Showing examiners that you can interpret, understand and present opinions is a great skill and will definitely help towards catapulting your writing into an advanced stage, if you master the skill properly!
In exams (like IELTS for example) it can be very stressful worrying about all the different aspects of grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc, etc, and how you are going to control all of these in one short piece of writing. Well, that worry might never go away but, you can make things easier by spending your pre-exam time wisely focusing on one task at a time as you perform ‘dummy-runs’ of the writing test.
This post is focusing on interpreting text you must read in order to form your opinions about something.
- ALWAYS read questions carefully and more than once. Underline parts of them if you wish, or use a highlighter pen to keep your attention focused on the IMPORTANT bits.
- Write down all the ideas you have about the task ahead. Then go through them underlining/highlighting the BEST ones. Discard the others.
- A good way to begin your essay is by restating the question IN YOUR OWN WORDS. This shows that you completely understand the question/s. This is one part of the writing task you should put a lot of time into practicing repeatedly using past exam questions. When you are able to re-state questions without losing important points or without altering the original meaning, then you are ready to move on.
- In your first main paragraph you’ll be presenting one of the arguments that you will later give your opinion about. In the next paragraph you’ll do the same with the other argument. You must show you understand BOTH arguments and not just the one you happen to agree with, or the one that you think seems to make the most sense, or the one you have actually heard about before. So maybe think about the positive aspects of both arguments and present them. Then move onto any negative aspects of both and present them. It is your responsibility to demonstrate you understand BOTH sides in a balanced way.
- In your next paragraph you are going to bring in your ideas. Remember to use linking words (cohesive conjunctions) and make sure you practice the 3 basic types: COORDINATING conjunctions, SUBORDINATING conjunctions, and CORRELATIVE conjunctions. (I’ll do individual pieces about these in future posts). Writing with a mixture of these cohesive devices will help you to expertly connect your ideas in to a well crafted piece of writing. But you MUST practice them repeatedly! There are no short-cuts.
- Your concluding paragraph is a drawing together of all the ideas you brought in in para 1 and para 2. DO NOT BRING IN ANYTHING NEW AT THIS POINT. Even if you see the clock and time has flown by and you still have points you’d like to make, forget about them and concentrate on neatly packaging the ideas you DID manage to include. Introducing new ideas in a conclusion does not leave you anywhere to discuss them, that’s why we don’t do it! Plus the examiner will immediately see you are just not ready to move on…
- Last point (connected to the previous point is… if you find you’ve run out of time in an exam then you have probably not practiced enough and “practice” means performing at home as-if-you-were-in-an-exam and not where you write the introduction and then text a friend about a party on Saturday night, or half way through your second paragraph you feel peckish and pop downstairs to see what’s in the fridge!
- Do writing task 2 (if taking IELTS) first. Do writing task 1 last because it is worth less marks than task 2. But with enough practice you should not run out of time.
Here’s one for you to practice:
Some people think the elderly make better employees than the young. Others disagree. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.