IELTS Writing Task 2: Question Types

In this post, I’m going to explain the different types of question that you might be asked to answer in Task 2 of the IELTS Writing Test, and I’ll give you some IELTS essay structures that you can use to help you plan your essay better.

Knowing how to answer each question correctly, and knowing how to structure your essay are essential if you want to get a Band 7+ in IELTS Writing Task 2. So read on…!

The Main Question Types

There are 5 main question types that appear in the IELTS Writing Test:

  1. Two-sided discussion
  2. Agree or disagree
  3. Advantages and disadvantages
  4. Problems and Solutions
  5. Direct questions

I’ll explain how you should respond to each of these question types.

Note that I talk about “IELTS question types”, not “IELTS essay types”. This is because there is really on ONE type of essay in Task 2 of the IELTS Writing Test: the discursive essay. In a discursive essay, you are asked to present and support your views on a particular issue. All IELTS essays ask you to do this. The question types are simply different ways to get you to do this.

The 4 Paragraph Structure

I will also suggest some simple structures for each of these question types. It’s important for your essay to have a clear paragraph structure, as this helps you to organise your ideas better, and means you will write a more coherent essay. I generally suggest a 4 paragraph structure:

  • Paragraph 1: introduction
  • Paragraph 2: body paragraph 1
  • Paragraph 3: body paragraph 2
  • Paragraph 4: conclusion

(A body paragraph is simply the paragraph where you present, explain and support your views.)

Using a 4 paragraph structure is a good idea, because you often have 2 things to discuss in an IELTS essay – e.g. two different views, or advantages AND disadvantages. A 2 paragraph structure helps you to discuss the 2 things equally, and you need to do this to get a Band 7 for Task Response.

These structures are only guides. They are NOT rules. Many IELTS test takers think that they “have to” use a particular structure for a particular essay. This is not true. However, you DO need to have a clear structure to your essay if you want to get a high band score – these structures are simply ways to help you do this.

So let’s start by looking at the first of the five main IELTS question types:

1. Two Sided Discussion

In a two-sided discussion essay, you are presented with 2 different views on an issue. (These are not necessarily opposing views, just different ones.)

This question is worded like this:

“Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

For example:

Some people say History is one of the most important school subjects. Other people think that, in today’s world, subjects like Science and Technology are more important than History.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 13 Test 3)

This type of question also appears in the General Training Test:

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. 

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

(Cambridge IELTS General Training 13 Test 3)

What Does The Question Ask You To Do?

You need to do two things:

  1. Present the reasons for each view
  2. Present your own view

In other words, you are asked to provide a blend of objective discussion and personal opinion.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Firstly, you need to present the REASONS for each view.

For example:

  • WHY do some people say that History is one of the most important school subjects?
  • WHY do some people think that Science and Technology are more important than History?
  • WHY do some people say that there is no need to go to the cinema to watch films?
  • WHY do some people say that you need to go to the cinema to fully enjoy films?

To get a high band score, you should present the reasons for each view objectively. In other words, you need to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ (or, rather, in their head!) Why do they take this view? What are the reasons for their view?

For example, why do some people think that History is one of the most important school subjects? I can think of a couple of reasons:

  • it’s important to understand your country’s past
  • it helps develops literacy skills

And why do some people think that subjects like Science and Technology are more important that History? Here are a couple of reasons:

  • you develop skills that are important in getting a job
  • it’s useful to have an understanding of science for daily life (e.g. health and electronics)

It’s important to understand that the 2 views given in an IELTS test question are going to be sensible, reasonable views. They won’t be crazy ones, such as “some people think that playing computer games is one of the most important school subjects” or “some people think that you should watch movies in the bathroom”! So there WILL be good reasons for these views. You just need to think about and explain what they are.

Secondly, you need to present your OWN view. Your opinion. You need to say what YOU think

It’s a good idea to base this on your discussion of the 2 views. You could point out the weaknesses or limitations of the view you disagree with, or suggest which view is stronger.

e.g. “While I agree that watching movies on mobile devices is very convenient, cinemas offer a much better experience overall because of the size of cinema screens and the quality of sound systems they have.”

In short, a ‘discuss both views and give your own opinion essay’ is a blend of objective discussion and personal opinion.

Structure

In a 2 sided discussion, here’s the structure I would recommend:

  • Paragraph 1: introduce essay
  • Paragraph 2: present the reasons for the 1st view
  • Paragraph 3: present the reasons for the 2nd view
  • Paragraph 4: present your opinion

More Example Questions

Here are some more examples of Two Sided Discussion Essay Questions:

Some people think that parents should teach children how to be good members of society. Others, however, believe that school is the place to learn this.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

(Cambridge IELTS 8 Academic Test 1)

Some people think that the teenage years are the happiest times of most people’s lives. Others think that adult life brings more happiness, in spite of greater responsibilities.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

(Cambridge IELTS 9 GT Test B)

Some people believe that it is best to accept a bad situation, such as an unsatisfactory job or shortage of money. Others argue that it is better to try and improve such situations.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

(Cambridge IELTS 14 Test 1)

2. Agree or Disagree

The next question type is the agree or disagree essay. In this question type, you are given an opinion, and you need to explain whether you agree with it or not.

This question is usually worded differently in the Academic and General Training tests.

In the Academic Test, the question is usually worded like this:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

So for example:

Some people believe that nowadays we have too many choices. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 13 Test 2)

In the General Training Test, the typical wording is:

Do you agree or disagree?

What is your opinion about this?

Here’s an example of a General Training test question:

Some people say that it is possible to tell a lot about a person’s culture and character from their choice of clothes. 

Do you agree or disagree?

(Cambridge IELTS General Training 11 Test 4)

What Does The Question Ask You To Do?

In the Academic Test, you are asked to explain the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement. In other words, how much you agree or disagree with the statement.

In the General Training Test, you are asked to explain whether you agree or disagree with the statement.

However, while the wording is different between Academic and General Training, your task is pretty much the same. Say what you think about the statement.

Structure

A good 4 paragraph structure would look like this:

  • Paragraph 1: introduce essay and briefly state your views
  • Paragraph 2: give a 1st reason for your view
  • Paragraph 3: give a 2nd reason for your view
  • Paragraph 4: summarise your views.

(You could add a third reason for your view if you wanted – this would make it a 5 paragraph essay. But be careful! If you want a Band 7+ for Task Response, make sure you explain your reasons in detail. 2 reasons explained in detail is better than 3 reasons explained briefly.)

More Example Questions

Here are some more example questions for the agree / disagree question type:

Some people say that in all levels of education, from primary schools to universities, too much time is spent on learning facts and not enough on learning practical skills. 

Do you agree or disagree? 

(Cambridge IELTS 11 General Training Test 2)

In some areas of the US, a ‘curfew’ is imposed, in which teenagers are not allowed to be out of doors after a particular time at night unless they are accompanied by an adult. 

What is your opinion about this?

(Cambridge IELTS General Training 13 Test 1)

Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together. 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion? 

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 14 Test 3)

3. Advantages and Disadvantages

The third question type is the advantages and disadvantages essay. In this kind of question, you will usually be given a statement about a development or a situation, and you will be asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of it.

This question type is usually worded differently for the Academic and General Training tests.

In the Academic Test, the question is usually worded like this:

Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

For example:

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 Academic 12 Test 6)

If you are doing the General Training Test, the wording is often like this:

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

For example:

Some parents buy their children a large number of toys to play with. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages for the child of having a large number of toys?

(Cambridge IELTS 10 General Training Test B)

Different Words

Often, the words “advantages” and “disadvantages” are changed. The most common alternative wording is “benefits” (instead of “advantages”) and “drawbacks” (instead of “disadvantages”).  For example:

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 General Training 12 Test 5)

You might also be asked “is this a positive or negative development?”

In recent years, many small local shops have closed because customers travel to large shopping centres or malls to do their shopping. 

Is this a positive or a negative development? 

(Cambridge IELTS General Training 12 Test 8)

Even though the words are different, the task remains the same, so when I refer to “advantages”, I’m also talking about “benefits” and “positive”, and when I refer to “disadvantages”, I’m also talking about “drawbacks” and “negatives”.

  • Advantages = benefits, positives
  • Disadvantages = drawbacks, negatives

What does the question ask you to do?

In the Academic test, you need to explain if you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages; in other words, whether the advantages are more important than the disadvantages. In the General Training Test, your task is more simple: you should discuss what you think are the advantages and the disadvantages.

Test takers have asked me if they must write more than one advantage and more than one disadvantage, because the plural form is used in the question. Read my answer in this blog post.

Structure

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

This structure is very similar to a ‘two sided discussion’ question, because you are essentially being asked to discuss 2 sides of the issue: the advantages and the disadvantages.

If you are doing the Academic test, your conclusion must address the “outweigh” part of the question. However, in a good response (Band 7+), your position should be hinted at during the body paragraphs, and even in the introduction.

If you “strongly” believe that there are only advantages to something, then in theory you could just discuss the advantages (i.e. the reasons for your view). However, IELTS advantages and disadvantages questions are usually on topics where a sensible person can see both advantages AND disadvantages. In other words, a response to an authentic IELTS essay that only discussed the advantages (or disadvantages) might be seen as unbalanced, and this could limit your band score for Task Response.

More Example Questions

Here are some more example questions for advantages and disadvantages:

Some experts believe that it is better for children to begin learning a foreign language at primary school rather than secondary school. 

Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages? 

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 9 Test 1)

Countries are becoming more and more similar because people are able to buy the same products anywhere in the world.

Do you think this is a positive or negative development? 

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 10 Test 3)

4. Problems and Solutions

Another common question type is the problems and solutions question. You are given a statement about a problem, and you must respond by discussing the problem in more detail, along with some possible solutions to the problem.

These types of question can be worded in a variety of ways. Here are some common examples:

  • What problems are associated with this and what are some possible solutions.
  • What difficulties does this cause? What can we do to tackle this problem?
  • What do you think are the causes of these problems and what measures could be taken to solve them?
  • Why is this the case? What can be done about this problem?

Here’s an example question:

Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century. 

What problems are associated with this and what are some possible solutions. 

In this essay, you are asked to discuss problems linked to global warming (e.g. melting ice caps) and then suggest some solutions.

But it’s very important to read these kinds of question very carefully. Look at this question:

In some countries the average weight of people is increasing and their levels of health and fitness are decreasing.

What do you think are the causes of these problems and what measures could be taken to solve them?

(Cambridge IELTS 8 Academic Test 4)

This question is NOT asking you to discuss a problem; it’s asking you to discuss the CAUSES of the problem, as well as their solutions. This is why you must read problem-solution essay questions very carefully: in the question above, some test takers might discuss the problem (e.g. the problems experienced by overweight people), rather than the causes of the problems. This will limit their band score for Task Response to Band 5.

Structure

Here’s a simple structure for a problem / solution essay:

  • Paragraph 1: introduction
  • Paragraph 2: discuss 2 problems
  • Paragraph 3: discuss 2 solutions
  • Paragraph 4: summarise your ideas.

Here is an alternative structure:

  • Paragraph 1: introduction
  • Paragraph 2: discuss one problem and a solution to this problem
  • Paragraph 3: discuss one problem and a solution to this problem
  • Paragraph 4: summarise your ideas.

However, this structure is not always appropriate, so use it carefully! If your ideas are not closely related to the problem, it can cause problems with coherence. For example, one problem caused by global warming is melting icecaps; however, there is no direct solution to melting icecaps – the solution often lies a long way from the polar ice caps.

More Example Questions

In spite of the advances made in agriculture, many people around the world still go hungry.

Why is this the case?

What can be done about this problem?

(Cambridge IELTS Academic 13 Test 4)

In many countries, the amount of crime is increasing.

What do you think are the main causes of crime?

How can we deal with those causes?

(Cambridge IELTS 10 General Training Test 2)

Children today spend a lot of time on social media. 

What potential problems could this cause and how could they be addressed?

5. Direct Questions

Finally you may sometimes get a question which does not easily fit into one of the above categories. You will be presented with a statement, and you will be asked one or two questions about it. (Often these are called 2 part questions).

Here’s an example:

Many people have problems managing their money. 

What skills does a person need to manage their money well? 

Who should teach children these skills?

Sometimes, one or both of the questions will be similar to those I discussed above, such as problems, disadvantages or whether you agree or not.

For example:

Car ownership has increased so rapidly over the past thirty years that many cities in the world are now ‘one big traffic jam’.

How true do you think this statement is?

What measures can governments take to discourage people from using their cars?

(The Official Cambridge Guide To IELTS Test 3)

The first question is asking you if you agree and how much (“how true”), so it’s similar to a “to what extent do you agree” question. The second question is asking you about “measures”, in other words, “solutions” to the problem of traffic jams in cities.

Structure

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.

Example Questions

More and more people today are moving from the countryside. 

Why is this happening? 

Do you think it is a positive or a negative development?

Today more people are travelling than ever before.

Why is this the case?

What are the benefits of travelling for the traveller?

Some people feel that schools should teach children how to become a good parent. 

Do you agree or disagree with this opinion? 

What skills do people need to be a good parent?

Summary

So those are the 5 main question types:

  1. 2-sided discussion
  2. Agree or disagree
  3. Advantages and disadvantages
  4. Problems and Solutions
  5. Direct questions

But regardless of the question type, make sure you read the question carefully! Make sure you understand exactly what the question wants you to do. If you don’t fully answer the question, you will only get a maximum score of Band 5 for Task Response.

I hope my explanations of how to answer these questions, and how to structure your essays, were clear and helpful. Please share if you think others will find it useful.

Good luck with the IELTS!

Posted in IELTS Writing Task 2.