How Many Types Of Essay In Ielts

It is a bit of a myth that there is a ‘one size fits all’ structure for IELTS Writing task 2 essays. Whilst the exam task criteria is the same each time, ie. you must write a minimum 250 words in approximately 40 minutes, there are actually 5 different types of Task 2 essays and each has a slightly different structure.

Many IELTS websites will suggest that you organise your essay in a specific way. It will probably look something like this:

  • Introduction
  • Paragraph 1
    • Main idea
    • Supporting ideas
  • Paragraph 2
    • Main idea
    • Supporting ideas
  • Possible Paragraph 3
    • Main idea
    • Supporting ideas
  • Conclusion

If you are aiming for a Band Score of around 5 or 6, then this kind of generic structure will probably be enough in each case. However, if you are aiming for a higher score, it is crucial that you familiarise yourself both with the different variations of essay types you might be given and the most effective way to organise your response.

The 5 most common types of Task 2 essays are:

  • Opinion (often Agree or Disagree)
  • Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Problem and Solution
  • Discussion (Discuss both views)
  • Two-part Question

Opinion essays:

In an Opinion essay, you need to clearly express what you personally feel about the given topic. If you are asked direct questions like in the task below, then it is up to you how balanced or one-sided you choose to answer. You can address both parts of the question equally or focus mainly on one side, depending on your point of view.

Have newspapers become a thing of the past or do they still have an important role to play in people’s lives today?

In a task like the one below, where you are asked to what extent you agree or disagree, it is very important that you state this explicitly at the beginning and then again at the end of your essay. Do you agree fully, mainly, partly or not at all?

Computers have made it possible for people to work from home  instead of working in offices every day.This should be encouraged as it good for both workers and employers. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Remember: this is also considered an ‘argument’ essay and you should try to convince the reader that your opinion is right. In this case, I suggest that your essay structure should look something like this:

  • Introduction
    • Paraphrase the question (your own words)
    • Thesis statement (state your agreement or disagreement)
    • Essay overview (optional)
  • Paragraph 1 and 2
    • Topic sentence (state a position)
    • Explain this further (maybe give a reason)
    • Give an example
    • Summarise paragraph
  • Conclusion
    • Summarise main ideas
    • Reiterate your opinion

Simon at www.ielts-simon.com, a former IELTS examiner, explainshere how to structure an opinion essay depending on the extent to which you agree.

Advantages and Disadvantages essays:

In an Advantages and Disadvantages essay such as the one below, you need to discuss the positive and negative perspectives equally and to clearly explain why you think something is an advantage or a disadvantage.  It is common to start Paragraph 1 with the advantages, however this is optional.

Nowadays many students have the opportunity to study some or all of their course in a foreign country. What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad?

A possible structure for this type of question is:

  • Introduction
    • Paraphrase the question
    • Outline your main ideas
    • State your opinion (if the question asks)
  • Paragraph 1
    • State one advantage
    • Explain the benefits of this advantage
    • Give an example or a result
  • Paragraph 2
    • State one disadvantage
    • Explain the negative aspect of this disadvantage
    • Give an example or a result
  • Conclusion
    • Summarise your main ideas
    • Give your opinion (if asked)

Problem and Solution essays:

In a Problem and Solution essay, such as the one below, you need to think carefully about how to respond to the questions posed. It is also important that you address all parts of the task. The first question will refer to the problem or cause and the second question will refer to the solution. Try to limit yourself to answering these questions only and don’t introduce any further questions/points of your own otherwise you might stray off task.

Overpopulation is a major problem in many urban centres around the world. What problems does this cause? How can we solve the issue of overpopulation?

Try this structure to organise your essay:

  • Introduction
    • Paraphrase the question
    • Outline your main ideas
  • Paragraph 1
    • State the problem
    • Explain the problem
    • Explain the consequence (result) of this problem
    • Give an example
  • Paragraph 2
    • State the solution
    • Explain the solution
    • Give an example
  • Conclusion
    • Summarise your main ideas

Discussion essays:

In a Discussion essay, such as the one below, you will be presented with two sides of an issue and you will need to examine both perspectives equally before giving your own conclusion.

In today’s competitive world, many families find it necessary for both parents to go out to work. While some say the children in these families benefit from the additional income, others feel they lack support because of their parents’ absence. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

In this case, your essay structure could look like this:

  • Introduction
    • Paraphrase the question AND/OR state both points of view
    • Give your thesis statement (which view you prefer)
  • Paragraph 1
    • State first point of view
    • Discuss this perspective
    • Give a reason why you agree or disagree with this viewpoint
    • Give an example to support your view
  • Paragraph 2
    • State second point of view
    • Discuss this perspective
    • Give a reason why you agree or disagree with this viewpoint
    • Give an example to support your view
  • Conclusion
    • Summarise your main ideas
    • Restate your opinion

Two-part esssays:

In a Two-part question essay, such as the example below, you will get two questions. You must answer both questions fully otherwise you risk getting a low score for Task Achievement.

In today’s society, success is often measured in terms of wealth and possessions. Do you think these are the best measure of success? What makes a successful person?

So, in this case, I suggest organising your ideas in the following way:

  • Introduction
    • Paraphrase the question
    • Briefly answer both questions
  • Paragraph 1
    • Answer the first question directly
    • Explain your reason(s)
    • Expand your argument (evidence, examples, personal experience)
  • Paragraph 2
    • Answer the second question directly
    • Explain your reason(s)
    • Expand your argument (evidence, examples, personal experience)
  • Conclusion
    • Summarise your main ideas

Please bear in mind that these structures are my suggestions; they are not fixed in stone and you can adapt them to fit what you want to say. However, I highly recommend using these templates to practise organising your ideas into paragraphs then developing them into an essay, in preparation for the writing exam. Having a clear idea of these essay structures will help you stay on task in the exam, manage your time more efficiently and express your ideas clearly.

Remember too to use linking words and phrases to connect your sentences and paragraphs together to improve your scores in Coherence and Cohesion. Stay tuned for a blog post on this topic very soon!

We will soon be launching IELTS Write, where you can supercharge your writing score! Sign up to IELTS Write to access a variety of exclusive IELTS Writing tasks. Our experienced IELTS tutors will give you quick, detailed feedback on your writing. Sign uphere and you’ll be the first to know when we launch!

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Filed Under: Writing Task 2

The first rule of IELTS essays is to answer the question. One problem in doing that is there are different types of IELTS essay questions each of which poses its own problems. In this post, I talk you through the three main types of essay questions and show you how to identify them and what problems they pose.

I strongly suggest that you practise writing essays on each type of question before you get to the exam. You will find  a selection of essay questions organised by question type on my sample essay question page.

1. The discussion

Here you are given a social issue or problem and asked directly to discuss it and very often asked to suggest a solution for it.

Two examples

In this type of question you are given the problem (here in red) and then told how to discuss it/your task (in blue).

In many countries schools have severe problems with student behaviour. What do you think are the causes of this? What solutions can you suggest?

and

Many universities charge higher fees for foreign students.Why do they do this? Do you believe that it is fair?

Typical task words

  • “Why do they think that?”
  • “What solutions can you suggest?”

Typical problems

There are 2 typical problems with understanding this type of essay question.

  1. You are being asked for your personal opinion: it is not enough to talk generally about the topic. You must give your personal view.
  2. Very often you given two tasks: for example, to discuss the causes and the solution. If you discuss only one of these, you will be penalised on Task Achievement.
  3. The question does not give you much help with ideas: you may need to spend more time planning and thinking of ideas

2. The proposal

Here you are given an opinion about some social issue to discuss. Typically, you are asked whether or to what extent you agree with it.

Two examples

In this type of question you are given an opinion (in red) and then told how to discuss it/your task (in blue). Sometimes the question is longer and you are given some background information (in green), then the opinion and then the task.

Fatherhood ought to be emphasized as much as motherhood. The idea that women are solely responsible for deciding whether or not to have babies leads on to the idea that they are also responsible for bringing the children up. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

and

Currently there is a trend towards the use of alternative forms of medicine. However, at best these methods are ineffective, and at worst they may be dangerous. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Typical task words

  • “What is you opinion?”
  • “Do you agree that…”
  • “To what extent do you agree?”
  • Discuss

Typical problems

There are three typical problems with understanding this type of essay question:

  1. The questions are simply longer to read and sometimes harder to understand. Spend plenty of time reading the question and underlining the key words and making sure you understand what words like “this” and “these” refer to.
  2. It can be easy to confuse the background information from the opinion. You must discuss the opinion (the bit in red). If you only discuss the topic (the bit in green), you will be penalised on Task Achievement.
  3. You need to discuss the opinion in the question. You cannot only give your opinion.

3. The argument

Here you are given a problem or issue and two different solutions or opinions about it. Typically, you are then asked to decide which solution/opinion is the better.

Two examples

The argument type essay question has two main types. In the first type, you get two different situations or opinions (red) and then your task (in blue) is to decide between them.

In some countries people pay different rates of tax depending on their salary, in other countries everyone pays the same rate. Which do you believe is the best system?

In the second type, you get a solution (in red) to a situation (in green) and you then your task (in blue) is to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of that solution.

Unemployment is one of the most serious problems facing developed nations today. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of reducing the working week to thirty five hours?

Typical task words

“What are the advantages and disadvantages of this”

Typical problems

There are two typical problems here:

  1. The essay discusses the problem generally and doesn’t talk about advantages or disadvantages or make a choice between the two options. Again this will be penalised under Task Achievement.
  2. The essay only looks at the advantages or the disadvantages. It needs to look at both sides of the question.

Other question types

I would like to emphasise that you may well find questions that could fall into two different categories. That is not so important. What really  matters is learning to look at each question and deciding what precisely it is asking you to do and what possible problems it poses.

A checklist

This is my very simple checklist to help you decide which type of question you are looking at:

1. Does it ask me what my own opinion is about a topic? → Discussion question → Use my own opinions

2. Does it ask me to discuss a particular proposal? → Proposal question → Discuss that proposal

3. Does it ask me to decide between two different opinions or look at the advantages and disadvantages of a topic → Argument question→ Discuss both sides and come to a decision

An exercise

Look at these reported recent IELTS questions and decide which type of essay you need to write:

  1. Many people have an unhealthy diet and do not take enough exercise. What do you think are the reasons for this and what can be done to encourage people to lead a more healthy lifestyle?
  2. Although countries with long average working hours are economically successful, this often has some negative social consequences. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
  3. Some people think that paying taxes is enough to contribute to society. Others argue that being a citizen involves more responsibilities. Discuss.
  4. Many people argue that children should stay in school until the age of eighteen. What are the advantages and disadvantages of making school compulsory until the age of 18?
  5. Many people nowadays leave their county to work abroad and take their family with them. What are the advantages and disadvantages in terms of family development?

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