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Saturday, May 18, 2019


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I hear this all the time - your essay is not 'academic' enough.

At the beginning of their training, all IELTS examiners are clearly told that IELTS is not 'academic' English (despite the misleading title of 'Academic IELTS') because many people who do the test are NOT academically trained and cannot be penalised for it.

Examiners receive a very wide variety of styles. The most common is the 'formal' style that you see on Simon's blog, but some people even write essays quite informally. Even informal essays can receive a 9, as long as the style is consistent, and they still retain 'the format' of an essay.

Thank you sir

Also, sir, univercity writing far advanced. Even with IELTS pass how people go to that level is difficult. But again your lesson is useful sir.

The difference is well explained.. More trainers need to see this!

Mr Sjm

The British Council website clearly states: "Write in a formal style in the IELTS Academic Writing test".


It does seems as though the instructions issued to examiners are not consistent with BC's public statements.

Could you please take this up with the Chief Examiner. Also the use of "less common" lexical items on the public version of the writing band descriptors is misleading.

Or perhaps it is all part of the "hostile environment" for would-be test-takers.


I'm not sure what you mean by 'hostile environment'.

You are not understanding 'formal style'. This refers to the 'format' of the essay which means that it should 'look' like an essay, which involves presenting and examining ideas in a logically structured way. It should not look like other formats, such as a creative writing story or a letter.

In terms of the actual language used, examiners have to be more flexible (and this is actually presenting a LESS hostile environment) because IELTS is an international test, and English can vary from nation to nation. The varieties of native English, for example, can be very different. An educated native English speaker from India can use very 'elaborate' expressions at times, while someone from Jamaica can be more 'casual' in the way they use their words. It would be discriminatory to tell people to only use one particular language style in the test and to penalise people for not using it.

There are limits of course. If language becomes too informal then the essay loses its format and becomes more of a 'diary entry' or a 'spoken presentation', but examiners have to make that judgement on a case by case basis.

As for 'less common' lexical items, this is similar to the grammar descriptor. Your lexical score is determined mostly by your accuracy and 'naturalness' of the vocabulary. Examiners mark your essay and give it a score in 2 to 3 minutes, and often in 1 to 2 minutes. The essay is read once quickly to get an idea of the amount of grammar errors, and the number of spelling, word formation errors, and the number of 'unnatural' words and expressions. If there are a low number of spelling and word formation errors, and the 'unnatural' word rate is low, then you are already looking at a high lexical score. It is only then that examiners start to think about 'less common'. Firstly, is there a mixture of 'general' and 'specific' words (this is why examples are important, because they produce specific language)? Secondly, are groups of natural words being used? (Simon always talks about this). No examiner has the time or interest to look at every word and make a judgement on what is 'less common' or not. The use of natural and accurate vocabulary, in groups of words, is what points to a high score.

Mr sjm

Thank you for you comments.


Re 'formal style': the common meaning seems to be slightly different.



I am not questioning how Task 2 is marked: I am just suggesting that the website and certain phrases in the Band Descriptors are open to misinterpretation; that is, they have a particular 'in-house' meaning for examiners, but candidates and teachers often and easily apply the common or usual meaning in the context, and as a result, come away with the impression that 'advanced' vocabulary is the key.

I see this not as an issue for examiners or students, but as an issue for the Chief Examiner to put across the real marking criteria more clearly.

Once again thank you for your response.




Mr. Sjm

Is it acceptable to write many ideas in one body paragraph or should I choose one idea to write a body paragraph? Also, is it acceptable to write a statistics or research-based examples?


It depends on the question.

If the question has a plural (eg: What are the reasonS for this?) and you only give one central reason and explore it in detail, then you would not fully answer the question because you have to provide more than one.

In essays that don't ask for plurals (most opinion-based essays) it would be fine to focus on one main idea in a paragraph, as long as you support it with further detail (explanation, consequences, examples).

The problem with writing 'many' ideas in a paragraph is that if you write too many then you will almost certainly leave some as 'undeveloped' which is in the marking criteria. Given the time limit in IELTS, we usually say that two or perhaps three main ideas is the limit you can put in a paragraph while still showing some 'development'.

Never use 'statistics' or 'research' examples. They actually make examiners laugh. Examiners know that you wrote this essay in an IELTS test, where you CANNOT research anything. Therefore if you quote statistics it is obviously untrue and a memorised phrase. Also, from a technical point of view, you should really add a citation if you refer to research as well. The chance that you know, and can accurately quote and reference a statistic in an IELTS essay is extremely low, and it always looks made up, so don't do it.

Thanks SJM sir.Very clear.Well said.

Mr. Sjm

Thanks a lot for the valuable response. Can you please elaborate a little bit more about 'what's the expectation for the development of an idea?' If I write 3 ideas in a body paragraph and develop all of them, then there are chances that I may write more than 150 words in a body paragraph, which I believe mess everything up in the real exam.

Really appreciate Simon`s reference into the difference. At least I don`t see big distinction between the two types. As far as I know, personal pronouns such as I are not big issues in writing academic essays in some universities, it is the contents that matter. However, it`s necessary to quote or cite sentences by pharaphrasing rather than to use personal examples as evidence.
Anyway,Simon really teaches me a lot about ielts writing.

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