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IELTS Writing Task 1: Unpacking the marking criteria to achieve Band 7+

If you are planning to come to NZ for work or study you may need to provide proof of your English language ability. Scores from a range of tests are accepted these days, including TOEFL, the Pearson Test of English (PTE), Cambridge B2 First and CAE.

However, IELTS is still the most popular test.

The IELTS score you require will depend on the visa that you are applying for, or the university at which you are enroling. You should check whether you should sit IELTS General Training or IELTS Academic. If you are intending to enrol at university, it will be IELTS Academic of course.

Many of you will require a score of 6.5 or higher, so this blog series will provide information and advice for candidates aiming for 7 or higher. 

General information

The IELTS Writing test includes two tasks for both Academic and General Training.

You have 1 hour to answer both questions.

Task 1 is worth half as much as Task 2. Therefore you should spend about 20 minutes on Task 1, so that you have more time to complete Task 2.

If you sit the paper-based test, you will write on paper. You will type your responses if you sit the computer-delivered IELTS test. In the computer-delivered test, you will see your word count and a timer to help you stay on track.

You can find more information about the task requirements on the official IELTS website. The focus of this discussion is understanding the criteria that are used to mark your Task 1 response.

IELTS Writing Task 1 Criteria

When marking the Writing test, IELTS examiners use detailed assessment criteria. These describe performance at each of the 9 IELTS bands.

Examiners award a band score for: 

  • Task Achievement
  • Coherence and Cohesion 
  • Lexical Resource 
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

These four criteria are equally weighted.

Task Achievement

This criterion assesses…

  • how appropriate your response is;
  • how accurate your response is;
  • how relevant your response is.

In both test types you should ensure that you write at least 150 words.

Task Achievement: Academic (AC)

Academic Writing Task 1 is basically an information-transfer task. It is important to follow the instructions you are given. It is also important not to come up with explanations for the data given. Typically, you are asked to…

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant. 

All key features must be presented to reach Band 5 and higher. For Academic Task 1, you will need to analyse the task to decide which features are key and which features are supporting detail.

You are expected to use the supporting data to highlight the key features presented in the response. If you do not present any data, your script cannot score higher than a Band 5 for Task Achievement. The key message here then is to pick out specific data from the graph / diagram / map / process to support your response.

Another criterion to remember is to avoid presenting details in a mechanical manner. Examples of this might be starting several sentences with the same time markers or listing the main features repetitively. This is penalised in Band 5.

Remember also that Task 1 needs to be written using an appropriate format. In this case, a report format. You should not use bullet points or numbered lists to present information. You should also not use headings or sub-headings.

In an Academic Task 1 response, you are expected to produce an overview as well as an introduction. The introduction simply outlines what the graph or diagram represents, such as what, where or when things happened. However, the overview is a summary of the most important points – the main trends or changes represented in the visual. The overview can be placed anywhere in the response, but it is usually either in the opening or closing paragraph. If you forget to include an overview, you will not be able to reach Band 6 for Task Achievement. 

If you are aiming for a band 7, you are required to ‘cover the requirements of the task’ rather than ‘address the requirements of the task’ (band 6). We can assume that ‘covering’ means to deal with the requirements in a more complete way than if you simply ‘addressed’ them. 

Task Achievement: General Training (GT)

General Training Writing Task 1 is also a writing task with a predictable output. The task provides the context and purpose of the letter and the functions that you should cover to achieve this purpose.

For General Training Task 1, you need to present all 3 bullet points in order to score higher than a Band 4. 

In General Training Task 1 you are presented with a situation and asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter might be personal, semi-formal or formal in style. It is therefore important that your tone throughout the letter is appropriate.  You will be told to start the letter with a salutation. If it is ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ then your tone should be formal. If it is ‘Dear…’  then the letter is likely to be informal or personal in tone.

Key message

Task achievement is linked strongly to time management and planning what you are going to write. You should find some authentic task 1 examples and practice under timed conditions. When you finish, read over your work and check that you have done everything I discussed earlier. A good IELTS teacher will be able to help you with this. 

Coherence and Cohesion

What is coherence?

In the public IELTS Writing assessment criteria, coherence refers to how sentences follow on from one another and whether or not the writing makes sense. 

What is cohesion?

Cohesion refers to how you connect your ideas at the sentence and paragraph level.

Be thoughtful with your use of cohesive devices. It is unwise to simply memorise lists of cohesive devices that have similar functions and use them interchangeably for variety. Learn the subtle differences between cohesive devices so that you can use them naturally in your writing.


If you produce a response that does not contain paragraphs, you will be penalised under Coherence and Cohesion. 

In Task 1 Academic and General Training, paragraphing is first mentioned at Band 8 where it is described as being used ‘sufficiently and appropriately’. Therefore, if your response does not include paragraphs in Task 1, you might think that you can still achieve a Band 7 for Coherence and Cohesion. However, in order to achieve a Band 7, you must ‘arrange information and ideas logically’. And to achieve a Band 6, your information and ideas should be arranged ‘coherently’. One of the best ways to achieve this is by using paragraphs. The key message here then is simple: use paragraphs in Writing Task 1!

Make sure that each of your paragraphs contains a clear central topic and leave a space between each paragraph. 

Lexical resource

Lexical resource simply refers to your use of words. 

Achieving higher band scores

In order to reach Band 7 in Lexical resource, you must:

  • use a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision

Let’s take the second word precision first. In Writing Task 1, this means that the words you use to give information and facts must be accurate. 

Sometimes you will have difficulty in thinking of exactly what word or words to use. This is where flexibility comes in. You need to be able to use terms that still give accurate and correct information based on the data you are given in the task.

In order to reach Band 7 in Lexical resource, you must also:

  • use less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation

Basically, this means that you need to have a full understanding of the less common words that you use. You need to be confident that the words you choose have a good fit with the style and context of your response.

Learning new words in context is very helpful. For example, when reading or listening in English, you might want to write down some of the new words that you meet. Pay attention to the words around them. Write down any words that collocate, or go with them. Later you could look for the same words in different contexts.


You should paraphrase the language used in the task.

However, do not worry too much about avoiding repetition in Writing Task 1. If you try to use a wide variety of synonyms, you risk not achieving the necessary precision required to report the information and data accurately. Remember, you only have about 20 minutes for this task, so don’t waste time trying to think of alternative words to avoid repetition.

Of course, if you are confident in your knowledge of alternative language and it comes to you quickly, go for it!

Do pay attention to spelling. A typo in the computer-delivered test is considered a spelling mistake. If your spelling errors are noticeable, you won’t be able to score above Band 5 for Lexical resource.

Grammatical range and accuracy

Of course, the more grammatical errors you make, the lower your band score for this criterion will be. This pertains to punctuation as well, so pay attention to your use of full stops, commas and apostrophes. 

Whilst making an effort to be accurate is important, be aware that playing it safe with a limited range of grammatical structures will also hold you back. In order to achieve a Band 6 for Grammatical range and accuracy, you will need to use a mix of simple and complex sentence forms. For Band 7, you need to use a variety of sentence structures, and for Band 8 this becomes a wide range of structures.

Further support

If you are serious about achieving the score you need in the IELTS test, we’d love to help. You can contact us to arrange a free chat about how we can support you. 

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