Independent versus integrated writing tasks for IELTS Writing: A mixed methods study


Aek Phakiti

Date Published:

8th March 2024

The current project aims to understand test-takers' and raters’ reactions, leading to empirical analysis to investigate the following areas:

  1. the relationships between reported official IELTS scores, independent writing scores, and integrated writing scores
  2. writing processes to complete the integrated writing task
  3. scoring processes of integrated writing responses
  4. features of integrated writing responses across different success levels
  5. perceptions toward the usefulness of an integrated essay task by test-takers and raters.

A mixed methods research design was adopted to address these areas of investigation. Quantitative data were from 154 ESL international students who provided their previous official IELTS scores (overall, Reading and Writing scores), took an online writing test that included an independent writing task and integrated writing task, and answered two subsequent questionnaires about their test-taking processes and perceptions toward an integrated writing task.

Eight test-takers with different success levels in the integrated writing task were recruited for an individual interview about their test-taking experiences and perceptions of the usefulness of an integrated writing task for their study preparation before university commencement. Two domestic students were also recruited for an interview after they completed the test.

Two IELTS examiners were employed to rate test-takers’ responses to both writing tasks. Whenever they could, they were asked to provide comments on test-takers’ responses after they rated. They were also interviewed about their rating processes and perceptions toward an integrated writing task.

Key findings in the current study include:

  1. there were statistical relationships between official IELTS scores and independent and integrated writing performance (with moderate statistical effect sizes)
  2. independent writing scores accounted for about 25% of the integrated writing score variance
  3. test-takers performed significantly better on the independent writing task than the integrated writing task
  4. there were statistical relationships between reported test-taking and writing processes in the independent and integrated writing tasks
  5. prominent features of integrated writing essays between different success levels based on raters’ comments were identified, particularly in relation to critical issues of source text use
  6. quantitative and qualitative data suggested that test-takers found an integrated writing task useful to help them prepare for university study
  7. raters reported concerns about the practicality of an integrated writing task in terms of their cognitive load, preparation prior to rating, and required time for accurate evaluation.

The current study has shed new light on the interrelationships between independent and integrated writing performances, unique features of integrated writing performance and processes, individual differences in integrated writing performance, and perceptions toward the usefulness and feasibility of an integrated writing task that may be adopted as part of the IELTS. Implications and limitations of the current study are discussed.