A key reason for low scores in IELTS Writing Task 2 is the failure to answer the question properly.
This can lose you several band scores.
Whilst your language skills may be good enough to earn you a Band 7 or 8, not fully answering the question could reduce your score to a Band 6 or even lower.
Students regularly make these 4 mistakes:
1) They don’t spend time carefully reading and analysing the question.
2) They fail to recognise the type of question being asked.
3) They don’t fully understand the question.
4) They write about the general topic rather than answering the specific question.
Points 2-4 are all a consequence of point 1 – not spending time carefully reading and analysing the question.
But why don’t students read IELTS Writing Task 2 questions properly?
The answer I nearly always get when I challenge students over this is that they don’t have time as they feel that they need to start writing straight away to get their essay done in the 40 minutes allowed.
To be blunt, you don’t have time not to carefully read and analyse the question. If you don’t, you probably won’t achieve the mark you need and will have to retake the exam.
The good news is, it’s quick and easy to analyse and understand task 2 questions once you know how.
You just need to identify 3 different types of words. I’ll show you how.
# 1 Topic words
# 2 Other keywords
# 3 Instruction words
Want to watch and listen to this lesson?
Click on this video.
So let’s look at a typical IELTS Writing Task 2 question.
The format of IELTS Writing Task 2 questions is always the same:
Now we’ll identify the 3 different types of words in our sample question.
The topics words are the ones that identify the general subject of the question.
So, this question is about ‘how students perform in school’.
Many people do this first step of the process and then write about the topic in general. This is a serious mistake and leads to low marks.
What we need to do now that we know the general topic, is to understand exactly what aspect of student performance we are being asked to write about.
The other keywords in the question tell you the specific topic you must write about. They define the opinion or opinions stated in the statement.
By highlighting these words, it’s easy to see that you are being asked your view on whether reward or punishment leads to better student performance. Your essay must only include ideas relevant to these keywords.
Now for the instructions on the type of essay you should write.
The instruction words tell you exactly what the examiner wants you to do. 25% of your marks are determined by how well you answer the question.
So, even if you have Band 8 language skills, you could drop down to a Band 6 overall score for failing to follow the instructions.
The instruction words are all the words that come after the question statement.
Our sample question is an ‘advantages and disadvantages’ question. It requires you to write about ideas related to both sides of the argument and to state your own opinion on the topic.
There are 5 different types of questions you could be asked for IELTS Writing Task 2. I go through these step-by-step on other pages, so won’t go into detail here. You'll find links to them at the bottom of this page under the title 'The 5 Task 2 Essay Types'.
That’s it. We have analysed the question and know what specific questions we need to answer in our essay.
Here are the 3 different types of words highlighted together.
This process should take you no more than 2 minutes in your exam. Make it the first thing you do. The more you practice it before your test, the quicker and easier it will become.
You can start right away with these sample IELTS Writing Task 2 questions. Identify the 3 different types of words in each, then check your answers with my illustrations below.
Did you identify these words?
Blue – topic words.
Red – other keywords.
Green – instruction words.
Question 1 is about ‘environmental problems’ and, more specifically, the idea that increasing the cost of fuel will help to solve them.
In your essay, you must either agree or disagree with this statement. You are not required to discuss both sides of the argument.
Question 2 is about ‘poor eating habits’ and, more specifically, the relationship between poor eating habits and an unbalanced diet.
In your essay, you must say how these two things are related.
You are not required to state whether or not you agree with this statement, but to take the view that it is true.
Question 3 is about ‘the internet’ and,
more specifically, whether it brings people closer together or makes them more
In your essay, you must write about both sides of the argument and say which view you believe to be true.
If you didn’t identify the same keywords as me, spend a few minutes going through this section again to be sure that you fully understand it.
IELTS Writing Test – Understand the format & marking criteria, know what skills are assessed & learn the difference between the Academic & General writing tests.
IELTS Writing Tips – Top 10 tips to bring you success in your writing test. Essential information you need to know to achieve a high score.
IELTS Writing Task 2 – The format, the 5 question types, the 5 step essay writing strategy & sample questions. All the key information you need to know.
The 5 Types of Task 2 Essay – How to recognise the 5 different types of Task 2 essays. 15 sample questions to study and a simple planning structure for each essay type.
How To Plan a Task 2 Essay – Discover why essay planning
is essential & learn a simple 4 step strategy, the 4 part essay structure
& 4 methods of generating ideas.
How To Write a Task 2 Introduction – Find out why a good introduction is essential. Learn how to write one using a simple 3 part strategy & discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.
How To Write Task 2 Main Body Paragraphs – Learn the simple 3 part structure for writing great main body paragraphs and also, 3 common mistakes to avoid.
How To Write Task 2 Conclusions – Learn the easy way to write the perfect conclusion for a Task 2 essay. Also discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.
Task 2 Marking Criteria – Find out how to meet the marking criteria in Task 2. See examples of good and poor answers & learn some common mistakes to avoid.
The 5 Task 2 Essay Types:
Step-by-step instructions on how to plan & write high-level essays. Model answers & common mistakes to avoid.