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A lot of my IELTS students struggle with how many ideas they need and how to structure their essay.

This article with explain clearly what you need to do and why.

Let’s look at an example:

Governments should spend money on railways rather than roads.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Clear position

The first thing to remember is for the question above you don’t need to discuss both sides but you can if you want.

Therefore you have a choice about whether to discuss the ‘agree’ side, the ‘disagree’ side or discuss both sides. We’ll examine these options later.

Even if you choose to discuss both sides you must clearly state whether your opinion is agree or disagree. This is very important for your Task Achievement score.

You can see from the table below that if you don’t clearly choose a side, you will not score above a 5 for Task achievement – no matter how good the rest of your writing is.

Band Score

Official IELTS description

(Task Achievement)

What it means

7+

“Presents a clear position throughout the response”

Your overall opinion is very clear and is well supported by all your reasons and examples in your whole essay.

6

“Presents a relevant position, although the conclusions may become unclear or repetitive.”

Your overall opinion is good but you don’t always clearly support it with reasons or have clear conclusions.

5

“Expresses a position but the development is not always clear and there may be no conclusions drawn.“

You have an overall opinion but you often don’t support it with reasons or have conclusions.

4

“Presents a position but this is unclear.”

You have an opinion but you don’t explain or support it clearly.

So to summarise, for the question above you must have a clear position and you have three possible options:

1. Strongly agree. You think it’s better for governments to spend money on rail rather than roads. You discuss only this side.

2. Strongly disagree. You think it’s better for governments to spend money on roads rather than rail. You discuss only this side.

3. Discuss both sides. You discuss both sides but you have a clear opinion about rail or road.

Clear essay structure

As you can see from the table above a clear position throughout your essay is very important for your Task Achievement.

So I always recommend to my IELTS students that they give their opinion in the introduction as well as the conclusion (for all Task 2 questions).

Technically, it’s OK to write a very general introduction and leave your opinion to the end.

But I strongly suggest that you don’t do this because it’s not as clear.

Also, you might run out of time before you’ve got to your conclusion, so overall it’s a risky strategy.  

Therefore my suggested IELTS Task 2 essay structure is four paragraphs – an introduction, two main (or body) paragraphs and a conclusion.

The opinion is presented in the introduction and re-stated in the conclusion, and each body paragraph should only discuss one main idea.

Now let’s look at the options in more detail.

Possible Essay structures

1. Strongly agree – you feel rail is much more important than roads.

You need two good reasons why rail is more important.

Paragraph 1 (intro)

Paraphrase the question and state your overall opinion

(you feel rail is more important)

Paragraph 2 (body 1)

Explain and support your first reason why rail is more important.

Paragraph 3 (body 2)

Explain and support your second reason why rail is more important.

Paragraph 4 (conclusion)

Re-state your overall opinion (rail is more important) and  summarise your main reasons.

2. Strongly disagree – you feel roads are much more important than rail.


You need
two good reasons why roads are more important.

Paragraph 1 (intro)

Paraphrase the question and state your overall opinion

(you feel roads are more important)

Paragraph 2 (body 1)

Explain and support your first reason why roads are more important.

Paragraph 3 (body 2)

Explain and support your second reason why roads are more important.

Paragraph 4 (conclusion)

Re-state your overall opinion (roads are more important) and  summarise your main reasons.

3. Discuss both sides – You think one side is good but overall the other side is more important.


You need
one good reason for each side.

In the example below you feel the reason for supporting rail is more important than the reason supporting roads.

Paragraph 1 (intro)

Paraphrase the question and state your overall opinion

(you feel roads are important but rail is more important)

Paragraph 2 (body 1)

Explain and support your reason why one side  is important.

Paragraph 3 (body 2)

Explain and support your reason why the other side is  important.

Paragraph 4 (conclusion)

Re-state your overall opinion (you feel roads are important but rail is more important) and  summarise your main reasons.

 

So in summary, one thing that all three options have in common is that each essay clearly chooses a side and that is clear throughout the essay.

None of these options ‘sit on the fence’ (stay in the middle), because you should never write a 50/50 essay.

You should never say “Both roads and rail have benefits and drawbacks.”

That is not a clear conclusion, so you will definitely lose marks for your Task Achievement.

Also, you shouldn’t say “Overall I think roads are important and rail is also important so governments should spend money on both.”

Technically this is OK as your opinion is clear, but some examiners might not agree so this is risky.

So the safest strategy is to choose a side, even if that isn’t your real opinion.

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

Look at the question below then compare your ideas with this sample answer (written by an ex-examiner).

Check out our expert sample answer with line by line analysis and key vocabulary.

Plastic shopping bags are used widely and cause many environmental problems. Some people say they should be banned.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Brainstorm some main ideas – what are the main benefits and drawbacks of banning plastic bags.

What’s your overall position – do you agree or disagree?

Which essay structure will you choose – will you discuss one side or both?

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