IELTS Direct Question Essay: tips, common mistakes, questions & essays

In this lesson we are going to look at how to answer an IELTS Direct Question 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 usually asked 2 questions. Your task is to simply answer these questions!

Often, one or both of the 2 questions come from one of the other 4 question types, so you might be asked to say whether you agree or disagree, or to discuss the disadvantages of something, or to suggest some solutions.

So it’s really important to read the question carefully!

Here is an example direct questions essay task:

Some people spend most of their lives living close to where they were born. 

What might be the reasons for this? 

What are the advantages and disadvantages? 

Cambridge IELTS 16 General Training Test 3

As you can see, this task has 2 questions. The 2nd question is about advantages and disadvantages, so the task takes the 2nd question from one of the other essay question types.

How To Plan An IELTS Direct Question 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:

Some people spend most of their lives living close to where they were born. 

What might be the reasons for this? 

What are the advantages and disadvantages? 

What is the topic about?

  • The topic is about people who live near to the village / town of their birth for most of their lives. 
  • (The word “birthplace” implies the villagetown of their birth, NOT the country of their birth.)

What is the topic NOT about?

  • It’s not about people who live ALL their lives near their birthplace.
  • Because “birthplace” implies a village / town / city, it’s not about people who rarely go outside their country.

How should you respond to the topic?

  • The two questions, “what might be the reasons for this?” and “what are the advantages and disadvantages” tell you how to respond to the topic. So make sure you answer these questions in your plan. 
  • Many students might forget to answer the first question, and just write about the advantages and disadvantages. This will limit your band score for Task Response to Band 5.

Step 2: Decide Your Position

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

In a direct questions essay, your position is your answers to the two questions.

So in our example above, your position is your answer to the 2 questions:

  • what might be the reasons for people spending most of their lives near their birthplace?
  • what are the advantages and disadvantages of spending most of your life near your birthplace?

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 would recommend a simple structure like this:

  • Paragraph 1: introduce the essay
  • Paragraph 2: discuss your answer to the 1st question
  • Paragraph 3: discuss your answer to the 2nd question
  • Paragraph 4: summarise your ideas.

How To Write Your IELTS Direct Question Essay

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

How To Write The Introduction

In the introduction to an IELTS Direct Questions essay, you need to do two things:

  1. briefly introduce the topic of the essay
  2. briefly say what you are going to write about

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: 

“Some people spend most of their lives living close to where they were born.”

Here is one way of paraphrasing this:

“Despite opportunities to travel widely in the modern world, many people still live most of their lives not far from their birthplace.”

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

Say What You Are Going To Write About

In an IELTS Direct Questions essays, it’s a good idea to briefly say what you are going to write about – in other words, say that you are going to answer the two questions.

In our example essay above, we need to answer two questions:

  • What might be the reasons for this? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages?

So I could write:

“This essay will consider the reasons for this tendency, along with the possible benefits and drawbacks.”

How To Write The Body Paragraphs

In an IELTS Direct Questions essay, you simply need to answer the questions in the body paragraphs.

Write the answer to each question in a separate paragraph. 

Direct questions essays can vary quite a lot, so you need to be flexible in your paragraphing. 

In our example essay, the two questions are:

  • What might be the reasons for this? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages? 

So, the first body paragraphs could contain:

  • A reason why people live most of their lives near their birthplace
  • A more detailed explanation of this reason
  • An example which illustrates this reason
  • You can also include a 2nd reason in the same paragraph.
The second body paragraph could contain:
  • One advantage of living most of their life near their birthplace
  • A more detailed explanation of this advantage
  • An example which illustrates this advantage
You could include a disadvantage in the same paragraph, but I would personally write it in a separate paragraph:
  • One disadvantage of living most of their life near their birthplace
  • A more detailed explanation of this disadvantage
  • An example which illustrates this disadvantage

(You probably only have enough time to write one advantage and one disadvantage in this essay, because you also have to write about the reasons for living in one place.)

You can read more about developing your ideas here.

How To Write The Conclusion

In the conclusion to an IELTS Direct Questions essay, you need to do one thing:

  • summarise your main points
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 Direct Question Essay

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

  • not reading the question carefully enough. The questions in these essay types can vary a lot, so don’t read the questions quickly. Read them carefully.
  • Writing an overly general statement about the topic in the introduction (e.g. Education is a topic of hot debate.
  • Your main ideas are not explained and illustrated enough. You need to develop all of your ideas to get a band 7 and higher.
  • 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 Direct Question Essay Questions

In some countries, more and more people are becoming interested in finding out about the history of the house or building they live in. What are the reasons for this? How can people research this? 

(Cambridge IELTS 16 Academic Test 1)

In their advertising, businesses nowadays usually emphasise that their products are new in some way. Why is this? Do you think it is a positive or negative development? 

(Cambridge IELTS 16 Academic Test 2)

In some countries, owning a home rather than renting one is very important for people. 
Why might this be the case? Do you think this is a positive or negative situation? 

In many countries today, crime novels and TV crime dramas are becoming more and more popular. Why do you think these books and TV shows are popular? What is your opinion of crime fiction and TV crime dramas? 

(Cambridge IELTS 15 General Training Test 1)


Model IELTS Direct Question Essays

Here is an IELTS Direction Questions Essay that I wrote in response to this task:

In many countries today, crime novels and TV crime dramas are becoming more and more popular.

Why do you think these books and TV shows are popular?

What is your opinion of crime fiction and TV crime dramas?

Stories about criminal activity, both fictional and real-life, have become increasingly popular over the last few decades. There are many possible reasons for this, but the two primary ones that I can think of are the underlying desire of people to see good overcome evil, and a fascination with criminal lifestyles.

Almost all stories about crime, whether in print or on TV, are about good people, such as detectives and law-abiding civilians, triumphing over bad people, namely criminals. We often see this in fictional detective stories, where an otherwise ordinary person uses their intellect and skill to identify evil criminal masterminds. A good example of this is Miss Marple, an elderly woman who always manages to track down and apprehend evil criminals.

A second reason is that people have a fascination with the lives of criminals. Perhaps this is to do with people’s need for escapism. One of the most popular crime dramas in the UK of the last 20 years was ‘Legend’, a dramatisation of the lives of the Kray Twins, two violent London gang leaders of the 1960s. The film, which I watched on TV, portrayed their violent behaviour, along with their opulent and chaotic lifestyles, and I do feel that people find this compelling viewing, despite how it shows evil people succeeding.

Personally, unless it is related to real-life stories, I have little interest in either crime fiction or crime drama. I find their plots too repetitive. With true crime stories, however, I can learn something about social history and psychology. Why, for example, do people turn to lives of crime? Is it simply for money, or are they motivated by power as well? And what causes people to join gangs and follow people like the Krays? These are all interesting questions.

In summary, a desire to see good triumph over evil, along with a fascination with evil, are two reasons I think underlie the popularity of crime stories, but my interest in them is mainly limited to dramatisations of real lives.

(335 words)

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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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