How to get a good score in your IELTS essay (Writing Task 2)

This is the criteria to achieve a 7:

  • addresses all parts of the task

  • presents a clear position

  • presents, extends and supports main ideas

To fix this, answer the question explicitly. It is crucial that you present a clear position throughout the response and this means answering the question directly.

Let’s take a look at the main question types.

1. Opinion essay

Let’s say that this is the statement they give you in the exam:

Most people believe that stricter punishment should be given for traffic offences.

The wording may differ, but they are asking you to present your point of view.

  • Discuss both views and give your own opinion.   

Here you devote one paragraph to each view and give your own opinion.
I recommend that you state your opinion in your introduction. Some people argue that you should save your opinion for the conclusion, but better writers help their readers by advising what their audience will read early on. This means stating your opinion in the introduction.

So in your introduction, you would state that you think that you completely agree that harsher punishments should be given for traffic violations.  In the first paragraph you can support that view with your reasons, examples and results.  Then in the second paragraph, you lay out the counter-argument.

  • To what extent do you agree with this statement?

You could answer:  I completely agree with this statement, I partially agree with this statement, or I do not agree with this statement.

Using the above question, your opinion could be either:

I completely agree that traffic violation offenders should receive harsher sentences OR
I partially agree that traffic violation offenders should receive harsher sentences (this essay will give both sides of the argument) OR
I completely disagree that people who get convicted of traffic violations should receive harsher punishments.

Each main body paragraph goes on to support your opinion.

I think it is easier to choose a side.

  • To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Again, your opinion could be:  I agree with the statement, OR I disagree with this statement.  Once again, you could state that you partially agree or disagree, but why complicate matters?

  • Do you think that…..?  

Yes, I think that harsher sentences should be given OR
No, I don’t think that offenders of traffic violations should receive stricter sentences.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

I suggest that you go for the opinion that is the easiest to justify, always explicitly state your opinion and then support it with strong evidence.

2. Problem and Solution Essay

These essays are a gift because they give you the structure.  Due to the fact that you write about problems AND solutions, you can write less about each point which is easier because you don’t have to come up with so many ideas!

For example, this might be the statement:

The education system is attracting fewer and fewer teachers every year. What problems does this cause? How could this be changed?

Identify one or two good reasons (problems) why young people don’t want to become teachers and two solutions.  Now you have two options:

  • Write about one problem and the solution in each main body paragraph.
    For instance, there are a lack of fresh teachers coming into the system. The government could incentivise teachers to stay in the country.
    [Body 1 P/S; Body 2 P/S] OR
  • Write about both problems in one paragraph and give the two solutions in the second body paragraph. [Body 1 P/P; Body 2 S/S].

3. Cause and Solution

This is slightly different from the above.  Look at this wording

Fewer and fewer young people are choosing to become teachers.
Why do young people not want to be teachers? How this could be changed?

The first question ‘Why do young people not want to be teachers?’ is asking you for the causes of the problem.  The second is asking you for the solutions to the causes raised (by you).

To me it makes more sense to talk about the problem, explain it and then give its solution because it seems more logical.  The ideas are linked by proximity.

4. Cause and Effect

You might see this statement:

80% of people text while driving.

Discuss the causes and effects of this disturbing trend.

You only have two paragraphs in the main body of your essay, so you should only discuss two causes and two effects.  It makes sense to write about a cause and advise its effects immediately in the same paragraph.

So ask yourself:  Why do people drive and text?  It’s because they don’t know the law, or the police don’t enforce the law. Each of those ideas becomes a paragraph in which you give the solution.

5. Advantages and Disadvantages

Here’s a tricky exam question for you:

What are the negative and positive impacts of playing computer games and what can be done to minimize the bad effects?

Note that this question has TWO parts. Use your first main body paragraph to describe the advantages and disadvantages, and the second main body paragraph to give one or two solutions to the disadvantage you have listed.

Note: ‘Negative and positive impacts’ means ‘advantages and disadvantages’.

This one below is a more standard type question.

Do the dangers derived from the use of chemicals in food production and preservation outweigh the advantages?

Here again an explicit answer is required. In other words you need to write:

Yes, I think that the drawbacks of using chemicals in food production do outweigh the positive effects OR No, I do not think that the drawbacks of using chemicals in food production outweigh the advantages.

6. The two-part essay question

This type of question is great because you can assign one paragraph to each question so the question essentially gives you your two topic sentences.   For example:

Many old buildings protected by law are part of a nation’s history. Some people think they should be knocked down and replaced by new ones. How important is it to maintain old buildings? Should history stand in the way of progress?

So, in your first paragraph, you should say:

It is very important to maintain buildings OR
It is NOT very important to maintain old buildings.

Then give reasons which support your view.

In your second paragraph, the same principle applies and directly address the question about history versus progress.

Unfortunately, this type of question doesn’t come up very often. However, it’s a good idea to use the question to map your outline.

In summary, analysing the question and answering it is half the battle.  If you don’t meet the criteria for Task Achievement, it is very difficult to achieve a 7. The ideas that you write don’t have to be brilliant, but they must answer the question.  So, explicitly answer the question, and then justify your answer.

Finally, in the words of my English teacher,

Tell your reader what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.

By Christelle van Niekerk.
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About the IELTS Exam
5 IELTS Pre-Writing Tips: Task 2 Essay

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