It’s difficult to go seriously wrong with the Reading and Listening tests in IELTS. Even if you have trouble understanding the text or the audio, the question paper gives you a pretty clear idea of what you need to write. And if you’re not sure, you can always guess. With the Speaking test, you’ll answer a series of questions, so even if you make a mistake with one of them, you’ll get another chance with the next question. Writing Task 2 is different — if you fail to understand the question, and go off on the wrong track, you could score no marks at all. And that could mean missing the band score you need.
Let’s start by looking at a sample Writing Task 2 question.
WRITING TASK 2
A person’s worth nowadays seems to be judged according to social status and material possessions. Old-fashioned values, such as honour, kindness and trust, no longer seem important.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
Write at least 250 words.
How should I approach this question?
The easiest mistake to make is to jump on one or two words, and decide that these are the focus of the essay. For example, in the pressure of the test room, you could decide to write about how ‘social status and material possessions’ are important to people these days. You would not get a good grade for that essay because you are not answering the question.
The first thing you must do is to spend a minute looking at the question and deciding what kind of essay it is asking for, as failing to plan is planning to fail. In this case it is a ‘for and against’ essay. You look at one side of the question (that people are valued according to social status), then you look at the other side of the question (that people are valued according to old-fashioned values). Finally, you come to a conclusion.
I’m confused! How can I learn to write an essay like this?
It’s not difficult to write this kind of essay, provided you follow a process. ClarityEnglish and the British Council have published a range of excellent materials to help you learn to do this. First of all, take a look at what the Practical Writing unit called ‘Essays: for and against’ can offer you. You can also take a look at how to approach descriptive essays for English tests. Practical Writing can teach you exactly how to approach this kind of essay, and will give you plenty of practice.
For an overview of more topics in Writing Task 2 click here. For more examples of Writing Task 2 and Task 1 questions, as well as activities to help you learn to answer them successfully, subscribe to Road to IELTS here. You can also subscribe to Practical Writing on this page.