Episode 005 – IELTS Writing Skills: IELTS Writing Task 2

IELTS Test Writing


Today we’re talking about IELTS writing task 2 and Andrea is going to outline what’s involved in task 2 and the general approaches that students can take.

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Podcast Transcript

IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 5

IELTS Writing Skills: IELTS Writing Task 2

The IELTS Test Prepcast provides three free IELTS test lessons each week for candidates who are aiming for IELTS band scores 7, 8, or 9.

I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since.

Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS, and has previously lived in Spain. She is a qualified teacher of English as a second language and has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.

If you enjoy this free IELTS Test Prepcast, please show us your support and appreciation by heading over to ieltstestPrepcast.com and clicking the “subscribe on iTunes” button at the top of the page. This will shoot you over to iTunes, where you can leave a rating and review.

And now for today’s IELTS lesson . . .

Steve: Hello. Today we’re going to be talking about IELTS writing task 2. And I have Andrea with me, and she’s going to outline what’s involved in task 2 and the general approaches that students can take.

Andrea: Hi. Today we’re talking about IELTS writing task 2. There are three basic types of question for IELTS writing task 2, and you need to understand which type you’re answering so that you can use the right format for that type of approach. The first I’m going to discuss is called, is where you have to discuss both these views. If you are given a question where the instruction says “Discuss both these views and give your own opinion,” the examiner is expecting to see what they call the traditional or argument-led approach. If this is your instruction, the format is to discuss the question in your introduction and state that there are two sides to the question. These you will offer in your essay, and you will give your opinion in the conclusion. So that’s the basic approach, really. So having prepared your introduction and told the examiner that you’re going to discuss both the views, you then lead on to the body. In the body of an argument-led approach, you have to discuss advantages or good points of the question, and depending on how many points you want to mention, you would write one paragraph if you’re only going to discuss one advantage or two paragraphs if you want to talk about two advantages. Having done that, you then introduce the opposite side of the argument, and so you would talk about the bad points of the question or the disadvantages of the question. Again you need to decide how many points you’re going to mention, bearing in mind that you have a time restriction. And so you might again write one paragraph or two more paragraphs. So after that, you’ve got a paragraph or two with good points, then you’ve got a paragraph or two with bad points, and then you have to lead into the conclusion. In the argument-led approach, you shouldn’t really mention your own opinion until you get to the conclusion. That’s really the basis of the format. So in the conclusion you would say something like “Having discussed both points of view”—in the argument-led approach, though, you don’t say that—you then review what you’ve discussed, and finally, you give your own opinion about the question.

Steve: Okay, that seems fairly clear. I guess, just to very briefly summarize, the clue is in the question. The question will invite you to describe, to discuss or compare or something like that, so you’re discussing one point of view against another. As you say, if you want to make two positive points, then you need to separate the paragraphs out, and then you follow up with the contrary view, and then you summarize at the end and just remind the listeners this is called the argument-led approach.

Andrea: Yes. No, that’s exactly right.

Steve: Okay. I think what we will do in the show notes is we will put a standardised structure that they can follow so that they understand what we mean and the listeners can go off and register and go and pick up that useful piece of information.

Post show note: the standardised structure, with guidance may be found at this link: Pass IELTS Higher Library Members (Free) may access the link here

Andrea: Yes, I agree. That would be really useful for the students, yes.

Steve: Okay. So moving on then, you mentioned that there are few different approaches that can be taken. What’s the next approach we’re going to talk about?

Andrea: The second one is the thesis-led approach. This one differs from the first one we mentioned, the argument-led approach, because in the thesis-led approach, in the introduction, you immediately mention your opinion. How you know that this is the way you’re supposed to answer the question is if you see something like “To what extent do you agree with this?” You then know that the examiner’s expecting a modern approach or the thesis-led approach.

Steve: Okay, so then, as before, the clue is in the way that the question’s asked.

Andrea: Yes, exactly, and then when you see that question, you decide what you’re going to write about. You decide whether you agree, completely agree, completely disagree, or whether you partially agree, and then you say why you think what you think. So you tell the examiner how you’re going to approach the question and why you think what you think. The examiner then can immediately see, can follow your thought process.

Steve: Okay, so we have mentioned in other lessons the importance of planning. This presumably is another example of where the students should take two or three minutes at the beginning, having read through, digested the question, to plan out a response.

Andrea: Yes, I agree. In either of the writing tasks, you’re supposed to give yourself a couple of minutes to plan, and it’s exactly the same. You either do a list of things you want to talk about, so that could be three good points, three bad points, or where you partially agree or disagree. And you can do that in a list or a mind map in exactly the same way.

Steve: Okay.

Andrea: So first of all, in the introduction, you discuss the question. You must always discuss the question a little bit. You then explain to the examiner what your opinion about the question is. You then explain why you think what you want. There are various things you can do. You can completely agree, and then all your paragraphs will be full of opinions where you only agree. Or the opposite, you can completely disagree, and it’s exactly the same. All your body paragraphs will just have “disagree” opinions. Then you could change it a little bit and almost completely agree or completely disagree. But you must remember, if you completely, sorry, if you almost completely agree or if you partially disagree, you must mention a bit that’s the opposite; otherwise, you’ll be giving yourself bad marks because you haven’t answered your own question, really.

Steve: Okay, so I might just perhaps pick up on a few good points there. The student is expected to present a balanced argument, and so they’re agreeing or they’re disagreeing or they’re doing a bit of both

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: And the only point you raised right at the end there was, if they want to partially agree or partially disagree, that then places an obligation on them to address the bit that they are agreeing with it or disagreeing with.

Andrea: Exactly. No, that’s exactly right, yes. So I’ll explain that just a little bit more. In the body, you might have two or three paragraphs where you develop your opinions, and these could all be yes opinions or they could all be no opinions. But exactly how you summarize, if you only partially disagree, you must mention that. So you might have two yes and one no or two nos and one yes. That means the examiner can easily follow your thought process. And remember if you look at the public band descriptors that you get good band points for being easy to follow, logical, and easy to read, and so if you’re logical, if the way you proceed is logical and you link your ideas right, you’ll be easy to follow and get good band marks.

Steve: Okay.

Andrea: There’s just one more part. So all the way through, you might have been saying all yes to the question or all no to the question or a bit of both. In the conclusion of the thesis-led approach, you link it back to the question and you tell the examiner how much or how little you agree with the question. This is a well-balanced way to write a thesis-led approach, and then depending on whether you fulfill the other criteria that the examiner’s looking for, you should get the band you require.

Steve: So the other criteria being the complexity of grammar and the complexity of usage of grammar and the correctness of it, of course.

Andrea: Yes, and also obviously, your English, your collocations, or your vocabulary, the linking, and did you actually answer the question. So remember, we said at the beginning of the thesis-led approach, if you say you only partially agree, you will be marked in the first column, which is asking “Did you answer the question?” And if you forgot the partial bit, then you’ll lose marks there.

Steve: Okay. And just to round up on that last lesson, what we will do is we will put on to the show notes a standardized, structured approach that students can take.

Pass IELTS Higher Library Members (Free to Register) may access the link here: http://www.passieltshigher.com/ielts-test-help-sheets/task-2-writing-organisation-cohesion/

Andrea: Yes. No, I think they’re going to be really useful. It’s going to guide the student, and it will also show the student how to improve their marks; by imposing grammar, they can control the grammar, control their English.

Steve: So moving on then, I understand there’s one more approach that you can take to IELTS writing with task 2, and what is that?

Andrea: The third kind of question you might be asked is what they call a problems-and-solutions kind of question. The question you are given may ask, “What are the problems, and how could they be reduced?” So here you’ve been asked various questions in the statement, so that’s about problems and then about solutions. You must make sure you answer all parts of the questions, as each part has equal marks, so you get 50 percent for the problems and 50 percent for the solutions. And if you don’t answer both of these parts, you will lose a percentage of that 50 percent of the marks given. So in the problems-and-solutions introduction, you must always discuss the question anyway, and then tell the examiner that you’re going to discuss some of the problems and offer some solutions. Having done this, you can then decide on one of the two approaches for the body.

Steve: Okay. And the reason for saying that you’re going to discuss some of the problems and some of the solutions is that, if you mention too much, you’ll be expected to do too much in the time available.

Andrea: Yes, you’re obviously not going to mention every single problem and every single solution, so you just decide what you think are the most important. And as you say, you’d run out of time, really. Okay. In the body, there are, again, I think two approaches inside that body. You could either mention some of the problems, which have arisen from the topic, and you might choose a problem for one paragraph and then a second problem for a second paragraph, depends how many problems you want to talk about. And then in the next couple of paragraphs, you might offer a solution in paragraph 3 for the problem in paragraph 1 and then another solution in paragraph 4 for the problem in paragraph 2. Another approach is that you could mention one problem and then offer the solution in the same paragraph. That makes your writing more complex because you just have to understand how to link it and how to put the ideas together.

Steve: Okay. So this is linking within a paragraph.

Andrea: Yes, linking within a paragraph. And then you do that, if you’ve chosen two problems to talk about in your second paragraph in the body, you talk about the second problem, and in that same paragraph, you’d offer the solution.

Steve: Yes. So if I was to think about it from the point of view of an IELTS candidate who wants to get the high band scores, if it is a more complex way of answering, is that the way that somebody who’s aiming for a band 9 or a band 8 should be thinking of answering?

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: So if you like writing proper paragraphs, so they’re answering and, sorry, asking and answering the questions.

Andrea: Exactly, yes. I think even lower down, even from a band 7, you’d be looking at that. I think a native speaker is more likely to reply in that way, and of course, they’re hopefully going to get the higher bands anyway.

Steve: Okay.

Andrea: And yes, that’s exactly that, so I think the more complex your paragraphs are, the higher the band score you’re going to get. And then in the conclusion, as usual, you get really good marks for linking properly. So in the conclusion, you link your thoughts back to the original question and also include what you said in the body. You review what you’ve said, and then you can offer your final opinion on the problems and solutions.

Steve: Okay. Is this the sort of question where students may have difficulty in planning out their responses?

Andrea: That’s a good question, but I would actually think it’s not really very difficult as long as they’ve got ideas on the subject, because all you would do is if you make the list, you make a list of a couple of problems, and then it’s very, very easy to think of a couple of solutions to those problems.

Steve: Okay, so in theory, the students should find this quite straightforward.

Andrea: I think that’s quite easy as long as they have ideas, yes.

Steve: Okay. Once again, what we’ll do is in the show notes is put an example, a structured example of how students could approach this sort of problem. And perhaps on that one, we could show examples of what a higher band score  [candidate would] expect to be doing.

Please see this post on Linking: http://www.passieltshigher.com/how-to-get-higher-ielts-band-scores-using-linking-words-and-phrases/

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: And what a sort of medium band score achiever might be expected to be doing.

Andrea: Yes, okay, that sounds like a good idea, a good guide for the student.

Steve: Okay, if we were just to wrap up the lessons on task 2 then, we’ve discussed three different approaches to IELTS writing task 2. We started off with the—just going back to my notes here—we started off here with the argument-led approach, and so, where in that particular one, we were discussing the advantages or the disadvantages of the merits of the question, whatever the question happens to be. And with that one, we learned, I suppose the takeaway was, we must—the same applies to all of them—but we must read the question and determine what sort of response is required. And we heard there the importance of starting off with a repeat of the question but in a paraphrased form, and we, and then telling the reader, identifying to the reader the approach you’re going to take and then concluding at the end.

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: For the next approach, thesis-led approach, we discovered that again, we have to use those techniques, we have to plan properly, we have to identify what the question is, what sort of question it is and the appropriate response. If it’s a thesis-led approach, then the typical clue for that would be “To what extent do you agree with that?” or something similar. So the student should be able to then enter their opinion about the topic and say what they think, and again, they can think positive or negative thoughts.

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: And again, it’s important to conclude at the end, and just to summarize very briefly, in a paraphrasing way, how, sorry, what they’ve said prior to that. And the one we’ve just heard, which I’m going to summarize, even though we’ve just heard it, which was the problem-solutions approach, where we also discovered that there was a, there is a higher-band-score-merit-worthy way of responding.

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: Which I think is probably important to people who really do want to get higher band scores.

Andrea: Yes.

Steve: Okay, I think what we’ve done there is given a very good overview of task 2. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Andrea: Yes, I do. You picked up a really good point about paraphrasing. You should never repeat the question because you are asked to write 250 words, but if you actually use the words from the question, the examiner has been told to cross out those words, so imagine that you use ten words from the question, and you’ve only written 250 words, the examiner will cross out those ten words, leaving you with only 240 words, and then you lose minus one in the first column, which is “Did you answer the question?” So it’s something to be really wary of; don’t repeat the words from the question.

Steve: Okay. So as with a lot of IELTS, expand your vocabulary, learn your synonyms, study the topics, learn vocabulary for those topics, and make sure you’re practiced at paraphrasing.

Andrea: Yes, paraphrasing’s really the best skill you can have in IELTS. I agree.

Steve: Okay, I think we’ve covered everything we wanted to cover today, so thank you for that.

Andrea: Thank you.

End of Lesson

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