Back From A Break

Hi everyone.

First, let me apologise for the radio silence over the past couple of months.  I am involved in a couple of new work projects that are taking up much of my time, and these have forced me to scale back on my IELTS activities.

Things are settling down a little now workwise, and while I am still forced to restrict the number of students I can help I at least have time to answer questions and offer suggestions.  Starting this week, I have decided to offer a weekly post setting out my own thoughts on some of the most difficult questions that come up in IELTS writing.  We begin today with one of the classics:

How many paragraphs should I write?

Almost every student has asked this question at some point, and almost every student must have been dismayed to discover that expert views vary between anywhere from four to seven paragraphs.

So let’s look at the question logically.  We need an introduction and a conclusion, of course, so there are our first two paragraphs.  The key question then becomes how many body paragraphs we need in order to respond adequately to the prompt?  Some IELTS prompts seem to invite two body paragraphs, by asking you to respond to two related questions (so one paragraph per question).  Other questions, however, ask you to “discuss both sides and give your opinion” which suggest that three paragraphs are needed (one for each side and one for your opinion).  Still other questions give no hints at all and simply ask “What is your opinion?”

In my view the ideal approach is to write a four-paragraph essay with two body paragraphs.  The reason I like this approach is that it is possible to cover all the various forms of IELTS prompts in four paragraphs, and so it allows students to practice a single structure.  It also forces students to write concisely.  One of the major reasons for poor scores in IELTS writing is time management.  A tightly-written four paragraph essay is one that students are more likely to be able to complete within the recommended time limit of forty minutes.

This leads us to the question of what should be included within the four paragraphs.  For that, however, you will need to wait for the next post.

Please feel free to leave your comments and/or questions.



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