complex sentence is to use a relative clause.

Relative clauses are also called adjective clauses because they describe a noun/noun phrase (person, place, thing, or idea). They provide details just like adjectives do, but they come after the noun instead of before itRelative clauses generally begin with who, that, or which.

  • My friend Jim, who lives in Montreal, is visiting next week. 
  • The X501, which we ordered last week, has finally arrived. 

Relative clauses also provide important information about the entire preceding clause:

  • He was late getting to the airport, which means he missed his flight. 


Relative clauses follow 2 punctuation patterns. 

1. Use commas around the relative clause if it’s an extra detail: 

  • Jim, who lives in Montréal, is visiting next weekend. 
  • The X501, which we ordered last week, has finally arrived.

These are called "non-defining relative clauses" because the audience knows who you’re talking about ("Jim") or what you're talking about ("the X501") without the relative clause, so the information about where Jim lives or when the part was ordered is an extra detail. If we remove the relative clause from the sentence, we still know who/what you’re talking about:  

  • Jim is visiting next weekend. 
  • The X501 has finally arrived.

IELTS Writing Grammar Tip - Read Aloud to Hear the Commas

You can hear these commas! When you read your work out loud, you will find yourself pausing naturally on both sides of these kinds of relative clauses. Use your ears to help with grammar! 

2. Don’t use commas if we need the relative clause to understand what the noun refers to: 

  • My friend who lives in Montréal is visiting next weekend. 
  • The part that we ordered last week has finally arrived.

These are called "defining relative clauses" because you need the information in the relative clause to understand which noun the speaker is referring to. The audience doesn’t know who you're talking about ("my friend") or what you're talking about ("the part") without this information in the relative clause. It’s NOT just an extra detail like in the previous example about Jim.

  • My friend is visiting next weekend. Which friend?
  • The part has finally arrived. Which part?

IELTS Writing Grammar Tip - No Pause, No Comma

In these examples, when you read your work out loud, you will NOT pause on both sides of the relative clause. Use your ears to help with grammar! 

Which vs that 

In a defining relative clause, you can use either “which” or “that”:

  • The part which/that we ordered last week has finally arrived. 

 

In a non-defining relative clause, DO NOT use "that":

  • The X501, which/that we ordered last week, has finally arrived. 

5. Semi-colon sentences

Another way to join simple sentences is to use a semi-colon + conjunctive adverb combination. Just remember that both sides of the semi-colon MUST be independent clauses (i.e., stand-alone sentences). 

  • I would love to stay at the 5-star hotel; however, it’s too expensive. 

6. Participial phrases - active voice

Participial phrases are a common construction that you can think of as a compressed version of a subordinate or relative clause.

Subordinate clause > participial phrase:

  • Subordinate clause: While we were walking through the woods, we saw several deer.
  • Participial phrase: Walking through the woods, we saw several deer.

Relative clause > participial phrase:

  • Relative clause: We saw several deer that were walking through the woods.
  • Participial phrase: We saw several deer walking through the woods.

Typical uses:

  • Considering the amount of money this item cost, we expected it to arrive in better condition.

7. Participial phrases - passive voice

Participial phrases also come in passive voice:

  • Given the current situation, it's probably best to stay home.
  • Based on your personality, I'd say going to work makes more sense than going to school.

8. Colon sentences

Use a colon for lists or instructions:

  • You should definitely bring these items on your trip: bug spray, bear spray, and a flare gun.
  • The recipe will turn out better if you do things the other way around: first mix the wet ingredients and then add the dry ingredients.

9. Appositives

In many cases, it's not necessary to use a relative clause for important details, in particular when the detail is another name for that noun. Instead, use an appositive:

  • I'm quite familiar with this machine as I used it at another company, Magna Automotive, to assemble car seats.
  • I'll be taking a course, Fundamentals of Accounting, in the fall.

In these cases, the appositive is another name for the noun:

  •  another company = Magna Automotive
  • a course = Fundamentals of Accounting

10. Noun clauses in subjunctive mood for orders and suggestions

For orders and suggestions, English grammar gets a bit weird. You have to use noun clauses in subjunctive mood in these cases:

NOTE: In noun clauses in subjunctive mood, DO NOT add "S" to 3rd person singular verbs as you normally do. In fact, DO NOT conjugate the verb in the noun clause at all. ONLY the verb following the main subject is conjugated.

Normal situation:

  • The government funds this initiative in order to prevent further problems from occurring.

Subjunctive mood for suggestions - note the the verb in the noun clause IS NOT CONJUGATED regardless of the time information in the first part of the sentence:

  • PRESENT SIMPLE: It's essential that the government fund this initiative in order to prevent further problems from occurring.
  • PAST SIMPLE: The committee suggested that the government fund this initiative.
  • FUTURE: The panel will likely recommend that the government fund this initiative.


Subjunctive mood in passive voice:

  • It's critical that the new community centre be built in a central location accessible to the majority of its members.
  • It's important to the community that the park not be developed into highrises.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should I use a lot of high level vocabulary on IELTS?

Yes, but "high level vocabulary" doesn't mean what you think it means. "High level vocabulary" refers to less frequently used vocabulary - it is not related to how big a word is. 

  • Calling something "inexpensive" is considered basic vocabulary (Level B1 if you are familiar with CEFR)
  • Calling something "cheap" is considered advanced vocabulary (Level C1 on CEFR).

In general, trying to use big words is a terrible strategy on IELTS and in real life. Your #1 goal as a writer is clarity; your goal should NOT be to impress the reader with your vocabulary knowledge. Professional writers will always tell you to use the simplest, most direct words to communicate an idea.

IELTS assesses your vocabulary on whether it is accurate and precise. The examiner does not have a list of words they are looking for.

What should the level of formality be for Writing Task 2?

Formal

How do I get my IELTS writing checked online?

In my humble opinion, the best IELTS writing program is the Toronto IELTS Prep online writing program. It starts with a diagnostic assessment and 1 hour consultation & training session to make sure you understand why you're not getting Band 7+, and EXACTLY what you need to do to get Band 7+ on writing. 

For many people, this one-hour consultation is enough to help them get the Band score they need. This often happens because they simply misunderstand what IELTS wants to see. The consultation clarifies exactly what IELTS is looking for.

This is not a writing correction service! WRITING CORRECTION SERVICES DO NOT WORK for the same reason that a swimming coach simply showing you how she swims is not going to help you learn how to swim. If a swimming coach shows you how to improve your swimming technique, she is then supposed to check whether YOU know how to apply the new technique.

In the same way, when you practice writing with Toronto IELTS Prep, your work is checked twice: 

  • When you first submit your writing, you get a Band score and detailed, descriptive feedback. This is colour-coded by problem type so we can see where you are losing the most marks, and thus what you need to focus on. You also receive links to mini follow-up lessons in our grammar and sentence structure lesson bank.
  • You then revise your work based on the feedback and re-submit it.
  • Your writing is re-checked to see if you understand how to correct the areas you are having trouble with. At this stage, your work is corrected and additional explanations for changes are provided.


Jan Waginski, OCT

About Jan Waginski

Certifications & Qualifications

  • Certified Ontario teacher with Ontario College of Teachers (OCT)
  • Certified Ontario ESL teacher with Teachers of English as a Second Language (TESL Ontario)
  • Former IELTS examiner with IDP Canada
  • York University: B.A. Psychology and Politics
  • University of Toronto: B.Ed.
  • Former essay writing instructor at Seneca College
  • Former essay writing instructor at University of Ontario Institute of Technology (CultureWorks@UOIT)
  • Join the TIP Online IELTS Writing Course 

    The only program with 2-stage detailed feedback

    1. Write: Complete your writing after reviewing lessons and Band 9 models.

    2. Feedback #1: Receive a Band score, detailed feedback, and links to follow-up lessons.

    3. Revise: Revise your writing based on feedback. Without this step, neither you nor the teacher knows whether you understand how to fix your problems.

    4. Feedback #2 and Corrections: Receive a 2nd round of feedback and corrections.

    TIP Online IELTS Writing Course

    Why People Love the Specific Feedback They Get from Toronto IELTS Prep

    Dr. Ghazaleh P. from Iran now has the Band 7+ she needs to practice medicine in Canada. Congratulations, Dr. Ghazaleh!

    “You’re really different from my previous IELTS teacher. He was ok, but the advice was too general – it didn’t help me improve. You give very specific advice on what I should do to fix my writing. It’s really helpful! As well, the way that you explain the scoring process for each writing task is very helpful. Nobody before explained it as clearly as you explain it. “

    1. Sign up today for instant course access. Start reviewing the lessons and writing models.
    2. Choose one of the diagnostic prompts for Task #1 and Task #2, and submit your writing. You will get your Band score with detailed feedback within 24 hours.
    3. Your 1-1 consultation will take place 1-3 days after you have submitted your writing. Your consultation will go over your writing on Task #1 and Task #2 in depth, and you will understand EXACTLY what you need to do to get Band 7+.
    • Developed and taught by former IELTS examiners
    • 40 Task #1 and 60 Task# 2 model responses written by native-speaker IELTS examiners
    • Unique 2-stage writing feedback system: you receive detailed feedback on your work TWICE to make sure that YOU understand how to fix the errors
    • Grammar and complex sentences mini course with the top grammar and sentence constructions you MUST master for Band 7+
    • Unlimited QA
    • BONUS #1: 24 reading comprehension texts with practice questions
    • BONUS #2: Build your academic vocabulary for IELTS with over 1200 high frequency and advanced academic vocabulary items. All of this vocabulary should be on your need-to-know list!

    What People Are Saying About Toronto IELTS Prep

    After ONE training session, Lev K. from Ukraine now has the Band 8.5 he needs for PR (permanent residency). Congratulations, Lev!

    "Just got my results. They are what I was hoping for!"


    Q. What helped you the most from our one session together?


    A. "From our session, the most useful part was to hear you explain the format, and to compare it to all the different types of essays. It was also extremely useful to have you go over my essays scoring them according to the score guide. This gave some key points to focus on."

    After ONE training session, Mohit G. from India raised his writing score from 6.5 to 7.5, which he needs for immigration to Canada. Congratulations, Mohit!

    "I am writing to express my gratitude for your help in reaching my desired goal in writing.


    I scored 7.5 in writing this time, which is quite amazing compared to my previous score of 6.5. I followed the TREES pattern you suggested and wrote in the simplest manner I could. Also, I believe the one on one feedback session was very helpful in clearing all my queries. I would suggest to never abandon this approach.


    Thank you again for all your input."

    After 5 weeks of training, Roman Z. from Ukraine now has the Band 7+ he needs for permanent residency (PR). Congratulations, Roman!

    "I asked Jan for help with my IELTS exam preparation because high score was extremely important for my immigration process. Jan’s approach is very different from what I’ve seen before. Jan pays a lot of attention to details and accurately identifies the systematic mistakes. For each of them Jan has a  respective course with both theoretical part and practical assignments. With Jan’s course I boosted my Writing from 6.0 to 7.0 in 5 weeks! I strongly recommend you take Jan’s course to prepare for IELTS exam properly and to get the highest score!"

    Join the TIP IELTS writing class now for instant access to all materials

    Get your Band score with detailed feedback within 24 hours, followed by a 1-1 consultation (within 1-2 days) to go over your writing in depth. Understand EXACTLY what you need to do to get Band 7+.

    • Developed and taught by former IELTS examiners
    • 40 Task #1 and 60 Task# 2 model responses written by native-speaker IELTS examiners
    • Unlimited QA
    • Unique 2-stage writing feedback system: you receive detailed feedback on your work TWICE to make sure that YOU understand how to fix the errors
    • Grammar and complex sentences mini course with the top grammar and sentence constructions you MUST master for Band 7+
    • BONUS #1: 24 reading comprehension texts with practice questions
    • BONUS #2: Build your academic vocabulary for IELTS with over 1200 high frequency and advanced academic vocabulary items. All of this vocabulary should be on your need-to-know list!


    100% Satisfaction Guaranteed

    Secure Payment

    >