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Writing Task 2: How to Answer the 5 Types of IELTS Question

Updated: Feb 23, 2023



There are 5 different types of essay question in Writing Task 2.


To make sure there are no surprises on exam day, you should be able to recognise them, and know how to answer each of them.


Also, in preparation for your IELTS exam, you should be reading articles and listening to talks about common essay topics such as health, technology, and the environment. While you're learning about these topics, there are certain critical thinking exercises you can do which will help you think about these subjects in more depth, and help you to answer whatever type of question you have on exam day.


This article will give an overview of how to understand the questions, and in a future article we will look at how to analyse specific questions, generate ideas, and plan essays in more detail.


In this class we are going to do 3 things:


  1. 🖐 Establish what the 5 types of essay question are.

  2. 🔍 Identify some examples of each question type.

  3. 🧠 Work out how to think about each type of question.


1. 🖐 The 5 Types of Essay Question



2. 🔍 Examples of Each Question Type


We are going to look at 5 different questions.


Look at the question and try to identify which type of essay it is, then click on the > button to find the anwer.


At the end of this exercise you will find an alternative downloadable version of this exercise which contains 5 more questions.



Which type of question is this?


Discussion - Two-Part Question - Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages - Opinion

👈 Click here for the answer.

 


Which type of question is this?


Discussion - Two-Part Question - Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages - Opinion


👈 Click here for the answer.

 


Which type of question is this?


Discussion - Two-Part Question - Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages - Opinion


👈 Click here for the answer.

 


Which type of question is this?


Discussion - Two-Part Question - Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages - Opinion


👈 Click here for the answer.

 


Which type of question is this?


Discussion - Two-Part Question - Problems/Causes and Solutions

Advantages and Disadvantages - Opinion


👈 Click here for the answer.


WT2 - 2 - The 5 Different Essay Types
.docx
Download DOCX • 606KB

3. 🧠 How to Think about each Type of Question


In this section we are going to look at what exactly each type of question is asking you to do, then we are going to look at some 'critical thinking exercises' you can do which will help you answer each type of question.


The critical thinking exercises work well in combination with your general IELTS preparation, ie. you can do them while you are reading articles, watching TED Talks, or talking with your friends or classmates. Also, even though I have written different exercises under different question types, practising all of them will help you with all question types.



How do you Answer a Discussion (Discuss both Views) Question?

  • A discussion question presents you with two different opinions. You have to discuss BOTH of these opinions, and you often have to give your own opinion too.

  • To do this, you can imagine person 1 saying point 1, and person 2 saying point 2. Think, how would person 1 develop their argument? How would person 2 respond?

  • If you're asked to 'give your own opinion' (you often are), you need to think: - 'Do I agree with person 1 or person 2?' - 'Do I partially agree with both of them?' - 'Do I disagree with both of them?' However, in the exam don't try to write the most complicated answer; write the one which is easiest to explain.

  • If you're not asked to give your own opinion, you just need to present what person 1 would say and what person 2 would say.

  • Sometimes the question will offer two 'complete' views, for example: "Some people say that doing physical exercise is the best way to improve your health, while other people say that having a good diet is more important." In contrast, some questions will offer one 'complete' view, and one 'non-complete' view, for example: "Some people say that doing physical exercise is the best way to improve your health, while other people say that it is something else". In this case, you need to think of a sensible example of what this 'something else' could be. Again, this should a nice, simple idea which you can write about clearly.


🤔 Some Critical Thinking Exercises for Discussion Questions 🤨


👞 Put yourself in someone else's Shoes


Try to see things from other people's perspectives. Listen to their opinions and try to imagine how they see the world and why they see the world like that.


While practising your reading or listening, pay attention to people's opinions and try to empathise with their arguments.


😈 Play Devil's Advocate


An even stronger exercise would be to "play devil's advocate". "To 'play devil's advocate" means to make an argument which is not necessarily one you truly believe in. It's a great way to see things from different perspectives.


Imagine that in your hometown, the local counsel is going to demolish a load of buildings in the centre so that they can build a big shopping centre. In your heart, you don't like this idea for many reasons; however, you should try and make some arguments in favour of the new shopping centre.


By playing devil's advocate, you might learn something new, and maybe even change your mind. Even if you don't change your mind, testing your own argument from a new perspective will make it stronger.



How do you Answer an Opinion (Do you agree?) Question?

  • An opinion question presents you with a statement. You have to say if you agree or disagree with the statement, and to what extent.

  • To do this, you need to read the statement very carefully and decide if you agree with all of it, if you agree with part of it, or if you disagree with all of it.

  • You can write a 'one-sided' essay, that is, you can make two points agreeing or disagreeing with the statement, or you can write a a 'balanced' essay, that is, make one point agreeing with the statement and one point disagreeing with the statement. However, it is usually easier to write a clear argument which is one-sided instead of 'on the fence' (ie. 'balanced'). Again, in the exam don't try to write the most complicated answer; write the one which is easiest to explain.

  • If you're not asked to give your own opinion, you just need to present what person 1 would say and what person 2 would say.


🤔 Some Critical Thinking Exercises for Opinion Questions 🤨


☝️ Be Opinionated!


This is actually important for almost every type of Writing Task 2 question and for the speaking exam.


You need develop an instinct for having opinions about the things you hear and read.


While practising your reading or listening, pay attention to people's opinions and think, do I agree with this or not?


😐 Avoid thinking 'I don't know.'


This is also very important for almost every type of Writing Task 2 question and for the speaking exam.


Outside of the IELTS exam, if you don't know something, it's more than Ok to say so. However, in the IELTS exam, none of the questions are really that complicated, and you don't need to be an expert on any subject to give a simple opinion. You should never look at an IELTS question and just think 'I don't know'.


To avoid thinking 'I don't know' every time you're faced with a difficult question, try to think 'I don't know, but if I had to give my opinion, I'd say ...' You can be humble about what you know and what you don't, but be brave, and be opinionated! This will help you on exam day!



How do you Answer an Advantages and Disadvantages Question?

  • An advantages and disadvantages question presents you with a situational statement, then asks you what the advantages and disadvantages are of this statement. You are also often asked if the advantages 'outweigh' the disadvantages.

  • To do this, you need to read the statement very carefully and really understand what situation is being described, then you need to think of 1-2 obvious advantages and 1-2 obvious disadvantages.

  • The question always says 'advantages' and 'disadvantages' (plural) so you should aim to compare 2 advantages against 1 disadvatage, or 1 advantage against 2 disadvantages. However, if you can only think of 1 each, then if each of them is well developed, then that's Ok too.

  • If you are asked if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, you also need to decide which are more significant, the advantages or the disadvantages.

  • You could write a 'balanced' essay, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'll write a clearer essay if you pick one side.

  • Remember, in the exam don't try to write the most complicated answer; write something which is easiest to explain.

  • If you're not asked if you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, you just need to present the advantages and the disadvantages without saying which is more significant.


🤔 Some Critical Thinking Exercises for

Advantages and Disadvantages Questions 🤨


⚖️ Consider the Good and the Bad


Like putting yourself in others' shoes or playing devil's advocate, try to look at two sides of every situation; the good and the bad.


Imagine a deadly pandemic radically changes the way people study and business (ahem). That obviously sounds terrible, but it might also bring some benefits, such as allowing people the flexibility of where they choose to work or study, instead of having to commute to a physical school or office every day.


Even if you think something is bad, try to consider how it could also be good. If you think something is good, try to consider how it might also be good.


😐 Benjamin Franklin's Decision Making Method


Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisoins in life - Should I change jobs? Should I get married and start a family? Should I move to a different country? - and when you have to make a difficult decision, it can help you to weigh up the pros and cons.


This method, sometimes attributed to the scientist; inventor; and statesman Ben Franklin, involves drawing a table with two columns; the PROS (the advantages) on one side and the CONS (the disadvantages) on the other. You then compare the two columns, and decide which side outweighs the other - are the pros greater than the cons, or vice versa?


This exercise can be really helpful in your daily life, and developing this habit of weighing up pros and cons can be really helpful in answering advantages and disadvantages questions.



How do you answer a Problems and Solutions Question?

  • A problems and solutions question presents you with a situational statement, then asks you what problems this situation might cause, and what solutions you can think of to those problems.

  • A causes and solutions question presents you with a problem, then asks you what might have caused this problem and what solutions you can think of to this problems.

  • To do this, you need to read the statement very carefully and really understand what situation is being described, then you need to think of 1-2 obvious problems/causes and 1-2 obvious solutions.

  • The question always says 'problems' and 'solutions' (plural) so you should aim to write about 2 problems and 1 solution, or 1 problem and 2 solutions. However, if you can only think of 1 each, then if each of them is well developed, then that's Ok too.

  • The question always says 'advantages' and 'disadvantages' (plural) so you should aim to compare 2 advantages against 1 disadvatage, or 1 advantage against 2 disadvantages. However, if you can only think of 1 each, then if each of them is well developed, then that's Ok too.

  • As always, in the exam don't try to write the most complicated answer; write something which is easiest to explain.


🤔 Some Critical Thinking Exercises for Problems and Solutions Questions 🤨


💥 Think about Cause and Effect 🔄 and Conditions and Consequences


Thinking about the consequences that your actions might lead to in the future is an invaluable life skill. If you work hard, you can pass the IELTS exam and obtain the job of your dreams.


Reflecting on the past can help us understand the present and in turn help us make better decisions in the future. You're reading this blog, because you want to improve your IELTS score.


When you read or hear about problems on a more societal level, such as global warming, think about the root causes, and think about the consequences of potential solutions.


♻️ Think about Solutions to Problems


If you face problems in your daily life, instead of feeling defeated, get into the habit of trying to find solutions. You may not always succeed in quickly and elegantly solving every problem you face, but if you develop this skill, you'll get better at it.


Equally, when you read or hear about problems on a more societal level, such as lack of affordable housing, try to think of what could be done to solve such problems.



How do you answer a Two-Part Question?

  • A two-part question presents you with a statement and two questions relating to that statement. You have to give a direct answer to both of the questions.

  • To do this, you need to read the statement very carefully and really understand what situation is being described, then you need to think of your answers to both of these questions.

  • One, or both of the two questions in a Two-Part Question can be quite similar to the other styles of question, asking you to speculate on why people do things, whether something is positive or negative, what the causes or consequences might be for certain phenomenon or action.


🤔 Some Critical Thinking Exercises for Two-Part Questions 🤨


👞 Put yourself in someone else's Shoes

☝️ Be Opinionated!

😐 Avoid 'I don't know.'

⚖️ Consider the Good and the Bad

💥 Think about Cause and Effect 🔄 and Conditions and Consequences



This article was a general overview of how to understand the questions. In a future article we will look in more detail at how to analyse specific questions, generate ideas, plan, and structure.

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