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In this expert guide I will help you to understand how to answer the main question types for IELTS Writing Task 2.

If you need to know all the basic information about Writing Task 2, please check out our beginner’s guide here.

You Must Answer the whole Question

Understanding the correct question is very important for your Task Achievement score. Too many IELTS students write about the general topic but they don’t stick to (follow closely) the question.

As you can see from the table below, failing to answer the question means you could get a 5 or even a 4 for Task Achievement.

Band Score

Official IELTS description

(Task Response)

What it means

7+

“Addresses all parts of the task.”

Your essay discusses both sides or questions in enough detail.

6

“Addresses all parts of the task although some parts of the task may be more fully covered than others”

Your essay discusses both sides or questions but only one half was covered in enough detail.

5

“Addresses the task only partially.”

Your essay only discusses one part of the question.

4

“Responds to the task in only a minimal way or the answer is tangential”

Your essay discusses the general topic but not the specific question. Maybe you misunderstood the question.

Analyse the Question Carefully

As well as misunderstanding the question topic, some students misunderstand the type of question

For some IELTS Task 2 question types you have to discuss both sides of a topic, but for other question types you are free to discuss just one side. For some questions you have to answer one question. For others you must answer two separate questions.

But remember, for all Task 2 questions, the basic Task 2 essay structure is the same: four paragraphs – an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.

When reading the question you should focus on three things:

1. TOPIC – What is the general topic?

2. QUESTIONS – How many questions?

3. SIDES – How many sides do I need to answer for each question?

Question Type 1 – Agree or Disagree (Opinion Essay / Discussion Essay)

Governments should invest more in public transport such as buses and trains rather than building new roads.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

What is the topic? Should governments spend money on public transport vs new roads.

How many questions? 1 – Do I agree or disagree?

How many sides? 1 or 2 (There are two options – discuss one side or both sides)

Option 1 (Opinion essay – discuss one side): I can choose to write about spending money on public transport OR new roads. For this option I will write two body paragraphs about the benefits of investing in public transport or two body paragraphs supporting new roads.

Option 2 (Discussion essay – discuss two sides): I will write about spending money on public transport AND railways. I will write two body paragraphs – one about the benefits of investing in public transport, and one about the benefits of investing in new roads.

Option 2 is the same as a discuss both sides essay (see Question Type 2, below).

Expert Tip: For both both options 1 and 2, it is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall do you agree or disagree?). If you don’t have a clear opinion you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

For more help with structuring essays for this kind of question click here.

For an expert sample essay with line by line analysis and key vocabulary click here.

Question Type 2a – Discuss Both Sides (Discussion Essay)

Governments should invest more in public transport such as buses and trains rather than building new roads.

Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

What is the topic? Should governments spend money on public transport vs new roads.

How many questions? 1 – public transport vs new roads?

How many sides? 2 (You must discuss both public transport and new roads)

For this question I will write about spending money on public transport and new roads. I will write two body paragraphs – one about the benefits of investing in public transport, and one about the benefits of investing in new roads.

If I only discuss one side I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement. To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both sides.

Expert Tip: Some discuss both sides question don’t ask you to ‘give your opinion‘. It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall which side do you think is better or more important?). If you don’t have a clear opinion you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

For more help with structuring essays for this kind of question click here.

For an expert sample essay with line by line analysis and key vocabulary click here.

Question Type 2b – Advantages AND Disadvantages (Discussion Essay)

Nowadays governments are investing more in public transport such as buses and trains rather than in building new roads.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

What is the topic? Should governments spend money on railways vs roads.

How many questions? 1 – public transport good or bad?

How many sides? 2 (You must discuss both side of public transport)

For this question I will write about the two sides of spending money on public transport. I will write two body paragraphs – one about the benefits of investing in public transport (compared to new roads), and one about the drawbacks of investing in public transport (compared to new roads).

If I only discuss one side I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement. To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both sides.

Expert Tip: Some advantages/disadvantages questions require you to discuss both, whereas others ask you which outweighs the other. It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?). If you don’t have a clear opinion you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

Question Type 2c – Advantages OR Disadvantages? (Discussion Essay)

Nowadays governments are investing more in public transport such as buses and trains rather than in building new roads.

Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

What is the topic? Should governments spend money on railways vs roads.

How many questions? 1 – public transport good or bad?

How many sides? 2 (You must discuss both side of public transport)

For this question I will write about the two sides of spending money on public transport. I will write two body paragraphs – one about the benefits of investing in public transport (compared to new roads), and one about the drawbacks of investing in public transport (compared to new roads).

If I only discuss one side I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement. To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both sides.

Expert Tip: Some advantages/disadvantages questions require you to discuss both, whereas others ask you which outweighs the other. It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?). If you don’t have a clear opinion you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

Question Type 3a – Double Question

Nowadays governments are investing more in public transport such as buses and trains rather than in building new roads.

What are the reasons for this?

Is this a positive or negative development?

What is the topic? Government spending money on public transport vs new roads.

How many questions? 2 – Why is this? Is it a good or bad thing?

How many sides?  1 per question (you don’t need to discuss good and bad for the 2nd question)

For this question I will write about why governments are spending money on public transport and whether it is positive or negative. I will write two body paragraphs – one paragraph about the reasons why governments are doing this, and one paragraph about why this is a good or bad idea.

If I only discuss one question I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement (maybe lower). To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both questions.

Two part questions are very common and there are many different kinds. See below for more examples.

Expert Tip: Some double question ask for an opinion, whereas others ask you to explain problems and solutions. It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall is it a negative or positive development?) or at least re-state your main ideas (overall, what is the main cause and solution). If you don’t have a clear opinion or clearly re-state your main ideas you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

For more help with structuring essays for this kind of question click here.

For an expert sample essay with line by line analysis and key vocabulary click here.

Question Type 3b – Two Topics (Double question)

The first car appeared on British roads in 1888. By the year 2000, there may be as many as 29 million vehicles on the British roads.

Alternative forms of transport should be encouraged and international laws introduced to control car ownership and use.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

What is the topic? Two solutions for dealing with rise in cars – 1) alternative transport,  and 2) international laws to control car ownership and use.

How many questions? 2 – Do I think alternative transport is a good idea? Do I think international laws are a good thing?

How many sides? One for each solution – you don’t need to discuss good and bad for each solution.

For this question I will write about whether I think alternative transport and international laws are a good or bad thing. I will write two body paragraphs – one paragraph about why alternative transport is a good or bad idea, and another paragraph about why international laws are a good or bad idea.

If I only discuss one solution I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement (maybe lower). To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both solutions.

Expert Tip: Some double question ask for an opinion, whereas others ask you to explain problems and solutions. It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall do you agree or disagree?) or at least re-state your main ideas (overall, what is the main cause and solution). If you don’t have a clear opinion or clearly re-state your main ideas you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

Example 3b – Causes and Solution (Double question)

The price of rail travel in some countries increases annually while average incomes remain relatively stable.

This causes a problem for many people who rely on trains for travelling to work.

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

What is the topic? The problem of increasing costs of rail travel while incomes remain stable.

How many questions? 2 – What are the causes of this problem? What are some solutions?

How many sides? One for each question – you don’t need to discuss good and bad for your solutions.

For this question I will write about the main causes of and solutions for the problem of rail ticket price increases. I will write two body paragraphs – one paragraph about the main causes, and another paragraph about some solutions.

If I only discuss about causes or solutions I will get a maximum of a 5 for Task Achievement (maybe lower). To achieve a score of 6 or higher I must write equally (one body paragraph) about both causes and solutions.

Expert Tip: Some double question ask for an opinion, whereas others ask you to explain problems and solutions.  It is strongly recommended that your conclusion always contains a clear opinion (overall is it a negative or positive development?) or at least re-state your main ideas (overall, what is the main cause and solution). If you don’t have a clear opinion or clearly re-state your main ideas you could lose marks for your Task Achievement score.

For more help with structuring essays for this kind of question click here.

Practise analysing Task 2 questions.

Like anything, if you want to master a skill you need to practise it.

If you find it difficult to understand Task 2 questions, just focus on practising that skill (without worrying about ideas or grammar or vocab or writing anything).

Look at different kinds of questions and practise analysing them following the examples above. Keep practising until you feel confident about dealing with any IELTS Task 2 question.

Relax before you read and fully the question

Even after practising a lot, it’s natural for students to feel very stressed in the exam. I always tell my students that if they feel really nervous in the exam, they should take 10-20 seconds to relax before they read the question.

If you have your own relaxation method then use that (let us know in the comments below). If you don’t then how about this:

In the exam sit up straight, close your eyes and put your hand on your stomach, while you focus on your breathing.

Breathe in slowly through your nose  and out of your mouth. Feel the air go in and out of your body. Do this until you feel your heart slowing.

This should reduce your stress because it will lower your heart rate and your blood pressure.

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

Here’s some examples for you to practice with, and don’t forget to practise focusing on your breathing if you’re feeling stressed!

Example 1

a) What is the topic?

b) How many questions?

c) How many sides?

Global warming is one of the most serious issues that the world is facing today.

What are the causes of global warming and what measures can governments and individuals take to tackle the issue?

Example 2

a) What is the topic?

b) How many questions?

c) How many sides?

Global warming is one of the most serious issues that the world is facing today. Some people think the best way to tackle this problem is by investing in renewable energy.

Do you think this is an effective measure?

What alternative solutions are possible?

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