A lone black sheep looks back at a flock of what sheep. The picture symbolises over-generalising, which is a problem for many IELTS students when they write.

“All sheep are white……. How to avoid over-generalising in an IELTS essay”

In the writing exam, it can be easy to make claims that are generally true, but NOT always true. This can limit your score for Task Response to a 7.0 (which I know for most people won’t be a problem, but for some test-takers an 8.0 in TR can be the difference between a 6.5 and a 7.0!) So, how can you avoid over-generalising in an essay?! IELTS hedging!!! 

Now, hedging is a strange word. In the world of plants, it is the small bush that grows between people’s houses 🌳, but in academic writing, the term simply means adding words to your sentences to make them less general. And this is what you need to start doing in your essays to achieve a 7.0 or higher for Task Achievement.

So, what do I mean when I say that students write sentences that are “too general”? Well, let’s imagine that you want to make this argument:

Women are better at multi-tasking than men.

In general, this sentence is true.💃Thanks to the extra connections across their brains, women are good multi-taskers. So most students would write this sentence, smile, and then move on to extending the idea with a reason or an example.

But, look at the sentence again.☝☝☝ Is it really true that ALL women are better at multi-tasking than men? Can you think of any men who are great multi-taskers? Or any women who are bad ones?! Of course you can!! Last month I nearly burned my house down when I tried to make dinner and play with my cat at the same time! 😹🔥 And that’s the problem, this sentence is generally true, but it isn’t always true. This is OVER-GENERALISING!

Over-generalising is a problem I see all too often when I am marking exams. Look at these sentences taken from essays I assessed TODAY:

Students who leave school at 16 don’t get good jobs.(Um, what about Steve Jobs?!)

Working shifts makes employees depressed.(EVERY shift worker is sad????)

People today eat too much fast food. (ALL people today are at McDonalds every week???)

These are all classic examples of over-generalising in an IELTS essay. The idea behind each of the sentences is good, but the arguments given are too far-reaching. So, what can we do to avoid this? 

4 ways to hedge to avoid overgeneralising in an IELTS essay

  1. Add a quantifier to the sentence – e.g. Most women are better at multi-tasking than men.
  2. Add an adverb of frequency –  e.g. Students who leave school at 16 don’t usually get good jobs
  3. Add a modal verb –  e.g. Working shifts can make employees depressed  
  4. Use a tentative verb –  e.g. People today tend to eat too much fast food 

Yes! Simply adding one of these adverbs / verbs to your sentences will make them less general, and immediately improve the quality of your writing! Even better, you are now going to be able to move from a 7.0 in Task Achievement to an 8.0. Trust me, hedging is the secret that no IELTS book is talking about! What a minute, that is way too-general – let’s try again:

Trust me, hedging is the secret that almost no IELTS book is talking about!

If you want to learn more about Hedging and many other techniques that will help you achieve a 7.0 or higher in your IELTS exam, then check out my full IELTS Task 2 course by clicking on this link.

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