Breaking Down the General IELTS Writing Section


This post originally appeared on the Magoosh IELTS blog.

In both the General and the Academic IELTS exams, there are four different sections: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Today, we’re going to specifically focus on the Writing section of the General exam. Combine the knowledge you learn here with the best IELTS books and resources to prep smart for your upcoming IELTS exam!

Just like in the Academic exam, there are two tasks in the General exam’s Writing section. The first of these tasks requires you to write a letter, while the second will have you write an argumentative essay. Understanding the differences between the two tasks will be important if you want to get a good score, because they each test different writing skills.


Writing Task 1: The Letter

Task 1 of the Writing section in the General IELTS exam will require you to write someone a letter. The instructions will tell you what to write about, and list several things that you must include in your letter. Not including any of these things will lower your score.

One of the skills that Task 1 is testing you on is your ability to write in different styles. You should practice writing in different styles ahead of time. If you haven’t yet, then use an IELTS study schedule to walk you through a day-by-day journey to improve your writing. Your letter on the test may require you to write formally, semi-formally, or casually. Unfortunately, the instructions will not expressly tell you which style you should use. Instead, you will have to figure it out from the context of the letter you’re expected to write. The style you should use often depends on who you are writing to:

  • If you are writing to a friend about a personal subject, then a casual writing style will be best,

  • If you are writing to a friend or acquaintance about a serious subject, then you should use a semi-formal style,

  • If you are writing to someone you do not know personally, then you should use a formal writing style.


Writing Task 2: The Argumentative Essay

Task 2 of the General exam is much like Task 2 of the Academic exam. Both require that you write an essay that states your opinion about a topic, and then backs it up. The only difference between the General and the Academic essays is the topics that you will have to write about. However, the topics used on the Academic module come from serious subjects like science, literature and politics. Some people find these to be more difficult to write about than the topics used on the General exam, which can be more about day-to-day life.

Aside from these differences, however, the argumentative essay on the General exam is similar to the one on the Academic exam. You will have to do several things to get a good score:

  • Begin with an introduction that tells your reader exactly what to expect in the rest of your essay,

  • Clearly give your opinion on the topic given,

  • Give examples that show why your opinion is the correct one, and

  • Finish with a conclusion that summarized what you have said, to drive all of your points home.


Remember Which Task You Are Writing

On the General exam, Task 1 is very different from Task 2. Therefore, it is important to remember which one you are writing, so you can focus on showing that you have mastered the skills that are being tested. If you are on Task 1, focus on your writing style to write a letter that takes on the correct tone. If you are on Task 2, make sure that your argument is logical, smooth, and strong. With these tips, and advanced prep, you should be well on your way to understanding the IELTS!