When practising for IELTS writing task 2, it is very useful to use past exam questions. Unfortunately, as I discussed here, most IELTS questions that you find online are actually fake, but luckily you can find real ones in the Cambridge IELTS book series. The latest in this series is Cambridge IELTS 16.

cambridge ielts 16 essays

Today, I am going to give you a sample band 9 answer to one of the writing questions in this book, which is about driverless vehicles. As you can imagine, it’s a quite interesting topic to cover.

Cambridge IELTS 16 – Task 2

First of all, let’s examine the question. It says:

In the future all cars, buses and trucks will be driverless. The only people travelling inside these vehicles will be passengers.

Do you think the advantages of driverless vehicles outweigh the disadvantages?

I don’t think this is very hard to analyse. It is an advantages vs disadvantages question and essentially you are talking about the advantages and disadvantages of driverless vehicles.

A few things to remember:

  1. Don’t get distracted by the examples in the question. You don’t need to keep repeating “cars, buses, and trucks” all through your essay. You are just talking about driverless vehicles in general and you won’t be penalised for ignoring any of these.
  2. Whilst the first statement talks about the future and gets into a definition of “driverless,” you don’t really need to talk about these. The question only says “Do you think the advantages of driverless vehicles outweigh the disadvantages?” It is in the present tense and you are thus required to talk about them generally.
  3. Don’t forget the issue of “outweighing”! It is easy to discuss one or both sides of issue but you must make it clear that ones side “outweighs” the other (or clearly state that neither does).
  4. In this sort of question, it is really important that you don’t fall into the trap of just mindlessly paraphrasing the statement. This will lead you to write all sorts of weird ideas. Instead, strive to produce a first sentence that generally introduces the topic.

Driverless Car Vocabulary

When it comes to the topic of driverless cars, you don’t need to be an expert in order to produce a great essay (although it certainly would help!). Instead, you should have some language to talk about the following areas:

It really depends on what you want to say. Certainly, a decent range of vocabulary about computer systems and other technological ideas would come in useful. If you do want to focus on them as the future, you would also need a grasp of the future tenses.

When it comes to learning topic-specific language, I often recommend Wikipedia, and indeed they have an English-language page on driverless cars (which they call “self-driving cars” – a great synonym!). You can take a look and try noting down some new words.

Here, you can see I have highlighted some useful phrases:

driverless vehicle vocabulary

You will also find that Wikipedia pages introduce you to ideas that might be worth discussing in your essays, and on this page we can see people talking about issues related to safety, which are of course fundamental to this topic.

One of the biggest issues in the field of driverless vehicles is that of ethics. This is a vast area to think about, but one that is fascinating and you might appreciate this TED Talk from 2016:

Structuring your Answer

When it comes to questions that ask you to say whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or not, you need to think carefully about your structure. What you write will depend on your initial position. Do you want to provide balance? You don’t have to, in spite of what some people think.

In my essay, I will say that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, but I will mention the latter. While it is possible to write a good answer that focuses completely on one or the other, I think in this case it will give my argument some nuance.

My answer will thus look like this:

IntroductionIntroduce the topic
State that adv. outweigh disadv.
Body Paragraph 1Reason 1 – safety
Reason 2 – environment
Body Paragraph 2State disadv. – loss of freedom
Explain why this is not significant
ConclusionSummarise and reaffirm

You can see, then, that the reason I have provided balance is in order to argue not just to explain the advantages but to argue against the disadvantages.

Below, I will give you my sample band 9 answer, but remember that there is more than one way to write an amazing essay. This video explains the limitations of sample answers:

Sample Band 9 Answer

Recently, there have been great strides made in the technology required to transition to a system of driverless cars and it has been suggested that one day all vehicles will be automated, with humans merely passengers. This essay will argue that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

The primary reason for adopting driverless cars is the improvement in safety that would inevitably come. At present, cars are immensely dangerous and yet humans continue to drive them. The vast majority of accidents are caused by human error, but this would be totally eliminated in a system whereby all vehicles are automatically updated on the presence of other vehicles. Accidents would be reduced, thereby saving millions of lives per year. Beyond that, the system on which these cars function would ensure that they optimise their routes to avoid traffic, which would not only save people time but reduce the amount of emissions produced by idling engines.

Of course, there are some disadvantages, but these are comparatively minor. One thing that worries most people is the loss of freedom that will come from driverless car systems. At present, in most western countries, the road is viewed as a symbol of freedom and people enjoy getting behind the wheel to move around. In a driverless car, this small pleasure would be diminished. However, this is of course trivial in comparison to the safety and environmental benefits of the proposed driverless system.

In conclusion, the advantages of driverless vehicles vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Although there are a few negatives, the fact that so many lives would be saved makes this future comparatively bright.

Notes on the Answer

I started quite generally and, within that same sentence, brought the topic from “great strides made in technology” to the idea of driverless cars. Then, I stated my opinion. Whilst you don’t have to come down strongly on one side or another, you do need to be consistent throughout.

Paragraph two talked about the advantages of driverless cars. I emphasised the dangers of traditional cars in order to convince my reader that driverless ones are superior. Then I gave an example, which went into the system that these vehicles use. I learned this from a podcast interview with Elon Musk (the CEO of Tesla) that I heard last year. It was very interesting! Anyway, this idea was rounded off with a mini conclusion before I gave my second point.

Paragraph three talked about the loss of freedom that may come, with a good explanation, followed by my dismissal of this idea. I said it “is trivial in comparison to the safety and environmental benefits,” which is hard to deny.

In terms of language, I have used no fancy vocabulary. As I always say, it is better to be straightforward and use real English rather than pluck words at random from a dictionary. However, my language was topic-specific as you can see:

  • all vehicles will be automated
  • adopting driverless cars
  • automatically updated on the presence of other vehicles
  • optimise their routes to avoid traffic
  • idling engines
  • a symbol of freedom
  • getting behind the wheel

None of these is considered specialist but all of them are pretty specific to this topic. They are worth learning if you want to be able to talk about vehicles, technology, and the future.