As an English teacher who has taught for many years in different countries, I often hear my Arabic speaking students say that they find the writing part of the IELTS more difficult than the other parts. Why is this?

There are several cultural and linguistic reasons for this. The most obvious ones which may affect the way you write in English are the difference in script, punctuation, grammar, writing style and the way you structure and state your ideas. Whether it is the Academic IELTS or General Test you are targeting, both tasks 1 and 2 are marked according to the following criteria:

IELTS marking criteria

Mark Criteria
Task Response 25% Does your essay answer the question in a full, partial or totally unrelated way?
Coherence and cohesion 25% Do your ideas make sense? Do you link them in a logical and clear way?
Vocabulary 25% Do you use words in the right context? Is your vocabulary rich and varied?
Grammar 25% Do you use grammatical structures well? Are you accurate and precise? Do you use a nice range of complex structures?

Let's take a look at ways which can help you score better in IELTS when writing your sentences, paragraphs or essays.

Tip 1: Practice makes perfect...the more you read and write, the faster your writing skills will improve

Writing in English is not an easy task when your Arabic native language is written from right to left, where the vowels are only added if necessary to avoid mispronouncing words and where every single sound you utter is usually seen when it is written down (at least all the consonants). Here are some examples:

If I write 'BK' in English, you won't be able to read it unless I write 'BOOK'. It could be BAKE or BIKE for example, two totally different things.

If you forget the 'silent S' when spelling 'ISLAND', it will be considered as wrong.

If your handwriting is not clear, the examiner will find it difficult to read your essay and this might affect your score.

How can I improve these points?

  1. To improve your spelling, you need to pay attention to the way words are written. In other words, read whenever, wherever and whatever you can! It can be a leaflet, a brochure, a magazine, a newspaper article etc. The internet has a wealth of things you can easily read. Depending on your level of English, you may find the graded readers (simplified story books for learners) a good way to improve your spelling.

  2. The best way to have nice handwriting is to practise writing as much as possible using lined paper and making sure you get the size and proportion of the letters right. Remember that you want the examiner, the reader, to understand every word you write!

Tip 2: How important are capital letters, commas and full stops?

Arabic and English have different punctuation systems. In Arabic, there are no capital letters, fewer commas and sometimes these can replace a full stop. Imagine driving a car in a country where the traffic regulations are different from your own. Foreigners, who have never driven in the UK before, find it very difficult at first. The same thing applies to writing a sentence, a paragraph or a text in English before you can feel confident and at ease.

Remember that the reader will need your signposting and punctuation (special words and phrases such as linking words, commas, full stops, capital letters, colons...) to know whether you are starting a new sentence, changing ideas, linking them to something you mentioned before or whether you are suggesting something to come in the next paragraph of your essay.

Tip 3: To be or not to be, that is the question!

Grammatical accuracy and precision is very important. It is therefore good to remember to use the verb 'BE' when writing your sentences in English. This verb is often forgotten in the present forms as it is not needed in Arabic. E.g. "I tired" instead of "I am tired". Therefore, whenever you need to write in the present tenses, make sure you remember to use 'am', 'is' or 'are' as in 'I am happy', 'He is here', 'We are listening'.

Tip 4: Soften your style for more precision (and more points)

In terms of style and register, what is good and encouraged in one language may not be the case in another. Sometimes the nuances are very slight. Here are some examples:

Repetition of the same idea
Arabic requires the use of repetition to persuade the reader and is a sign of eloquence. In English it is best to stick to one idea per paragraph. Keep it simple. You should develop the main topic sentence by giving several examples in the body of your essay, but make sure you don't use too many synonyms and phrases which develop and repeat the same idea.

Over-generalisation of facts
Avoid using 'Everybody thinks' but use 'most people think' instead.

Over-use of superlatives
Avoid being too categorical unless you are sure of what you are saying and have scientific proof. It is less risky to say: 'She is one of the most famous writers in this field' instead of 'She is the most famous writer in this field'.

Use of modals
The English language is full of modals which you can use to soften, strengthen or simply refine your arguments. Don't hesitate to use them as in this example: 'The tradition will change' > 'The tradition might/will probably/could change'.

Tip 5: Use your critical and linear thinking

Plan your outline before you start writing to save time. Apply the linear thinking and structure that you have been taught in your English classes as opposed to the cyclical style of writing you are used to in Arabic. For example, if you are writing an essay on "Should smoking be banned in public places?", your essay should have 4 or 5 paragraphs organised in the following way:

Introduction
Introduce the context and include your topic sentence for the main idea of the essay.

Body
You need to develop the main idea stated in the topic sentence in 2 or 3 paragraphs. You should also give examples and evidence to support your ideas. Make sure to include your own opinion. The reader should know whether you are for or against the subject of banning smoking. Don't be afraid if you don't share the author's opinion!

Conclusion
Finish your essay by confirming what you said in the introduction to clarify your ideas and convince your reader in an objective way.

Finally, it is essential to use the right connectors to link your ideas in a logical and coherent way. If your ideas make sense, you are very likely to score points, even if the examiner doesn't have the same opinion as you!


These are a few of my tips for improving your IELTS writing. I hope you find them useful.

Good luck to all!

Anissa