One of the best ways to prepare for the IELTS Writing Task 2 is to practise writing essays. But it is very important that you do this in an effective way.
One problem I often see is students writing essays in response to poor quality questions that they’ve found on the Internet. Such questions might be confusing, or on obscure or extreme topics. They might even be almost impossible to answer! These kinds of questions will make your writing practice much less effective.
To overcome these problems, and make your writing practice better, make sure you use authentic IELTS essay questions.
What Are Authentic IELTS Essay Questions?
Authentic IELTS essay questions are questions that you can find in practice materials and coursebooks from some of the top educational publishers, such as Cambridge, Macmillan, Collins, Longman and Pearson. These questions will have been carefully written and checked by trained test writers, so you can be sure they are reliable essay questions.
The best source of IELTS essay questions is the “Authentic Practice Tests” series published every year by Cambridge University Press. Not only have these questions been checked by a team of test writers, they have also been tested on actual students to ensure they are reliable.
Why You Should Use Authentic IELTS Questions
It’s very easy today to find IELTS questions on the Internet. But be very careful with these questions. They often have a number of problems. This is why you should only use authentic essay questions.
Authentic essay questions have been carefully written
You need to be 100% clear what you need to write about in your essay, or you could easily write an essay that is off-topic or completely irrelevant. So authentic IELTS essay questions are written very carefully.
But questions found on the Internet may be written very carelessly. Look at this question I found on 2 different websites:
Many people argue that eating junk food has led to an unhealthy lifestyle. This problem has become more common among young people these days. Do you agree or disagree that junk food is the cause of the issue.
First of all, junk food doesn’t “lead to” or “cause” an unhealthy lifestyle, so it is impossible to discuss if junk food “causes” an unhealthy lifestyle. Secondly, what is “the issue” mentioned at the end of the question? Is it the causes of “an unhealthy lifestyle” or is it “young people leading an unhealthy lifestyle”, as this was mentioned in the second sentence of the question?
This confusing question means that I’m not sure what my task is. And if I’m not sure what my task is, how can I write an essay that responds to the task? It’s impossible!
Another problem I see is websites taking an authentic question, and then changing a word or a phrase. Look at this question:
Nowadays parents put too much pressure on their children to succeed. What is the reason for doing this? Is this a positive or negative development?
I think the original (authentic) wording was “a lot of pressure”, but it’s been changed to “too much pressure”. But changing this phrase changes the whole question: the phrase “too much pressure” implies the pressure is a problem…so how can you argue that “too much pressure” is a positive thing? It’s very difficult to do.
So using questions created or changed by website owners can make essay writing much harder or even impossible.
Authentic essay questions are on topics about which you can reasonably be expected to have an opinion.
In the IELTS test, you are asked to write your thoughts on a topic in 40 minutes. This means you need to be able to think of ideas quickly. So authentic IELTS essay questions tend to be on topics that are commonly discussed, or where you should be able to quickly form an opinion.
It would also be unfair to give you an obscure topic, or a topic that required some kind of specialised knowledge. But many of the essay questions written for websites have this problem. Look at this example I found on another popular website:
Marketing and promotion is the key to a successful business. To what extent do you agree?
This question requires some knowledge of how to run a successful business, so it would be unfair to anyone with no business knowledge. I’ve also seen similar fake essay questions which require the writer to have some medical knowledge.
Many students say they have difficulty generating ideas for IELTS essays, and I think this is often because they are trying to writer essays about obscure or specialised topics. Again, authentic IELTS essay questions are on common, everyday topics, so you will find it much easier to generate ideas for these essays.
Authentic ‘discuss both views’ essay questions have 2 sensible views
One of the most common question types in the IELTS Writing Task 2 is the ‘discuss both views’ essay, where you are asked to discuss two views on an issue and come up with your own opinion.
Authentic IELTS essay questions will present you with 2 sensible views on the issue. These 2 views are usually very different to each other, but it’s possible to see good points in both views. This makes it easy to discuss the topic in a balanced way.
For example, look at this authentic IELTS essay question from the Cambridge IELTS Authentic Practice Papers:
Some people say that now we can see films on our phones or tablets there is no need to go to the cinema. Others say that to be fully enjoyed, films need to be seen in a cinema.
(Cambridge IELTS 13 General Training)
As you can see in this question, the 2 views are different, but it is possible to argue in favour of parts of both views: e.g. that some movies (e.g. those with special effects) are best seen in a cinema, while for other films, the convenience of watching them at home is preferable.
However, many questions found on websites present two views that are complete opposites or very extreme. They might also include views that are not very sensible! This makes it very difficult to discuss the topic in a balanced way.
To summarise, using “fake” IELTS essay questions can give you a number of problems:
- confusing questions
- questions that are almost impossible to answer
- questions on obscure topics
- questions on topics that require specialised knowledge
- discussion questions on views that are too extreme, or crazy
These problems simply make the task of writing an essay much harder!
Should I Use “Reported IELTS Questions”?
Many websites include a list of IELTS essay questions that have been reported by recent IELTS candidates, and many students mistakenly see these as authentic questions.
However, you should be very cautious with reported IELTS questions.
Firstly, candidates are very unlikely to remember the exact wording of the exam essay question, so they might get one word or phrase slightly wrong. But do you remember what I wrote above? Changing just one word or phrase can change the whole meaning of the question. So if the wording is just slightly wrong, this can change the whole question.
Secondly, many candidates will report simplified versions of the actual exam because they can’t remember every word. I recently saw this “reported” question on a website (By the way, I’ve corrected the grammar mistakes in the question!):
Some people believe that a country can be both economically successful and also have a clean environment. Some people disagree. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
I suspect that part of the second view is missing. Normally, an authentic exam question would say “Some people disagree and argue that….”
So be very cautious of reported questions. They may contain wording errors and they may have been simplified.
Where Can I Find Authentic IELTS Questions?
At the start of this post, I mentioned the authentic practice tests published by Cambridge English. This is by far the best source of authentic IELTS essay questions (and they also include several complete tests for reading, listening and speaking, as well as writing, both for Academic and General Training).
I have also created a selection of questions from the Cambridge practice tests on this website. Each question also includes some comments and tips for how to answer the question, and some questions have a model essay answer. Here is the link to that page:
So use authentic IELTS essay questions when you do your writing practice. This will ensure that you don’t waste your valuable preparation time writing answers to poor quality essay questions.