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How to Plan an IELTS Essay

May 21, 2019

Advantages of Planning

Normally, we have about 16 students in our IELTS class. We spend a minimum of 30 minutes for every new class where we discuss planning and how it can enhance your essay. Then, 20 minutes is usually given to the students or planning a Task 2 essay which is usually completed for an assignment.

This is usually very fascinating because around two to three students usually end up following the instructions and create time to plan while others just plunge into writing the essay. The outcome? Students who create time to plan always end up developing better essays.

Composing an IELTS essay without a plan can be likened to installing an IKEA furniture without a guideline. You will get to a point in the middle where you will become confused and disappointed. you will no longer have control over the essay and finally, submit half-baked writing.

An excellent plan can be compared to a map that will direct you throughout the essay and ensure you achieve the objective set by the examiner. There should be a purpose for every sentence you use. Don’t just write for writing sake because if you do, your essay won’t turn out well. There are some cases that less is actually more but having an excellent plan will make sure that there is a purpose for every sentence you use.

But I don’t have time

This is the main excuse why many don’t plan. But do you know that the more you plan, the less you write your essay?

Let’s look at two scenarios of Student A who decides not to plan and Student B who plans for about 10 minutes.

Student A performs the write-think-think-write-delete-think-write-write-delete-write format.

Student B only performs the think-write format.

Write an excellent essay without proper thinking is impossible for many people and even for IELTS teachers and examiners. If a proper plan is not in place, you will end up thinking as you write and carrying out these two things simultaneously like thinking about proper grammar and vocabulary, ideal writing proficiency can produce a confusing write up especially when writing a foreign language. Also, a student who doesn’t have an ideal plan will usually end up starting all over again. It’s no longer a surprise as some student usually delete a complete essay to start all over again.

How will planning save you time?

About 40 minutes will be given for writing the Task 2 essay. If you decide to spend 10 minutes on planning and 5 minutes to review your writing, you will still be left with 25 minutes for writing the essay.

A typical 250-word essay contains about 12 sentences which imply that you have about 2 minutes to write each sentence which is very possible for everybody.

Having an excellent plan will let you understand the content of every sentence and how they will make up every part of your essay. You won’t have to start thinking about the composition or the concept of your sentences. Just produce a grammatically excellent sentence that will point out your view on the question.

Planning methods

Planning can be carried out in four different stages.

  1. Question Analysis.
  2. Idea Generation
  3. Structure
  4. Vocabulary

Question Analysis

This is the key part of this process. A major mistake most IELTS students make is not providing the proper answers to the questions. Please note that getting a band score of 5.0 is impossible without properly addressing every part of the question.

Let’s consider some examples.

Among the outcomes of advanced medical care is that people tend to live longer and the life expectancy is on the rise. Do the benefits outweigh its drawbacks?

The critical keywords are “advanced medical care”. The general point is that it should not be based on what should be written but should not be written. A regular mistake is to pick out the main keyword or point and start writing about it. You have not answered the question by doing this. Many things should be explicitly considered before you indicate the micro-keywords. “They tend to live longer and their life expectancy is on the rise”. We should, therefore, provide details about this and how life expectancy has been improved by advanced medical care. A general essay shouldn’t just be provided about this. Instruction words will now be considered.

The instruction words are: Do the benefits outweigh its drawbacks?

We would be deciding on the stronger side. If it is the benefits or the drawbacks. If you are going with the benefits, you will be required to provide details on why the benefits supersede the drawbacks and the reason the drawbacks are not stronger. You will not be able to answer the question properly by writing on only on benefits. We also need to clearly state our point of view.

In summary, we ought to:

  • Find keywords (general point)
  • Find micro-keywords (specific points).
  • Find the instruction words. (how the question is answered)

Generating ideas

Many teachers and IELTS books inform students to come up with brilliant ideas at this stage. But brainstorming doesn’t really seem efficient as it leads to the creation of irrelevant ideas and wastage of valuable time.

Direct answers should be provided instead of brainstorming. If you were asked by this question by a friend like in a coffee shop, providing a direct answer wouldn’t be a problem. This should also be carried out in the exams and it can easily be centered around the “why” phase.

We can ask ourselves two different questions from the examples indicated above.

Why are the benefits associated with a high rise in life expectancy very strong?

Why are the drawbacks of life expectancy very weak?

We can simply ponder on one or two critical ideas for each of these questions.

The benefits of a high rise in life expectancy are strong because many people think it is beneficial if their loved one stay alive more which will make everyone happy.

The problems show that there is a high demand for resources and food but these arguments look weak but can be solved by technology.

We have been able to come up with two critical ideas and are ready for the next steps.


The easiest way to score well on the IELTS Task 2 writing portion is to structure your writing in a solid essay format. A strong argument essay structure can be split up into 4 paragraphs, each containing 4 sentences (except the conclusion paragraph, which only contains 3 sentences).

Remember the essay structure:

  • Paragraph 1 - Introduction

    • Sentence 1 - Background statement
    • Sentence 2 - Detailed background statement
    • Sentence 3 - Thesis
    • Sentence 4 - Outline sentence
  • Paragraph 2 - First supporting paragraph

    • Sentence 1 - Topic sentence
    • Sentence 2 - Example
    • Sentence 3 - Discussion
    • Sentence 4 - Conclusion
  • Paragraph 3 - Second supporting paragraph

    • Sentence 1 - Topic sentence
    • Sentence 2 - Example
    • Sentence 3 - Discussion
    • Sentence 4 - Conclusion
  • Paragraph 4 - Conclusion

    • Sentence 1 - Summary
    • Sentence 2 - Restatement of thesis
    • Sentence 3 - Prediction or recommendation

Now that our ideas are intact, the next step is to think about the vocabulary.


Major problem students keep encountering is the repetition of words. Especially words that are from the same question repeatedly. The marks for synonyms will be reduced because it shows that we can’t develop suitable synonyms. This problem can be solved by recognizing the words that would be utilized more often in the question.

Let us consider this question again.

Among the outcomes of advanced medical care is that “tend to live longer and the life expectancy is on the rise.” Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

We can develop the following synonyms:

Advanced medical care – Enhanced medical treatment

Living longer- Improved longevity

Life expectancy is on the rise – the number of time people live is rising

Benefits – Advantages

Drawbacks – Disadvantages.


I hope you found the post useful and let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Serhii Baraniuk

IELTS blog by Serhii Baraniuk. Do you have questions or suggestions? Ask my anything on Twitter or Facebook