In task 2 of the IELTS writing test, you may be given a question that asks you about the advantages and disadvantages of something. It is a pretty common question type, and so you should be very familiar with how to answer it.

In today’s article, I will try to show you everything you need to know about writing this sort of essay. First, though, keep in mind a golden rule of IELTS: there is no one perfect way to give an answer! IELTS is just a test of your English skills and there are lots of ways to succeed.

Anyway, I’m going to show you the following:

  • A Sample Question for Advantages and Disadvantage
  • Two Possible Essay Structures
  • A Model Essay

An Overview of Advantage/Disadvantage Questions

First of all, let’s look at the basics. Some of you may never have done IELTS before or may be relatively new to it. If you are an experienced candidate or teacher, you may want to skip this section.

In the IELTS writing test, there are two parts (usually called “tasks”). The first will ask you to describe some sort of visual data like a line graph or bar chart, while the second will be a more traditional essay-type question. It will be about a common IELTS topic such as environment, society, technology, and so on.

You can generally break these question types into five categories:

  • Agree or Disagree
  • Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Causes and Solutions
  • Discuss Both Views
  • Two-Part Questions

These all require slightly different approaches, but generally you can write at least 250 words, divided into 4 or 5 paragraphs, and end up with a pretty good answer.

Today, though, we’re focusing on the second item in that list: advantages and disadvantages.

Sample Questions

In order to show you what an “advantages and disadvantages” question is, we shall look at a sample question. Here is one from the Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS:

In the past, when students did a university degree, they tended to study in their own country. Nowadays, they have the opportunity to study abroad.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this development?

You should use your own ideas, knowledge, and experience and support your arguments with examples and relevant evidence.

In an IELTS writing task 2 question, you often find a sentence or two that introduces an idea, and then another sentence that gives you the task either as an instruction or a question. In this case, it is a question: “What are the advantages and disadvantages of this development?”

Here, “the development” refers to the change in the previous lines (people now having the opportunity to study abroad). Your task, then, is to think of both advantages and disadvantages to this situation and then explain them. I will show you how to do this in the next section.

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How to Structure an Advantage and Disadvantage Essay

When you are given this sort of question, you need to brainstorm your answer carefully. That means think about the question and generate ideas for what you will say in your answer.

Of course, one thing to remember is that you shouldn’t say too much. Remember that for IELTS you only have 40 minutes to write 250 words and if you just cram as many ideas into the essay as possible, you will either run out of time before you are finished or your essay will seriously lack in terms of Coherence and Cohesion. (This is one of the four components in which you will be marked by the examiner. It is worth 25% of your grade. You can see the marking rubric here.)

I’m going to suggest two structures here for your essay. These are the most common ones, but there are others that are possible.

Example Structure #1

Introduction Explain topic
State purpose of essay
Body paragraph 1 Describe advantages
Support and explain
Body paragraph 2 Describe disadvantages
Support and explain
Conclusion Summarise what you have said

This is by far the most common type of structure used for this sort of question and it is definitely very effective. It is easy to use and you could write a really fantastic essay with these 4 paragraphs.

Example Structure #2

Introduction Explain topic
State purpose of essay
Body paragraph 1 Describe 1st advantage
Explain
Body paragraph 2 Describe 2nd advantage
Explain
Body paragraph 3 Describe disadvantage
Explain
Conclusion Summarise what you have said

You can see that this is basically the same as the previous one but with an extra paragraph. Some people might find this slightly harder to do, but others might find it easier to separate and explain their ideas. It depends on you. You will not be given a higher score for writing more paragraphs, and in fact having more paragraphs often leads to less cohesion. Still, this is fine and can produce an excellent answer.

Advantage and Disadvantage Model Essay

ielts question advantages and disadvantages

Now that I have shown you a sample question and discussed how to structure the answer, I want to show you an answer that I wrote for this. Here it is:

In the twentieth century, it became more common for people to move about the world for various reasons, including education. Now it is reasonably common for students to go abroad to study for a few weeks or even a whole semester on programmes like the Erasmus in Europe. This essay will explore the advantages and disadvantages of this sort of arrangement.

The advantages of international study are numerous and obvious. To begin with, studying abroad can give students more opportunities for academic advancement, language acquisition, and even networking to help them find jobs when they graduate. This sort of experience helps break down cultural barriers between people of different backgrounds, and also allows for the exchange of knowledge and skill between different institutions. In short, there are many different reasons why it is advantageous for this sort of exchange programme to be established.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, are few and comparatively minor. Of course, students who go to live abroad may experience homesickness and culture shock. They may also find that, if their language skills are subpar, they may learn little from their lectures and perform poorly in examinations compared to if they had studied in their home country. From a very different perspective, it is also quite possible that international student exchange could be used in programmes of espionage, as countries may send spies abroad in the guise of students to investigate the research programmes at major universities.

In conclusion, there are many advantages to studying abroad from the perspective of students, and also from the standpoint of society and the institutions themselves. The disadvantages are fewer, more minor, and in some cases a bit far-fetched.

Features of the Sample Essay

Here, I have used the 4 paragraph essay because I think it is the best structure in most situations. I will make some notes about each paragraph in this table:

Introduction I have written two sentences that outline the issue, including a very brief example just to illustrate what it is. I also have one sentence that explains what this essay will do.
Body paragraph 1 Here, there are various advantages expressed: academic development, language, networking, cultural assimilation, etc. These are listed logically, with a concluding sentence.
Body paragraph 2 I have stated that there aren’t many disadvantages, but I gave two examples: one that is common and reasonable, and the other that is far-fetched but interesting.
Conclusion My summary gives a brief overview of my two body paragraphs, restating that there are many advantages and few disadvantages.

More questions

Finally, I want to show you a few more sample questions for this question type. These are simply intended to give you something to practice with. You can also find a big list of IELTS writing questions here (for both academic and general tests) and if you need help with your answers, you can check out my writing correction service.

There seems to an increasing trend towards assessing students through exams rather than continuous assessment.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of exams as a form of assessment?

An increasing number of schools provide tablets and laptop computers for students to use in schools, replacing books and other printed materials like exams and assignments.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this trend?

It is becoming increasingly popular to have a year off between finishing school and enrolling in a university.

What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Young adults are now choosing to wait until later in life, often until they are in their 30s, to settle down and get married.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

A Slight Variation

In addition to the questions above, which all require us to simply describe advantages and disadvantages, there is also one last question type. In this case, we are asked very subtly for our opinion:

In some countries, criminal trials are shown on television so that the public can watch them.

Do you think the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages?

As such, when answering this type of question you cannot just state the advantages and disadvantages. You must also include your opinion about whether there are more of one than the other.

Doing this may require a different structure although you can certainly include your opinion in the introduction and conclusion of the 4 paragraph structure mentioned above. However, some people like to do this:

Introduction Explain topic
State purpose of essay
Body paragraph 1 Describe 1st advantage
Explain
Body paragraph 2 Describe 2nd advantage
Explain
Body paragraph 3 State whether there are more advantage or disadvantages
Give details
Conclusion Summarise what you have said