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A Complete Guide on IELTS Essay Structures

The IELTS exam does not test your ability to write for a highly knowledgeable audience or to test your academic abilities.

As any language and writing enthusiast will tell you, not all kinds of writing are equal. From investigative journalism to business school case studies, there are so many different ways to make your writing skill better.

The IELTS exam does not test your ability to write for a highly knowledgeable audience or to test your academic abilities. What you should be focused on is demonstrating English language skills based on the task assigned to you. Here’s what the IELTS Writing Task 2 will ask of you.

You’ll be assigned an approximate 250-word response to an academic or general topic, based on the type of IELTS test you’re taking to write about in 40 minutes. However, you can write a little bit less or more. The key here is to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and discuss your opinion and response to it such that the examiner can see that you’re comfortable writing and exploring ideas in English.

The Ideal Essay and Paragraph Structure

It’s time to go back to school for this one. You may remember your English teacher telling you your essay has to have an introduction, body and conclusion. That’s the best way to approach the IELTS essay too.

Let’s complicate how we approach writing the body of the essay since that’s where the bulk of the points lie. Given the limited number of words, you should choose two strong points to make your arguments and elaborate upon those.

Structure each point with the following:

  1. Statement of the point/argument
  2. Elaboration or explanation
  3. A concrete example, evidence or research
  4. Relevance to the main point

This may seem like too much to add in a paragraph, which is understandable. What many non-native English speakers may not realize is that being brief and precise is important, which will help you write paragraphs that include all of the above. There are resources on the IELTS website for non-native test givers, that can help clarify the exact structure and expectations of the exam.

Additionally, both your introduction and conclusion should be short, and paraphrase what you’ve written, tying everything together to make your essay more cohesive. You may also state your viewpoint or opinion about the topic given in the introduction and conclusion.

Kinds of IELTS Essays

There are a few different kinds of essay questions that usually appear in the IELTS Writing Task 2 question; the IELTS website lists some sample tasks that could appear. The way you plan your argument and essay will, therefore, also depend on what the question is asking you to do.

Some people may say that all the essay questions are the same at the end of the day and require similar approaches. While the ultimate purpose of the task is the same, you will be marked on how well you tackle the specific task posed to you.

If you’re asked whether you agree or disagree, and instead you start to explore opposite points of view your instructor will be able to tell that your ability to comprehend and address a specific question is limited.

Let’s run through the usual kinds of essay questions asked and help you understand what you need to do in response to each.

Agree/Disagree

These questions are usually framed using the words agree/disagree. However, the question may also say, “What is your opinion?” or “Should undergraduate business degrees enforce a compulsory internship rule or not?”, which is essentially a prompt for you to use an agree/disagree strategy.

You’ll be expected to pick one side and defend your point of view based on fleshed-out examples. You should state your opinion in the introduction and proceed to use at least two solid examples to support your argument.

The conclusion should bring back the relevance of your opinion to the points discussed.

Advantage/Disadvantage

Here, you’ll be given a statement or question, after which the exam will ask you to explore the pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks or advantages and disadvantages of the topic in question. Here, you should be able to demonstrate an ability to evaluate basic facts about a condition, setting, situation or trend and determine whether they’re advantageous or not.

Never leave one side undiscussed, as you will not have answered the question fully then. Instead, manage your time to ensure you write one paragraph on each. The introduction is the ideal time to reflect upon the complexity of the question, while the conclusion can act as a space for you to reconcile the fact that there are always advantages and disadvantages to any phenomenon.

Discussing Opposing Views

This one can often be confused as being the same as the previous essay type, but there are subtle differences that you’ll be expected to account for. The primary difference here is that the question will usually give you an opinion.

For example, the IELTS General Writing Task 2 could read: “Some people argue that examinations are not a good metric for assessing student learning levels, while others believe that exams and testing are too efficient to eliminate altogether. Discuss both views along with your own opinion.”

As you can see, the basic opinion here is provided to you, but yours is also asked for. This means your body can contain one paragraph for each opposing view, as well as one small paragraph where you state your opinion. Don’t forget to provide examples and justification for your opinion too — something many students forget they have to do.

Problem/Solution

This one can be a little more intimidating for non-native English speakers, since it requires coming up with an actual solution rather than just stating your opinion. However, keep calm and remember that the examiner isn’t looking to test how strong your intellectual concepts or ideas are. Keep the content simple and pay attention to your language.

The question may look something like, “There’s a severe gender gap in STEM fields, with men outnumbering women greatly. Identify a couple ways that high schools can help their female students choose STEM subjects for their higher studies and career.”

Here, you should be able to write a short paragraph discussing the problem, and then offer one or two ways that the issue can be addressed.

Double Question

This is perhaps the simplest essay type of all. The double question essay type asks two related questions under the same topic. You can spend one paragraph answering each question and conclude by bringing it together.

A sample question for this could look like, “Burnout is an increasing concern for workplaces. What can cause burnout? What can a company do to prevent employee burnout?”

Writing IELTS Essays that Hit the Mark

The IELTS components are about practice, whether it’s the IELTS Speaking Part 1, 2, and 3 or the IELTS Writing Tasks. However, we all need some constructive criticism at times. The best way to get experienced IELTS critique and feedback is to join an IELTS Writing Correction Service like the one at IELTS PROFI for personalized and specific advice.

So, keep practising and give the IELTS your best shot!

Written By

Roy Barnett is an instructor and resource curator for IELTS PROFI, an IELTS learning platform that provides video tutorials, resources and on-on-one feedback to get their students to the right skill level for their goals. The author has strong opinions on the Oxford Comma and loves to talk about essay structures.

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