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The IELTS Writing test – How to avoid getting your essay penalized or disqualified

Years ago IELTS used to have a direct penalty for writing less than 250 words in essay. That rule has changed, but the principle still applies – you are very likely to get a lower score if you write less than the word limit.

Let me explain how. Your Writing score consists of 4 criteria scores, worth 25% each: Task Response (TR for short), Coherence and cohesion (CC), Lexical resource (LR) and Grammatical range and accuracy (GA). Your essay score is calculated as follows:

Essay score = (TR + CC + LR + GA) / 4

Writing less than 250 words potentially affects every criterion.

Task response

You get a higher score for Task Response when you have addressed all parts of the topic, extended your ideas and your position is clear throughout the essay. You probably won’t be able to do that well in less than 250 words. So, if you’re aiming at a Band 5 or 6, you may be able to get away with an essay shorter than 250 words, but Band 7 doesn’t seem likely.

Coherence and cohesion

If you wrote less than 250 words because you ran out of time, then your essay won’t have the right structure (introduction, body, conclusion), because you didn’t have time to finish one of the body paragraphs or the conclusion. This affects your Coherence and cohesion score.

Lexical resource

The range of vocabulary you can show in a short essay is limited, and to get a Band 7 for this criterion you need to show some ‘less common lexical items’. Even for a Band 6 you need to at least attempt to use them, otherwise if your vocabulary is just enough for the purpose of the essay, it’s a Band 5 for Lexical resource.

Grammatical range and accuracy

A short essay doesn’t have enough room to show a good variety of complex sentence structures. Another factor that may lower your score is that you didn’t have time to proofread what you wrote, so every grammatical error you made will be there for the examiner to see.

So, to sum up, even if you don’t have enough time to write 250 words, try to write as much as you can, because then you will lose fewer marks. Obviously the best is to aim at 250-265 words to maximize your chances of getting a Band 7+.

Did you know that if you write an essay/letter/report but not on the topic you were given, your work can be disqualified? Yes, that’s true and here is another sure way to lose all the marks for writing: memorizing. The examiners are not fools; they are trained professionals and can easily spot a memorized work.

The lesson here is this: don’t take any chances, write an essay on the topic you were given, even if you don’t have brilliant ideas on it. It doesn’t matter how original you are, as long as your writing makes sense and follows the rules of an IELTS essay.

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8 thoughts on “The IELTS Writing test – How to avoid getting your essay penalized or disqualified”

  1. Though i have been through umpteen stuff in the reagrd of ielts perparation, but i still feel a bit apprehensive about the test, and i have booked my CD test for 23-07-2020, my question would be, how many words of fine vocabulary, and how many complex sentences will fetch a band score 7 or above in both writing of
    task-1 and task-2 and also for speaking in ielts general training. This is what i am baffled about and this has also been daunting to me since quite a long time, please reply to ASAP.

  2. Can u suggest a book for academic exam

    Bcz u mentioned tht ace the ielts book is for General exam..but i need book for academic ielts exam

  3. Are candidates penalized for writing less than 250 words these days? It could reduce the TR score, but there is no longer a penalty for this, isn’t it?

  4. No, they are not penalized directly – the examiners don’t count words anymore. The score gets affected indirectly, and this post explains how writing less than 250 words can bring your score down.

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