This study was undertaken to investigate candidates' interpretation of prompts and to compare the written responses of English background speakers with those of IELTS intending candidates, who were not English background speakers. Subjects, both native and non-native speakers, were interviewed during a pre-writing session as they prepared for a practice writing test. They then took the writing test under examination conditions.
The interviews were analysed in order to gain insights into the subjects' test preparation. The detailed analysis of the essays followed a discourse approach in order to add to the understanding of the characteristics of native speaker and non-native speaker candidates' essays through the comparison of the essays. The findings suggest implications for item writers and for teachers preparing candidates for IELTS examinations.