Analyzing an IELTS Task 2 Question

In the IELTS Writing Exam, you are mostly being judged on your ability to construct a well-written essay. However, part of the task is responding to the question, and that means being able to pick a question apart to understand exactly what it means, and what you – as the candidate – are required to do.

Fortunately, the questions in the IELTS Writing Exam are quite predictable (at least in terms of theme and style) and so it is possible to practice analyzing them.

How to Analyze a Task 2 Question

As I said, it is possible to predict certain kinds of question. There are only so many question types. Familiarize yourself with the different types of question and look at some sample answers to help. Then consider the sorts of topics that may be involved – education, society, and so on. Make sure you are comfortable with these “IELTS topics.”

Then it’s time to actually approach your IELTS Writing Task 2 question. You need to first do two things:

  1. What type of question is it?
  2. What is the topic?

When you have these in your head, you are halfway towards knowing what to do next. But the job is not yet done. You need to look for two more things:

  1. Keywords
  2. Micro keywords

These will guide you to a finer understanding of the question, rather than a general understanding. Knowing that a question is about pollution is fine… but is it about air pollution, water pollution, or light pollution?

Example Question

Here’s a question from a recent IELTS Writing Exam conducted in Azerbaijan.

Counties with long working days are more successful economically, but there are some negative social consequences. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Let’s look at some questions you may want to ask yourself after seeing a question like this.

What is the topic? Society.

What aspect of society? Work.

What exactly are we considering about work? Working hours.

How do working hours relate to society? In terms of economic success.

So… let’s put the question into our own words to clarify its meaning:

More work equals better economic success (for a country) but this has a negative impact on society.

Then, of course, consider the action prompt – to what extent do you agree or disagree? Well, what is it we’re agreeing or disagreeing with? There are essentially two parts to the statement – that working hours improve the economy, and that there are drawbacks to those long hours.

Planning the Essay

Once you understand the question, you can begin to plan your answer. This is always important in the IELTS Writing Exam. You must plan before you write, or else even a native speaker will have trouble achieving a high score!

Naturally, you will begin with the introduction and end with a conclusion, so you only need to think about the middle two paragraphs. (I always tell my students that there’s no need to write more than four paragraphs.)

In this case, I would look at the two elements contained in the statement and devote one paragraph to each. The structure would look something like this:

  1. Intro – paraphrase the question and state your intentions
  2. Discuss whether you agree with long hours being good for the economy
  3. Discuss the negative social consequences
  4. Conclusion – wrap it up without repeating

Sample Answer

Some people think that a country’s economic success is related to the amount of work done by its citizens each day, and therefore countries with longer working hours tend to have higher levels of productivity. However, although this may seem like a positive phenomenon, there are actually some serious drawbacks. This essay will argue that longer hours can be counter-productive.

To begin with, the claim that longer working hours equates to economic success is hard to substantiate. For one thing, the most economically developed countries in the world don’t necessarily have longer working days than the less-developed nations. In fact, in recent decades Europe and North America have seen the average work day decrease in length along with a rise in output, while many poorer countries see their populations toil with little to show for their efforts. Thus, one could conclude that it is quality of work and not quantity that is important.

The reason why some countries have longer working days and yet lower levels of economic productivity is most likely related to the negative social impact of these long hours. To maintain a strong economy, a country needs a healthy and happy population who are engaged in activities that generate commerce. However, if people are working all day, they have less time to eat out at restaurants or go shopping. While it may seem trivial, these are important for the economy. Moreover, when people work too much, their health may suffer, along with their relationships. These too can cause a drain on the economy.

In conclusion, it is not always true that longer working hours correlate with economic success, and the reasons for this are varied. In fact, as demonstrated above, having a population work too much may actually do the opposite of what is intended.

Notes

In the IELTS Writing Exam, students all-too-often use this annoying phrase:

With the development of the economy…

Please don’t ever use this or any variation of it!!! IELTS examiners hate it!!! It’s what we call an “IELTS phrase,” meaning something that bad cram schools teach students. Remember, you can’t memorize or cheat your way through this exam.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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