In Task 2 of the IELTS Writing test, you are asked to write an essay of at least 250 words in both the Academic and General training modules.  However, should you use the same approach to all essay questions?  The answer to this question is ‘no’ as there is more than one question type to consider when writing your answer. It is important to understand what the task requires from you because you may lose marks unnecessarily, even if you have good grammar and vocabulary.  Let’s have a look in more detail.

Opinion Essay

Here is a sample opinion essay question:

With traffic jams and pollution increasing every year in big cities, some people say that public transport should be free in big cities to help reduce these problems which are caused by cars.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

In the introduction to the essay, you can provide some background information, but importantly, make sure you paraphrase the input language (the words from the question) and indicate your position on the matter.  For example:

With the growth of middle classes around the world, ownership of motor cars has become much more common, particularly for those who reside in large urban areas.  It has been argued that free public transport should be provided in these metropolises as a method to curb the amount of polluted air and traffic congestion. This essay will explain why this approach should not be undertaken for cost and mobility reasons.

When it comes to your body paragraphs, it is important to have one core idea that you extend and develop.  You can do this by mentioning further explanation about a particular point, an example, a consequence or possibly a concession.  Let’s compare the two paragraphs below:

Paragraph A

The reasons for not providing free public transport for urban residents are diverse.  Firstly, there would be a significant cost for the government to pay for this, meaning they would have no option but to raise taxes for individuals rather than for industry which produces more pollution.  Secondly, this would be unfair for those who need to use vehicles for more door-to-door travel, such as people who live far from train and bus stations or those who need to carry many things with them.  Furthermore, if public transport is free, there would be overcrowding on trains and buses, meaning that people simply replace one type of inconvenience for another.

Paragraph B

Looking at the argument from a cost perspective, even though there is an initial financial advantage for commuters with savings made on fuel, at some point down the track this would be lost, as municipal governments would have no choice but to raise taxes to pay for the construction, management and maintenance of public transport facilities.  If the funds allocated to this were invested in how to make vehicles greener instead, such as with electric cars, the issue of air pollution would be addressed in a more cost-effective way. For example, the city of Taiyuan in China now has better air quality partly due to the investment they made in electric taxis and buses.

Paragraph A addresses the question, but it does have some issues:

1. There is no topic sentence.

2. There are too many ideas. It is better to have one core idea which is expanded or extended rather than making a list of separate items.

The reasons for not providing free public transport for urban residents are diverse. Firstly, there would be a significant cost for the government to pay for this, meaning they would have no option but to raise taxes for individuals rather than for industry which produces more pollution.  Secondly, this would be unfair for those who need to use vehicles for more door-to-door travel, such as people who live far from train and bus stations or those who need to carry many things with them. Furthermore, if public transport is free, there would be overcrowding on trains and buses, meaning that people simply replace one type of inconvenience for another.

Paragraph B is better developed than Paragraph A because:

  1. It has a clear central topic (money)

  2. The topic is extended with:

    1. A concession

    2. Expansion

    3. A consequence

    4. An example

Looking at the argument from a cost perspective, even though there is an initial financial advantage for commuters with savings made on fuel, at some point down the track this would be lost, as municipal governments would have no choice but to raise taxes to pay for the construction, management and maintenance of public transport facilities.  If the funds allocated to this were invested in how to make vehicles greener instead, such as with electric cars, the issue of air pollution would be addressed in a more cost-effective way. For example, the city of Taiyuan in China now has better air quality partly due to the investment they made in electric taxis and buses.

Lastly, it is useful to end your essay with a conclusion.  This is where you can review your answer (your position plus the main points from the body paragraphs) and finish off with a final thought or suggestion.  For example:

To summarise, free public transport is not a viable option to reduce road blockages and improve air quality, as there are better cost efficient ways to do this and the mobility issues it can cause.  Moving forward, cities around the world should adopt greener transport options whether they be public or personal to ensure better traffic flow with fewer impurities in the air.

Discussion Essay

Here is a sample discussion essay.

Some people say that children should learn a foreign language when they are at kindergarten, but others feel that it is better for children to do this when they are teenagers.

Discuss both of these views and give your own opinion.

The main thing to understand in a task like this is that there are 3 parts to the answer:

  • Discuss both of these views (1st and 2nd part)

  • and give your own opinion (3rd part)

When it comes to your introduction, it is important to mention both of these views, plus indicating your position can also be a good approach. For example:

Given that the world has become more globalised, the need to be able to use foreign languages has increased.  As a result, there are those who believe that a child’s kindergarten years should be when another language is introduced, while the opposing view is that it is more ideal to wait for when a youngster reaches adolescence.  This essay will reflect on both of these viewpoints before concluding with why the infancy argument is more valid.

When you ‘discuss both of these views’ in your body paragraphs, make sure you avoid mentioning your personal view.  This can avoid any confusion between what you think and what they views of others are.  Here are some introductory parts to the body paragraphs when discussing both views:

Looking at the kindergarten perspective firstly, the key reason why some claim this is a beneficial approach is …

With regards to waiting for the teenage years, supporters of this view argue that …

You will see that the writer has used phrases like ‘some claim’ and ‘supporters of this view’ to make sure that his/her own opinion is clearly separated.  When introducing your own perspective, you can clearly mark it as follows:

On balance, my personal view is to support the former view because …

Weighing up both sides of the issue, despite the confusion a second language can cause youngsters in their development, I am of the belief that...

Two-part Questions

Another question type you may see in your IELTS Writing test is one where you have two separate prompts you need to answer. Here are a few examples:

A

These days, many cities have problems when they grow quickly, such as accidents and traffic jams.

Why do these problems occur?

How do these problems impact people who travel for work or study?

B

A trend in current times is the need for many workers to spend time outside of company hours on answering text and e-mail messages for their job.

What problems does this cause for the worker?

What can be done to reduce the impact of these problems?

C

It is becoming very common these days for students to take courses over the Internet instead of in face-to-face classrooms.

Why are more students choosing this way of learning?

Is this a positive or a negative development?

In this type of task, you can write a body paragraph on each of the two questions, but it is important to fully understand what you focus should be. Try to match these tasks (A, B or C) with the type of response required:

Task Type                      Sample Question

1. Cause + opinion:           A, B or C?

2. Cause + effect:              A, B or C?

3. Cause + solution           A, B or C?

We can look at these sample questions in more detail now:

A

These days, many cities have problems when they grow quickly, such as accidents and traffic jams.

Why do these problems occur?

How do these problems impact people who travel for work or study?

Why do these problems occur? = cause

How do these problems impact people who travel for work or study?  = effect

Therefore, this matches Type 2.

B

A trend in current times is the need for many workers to spend time outside of company hours on answering text and e-mail messages for their job.

What problems does this cause for the worker?

What can be done to reduce the impact of these problems?

What problems does this cause for the worker?  = effect

What can be done to reduce the impact of these problems?  = solution

Therefore, this matches Type 3.

C

It is becoming very common these days for students to take courses over the Internet instead of in face-to-face classrooms.

Why are more students choosing this way of learning?

Is this a positive or a negative development?

Why are more students choosing this way of learning?  = cause

Is this a positive or a negative development?  = opinion

Therefore, this matches Type 1.

---

We hope you found this article useful in helping you better prepare for the different types of essays you are likely to encounter in the IELTS Writing test. Stay tuned to our A to Z of IELTS series for more informative articles.