How to budget your time when completing the written portion of the IELTS exam

As with all portions of the IELTS exam, it is imperative that students take their test with a predefined plan of action and this includes budgeting the hour they are given for written Tasks 1 and 2 properly. Although both Tasks are challenging in their own ways, their requirements differ. Task 1 stipulates a response of only 150 words and will require the student to complete a letter (if writing the General IELTS examination) or a short, data-describing piece (if writing the Academic). Task 2, on the other hand, requires 250 words (structured in multiple, cohesively-sound paragraphs) be written in response to a given essay problem. Based on workload alone, Task 2 is heavier than Task 1 and requires more time to be completed effectively.

Thus, a healthy weighting for time on the written portion of the IELTS examination would be something like the following:
-Task 1 question response: 18 minutes
-Task 1 editing: 2 minutes
-Task 2 question response: 35 minutes
-Task 2 editing: 5 minutes

But what should I do if 20 minutes goes by and I still haven’t finished my Task 1 response?
Firstly, this should never happen. In preparation for their IELTS examination, students should have completed at least 50 practice tests under a strict time limit to replicate their examination experience and thus eliminate the possibility of running out of time while writing their Task 1 or 2 response. In the very unlikely event that you simply cannot finish your Task 1 response and editing in 20 minutes, move on to Task 2. Do not rush your Task 2 writing in hopes of giving yourself time at the end to finish your Task 1 response as this will only heighten the chances of a poor Task 2 performance.

Here are some common questions I get asked about this test-taking strategy:

Should I leave my editing for both Task 1 and Task 2 until the end of the examination?
Absolutely not. Students who complete their Task 2 response before polishing their Task 1 response do themselves a disservice. Budgeting 2 minutes of time after you finish writing your Task 1 response will allow you to check it while the details of the Task 1 question are fresh in your memory. When you move on to Task 2, there should be no looking back at Task 1. It is finished. Just focus on writing an effective Task 2 response. All too often, students rush through their Task 2 response then go back to edit their Task 1 response only to find that they have forgotten the details of their Task 1 question. This means they have to reread the question again to refresh their memory! A total waste of time.

How can I best improve the written portion of my IELTS examination?
The answer to this question is twofold: (1) get yourself a good writing coach and (2) practice under time-restricted conditions. Serious students should run through 50 practice examinations at a minimum. When you engage the examination, the IELTS testing format should be second nature to you.

Good luck!

About Ryan

I have been developing online IELTS training resources for over 10 years. For more information about me and how I can help your preparation for the IELTS, please email me:
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