IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay: tips, mistakes, questions & essays

In this lesson we are going to look at how to answer an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages essay.

You will learn about this IELTS Writing Task 2 essay, using authentic IELTS essay questions, plus the most common mistakes. And I will finish with an IELTS model essay written by me in response to a sample IELTS essay question. So let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What Is Your Task?

In this IELTS question type, you are presented with a situation, a development or a trend. Your task is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages related to this situation, development or trend. 

In some tasks, you may also be asked to give an opinion on whether the advantages are more significant than the disadvantages. These “outweigh” questions are more common in the IELTS Academic Writing Test, but they can also appear in the IELTS General Training Writing Test.

In many countries, paying for things using mobile phone (cellphone) apps is becoming increasingly common. 

Does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages? 

Cambridge IELTS 15 General Training Test 4

How To Plan An IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay

If you are aiming for a high band score (band 7 and above) it is absolutely vital that you plan your essay. A good plan will help you to see if you have answered the question, developed your ideas and organised them BEFORE you start writing.

We’re going to plan an essay using my 4 Step Planning Process.

4 Step Planning Process

Step 1: Understand The Task

First, you need to make sure you understand exactly what you need to write about. So you need to read the question carefully, not quickly!

Think about these three questions:

  • What is the topic about?
  • What is the topic NOT about?
  • How should you respond to the topic?
Let’s go back to this essay question, and answer those 3 questions:

In many countries, paying for things using mobile phone (cellphone) apps is becoming increasingly common. 

Does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages? 

What is the topic about?

The topic is about mobile phone payments, such as digital wallets, payment apps like Google Pay and Apple Pay, and QR code payments. 

What is the topic NOT about?

The task is NOT about mobile phone apps in general, so don’t discuss the advantages of mobile phones or mobile apps. The task is specific to payment apps.

How should you respond to the topic?

The question “does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages?” tells you how to respond to the topic. You simply need to answer that question.

Step 2: Decide Your Position

Next, you need to decide your position. In other words, you need to decide what you think.

In an advantages disadvantages essay, your position is your answer to the question

So in the example question above, your position is your answer to the question: “does this development (i.e. paying for things using mobile phone apps) have more advantages or more disadvantages?”

Step 3: Extend Your Ideas

When you decided your position, you may have started thinking about the reasons for your position, the reasons for your answer. In other words, WHY are you taking this view?

Giving reasons for your view is essential in an IELTS essay. In fact, all IELTS questions tell you to give reasons for your answer”. So in Step 3, you need to think about your reasons a little more.

However, just presenting your  reasons is not enough. You need to develop them.

The two best ways of developing your ideas is by:

  • giving explanations of what you mean
  • giving specific examples which illustrate what you mean

Together, these add more detail to your answer. 

You MUST do this to get Band 7. If you fail to develop your ideas in detail, your band score for Task Response may be limited to Band 6. 

Step 4: Structure Your Essay

The final step in the planning process is to structure your essay. This simply means deciding which main ideas to put in which paragraphs.

I suggest you use almost exactly the same structure, regardless of whether you are taking the Academic or General Training Test:

  • Paragraph 1: introduction
  • Paragraph 2: discuss what you think are the advantages
  • Paragraph 3: discuss what you think are the disadvantages
  • Paragraph 4 (Ac): explain if you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
  • Paragraph 4 (GT): summarise your views

IELTS advantages disadvantages essay questions are usually on topics where there are both advantages AND disadvantages. In other words, if you argue that there are only advantages, the IELTS examiner might decide your essay lacks balance, and this could limit your band score for Task Response.


How To Write Your IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay

Let’s go through how to write the different parts of the essay.

How To Write The Introduction To an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay

In the introduction to an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages essay, you need to do one or two things.

If you are asked “what are the advantages and disadvantages?”, then just briefly introduce the topic of the essay.

If you are asked for an opinion – e.g. “to what extent do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages”, or “does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages?”, then also add a second sentence where you present your answer to this question.

Introduce The Topic

You should begin with a background sentence which introduces your reader to the topic of the essay. The best way to do this is to paraphrase the topic statement.

How To Paraphrase

Think about the meaning of the topic statement, and briefly rewrite it using your own words. Try not to use the same grammatical structures as in the essay question, and try to move language around. In other words, be flexible. This is important if you are aiming for a Band 7 or higher. 

In the example essay question above, the topic statement said: 

“In many countries, paying for things using mobile phone (cellphone) apps is becoming increasingly common.”

Here is one way of paraphrasing this:

“Purchasing goods with apps on mobile phones has grown in popularity over recent years.”

This sentence has the same general meaning as the original sentence, but uses different vocabulary and different grammatical structures. 

How NOT To Paraphrase

When you paraphrase, do NOT just change individual words with synonyms, or you will get some very strange sentences, e.g.

“In a lot of nations, buying items using portable communication software is becoming more customary.”

DON’T DO THIS! It sounds unnatural and can be confusing for your reader.

Give Your Opinion

If you are asked questions like:
  • “to what extent do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages”, or 
  • “does this development have more advantages or more disadvantages?”

then you are being asked for your opinion, in addition to a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages. 

So write a 2nd sentence in which you clearly answer this question. e.g.

“In my view, this development has significant drawbacks overall.”

There’s little point in adding a scope sentence: “This essay will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this development.” This kind of sentence doesn’t add much to your essay and the language is quite basic.

Just start writing the body.

How To Write The Body Paragraphs

In an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages essay, you need to present the advantages and disadvantages in the body paragraphs.

Write the advantages and disadvantages in separate paragraphs.

Each main body paragraph should contain:

  • An advantage (or disadvantage) – your main idea
  • A more detailed explanation of this
  • An example which illustrates this
  • You can also include a 2nd advantage or 2nd disadvantage in the same paragraph.

This structure is what is meant by developing your ideas, and it is essential for a Band 7.

You can read more about developing your ideas here.

How To Write The Conclusion

In the conclusion to an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages essay, what you write depends on the question.

If you are asked “what are the advantages and disadvantages?” then just write a summary of your ideas.

If you are asked for your opinion – e.g. “to what extent to the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?” – then answer this question in the conclusion.

Do NOT write any new ideas in your conclusion. If you think of new ideas while writing your conclusion, forget them! It’s too late

Common Mistakes in an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay

These are the most common mistakes made by Test Takers when writing an IELTS Advantages Disadvantages essay:

  • presenting too many advantages and disadvantages: you MUST develop ALL of your ideas to get a high band score, so it’s best to present 3 or 4 advantages / disadvantages in total and explain them all
  • not answering the “do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?” question. This question does not appear in all advantages disadvantages essays, but when it does, you must answer it
  • writing an overly general statement about the topic in the introduction (e.g. Education is a topic of hot debate)
  • The advantages / disadvantages are not explained and illustrated in enough detail. You need to develop all of your points to get a Band 7.
  • Not fully understanding the essay question. This is often caused by reading the question quickly, not carefully.
  • Using memorised phrases (e.g. “a hot topic”, “in a nutshell”, “pros and cons”)
  • Using “research studies” as examples: examples should illustrate your ideas, not prove them. Read about how to use examples in IELTS essays.
  • Trying to use rare or “novel” language: examiners are looking for groups of words used naturally, not rare words.

Sample IELTS Advantages Disadvantages Essay Questions

In the future all cars, buses and trucks will be driverless. The only people travelling inside these vehicles will be passengers. Do you think the advantages of driverless vehicles outweigh the disadvantages?

(Cambridge IELTS 16 Academic Test 4)

In some cultures, children are often told that they can achieve anything if they try hard enough. What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving children this message? 

(Cambridge IELTS 15 Academic Test 4)

Today more and more tourists are visiting places where conditions are difficult, such as the Sahara desert or the Antarctic. What are the benefits and disadvantages for tourists who visit such places? 

(Cambridge IELTS 12 General Training Test 5)

At the present time, the population of some countries includes a relatively large number of young adults, compared with the number of older people. Do the advantages of this situation outweigh the disadvantages? 

(Cambridge IELTS 12 Academic Test 6)

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Posted in IELTS Writing Task 2.

Charles Cornelius is a PGCE and CELTA-qualified teacher and former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds a MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 70,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

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