Before writing anything, analyse the question

ielts analyse the questionSpend a couple of minutes analysing the question before writing your essay.

One of the most important things to do before planning or writing is to first analyse the essay question so that you know exactly what to write about. Even students who have a higher level of English often have trouble with this as they think they are wasting time and want to get straight into writing the essay. As a result, they often end up losing marks because they missed a key issue from the task.

The examiner needs to see that you have understood the question and that you are on topic. If you do not take the time to analyse the question you could end up writing a completely different essay, or your essay may not have a clear opinion even though the task question has asked for it.


Take a look at the video below to see the presentation. If you do not write the correct essay, or if you write too generally, you will lose marks on Task Response in the IELTS marking criteria.


Example Task 2 question

‘Some people believe that it is better for children to start learning a foreign language at primary school rather than secondary school. 
Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages?’

Some IELTS candidates now will start to write about language learning in general or how kids learn languages. This is not specific and you will lose marks, so we need to look at the Topic Keywords now.

Topic Keywords: better, children, learning a foreign language, primary school, secondary school.

Also the phrase rather than is important, this highlights a choice between A or B, or which is better.

 The phrase Some people believe shows the general or public opinion on the issue.

So it is clear that the essay should be about ‘whether youngsters should begin to learn a new language at either primary school or secondary school’. You will need to explain and give examples of 2 advantages and 2 disadvantages. The question is actually asking for your opinion. see below about instruction words.


Instruction Words

The instruction words are here: ‘Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?’ This is asking which side you think is stronger, the advantage or disadvantage?

Ideally, you would need to cover 2 advantages and 2 disadvantages but if this is too difficult for you then go with one advantage and one disadvantage. Some of my students went with this approach and got a Band 7.

Instruction words show what you have to write about and also indicate what kind of essay it should be. In this case, it’s asking if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The keyword outweigh means: ‘are the advantages stronger than the disadvantages?’ You also need to clearly state your opinion in the thesis statement and body paragraphs.

More examples of instruction words.

  • Discuss both views and give your own opinion. (Discussion essay with opinion)

  • What are the causes of the problem and what can be done to solve it? (Causes Solution essay)

  • To what extent do you agree or disagree? (Opinion essay)

  • Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? (Advantage Disadvantage essay)

  • What problems are associated with this? what are some possible solutions? (Problem-Solution essay)

  • What factors contribute to job satisfaction? How realistic is the expectation of job satisfaction for all workers? (Two-part question essay)

The instruction words tell you what type of essay it is going to be as there are 5 types of essays in IELTS writing task 2. Click here to see more on that.

Take a look here for a lesson on when you should give a direct opinion in an IELTS essay, it’s all about reading the instruction words carefully to see if your direct opinion is needed or not.


The same task but as a discussion essay

Being able to speak a foreign language is an advantage these days. Some people think that children should start learning a foreign language at primary school, while others think that children should begin in secondary school. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

In this case, the task is asking you to discuss both sides. So now you will not focus on advantages and disadvantages but more about why people hold these views and you also must give your opinion on which side you agree with. If you just wrote about the advantages and the disadvantages here you would lose marks in task response.


Planning time

You should include analysing the question in your planning time. I recommend 10 minutes to plan an IELTS essay. You need to analyse the question, think of the correct structure, think of ideas, paraphrase the question…this will take time and a well-planned essay will be a good essay. Never just go straight into writing. Plan it out.


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