Word Counts Count!

It’s IELTS test day and you’ve just about completed your writing test. There's a short time remaining, so you look over your writing. You then realize you haven’t paid attention to the number of words you’ve written, and you ask yourself: have I written enough?

As an IELTS writing examiner, it pains me to think about this scenario because it may result in a test taker losing points because she has written too few words. It may seem like a simple thing to remember, but for a variety of reasons, including feeling nervous, running out of time, or forgetting about the word counts, test takers do not always write the minimum number of words required for Writing Task 1 and Task 2, and, as a result, they lose valuable points.

Below are some important things to keep in mind about word count:

• Writing Task 1 and 2 – the same, but different

There are two parts to the IELTS writing test: Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2. You have 60 minutes to complete both tasks. For Task 1, you must write at least 150 words. It is recommended that you spend about 20 minutes completing this task.

For Task 2, the minimum number of words is 250 – that’s quite a bit more than Task 1, so keep this in mind when you are planning what to write. It is recommended that you spend about 40 minutes on Task 2. Also, it’s important to remember that Task 2 is worth twice as much as Task 1, so you want to ensure you give this task the time it deserves.

• There is a minimum, but no maximum

While there is a minimum number of words required for each task, there is no maximum. Keep in mind, however, that you will not receive extra points for writing more than the required number of words. While it is ok to write more, especially if you think it is necessary to fully answer the question, you should consider that your time may be better spent re-reading your answer, ensuring it is complete, and checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

• Use your own words!

Using your own words is very important; if you copy phrases or whole sentences from the question, these will not be included in your total word count. In other words, when you write your answer, don’t copy phrasing or whole sentences from the question. If you do, the copied words will be taken off your total word count, and if this takes you below the minimum required word count, you will lose points.

• If I don’t count my words, how will I know?

As I mentioned above, you need to plan your time well in order to complete the writing tasks. Try to leave some time to go back and re-read your answer, and check spelling, grammar and punctuation. While you may have a short time to check these things, you probably won’t have time to count your words.

I strongly recommended that you practice for the IELTS exam before test day. By practicing the writing tasks, you'll get a sense of how much space it takes for you to write 150 and 250 words. I recommend that you take advantage of the practice tests that are available online at to help you prepare for your IELTS test. I also recommend that you consider taking a free IELTS seminar ( to help you prepare.

• Write clearly

Sometimes a test taker’s writing is hard to read. While nobody expects perfect handwriting on the IELTS test, I recommend that you try to write neatly enough so that the examiner can read your writing and can count the number of words. If the words run into each other or are very difficult to read, it may be hard for the examiner to count the words you have written. At the end of the day, you want to have every word that you write count, so try to take care to write as neatly as you can!

Finally, please remember that the only words that count are those on your answer sheet; any words that you write on your question sheet are not included in the total word count.

Hopefully, these tips about word count on the writing test will help you better prepare for your IELTS test. Remember that preparation and knowledge go a long way in helping you get ready for your IELTS test. Good luck!

Word count: 724

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Halloween at ECLC

Halloween is a popular holiday in North America celebrating a mix of old superstitious traditions and modern activities. On October 31st, children (and adults) dress up in costumes, collect candy door-to-door, and enjoy games and movies about ghosts, vampires, and witches. But the whole month of October is filled with Halloween-themed activities and ECSL have the opportunity to experience many of them in Halifax. Over the past month, students watched a scary movie, visited a frightful Haunted House, and ended the month with our annual Halloween Party here at ECLC.

On Friday, October 27th, ECLC hosted a spooky but fun party for students filled with different games, activities, and snacks. Students carved their own pumpkins, participated in a variety of Halloween themed mini-games, and joined our annual costume parade to show off their creativity.

Our team here at ECLC always looks forward to our fun-filled holiday parties and can't wait for our Christmas celebrations next month.

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Exciting News! ECSL has changed its name to East Coast Language College (ECLC)

I wrote this blog a few months ago but wanted to post it again in case you missed it. We are slowly changing things over to the new name so we want to be sure everyone knows why we made the changes.

I am very excited to be able to finally share the news with you that after 20 years, ECSL is changing its name to East Coast Language College (ECLC). You will start to see our new name on materials over the next few months and the complete changeover will be completed by the end of 2018.

Some people may be asking why we have decided to change our name. We feel that after 20 years, we needed a name that better reflects what we do. In 2016, we became a registered Private Career College with the province of Nova Scotia. This is a very in-depth process and requires inspection and approval of our premises, our curriculum, and our instructor qualifications. We gained approval for our ACE TESOL teacher training program, which will be offered for the first time in October 2017. We are very proud to be the only private language school in Nova Scotia that is both accredited by Languages Canada and approved by the province of Nova Scotia to deliver teacher training. In addition, we are the only school in Halifax that has our teacher training program listed on the TESL Canada website as an approved program.

Our pathway program to universities and colleges was the first of its kind in Nova Scotia and our graduates continue to achieve outstanding success at post-secondary institutions. The additional languages we offer in the evenings – Spanish, Mandarin, French, and Arabic – make us more like a college for adults rather than a school for children. Over the years, many people asked why we were not called a college, so we decided to take the plunge and change our name to coincide with our 20th anniversary.

We are very excited by this change and we look forward to working with you for the next 20 years as East Coast Language College (ECLC)!


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IELTS: Common Misconceptions

There is a considerable amount of information about the IELTS exam available, which can sometimes be misleading. Some sources of information are better than others, so it's important to be well-informed before taking the test. Here are some common misconceptions about the IELTS test:

The IELTS test is easier in my own country. IDP is easier than British Council.

The IELTS test is created by Cambridge University and is distributed by two different companies, British Council and IDP. Regardless of the company or the country, the test is exactly the same. Also, the examiners, markers, and invigilators are trained in the same way to test and mark all four sections of the test.

Completing IELTS practice tests will be enough to ensure a high band score.

Practicing before the IELTS test is the key to success; however, there are a variety of theoretical and practical ways of practicing and a combination of both will ensure the highest rate of success.

In terms of theory, completing IELTS listening and reading practice tests online and from books is a great idea. Completing speaking and writing practice tests with a tutor will help with these sections. With all sections of the test, you should put yourself under test conditions when practicing, with time limits and no cell phones.

For practicality, watching television, movies, and videos will help improve listening and speaking. Reading books, blogs, newspapers, and magazines will help with reading skills. Writing a blog, journal, diary, or an email will help improve your writing skills. Speaking to friends or even hanging out at a café or library will develop your confidence in your speaking abilities. Also, all of these practices will constantly improve your vocabulary and grammar.

Testing conditions will help you get comfortable with test expectations and will help you form strategies. Real world practice will help you develop your natural English and you may also learn faster because you will enjoy yourself more.

It’s easy to cheat on the IELTS test.

The IELTS exam is a high-security test. There are many processes in place to secure the integrity of the test. When registering for the test, candidates must provide their passports to confirm their identity. When registering on the day of the test, candidates will need to provide their passports again, have their photo taken, and provide a scan of their right index finger. The candidate's ID will be checked during the speaking exam as well as the reading and writing sections of the test. Candidates will also need to have their finger scanned in and out of the testing room for washroom breaks. Along with this, invigilators are with test materials at all times and papers are double counted to ensure that all test materials are accounted for. These measures are taken for every test.

Here are some misconceptions about each section of the IELTS test:


My opinion could impact my speaking score.

Your opinion on questions during the speaking section of the IELTS test is not assessed, only your English ability. The examiner takes into account your fluency and coherence, lexical resource, grammatical range and accuracy, and your pronunciation, not your opinions. Try to answer the questions as openly and honestly as possible.


It’s impossible to complete the reading section of the test.

The academic version of the reading test is suitable for candidates doing an undergraduate, postgraduate, or professional registration. The readings are related to academic topics and are taken from books, journals, newspapers, and magazines.

The general version of the reading test is related to topics about everyday life in an English-speaking country. The readings are taken from notices, advertisements, books, magazines, and newspapers.

If you are an avid reader, you will be able to finish the reading section of the IELTS test. Reading on a regular basis, forming reading strategies, and doing practice reading tests will also help you to finish the reading section within the 60-minute time limit.


Writing more than the word count will result in a higher band score.

You must write at least 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2 in order to obtain full marks on the IELTS test.

Make sure that anything over this contributes to your writing. The higher number of mistakes you make or times you go off-topic will hurt your score, regardless of your word count.


Every candidate will have a headset when doing the listening section of the test.

All centres are different. Some centres may use headsets, while others use a sound system with speakers. Please check with your centre before taking the test so you know ahead of time.

Knowing all of this information before you take the IELTS exam can allow you to feel more comfortable and confident on the day of the test.

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How To (And How Not To) Organize Your Thoughts on the Writing Exam – Part 2 – Task 2

Part one of this blog topic offered some specific strategies for tackling Writing Task 1 on the IELTS exam. This post will act as a follow-up - so it is recommended that you read both posts to get specific strategies for each Writing Task.

Strategic Preparation: Getting Feedback

Of course the best way to prepare for a basketball game is by playing basketball. The best way to practise the piano is by playing the piano. Based on this simple logic, the best way to prepare for the IELTS exam is by working with as much IELTS material as possible. However, it is not enough to write responses to IELTS prompts, you must also get feedback. Ask as many people to read your writing as possible, but remember, just like a buffet - you do not need to eat everything, and you do not need to take all advice from everyone who reads your work. Consider all feedback you have been given critically: ask yourself if this is advice that you should take or advice you should ignore?

Taking feedback can sometimes be difficult. Writing is personal - you create it, and then you must ask others to say what is wrong with it. Having someone critique your writing can sometimes feel like a personal attack, but remember, even professional writers have editors. It's best if you can remove emotion from the process of receiving feedback. Even if you don't agree with the comments of readers, thank them for their time and efforts. Some of the best feedback may be challenging to hear - that's why it is so important.

Writing Task 2

The second Writing Task will require a clear and concise essay style response. That means writing paragraphs with a central main idea and supporting details. Each point should be given equal time in the response so that the essay is balanced. If the candidate gives more importance to one point over another, the Task Achievement band score will be affected, therefore, it is very important that instructions are read and followed carefully.

Let's look at an example:

In many countries schools have severe problems with student behaviour. What do you think are the causes of this? What solution can you suggest?

There are three (3) distinct points that must be addressed in the response: severe problems with students; causes of these problems; solutions to these problems. Candidates are strongly encouraged to create an outline before writing so that they can be sure that each part of the prompt is answered. An outline will save time and improve the clarity of the writing. Instead of thinking 'on your feet', an outline will tell you exactly what is coming next and will take only a minute or two.

An example outline for the above question may look like this:

Intro: Severe problems

  • aggressive students
  • violence in media
  • teacher's ability to discipline students limited

Body Paragraph #1: Causes

  • aggression stemming from home life and mental health
  • violence in video games and on social media
  • teachers are not allowed to punish students like in the past

Body Paragraph #2: Solutions

  • programs to identify and address student's personal needs
  • school curriculum that addresses violence in the media
  • more support to be given to teachers to effectively manage problem students


  • Restatement of thesis
  • Summary of main ideas of body paragraphs
  • Concluding statement: advice and/or future situation

An effective outline will save time, and will also encourage the candidate to identify the logic in their writing. Notice that each of the points is carried through from the introduction to the conclusion. Good logic may feel repetitive to the writer, but to the reader, it just makes sense. The challenge is for the writer to make the essay interesting by using new language, despite the repetition of ideas.

It is impossible to stress enough the importance of the band score descriptors when preparing for the IETLS exam. The writing marker must follow the descriptors carefully to remove their personal opinion from the marking process. Refer to the band descriptors as often as possible and create your essay responses with the descriptors in mind throughout your IELTS preparation. When the test day comes along, answering Task 2 will be just like riding a bicycle.

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Graduation Day for our University and College Pathway (UCP) Students

My favourite day at the school is graduation day for our hard-working and dedicated UCP students. Last week, we had 21 students in our graduating class – and they all looked very smart in their graduation gowns!

In the summer months, the UCP class is more demanding because we provide a condensed program. Students complete the program in fewer weeks while studying for the same number of hours. This means longer days in the classroom and a more intensive learning experience.  We provide this condensed course so that students can graduate from ECLC in time to attend the orientation session at their chosen university or college. The orientation is a very important time to get to know other new students and to start to develop friendships, which will become a vital support group as students experience the ups and downs of the first year in a post-secondary institution.

On Friday, graduating students were going on to study at one of our partners: NSCAD, Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, UPEI, NSCC, and Mount Saint Vincent University. Representatives from these institutions attended the ECLC graduation ceremony and welcomed the new students into their institutions. They also brought gift bags for each student. I love hearing the representatives speak so highly of ECLC to the graduating students and how they reassure them that ECLC students are very well prepared by us for their future studies. The university and college representatives also speak about the warmth they feel when they come into our college and how ECLC staff support the students so well. It makes me very proud of the wonderful team we have here.

Good luck to all the graduates!


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How To (And How Not To) Organize Your Thoughts on the Writing Exam – Part 1 – Task 1

Whether writing the General Training or Academic Exam, an IELTS candidate must first familiarize themselves with the general topics, format and band score descriptors associated with both Task 1 and Task 2. Each task has specific requirements and the more prepared you are to meet the expectations of the writing marker, the better the outcome will be.

Being Strategic when Preparing for the IELTS

Of course, you should practice (with a timer) before the exam to know exactly how long it takes you to write the minimum word requirement: 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2. Set your timer for 20 minutes for Task 1 and 40 minutes for Task 2. You may want to practice these separately as it will help you to see the Tasks individually and to use the right approach for each.

On exam day, there should be no surprises, even though you will not have seen the prompts before the exam. For example, the Task 1 prompt for the General Training Test may ask you to write a letter requesting information or assistance from a person or business or even a letter to a friend. It's essential that all parts of the prompt are addressed and paragraphs are easily organized according to the criteria. Let's look at an example.

You play a team sport with some friends. Last week a member of the team had an accident and wasn't able to play with you on the weekend. You decide to write to him in the hospital telling him about the match.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter,

  • tell him which team won
  • describe the conditions on the day
  • say how you felt about the match

Knowing that each point must be addressed and the response must be 150 words, simple math and logic dictates that three, 50-word paragraphs will suffice. One sentence is usually 8 - 10 words, so 5 or 6 sentences on each topic should help you reach your word count. Of course, writing compound and complex sentences will show a greater facility in Grammatical Range and will mean fewer sentences are required.

Expanding Ideas

A quick brainstorm will help you save time and avoid including irrelevant information. For the first point, the response can be expanded to include which players scored the goals, how the goals were scored and the highlights of the game's winning goal. Develop each point of the prompt in a similar way and address each one equally so that your response is balanced. Test-takers should be creative but must stay on topic.

Adding a sentence at the beginning which paraphrases and summarizes the prompt in your own words will enhance the reader's experience. Perhaps you want to express sympathy to the friend about their accident. At the end, a sentence to wish them a speedy recovery in the hospital will provide the writing marker with a clear conclusion to your letter.

Task 1 on the Academic Test requires you to summarize and highlight the relevant information on a chart, graph or diagram of some type. Read the prompt and look at the diagram carefully before writing. For example:

The graph below shows population figures for India and China since the year 2000 and predicted population growth up until 2050.

Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

The key to Task 1 on the Academic Text is making decisions. What is important to mention about the data? There's not enough time to discuss each and every point, therefore you should choose the main features and focus the response on these.

The Fifth Skill for the IELTS Exam

Effective time management is the 5th skill needed for the IELTS exam. When preparing for IELTS, remember that Task 2 has more value than Task 1. As a result, you may want to begin the Writing exam with Task 2. However, going over the time recommendations for each Task is not a good strategy. The best way to prepare is by timed practice at home where its quiet, or even a coffee shop with some background noise when you are ready.

Getting feedback from a friend, co-worker or classmate will give you with an excellent opportunity to understand the experience of the reader. Ask them: Is it logical? Does it answer all parts of the prompt? How can the response be improved?

Getting feedback can be difficult - so it's very important to state very clearly to yourself and anyone who helps you that you have no emotions about your writing. To be effective, feedback must be as honest as possible.

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