A comparative study of lexical bundles in IELTS Writing Task 1 and 2 simulation essays and tertiary academic writing
Higher education institutions place considerable trust in the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Writing test to predict the linguistic readiness of non-native English-speaking individuals for tertiary academic study. One aspect of the test’s validity is the extent tertiary study readiness encompasses the linguistic forms characteristic of academic writing on English-medium degree programmes. In this comparative study, a bespoke corpus of 1,000 IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and 2 rehearsal compositions was investigated to uncover the lexical bundles prospective test candidates use most frequently (overall, by structure, and by function), compared with novice and expert tertiary academic writing. It was found simulated essays heavily featured four-word lexical bundles, with a prevalence of: 1) clausal constructions (vis-à-vis nominal structures), 2) discourse-organising ‘template’ forms (on the one hand, on the other hand), 3) epistemic stance bundles (it is clear that), and 4) active verb constructions (I firmly believe that). The results indicate that candidates adopt personalised and persuasive language forms that mark them as novice writers compared with expert L2 and native speakers, likely stemming from the design of the test. The study’s findings are consistent with the theory that writers move from a clausal to phrasal written style as their proficiency develops. The implications for institutional decision-making based on test outcomes are discussed.