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Written English

How to write essays for IELTS , TOEFL , IGCSE , CIE Checkpoint & CIPP
& for other Exams as well

Foreword / Introduction

What do markers look for when they mark the written portion of a test?


How is the written exam scored?

According to IELTS, markers are looking for: (1) Task Achievement, (2) Coherence and Cohesion, (3) Lexical Resource and (4) Grammatical Range and Accuracy.  The four criteria are equally weighted.

Task 1 Task 2
Task Achievement 9pts Task Response 9pts
Coherence & Cohesion 9pts Coherence & Cohesion 9pts
Lexical Resource 9pts Lexical Resource 9pts
Grammatical Range & Accuracy 9pts Grammatical Range & Accuracy 9pts
Raw Score 36pts Raw Score 36pts
Average Band Score 9pts Average Band Score 9pts

Task Achievement / Task Response = Did you do the RIGHT task?  Did you complete the task?
Coherence and Cohesion = Cohesiveness (see below)
Lexical Resource = Extensive Vocabulary
Grammatical Range = Extensive Grammar knowledge and use
Grammatical Accuracy = proper usage of English grammar


According to TOEFL, markers are looking for: (1) development, (2) organization, (3) appropriate and precise use of grammar and (4) appropriate and precise use of vocabulary.  Scores are given for each category.

Score of Six (Highest Score)

An essay at this level:

- shows effective writing skills
- is well organized and well developed
- uses details clearly and properly to support a thesis or illustrate ideas
- displays consistent ability in the use of language
- demonstrates variety in sentence structure and proper word choice


According to CIE (Cambridge International Examinations), which include CIPP, Checkpoint, and IGCSE; markers are looking for:

Narrative (Fiction) Non-fiction
Content 4pts Text Structure 4 pts
Style 4pts Sentence Structure 4pts
Vocabulary 3pts Audience 3pts
Audience 3pts Purpose 4pts
Text Structure 4pts    
Spelling 2pts    
Total 20pts Total 15pts

This  is especially true for CIPP.


Terms Definitions
Styles Styles of writing include the following:

- informative (give information, like news)
- persuasive (convince your reader to agree with you)
- narrative (story, fiction)
- artistic (poetry or prose)

These are explained in detail below

Registers Registers of writing include the following:

- formal / informal
- technical / non-technical
- academic / non-academic

These are explained in detail below

Cohesiveness Cohesiveness [I coined this term, 2003] = Cohesion + Coherence

Cohesion = (on linguistic level) grammatical & lexical relationships within a text.

Coherence = (on semantic level) making a text completely comprehensible, and easily so.

Note:  all styles and registers require cohesiveness.



     1.  Informative:  like the news, just giving information.  This is also called expository style.

     2.  Persuasive:  trying to convince one's reader that your idea is superior to other ideas.  This requires:

            a.  at least two points, given in the introductory paragraph

            b.  at least two supporting "evidences" for each point

            c.  a short summary of the points.

     3.  Narrative:  writing a story.  All stories must have:

            a.  Setting (time & place).  The setting must be elucidated at the beginning of a narrative

            b.  Plot (problem, solution).  After the solution to the problem, the narrative can have a cute, terse ending.

     4.  Artistic:  like prose and poetry.



     1.  Formal.  This register requires:

            a.  no use of slang

            b.  avoidance of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs (as much as possible).  It is 99.9% possible, but you may not know how to do it, so, I say, "As much as you possibly can."

            c.  avoidance of literary forms, such as hyperbole, alliteration, apostrophe, sarcasm, irony, etc.

     2.  Informal.  This register allows:

            a.  use of slang

            b.  use of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs

            c.  use of literary forms, such as hyperbole, alliteration, apostrophe, sarcasm, irony, etc.

     3.  Technical.  This register requires:

            a.  use of formal register

            b.  use of proper nomenclature/terminology (of the technical field that applies)

     4.  Non-technical.  This register allows:

            a.  use of informal register

            b.  use of lay-persons' terminology

     5.  Academic.  This register requires:

            a.  use of formal register

            b.  avoidance of active voice as much as possible; use of passive voice as much as possible.

            c.  avoidance of contractions

            d.  avoidance of absolute statements that cannot be substantiated.

     6.  Non-academic.  This register allows:

            a.  use of informal register

            b.  either voice (active or passive)

            c.  contractions

            d.  hyperbole or generalizations


Cohesiveness [Leon Priz, 2003]

Cohesiveness is composed of two things:  cohesion and coherence

|                             |


1.  COHESIVENESS [Me, 2003]:  Cohesiveness includes both cohesion and coherence

2.  COHESION:  linguistically "sticking" words, sentences, and paragraphs together, logically.

          [linguistically means grammatically and lexically]

3.  COHERENCE:  semantically "sticking" words, sentences, and paragraphs together, logically.

          [semantically means meaningfully]



First, let me deal with cohesion.

Please look at the following paragraph:

Frogs are amphibians.  Giraffes are mammals.  It is green with brown spots.  They live in Africa.

That example lacks cohesion for several reasons:

- Cohesion Problem 1:  Why is the author writing about amphibians AND mammals in the same text?  There is no linguistic devices to "tie" or "connect" the two together.

- Cohesion Problem 2:  In the third sentence, the pronoun "it" is used, but we have no idea what "it" might refer to.

- Cohesion Problem 3:  In the fourth sentence, the pronoun "they" is used, but we don't know if it is referring to frogs or giraffes.

Sample Correction:

There two kinds of animals that shall be discussed in this text.  One kind is amphibian, and the other kind is mammal.  An example of an amphibian is a frog.  An example of a mammal is a giraffe.  Both frogs and giraffes have spots; and thus, they are not in different categories because of their appearance.  Both frogs and giraffes live in Africa, so they are not categorized differently because of region.... etc.

Ah!  Now we have cohesion (and coherence)!

According to Halliday & Hasan (1976) as reported by Carrel (1982) in TESOL QUARTERLY, coherence comes only as a result of proper register and proper cohesion.  Carrel is quick to point out that it's not so simple (and she quotes a lot of other famous researchers).

Let's K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Silly)

For simplification, I like to explain it in terms of...

(1) sentence structure 

(2) paragraph structure, and

(3) textual structure.


First:  Sentence structure
Sentence structure includes syntax, clauses, and phrases, such as noun phrases, verb phrases, adverbial phrases, and prepositional phrases.  This is commonly called "grammar".

Second:  Paragraph structure
Paragraph structure is different for narratives.  I will not discuss narratives here.  For non-fictions texts, paragraph structure includes a topic sentence that is supported by two or more sentences.  The sentences must be linked together with connectives (conjunctions).

Third:  Textual structure
Textual structure is all about linking paragraphs together and putting paragraphs in logical order.  Here is the pattern that you should follow when writing a narrative or a non-fiction article.

Narrative Writing Non-fiction Writing
I.  1st paragraph: SETTING
       a.  Setting (Time and Place)
              1.  describe in detail the place.
              2.  mention the main character.

II.  2nd paragraph: CHARACTER
       a.  Character development
              1.  Describe your main character in great detail.
              2.  You may want to describe other characters as well.

       a.  Every narrative must have a problem and a solution.  You will make new paragraphs only if/when the time or place changes.

IV.  SOLUTION or Resolution
       a.  If there is no solution to the problem, there must be a resolution.  A resolution is what happened as a result of the problem not being solved.  You will make new paragraphs only if/when the time or place changes.

       a.  A common fairytale ending is, "And they lived happily ever after."  However, your ending should be more creative and imaginative.

I.  1st paragraph:  Introduction
       a.  Your first sentence should be an attention-getter!  It should get your reader's attention.
       b.  Introduce your topic to the reader.
       c.  Maybe give your opinion (briefly)
       d.  Some writers may wish to hide their opinion until the end, but I suggest you don't.

II.  2nd paragraph:  Pro (support)
       a.  You must support your opinion with 2 or 3 examples (3 is better).

III.  3rd paragraph:  Con (against)
       a.  Give some of the examples which are against your opinion.

IV.  4th paragraph:  Counter Strike
       a.  Counter the "cons".  Give your reason why the cons are not correct or strong enough.

V.  5th paragraph:  Conclusion
       a.  Give your opinion (or restate your opinion.
       b.  Summarize your "pros" (support) very briefly.

Note:  Paragraphs must be "connected" with connecting phrases as well.



SAMPLES Learn HOW to prepare for ORAL EXAMS Pronunciation

Sample Essays

Oral Exams (Interviews)

Pronunciation  / Intonation


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