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"I need to write a 250-word essay. I only have 40 minutes. I can’t search ideas on the internet or ask anyone for help. Are you CRAZY!?” Does this sound like you when preparing for the IELTS writing test? You’re not alone. True, some things are not too hard to learn in writing. There are definitive guides for essay and paragraph structure. Vocabulary can be learned with a little bit of hard work. Grammar just takes practice and paying attention to rules. But then there's content. Content is the information or ideas you include in your writing. So, how can you prepare for ideas in the essay if you don’t know the test question? What if the essay question is about nuclear physics or the history of Rome? How can test-takers deal with this?

According to the IELTS public scoring guide, to score higher than a 6 in task response, you 'll need a well-developed answer to the question, with well-supported ideas. What does this mean? As you probably know, your writing score will be based on four criteria – Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Each one of these requirements is worth 25% of your writing score.

The first criteria, Task Response, is what we're focusing on here. This means, to answer the question well. In other words, explain all parts of the essay question fully, thoroughly, and while staying on topic. Ok, you get my point. So, where do these ideas come from? How do you know what to write? Have a look below for some tips and tricks to help your 5 or 6, turn into a 7, 8, or 9!

Relax! Essay topics are things we all know about

IELTS is one of the largest and most well-developed language tests in the world. They have a huge staff who research the best questions to ask on the tests. The questions are chosen because they're topics that 99.9% of people know about. IELTS doesn’t want to ask you a question you can’t answer. They want to ask you something that will allow you to show all the English you know. For example, they would ask you to write about how to eat healthily, but they wouldn’t ask you to write about why eating healthy is essential for people with cancer. They would ask about the benefits of public transportation, but they wouldn’t ask you about why public transportation in Europe is better than Canada.

Brainstorming techniques

If you've taken a writing class, you probably know the word brainstorm. A brainstorm, also known as a mind map, is a technique used to get ideas for a piece of writing. The key to success in brainstorming is to open your mind and write down everything you can think of in a short period. For example, if the essay question is: How can people stay warm in winter? On a blank piece of paper, you might write ideas like fireplaces; moving to Florida; wool sweaters; and electric heaters. The critical thing to remember about brainstorming is that any idea is OK. Just write everything you can think of.

Then, after you have all your ideas on paper, do some organizing. Cross out the crazy ideas, keep the good ideas, and then group them into paragraphs. Try it out!

IELTS is a language test, not a knowledge test

It’s not what you write; it’s how you write it. I've seen some crazy ideas in IELTS essays, and they still received very high marks. The point is, it isn’t your idea alone - it’s how you present the idea. Let’s look a little closer at this. Imagine the essay question is What are the best ways to lose weight? Then you decide to write three main solutions - eat only bananas; go skydiving every day, and massage your stomach. These sound like really strange ways to lose weight, but as long as you support them with clear and organized examples, you will still meet the requirements for a high score. Let’s look at an example paragraph for the above question.

Eating only bananas every day is a sure way to help overweight people slim down. Firstly, bananas don’t have any salt. This can help reduce inflammation in the stomach. In turn, this helps you digest faster and will lead to more fat loss throughout your body. Second, bananas have a magical power called potassium. This magic element cleans out the tiny fat cells in your muscle tissue by chemically latching on to them. The super-power potassium fat balls travel deeper and deeper into your tissues and…

 Looks crazy, doesn’t it? The ideas are not science. However, the response language is very clear and is supported with full examples and full explanations. So, even though it is a crazy idea, it can still receive high marks because it met the criteria. So, in the end, remember this when you practice Task 2 Writing. The IELTS essay is not a mysterious monster. Start by taking some time to relax and read the question carefully. Do some brainstorming before you start to write. Organize your ideas well into groups. Then explain those ideas using good examples. With some diligent practice writing, and by reviewing some example essays, success will be just around the corner!

By Tony Rusinak