Ielts Band 3 Essay

How is your IELTS band score calculated? This is an important question for any IELTS candidate because many mistakes can be  avoided by knowing what the examiner is looking for and how your writing is graded. More than that you may be surprised by some of the detail. Many candidates are.

This lesson gives you a brief outline of:

the IELTS writing grading criteria

how band scores are calculated

some common penalties

What do these criteria mean?

This is IELTS and IELTS examiners are trained to interpret these criteria in a particular way. I suggest you should spend time understanding the detail here and on the links below as that way you can avoid many common mistakes.

Task response/task achievement

A quick summary of this is:

Have you answered the question fully?

Do you develop and support your ideas?

Have you used enough words?

Is there a clear position/point of view throughout your essay?

Task Response in detail

Coherence and cohesion

A quick summary here is:

Do you organise information logically?

Do you use linking devices well?

Are your paragraphs well organised?

Coherence and cohesion in detail

Lexical resource/vocabulary

This is how well you use vocabulary. You should note it’s about both range and accuracy of your word choice.

Is your spelling good?

Do you use the correct form of words?

Do you use a good range of vocabulary with some less common words?

Can you convey precise meaning?

Lexical Resource in detail


Like vocabulary this is about both range and accuracy.

How many mistakes do you make?

Are there some error free sentences?

Do you use a range of simple and complex sentences?

Grammatical range and accuracy in detail

How are band scores calculated?

All the criteria count equally

One mistake candidates make is to focus on one or other of the criteria (normally grammar) or forget about one altogether (normally cohesion and coherence). Why is this wrong? They all count equally.

What happens is that you get a score out of 9 for each of the criteria, they are added together and then that score is divided by 4.

An example:So let’s take an example. Here is someone who has forgotten to think about coherence and hasn’t fully answered the question. S/he has good general English so does well in grammar and vocabulary, but sadly that is not enough.

  • grammar 7
  • vocabulary 7
  • task response 6
  • coherence 4

7+7+6+4 = 24  and 24 divided by 4 equals 6. The message is grammar and vocabulary are not enough – you need to focus on all the criteria as you write.

All the criteria are complex – you need to understand it all

If you read through my in detail posts on the criteria, you will see that each criteria is complex. Task response is not just about answering the question, it is about extending and supporting main ideas and maintaining a clear position throughout the essay. This may not be simple, but it is worth understanding. To get your target band 7, you at least need to average 7 in each of these sub criteria. This means that if you do everything to band 7 in task response, but you do not write enough words, you may not get a 7 for task response.


This bit is the really bad news. There are certain penalties you can get if you make certain mistakes. This means that if you make this type of  mistake, you can’t get above a certain score for that criteria. Here is a selection of penalties I have borrowed from theBritish Council site:

  • Band 5 (for Task Response): the essay only partially addresses the task.

IELTS writing is graded

This score might be given if the candidate writes about the need to increase the salaries of doctors and nurses at government hospitals, rather than about the banning of cigarettes.

For example, the question might ask the candidate to not only say whether cigarettes should be banned, but also suggest some other ways to reduce the problems caused by smoking.

An essay would be penalised if it answers the first part of the question (i.e., should the sale of cigarettes be banned) but doesn’t offer any other solutions.

  • Band 5 (for Coherence and Cohesion): the essay doesn’t use paragraphs, or paragraphing is inadequate.

This means that the answer isn’t written in the style of an essay, with an introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph.

  • Band 4 (for Task Response): the answer is tangential.

Here, the word “tangential” means “of little relevance.” This means that the answer presents an argument that’s only slightly related to the essay question.

As an example, a candidate might start writing about the problems caused by smoking cigarettes, but then go on to write about the problems caused by alcohol and illegal drugs.

  • Band 3 (for Task Response): the essay has few ideas, or the ideas are largely undeveloped or irrelevant.

To illustrate, the answer might give very few, or very weak, reasons for banning cigarettes, such as it will reduce air pollution in cities. (Urban air pollution is caused by the emissions from vehicles and factories, but not cigarette smoking.)

  • Band 1 (for Task Response): the answer is totally unrelated to the essay question.

I would emphasise that these are only a selection of penalties and that you should spend time getting to know the IELTS format before the exam.If you read the British Council article, it advises you to take a preparation course. That is good advice.

It is also good advice to look at the public version of the grading criteria for yourself.


IELTS Task 2 writing sample answer Band 5 Essay 3

Band score: approximately 5.0

Task: Task 2

The answer below has been rated purely based on the public IELTS descriptors. Click the word or words in red to see the correction, and scroll to the bottom of the page to read our comments on the report.

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

The mark of a successful person is to be wealthy and have a successful career.


To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Write at least 250 words.

Nowadays, both education and experience are regarded as useful for success , two seperate clauses cannot be joinged with a comma – either a full stop or semi colon ( ; ) some people say that education is much better than experience, while others think that experience is much more useful, thus many people have different ideologies concerning the matter of jobs for younger students. So thus delete ‘thus’these both ‘both these’ views will now be discussed.

AdvertisementFirstly, let's speak about this is too conversational for Task II – it needs to be more formal academic education. Almost eighty percent of the delete this people believe that education is needed to pursue a good career avoid using random, unsupported statistics, and thus this linking word is being overused in this essaythe result of ‘as a result’ many youngsters are given academic education, be it at home or school. Education is said to be the source of power; if a person has good ‘a good’ education and is very literate, then wealth and respect is always this it too strong – it is not always there there for him. ‘Knowledge is power’, is a very famous quote, it is easily understandable don’t use generic quotations in Task II, it means that education and literacy always this is too strong – ‘often’ gives you avoid personalisation – change to ‘a person’ wealth and respect. So thus delete – repetition education is very useful and so it promises a very successful life.Advertisement

Then comes the argument of experience, you can’t combine two indpeend clauses with a comma – either use a semi colon or start a new sentence again experience is also a very useful thing avoid empty language like ‘thing’ – change to ‘quality’ or ‘tool’, which is seen and counted delete this – it is overly longamong employers. The jobs which offer the most most what? Be specific – money, opportunities, fulfillment require, usually, a minimum of at least 4-8 years experience, again, avoid random statistics so thus repetition many youngsters and teenagers are given the experience of work, so that later on they don't avoid abbreviations in Task II – write the full words (do not)have trouble in seeking jobs, later this has already been said at the begining of the sentence. So normally experience too gives aid for this is not commonly used in this context – ‘can support’ people who need a job, and makes ‘can make’ a good combination with education.

Lastly I would just like to say that too informal both education and both experience are good and useful in their own way, and our are not better than each other, they are equally good, and make an extremely useful combination a lot of repetition here.

(281 words)



The word count is good, but the main problem is that the writer has not addressed the topic. The Task required a response about whether success can be measured by having wealth and a good career, but the writer has focused on education and experience. Some sentences also need to be presented in a more formal manner (‘First, let’s speak about….’)

There are errors with punctuation that make the essay difficult to follow at times (such as the first line of the introduction).

The essay also needs more examples to support the points made in the paragraphs.

However, some good vocabulary has been used.

For more student answers, click here

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