How to Structure Your IELTS Essay

A lot of students feel added pressure when preparing for the IELTS exam as they often have a lot riding on their success or failure in the exam. Students often take the IELTS Exam to provide proof of their English skills for either immigration or academic purposes

When students start preparing for IELTS Writing, I often discover that they don’t know where to start when it comes to structuring their essays. In this post, I would like to share a simple but very useful method to help you structure your essays.

Read and understand the question

One key element is to understand the question and to be clear about what you want to say in your response. Clear thinking leads to clear writing. The first step is to read and understand the question. Let’s look at this question as an example:

Despite advances in medicine there are concerns that certain diseases such as diabetes are increasing and some people believe future generations will face greater problems with health and die younger than we do today.

What is your opinion?

This question asks you:

  • about your opinion – this must be clear in the introduction and the conclusion
  • about whether health will be better in future – this means that you need to talk about the future and now – there must be some comparison
  • about whether people will live longer – this needs to be mentioned too

All these things must be included.

Think about the examiner – make your opinion clear

IELTS essays get marked quickly. You don’t want to allow the examiner to make a mistake. So make life easy for him/her by showing the structure of your essay as clearly as possible. There are three places you do this. This is what I refer to as the spine of the essay (your spine is your backbone – it’s what keeps you upright and gives you your structure).

  • the introduction – that’s the first thing they read and where you make your first impression and first impressions count
  • the first sentence of each paragraph (x2) – examiners are taught that each paragraph should have one main idea – show them what it is in the first sentence
  • the conclusion – that’s the last thing they read and the first thing they remember!

The key is to link these things together so that:

  • the introduction matches the conclusion – the opinion/point of view is the same: you just need to change the language
  • the two body paragraphs link to the opinion/point view in the introduction

Think clearly about your opinion/point of view

You want your point of view to be clear. My basic rule is that if you can’t say in it two sentences, it’s too complex. So part of the planning process may be deleting ideas that are too complex or that you can’t express clearly in English.

See my example:

I’m going to go for a balanced type essay with an argument that health and longevity (living for a long time) will get worse in the West but better in developing nations. Before I start writing I make sure I can say this simply:

I think health will get worse in the west but better in developing countries and this will affect how long people live.

Build the spine of your essay – here is my example

All you need to do now is build the spine of the essay: the intro, first sentences and conclusion. I really do do this using my essay structure plan above. I ended up with this. Take a look at it. See:

  • how simple it is – that’s good, you do want a simple structure
  • how things repeat – that’s good too
  • I crossed out my idea about stress and mental health. It’s a good idea, but would make the essay too complex

Now get the words

This lesson wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t show you the “end-product”. Your plan is only good if it helps you write well. Take a look at my opinions (in red) and the balance between developing countries (in green) and the industrialised nations (in blue).

There is no question that medicine has progressed dramatically over the last century, but this does not mean that all our medical problems have been solved. Indeed, my belief is that the average life span in the Western world may actually fall in the 21st century. This is in contrast to the situation in developing countries where I expect health provision to improve and longevity to increase.

Paragraph 1
The main reason why overall health may become worse in the industrialised nations of the West relates to modern lifestyles there.

Paragraph 2
The situation in the developing world is, however, quite different and overall health is likely to improve.

My conclusion is therefore a mixed one. While it is true that people may face greater problems with their health in the future, this only applies to industrialised nations and not to the developing world where life expectancy may increase.

This is just a simple but very effective method for helping to create a structured and coherent essay for your IELTS exam. Preparing for IELTS might be daunting but it is possible to succeed!

Written by Ben Worthington for EnglishClub May 2020
Ben Worthington is a freelance tutor and blog junkie. He currently produces IELTSPodcast, where he picks the brains of IELTS experts. In his spare time, he enjoys urban gardening, boxing, football and the beach!

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