Many candidates ask questions about the word limit for the Writing test:
• Which words are counted?
• Which words are not counted?
• Do words with hyphens count as one or two words?
• What happens if I write more than the word limit?
• What happens if I write less than the word limit? And so on…
The purpose of the word limit
Essentially, the word limit of 180-200 words is there as a guide. If there was no word limit given at all, then some candidates would write far too little for the assessors to be able to grade their language level. On the other hand, some candidates would write far too much without showing any restraint for the task.The guide of 180-200 words is set because the case notes have been written in such a way for it to be possible for a candidate to write a satisfactory letter using them within the time limit of 40 minutes.
Which words are included…
The body of the letter is the part that is included within the word limit. This means the paragraphs of your letter: everything after your lines which start ‘Dear…’ and ‘Re…’ and before your closing sentence e.g. ‘If you have any questions…’
…and which words aren’t included
The address, date, greeting (Dear..), Re… are not counted at the top of your letter. The closing sentence, ending and job title are not counted at the end of the letter. Words which are hyphenated would count as one word.
Don’t count your words in the test
You should not count your words during the writing test. The guide of 180-200 words is not set to be strictly adhered to. You have better things to be doing with your time such as proofreading your answer for grammar and content mistakes. The assessors will not count your words. They also have better things to be doing with their time. Instead they will read your letter to check you have included all of the relevant information the reader of the letter needs and have omitted any irrelevant information.
An estimate is good enough
A good way of estimating how many words you have written and which is appropriate for the test is to know how many words you average on one line. You can do this now, as part of your preparation. Look at an average line of text that you have written, perhaps for a practice task and count how many words you have written. Divide 180-200 words by this number and you now know the rough number of lines you need to write. This knowledge is enough. If you write this number of lines in the test, you can feel confident that your answer is within the word limit without counting your words.
The problems with writing too much or too little
There are problems associated with writing too much or too little. If you write much less than the guide of 180-200 words, not only will you not have given the assessors enough language to grade your proficiency, but it’s also likely that you will not have included all the relevant details the reader needs to understand the situation.
If you write too much, it’s likely that you will have included unnecessary details which make your reader work harder to understand what is important in the situation. To write so many words, it’s also likely that you may have had to write fast which is going to increase the chance of you making mistakes. Either way, writing too much or too little can have a negative effect on your overall score.
Seriously, don’t count your words!
Remember, the word limit is a guide. If you have a rough idea of how much you need to write but focus on including the relevant information in an order that is clear to the reader as your priority, you are going to be more successful in the writing test.