When answering an IELTS Task 2 question, it is important to read the question carefully and to answer it relevantly. There are a number of different question types that appear for Task 2 in the Writing test, so it is very important to understand what the question means so that you fully address the task you are given.

Remember that the examiner will assess how thoroughly you address the task in the Task Response criterion, so it's vital that you respond to the question directly and clearly. We realise that you work hard when preparing for the IELTS test and you might memorise essays that match certain prompts.

If you try and answer a question with a formulaic response (a learned response that closely matches the question), your essay will not address the task appropriately and you will lose marks.

Rather than trying to match your answer to an essay-type category (e.g. advantages/disadvantages, causes/solutions), learn how to interpret what the question is asking, so you answer it relevantly.

Task 2 question types

In IELTS Writing Task 2, you are required to write an essay in response to the statement or premise given. In your essay, you may need to:

  • provide general factual information related to the topic

  • give reasons for a problem

  • outline the causes of a problem

  • present solutions for a problem

  • justify your opinion (reasons for your opinion)

  • evaluate evidence and ideas

  • assess how much you agree or disagree with an idea/the statement

  • decide if there are more advantages or disadvantages

  • explain why this situation has occurred

IELTS question types are varied, so it is important to focus on the question prompt. Read through the following table which shows some common essay question types.

Essay typeSample prompt
Opinion essayTo what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement/opinion?
Discussion essayDiscuss both views and give your own opinion.
Multi-part essayWhy is shopping so popular? What effects does its increase in popularity have on individuals and society?
Multi-part and opinion essayWhat form do these problems take? Do the problems outweigh the benefits?
Advantage/disadvantage essayWhat are the advantages and disadvantages of...?
Positive/negative essayIs this a positive or negative development?
Cause/solution essayWhat are the causes of these problems and suggest solutions?

Disadvantages versus advantages

Let's look at an IELTS Task 2 question from www.ielts.orgexternal icon and see how you would answer it.

International tourism has brought enormous benefit to many places. At the same time, there is concern about its impact on local inhabitants and the environment.

Do the disadvantages of international tourism outweigh the advantages?

This question asks you very specifically to decide if there are more advantages or more disadvantages. You are asked if one outweighs the other, so you must discuss both the advantages and disadvantages. It is not enough to say, "the advantages of international tourism definitely outweigh the disadvantages" and then only describe the advantages in your response. The reader must see both sides of your discussion and the reasons why you think one outweighs the other.

Mistakes you can make with this question type:

  1. Only listing the advantages.

  2. Only listing the disadvantages.

  3. Presenting both, but not deciding if one outweighs the other.

  4. Not presenting your opinion.

How to answer this question type:

  1. Decide on your position - are there more advantages, or more disadvantages? (more advantages).

  2. Present the advantages (3).

  3. Present the disadvantages (2) - as you have decided that there are more advantages.

  4. Repeat your position in the conclusion, so the reader knows that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Opinion essay

Let's look at another IELTS Task 2 questionexternal icon.

In Britain, when someone gets old they often go to live in a home with other old people where there are nurses to look after them. Sometimes the government has to pay for this care.

Who do you think should pay for this care, the government or the family?

This question asks you to make a decision based on your opinion of the statement. You have to decide if the government should pay for old people to live in an aged care home, or if the family should pay. It is important to make a decision and to clearly express this in your introduction. Of course, your decision will be based on your own opinion, so you may think that both should pay.

Mistakes you can make with this question type:

  1. Giving reasons why both should pay, but not making a decision.

  2. Presenting the problems caused by living in an aged care facility.

  3. Presenting the reasons why the family cannot look after their aged parents.

  4. Giving reasons why old people should be cared for in their own homes.

  5. Not giving a clear opinion on the topic.

How to answer this question type:

  1. Decide on who should pay - the government, the family, or a combination of both.

  2. Give two or three reasons to support your opinion.

  3. Support your reasons with examples from your own experience (the situation in your country).

  4. If you think that both the family and government should pay, support this opinion with how this could work (e.g., partial payment, government subsidising poorer families, government building aged care homes but families pay for the care).

  5. Repeat your opinion on who should pay for this care in the conclusion, so the reader is fully aware of the decision you have made.

Advice

We have only looked at two question types in this article and the mistakes you might make when answering them. On a test day, remember to follow these tips when you first read the question:

  • Read the statement which outlines the premise first - the main ideas in the statement.

  • Check to see if the statement is referring to more than one idea (e.g., individuals and the society) and make sure you refer to both in your response.

  • Read the question prompt carefully to see how many parts are in the questionexternal icon.

  • Cover all parts of the question.

  • Read the question words - What extent/Why/Suggest/Decide/Evaluate - and answer relevantly.

  • Express your position clearly.

  • Support your ideas with relevant examples from your own knowledge and experience (not made up statistics and research)

  • Organise your essay into paragraphs - with one clear idea developed in each paragraph.

  • Don't use memorised essays that might not address the task.

So, our final message is to answer the question directly. When you respond to the task, you must answer the question relevantly and appropriately, rather than trying to match a response you have already learned to the question.

If you feel you are ready to do official practice, why not try our official IELTS practice test to get an indication of how well you are preparing for the real IELTS test. You will get expert marker feedback on your Writing performance, chosen by our IELTS markers, which highlight the areas you need to focus on.