Both the academic and general training modules of the IELTS are in two parts and last for one hour. The first task is shorter, and requires the candidate to write at least 150 words. This task is worth one third of the marks for the paper, and therefore you should not spend more than 20 minutes on it. The second part should be at least 250 words long and should take the remaining 40 minutes.
With both tasks, it is important to make sure that you understand what you have to do before you start writing. You can make notes on the question paper to help you to plan exactly what you are going to write on the answer sheets.
Remember that the examiners are looking for a clear, logical statement of what you want to say. So your reply must answer all the points required, going from one to the other in a logical way, and using plenty of connecting words and phrases, such as 'and so', 'as well as', 'firstly', 'secondly' and so on. You will lose marks for poor spelling and grammar.
You will get marks for using a wide range of appropriate sentence structures and vocabulary, but not if you torture your sentences to show how many language structures you can fit into one paragraph!
While your essays do not have to be exactly 150 and 250 words long, you will lose marks if an essay is much too long or too short. Also if you are going to to repeat information that was given in the question, make sure that you rewrite it into your own words.
If you make a mistake while you are writing, don't scribble it out, but just draw a single line through the words you have got wrong, and write the correction after it.
Here you will be given some graphical information which you have to summarize into a short report. This is often a graph, a table or a flowchart. (Flowcharts are boxes joined by lines showing how something happens. If more than one thing can happen the box will have extra lines coming from it showing the results of each outcome.)
The examiners want to check that a candidate can interpret visual information and describe it, using appropriate language to point out the most significant items of data. Make sure you spend some time making sure that you understand what the visual information is trying to tell you, and do not worry if you do not know some of the technical words - use a short description instead.
It is usually a good idea to start with a sentence giving a short description of what the entire question is about. (For example: 'This describes haw many people use a gym during the week; when they use it, and what facilities they use.' or 'This describes how to unpack a computer and connect the different parts together.') Remember, your job is to summarize and present the information rather than to give your opinion about it.
This is a letter to a particular problem or situation. You will be told what the situation is. (For example asking someone to attend a job interview.) There will be 'bullet points' summarizing the information you have to give. (Remember not to simply copy this information word-for-word into your letter.)
The question will usually let you know what tense you should use. For example the example above would require a future tense, whilst another, for example thanking someone for a nice dinner, would require a past tense. Remember that you must cover each of the 'bullet points' in the question, and organize what you have to say clearly and logically.
Academic and General Training
This is a discursive piece of writing. This means that you must attack or defend an opinion, present your own opinion, or evaluate an issue. For both Academic and General Training this requires an organized, extended piece of writing.
For example you may be be given this statement 'Children today have too much money and free time'. You may be asked to discuss this - to present arguments why this statement is true, and compare these arguments with those against this idea. You may be asked to argue for, or against the opinion.
Whatever the discussion topic, you should be prepared to give your opinions and justify them, and to challenge contrary opinions. You may also be asked to find the cause, or suggest a solution to a problem. Remember also that the main question might have several sub-questions, so with the example above remember to discuss both the issues of money and free time.
Candidates are marked on how clearly and convincingly they present their argument, not on whether the examiner agrees with them. Grammar, a good range of vocabulary and the ability to put a case together will all be assessed. Candidates doing the General Training module can illustrate their points with personal experiences and anecdotes.
It is generally a good idea to start by summarizing the argument. Then present briefly the main points against the opinion you want to express. Then refute these points, give your own points and several supporting sentences, and conclude with a summary of your main point and where the discussion should go from there.
(For example an essay on 'Will the internet mean that one day people might never want to leave their houses?' might finish with the words 'Therefore, no matter how good information technology becomes, people will still want to travel, and transport networks will have to exist for them.')