IELTS Writing Task 2: How to think of ideas for your essay

IELTS thinking of ideasHow to quickly think of ideas for a Problem Solution essay.

Thinking of ideas in writing is a big block for many people doing IELTS. This is because of creativity, If you have trouble thinking for yourself and have gone through an education system where memorisation is the main way of learning, then you will have real trouble getting ideas and you will need to find an approach to developing your imagination.

Reading current topics and news stories based on the common IELTS topics is a good way to get ideas, sometimes the most obvious ideas are the best. In this post I will go through useful techniques.

I already showed you how to write a good introduction to a Problem Solution essay click here to see that , So lets take a look at some key things to remember.

4 key points to consider

1. Do not over complicate this, the most obvious ideas are fine in IELTS writing, but they should be specific ideas. You do not need to be an expert on the topic. As long as you can write an idea, explain and develop it with an example then that is enough.

2. Having specific ideas are important. If your ideas are too general you could lose marks in task response, analyse the task question well by picking out the key words, make sure you understand it then think of ideas directly connected to the task question.

3. Do not write too many ideas , in IELTS essays you only need one idea per paragraph which can be developed through explaining and giving an example. The official IELTS marking criteria says: ‘presents a clear central topic within each paragraph’

4. Do not panic. Many students while practicing can think of ideas easily and can discuss them, however, in the IELTS exam they suddenly go blank and their brain stops working… this is due to stress. You will need to manage your stress levels in the exam otherwise your brain will just melt.

3 Methods for getting ideas

1. Listing advantages and disadvantages or problems and solutions: This idea works well for a problem solution essay or an advantage disadvantage essay but for the other types of essay it might not work very well. You just list problems on the left and solutions on the right, or advantages on the left and disadvantages on the right.

2. Asking yourself questions: This technique is very useful for getting ideas quickly, imagine talking to a friend and you are discussing the topic, ask lots of questions and keep asking ‘why?’ make notes as ideas come up.

3. Brainstorming: This is when you map out various words and ideas connected to the central topic, the key topic is in a circle and there are various connected circles and ideas.  Some students say this works for them but I found that I end up with too many ideas and it takes too long… I don’t really recommend this approach.

Here is the question again for the problem solution essay from the last lesson.

” All over the world societies are facing a growing problem with obesity. This problem affects both children and adults. What are the reasons for this rise in obesity? How can it be solved? “

I have decided to use method number 2 and list problems and possible solutions below.

Problem: Over consumption of fast food or ready meals.
Solution: government should raise tax on fast food.

Problem: Too much sugar and trans fats in convenience food.
Solution: government regulations needed to stop this.

Problem : Lack of exercise due to a busy lifestyle.
Solution: special incentives, paid leave once a week to join a sports or fitness club.

Problem: Gym membership and sports clubs fees are expensive.
Solution: Sports centres need to regulate their prices.

Problem: Unhealthy food is cheaper.
Solution: The food industry has to address the problem.

This took me about 3 minutes to list them, now I need to select just one problem and one solution (2 problems and solutions if you feel confident)  and write about those.

Important: When writing the body paragraphs, do not list problems and solutions, you need to choose just one or two and give examples and explain in more detail… this lesson is just to show how to get ideas quickly.

Another way of getting ideas quickly is to ask yourself lots of questions.

Here I have chosen method number 3 and wrote notes based on questions I asked myself.

“.…What are the cause of obesity? lack of exercise… Why? people don’t have time to
exercise…. Explain? because they are busy…. Why? because they have to work.
What’s the solution? do more exercise. ….How? employers could offer incentives, find
time to get to the gym…..What about junk food? what can be done about overeating? …etc”

Now you can try… Below is a task question for writing task 2 Problem Solution essay, can you think of ideas using the methods I already outlined?  This is just an exercise on getting ideas, we are not going to write the body paragraphs yet.

“These days many people have access to computers and a large number of children play computer games. What are the negative impacts of playing computer games and what can be done to minimize the bad effects?”

Click below for my ideas..

Here are some ideas I thought of by listing problems and solutions.

Problem: Children become addicted to gaming
Solution: Parents should limit access to computer games to 20 minutes a day

Problem: Children do not study and play games instead.
Solution: Parents need to set rules on studying before playing computer games.

Problem: Children stop communicating and are focused only on gaming
Solution: Parents should recognise this issue and restrict access to gaming.

Problem: Many computer games are too violent for kids
Solution: Gaming companies must address the issue and set up age restrictions

Another way is by asking questions to myself and making quick notes, then I use this when it comes to writing the body paragraphs… (these are just notes i made below, this is not the body paragraph)


Kids are becoming addicted to gaming..why? parents not thinking of  consequences.. so what can be done? parents need to limit access to 20 minutes a day….. why? …the kids are not studying and just playing games…so what can be done? parents should set rules, prioritise studying first…. what about violent games? what can be done about them? … gaming companies have to tackle the issue…how? set up age restrictions.. etc..

Some teachers say that you need 2 problems and 2 solutions to get a high band score. There is nothing in the IELTS marking criteria about this, you can actually go with one problem and one solution and still get a Band 7 or more, as long as the essay is well developed.

The marking criteria for task response Band 8 says: ‘presents a well-developed response to the question with relevant, extended and supported ideas’

So, as long as your ideas are well explained, on topic, relevant and extended, then you will score higher for task response.

Common IELTS essay topics

Here are the most common IELTS topics that come up in Writing task 2 and also the Speaking sections. I advise searching news stories and podcasts based on these topics to help you get ideas. Choose one topic a day and read or listen to a story about it.

IELTS writing common topics

Any questions? Leave a comment below.