Ielts Essay Marked Series

This post explains the difference between band 5 and band 8 task 2 answers.

One of the keys to success in the IELTS writing test is understanding how the test is marked and using this knowledge to increase your band score. You can then give the examiners exactly what they want and focus on doing the things that get high scores.

This post will look at what each of the four criteria mean and the practical differences between typical band 5 answers and band 8 answers. I have also put each band score for each category in a helpful table for you, so it’s easy to compare and understand.

The four criteria you will be marked on are:

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

Don’t worry if you don’t know what these mean, I will explain below. You can download the full writing task 2 band descriptors here.

The examiner will be looking for your ability to answer the question properly. What does this actually mean?

If we look at the marking criteria above we notice that essays in bands 6, 7 and 8 fully address all parts of the question. This means that if you do not fully address all parts of the question you will get a band 5 or below.

This means that you should read the questions very carefully and make sure you cover everything it asks. Let’s look at an example:

More and more people nowadays have to compete with younger people for the same job.

What problems does this cause?

What are some possible solutions?

There are two different things we need to talk about- ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’. If we don’t include these in our answer we cannot score higher than band 5 for task achievement. Also, if you talked about ‘causes’ instead of ‘problems’ you would also score 5 or below, because this is not what the question asks you to talk about.

Let’s look at another example:

Some people say that the best way to improve public health is by increasing the number of sports facilities. Others, however, say that this would have little effect on public health and that other measures are required.

Discuss both of these views and give your own opinion.

This question requires us to do three things:

  1. Discuss increasing number of sports facilities to improve public health
  2. Discuss the view that sports facilities would have little effect of public health
  3. Give our own opinion

If we don’t do all 3 of these we cannot score above a 5 for task achievement.

Now that we know how to score above a 5 we need to look at the difference between bands 6, 7 and 8 for task achievement.

The difference between these scores is about how we support our ideas with explanations and examples.

Band 6– Gives relevant ideas but these may not be fully developed with explanations or examples or the explanations and examples given are irrelevant.

Example– The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. There are lots more cars these days.

The idea is relevant but they have failed to explain why cars cause traffic jams or give examples.

Band 7- Gives relevant ideas and these are developed with explanations or examples but these ideas may be too general or lack focus.

Example- The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. In lots of cities around the world there are lots of cars and this causes traffic jams. For example, the number of cars purchased in developing countries is increasing year after year.

This student has presented a clear position, but they have given a very general explanation and their example lacks focus and is not specifically linked to the main point.

Band 8– Gives relevant ideas and these are developed with focused and specific ideas and examples.

Example- The main problem causing traffic jams is too many cars. When we have more vehicles than a city’s infrastructure was designed for it leads to congestion. For example, Ho Chi Minh City was designed to cope with around 500,000 cars and the city now has over 2 million cars, resulting in chronic traffic problems.

This student has explained their point very well, explaining exactly why they think too many cars are the problem and given a very specific and relevant example to prove their point. If you can’t think of a specific example, make one up. The examiners are not interested in how factual your examples are, just your ability to make one.

Task Achievement Key Points

  • Answer all parts of the question
  • Present relevant ideas
  • Fully explain these ideas
  • Support ideas with relevant, specific examples

Coherence refers to your ability to be clear and easily understood.

For answers in bands 6, 7 and 8 in this category all parts are easy to read and understand. Parts of band 5 answers are not easy to understand.

This may be because you have lots of grammar mistakes, you have lost grammatical control of your sentences, the words and sentences are in a very illogical order or you have used words and phrases that are not appropriate or accurate.

The examiner will be able to understand all parts of band 6, 7 and 8 answers but the ease of understanding will increase as we go up the bands.

Band 5 answers tend to have lots of different ideas in each paragraph. Band 7 and 8 answers have only one idea in each paragraph and they then use the rest of that paragraph to explain and support that point.

You can increase your band score by making it very clear to the examiner what each paragraph is about and then logically organise each sentence within that paragraph.

At a sentence level, main body paragraphs should follow this structure:

  • Topic Sentence
  • Explanation
  • Example

Example-The best way to improve the health and fitness of the public is through advertisement campaigns. Many people are unaware of the health benefits regular exercise and a healthy diet brings and an advertising campaign could be used to educate people. For example, the ‘5-a-day’ campaign used in the UK was extremely effective in getting people to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The topic sentence makes it clear to the reader what the main point is and this is extended with an explanation in the second sentence and a relevant example in the third. If we were to order these sentences differently, they would be more difficult to understand.

At a paragraph level, task 2 essay should have:

  • Introduction
  • 2-3 Main Body Paragraphs
  • Conclusion

You can further increase your score for coherence by writing an effective introduction and then linking your points to this introduction.

Cohesion refers to your ability to link ideas, sentences and paragraphs together and one of the ways we do this is through the use of cohesive devices.

Cohesive devices are also sometimes called ‘linking devices’ or ‘linking words’. Below are some examples:

Band 5 answers either fail to use any of these devices or use them inaccurately. Some band 5 answers use these devices but they overuse them. You don’t get any marks for using them in every sentence and you will actually lose marks for using them too much.

Band 6 answers tend to use linking phrases but their use is not appropriate or there is too much repetition of the same phrase. Try to vary your phrases by using synonyms.

Band 7 answers use a good range of these linking phrases effectively but there might be some over or under use.

Band 8 candidates make no mistakes when using cohesive devices. They are used accurately and there is no over use.

Coherence and Cohesion Key Points

  • Structure your answers in logical paragraphs
  • One main idea per paragraph
  • Include an introduction and conclusion
  • Support main points with an explanation and then an example
  • Use cohesive devices accurately and appropriately
  • Vary your linking phrases using synonyms

Lexical resource is just a complicated name for the words and phrases you use, or in a word, vocabulary.

Band 5 users have very limited vocabulary and rarely use ‘topic specific’ words. For example, if we were asked this question:

Nowadays lots of young people don’t have a job.

What are the main causes of this?

A band 5 answer might say:

Lots of young people don’t have a job because there is no money. There is no money because countries are not doing well with money now. For example, countries in Europe don’t have any money and lots of young people don’t have jobs.

This candidate has repeated words from the question because they are not aware of synonyms for words like ‘young people’ and ‘job’. They are also unable to express their opinion effectively because they don’t know vocabulary that is specific to the question like ‘unemployment’, ‘recession’, ‘financial crisis’ and ‘economic’.

A good candidate would use topic specific vocabulary to improve the answer like so:

Many of today’s younger generation are unemployed because of the financial crisis. The financial downturn caused huge economic problems all over the world. For example, European nations find themselves with massive youth unemployment, with over half of 18-25 year olds out of work in countries like Greece.

This answer has basically the same meaning but the author’s points are clearer and more developed because of a wide ranging vocabulary.

Band 6, 7 and 8 answers generally have some question specific vocabulary but as we go up the bands their word choices are more accurate and question specific vocabulary is used more frequently.

Band 6 answers attempt to use lesson common words, but there is some inaccuracy and there are some errors with word formation and spelling.

Band 7 answers have far fewer of these errors, however some errors are permitted. The words chosen here are more likely to show use of correct style and collocations. There is still some repetition of words permitted.

Band 8 answers have very few spelling or word formation errors and use very appropriate words to convey meaning precisely. There is also very little repetition of words.

It should be noted that the cohesive devices mentioned above do not contribute to your score for lexical resource.

Finally, getting a high score for lexical resource is NOT about including lots of long or complicated words. If you do this and they are not appropriate and accurate, you will lose marks. To get a high band score you do need to use less common words but these need to be used precisely.

Lexical Resource Key Points

  • Try to vary your vocabulary using accurate synonyms
  • Use less common question specific words that accurately convey meaning
  • Check your work for spelling and word formation mistakes

In order to understand this section you should first appreciate what a ‘complex sentence’ is and understand and analyse a complex sentence. 

A complex sentence does not need to be very long, complicated or even difficult to write and my guide on how to write a complex sentenceshould help you improve your score.

Band 5 answers use mostly ‘simple sentences’ and frequent errors occur when ‘complex sentences’ are attempted. Most of the sentences have grammatical errors. The errors make it difficult for the reader to understand the points being made.

Band 6 answers use a mix of ‘simple’ and ‘complex sentences’ and frequent errors still occur when attempting ‘complex sentences’. The majority of sentences have errors but these errors rarely stop the reader understanding the points being made.

Band 7 answers use a variety a ‘complex structures’ and around 50% of the sentences are completely error free.

Band 8 answers have wide range of appropriate structures. Most of the sentences are completely error free.

It should be noted that the more small errors you make the more likely you are to get a lower band score, especially if these errors prevent the reader understanding what you have written. You should therefore only use structures you are comfortable using and you know are 100% error free.

Have your writing marked by a teacher and establish your common errors and fix them.

Grammatical Range Key Points

  • Use a variety of complex and simple sentences
  • Use a variety of appropriate structures
  • Check your writing for errors

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IELTS Preparation

Writing Task 1

Writing Task 2






IELTS Writing Mark Schemes

The two writing questions are marked out of 9 according to the following criteria:

 Task AchievementCoherence and CohesionLexical ResourceGrammatical Range and Accuracy
  • fully satisfies all the requirements of the task
  • clearly presents a fully developed response
  • uses cohesion in such a way that it attracts no attention
  • skilfully manages paragraphing
uses a wide range of vocabulary with very natural and sophisticated control of lexical features; rare minor errors occur only as ‘slips’uses a wide range of structures with full flexibility and accuracy; rare minor errors occur only as ‘slips’
  • covers all requirements of the task sufficiently
  • presents, highlights and illustrates key features / bullet points clearly and appropriately
  • sequences information and ideas logically
  • manages all aspects of cohesion well
  • uses paragraphing sufficiently and appropriately
  • uses a wide range of vocabulary fluently and flexibly to convey precise meanings
  • skilfully uses uncommon lexical items but there may be occasional inaccuracies in word choice and collocation
  • produces rare errors in spelling and/or word formation
  • uses a wide range of structures
  • the majority of sentences are error-free
  • makes only very occasional errors or inappropriacies
  • covers the requirements of the task
  • (Academic) presents a clear overview of main trends, differences or stages
  • (General Training) presents a clear purpose, with the tone consistent and appropriate
  • clearly presents and highlights key features / bullet points but could be more fully extended
  • logically organises information and ideas; there is clear progression throughout
  • uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately although there may be some under-/over-use
  • uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision
  • uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation
  • may produce occasional errors in word choice, spelling and/or word formation
  • uses a variety of complex structures
  • produces frequent error-free sentences
  • has good control of grammar and punctuation but may make a few errors
  • addresses the requirements of the task
  • (Academic) presents an overview with information appropriately selected
  • (General Training) presents a purpose that is generally clear; there may be inconsistencies in tone
  • presents and adequately highlights key features / bullet points but details may be irrelevant, inappropriate or inaccurate
  • arranges information and ideas coherently and there is a clear overall progression
  • uses cohesive devices effectively, but cohesion within and/or between sentences may be faulty or mechanical
  • may not always use referencing clearly or appropriately
  • uses an adequate range of vocabulary for the task
  • attempts to use less common vocabulary but with some inaccuracy
  • makes some errors in spelling and/or word formation, but they do not impede communication
  • uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
  • makes some errors in grammar and punctuation but they rarely reduce communication
  • generally addresses the task; the format may be inappropriate in places
  • (Academic) recounts detail mechanically with no clear overview; there may be no data to support the description
  • (General Training) may present a purpose for the letter that is unclear at times; the tone may be variable and sometimes inappropriate
  • presents, but inadequately covers, key features / bullet points; there may be a tendency to focus on details
  • presents information with some organisation but there may be a lack of overall progression
  • makes inadequate, inaccurate or over-use of cohesive devices
  • may be repetitive because of lack of referencing and substitution
  • uses a limited range of vocabulary, but this is minimally adequate for the task
  • may make noticeable errors in spelling and/or word formation that may cause some difficulty for the reader
  • uses only a limited range of structures
  • attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
  • may make frequent grammatical errors and
    punctuation may be faulty; errors can cause some difficulty for the reader
  • attempts to address the task but does not cover all key features / bullet points; the format may be inappropriate
  • (General Training) fails to clearly explain the purpose of the letter; the tone may be inappropriate
  • may confuse key features / bullet points with detail; parts may be unclear, irrelevant, repetitive or inaccurate
  • presents information and ideas but these are not arranged coherently and there is no clear progression in the response
  • uses some basic cohesive devices but these may be inaccurate or repetitive
  • uses only basic vocabulary which may be used repetitively or which may be inappropriate for the task
  • has limited control of word formation and/or spelling;
  • errors may cause strain for the reader
  • uses only a very limited range of structures with only rare use of subordinate clauses
  • some structures are accurate but errors predominate, and punctuation is often faulty
  • fails to address the task, which may have been completely misunderstood
  • presents limited ideas which may be largely irrelevant/repetitive
  • does not organise ideas logically
  • may use a very limited range of cohesive devices, and those used may not indicate a logical relationship between ideas
  • uses only a very limited range of words and expressions with very limited control of word formation and/or spelling
  • errors may severely distort the message
attempts sentence forms but errors in grammar and punctuation predominate and distort the meaning
2answer is barely related to the taskhas very little control of organisational featuresuses an extremely limited range of vocabulary; essentially no control of word formation and/or spellingcannot use sentence forms except in memorised phrases
1answer is completely unrelated to the taskfails to communicate any messagecan only use a few isolated wordscannot use sentence forms at all


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