The IELTS Writing – half-band scores

About a year ago there was a change in the IELTS grading system, when half-band scores were introduced for the Writing and Speaking modules. At first there was so much confusion, until they came up with an explanation of those half-bands, but even now many people write to me asking to explain what can make a difference between a full band and a half-band.

According to the IELTS examiners, it is the quality of your writing that makes that half band of difference. Let me explain. I have written a post explaining how your Writing task gets graded, what things are important and what you can get marks for. So let’s take for example one of categories there, “Selecting what information to present”. If the examiner sees that you attempted to do that, but didn’t do it quite right (for example threw too much information away) – that could mean that you get half of band for attempting but not the full band because you didn’t do a very good job selecting information. Usually messing up in just one category is not enough to cost you half-band; it would take two or three mess-ups of that kind to get the half-band taken away.

Another example – weak grammar and poor choice of words can make the difference between band 5.5 and 6. The work can be written in beautiful English but if it doesn’t follow the IELTS format, you’ll never get beyond Band 7.

So I think the bottom line is – they introduced the half bands to make difference between students that know what IELTS writing rules are, try hard but do a poor job following the rules and students that do a good job in fulfilling all the requirements.

The IELTS Writing – how your band score is calculated

This is the key question of many students: please explain how the band score is calculated. Finally, I decided to try and summarize what I know about the scoring process so this is it – the scoring process in my understanding.

When your Writing Task 1 gets graded (I am talking about the IELTS Academic module here), you can get (or lose) points for:

Filling the requirement of the task
This means writing a report that shows – this student understands what he needs to do and does as we ask.

Selecting what information to present
A bit tricky, you need to be careful not to throw away useful information yet avoid including every little detail.

Presenting an overview
Describing what the graph shows without repeating the task statement (task prompt), in your own words. If you don’t have an overview or copy the task statement it will cost you marks.

Presenting key features
Almost any graph has the most noticeable features, write about them.

Organization of information
This is mostly about paragraphs that should come in a logical order.

As the examiner reads your report he/she needs to see how you move smoothly on the graph from one thing to another.

Cohesion, reference and substitution
That is to do with the way you present statistics. If you repeat the same structure to mention all the numbers, or choose awkward expressions to do it – it will cost you marks.

Range of vocabulary
Your choice of words can point at limited, normal or wide vocabulary. It also matters if your vocabulary is adequate for the task or not (if it is not wide but enough to write a clear report, that’s fine)

Control over grammar, spelling and appropriate choice of words
No need to explain 🙂



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