In the past, I have talked often about the importance of learning IELTS in terms of topics. This is because you can learn material organically in a way that your brain can effectively process. It is useful to do this because you can practice reading and writing together, for example, with each skill informing the other. This sort of method will result in higher retention of information than other methods, such as memorising lists of vocabulary and sample answers.
In today’s lesson, I want to introduce you to another IELTS topic. This time, we are looking at the topic of space. You might be wondering why we are looking at this topic. It is not as common as some other ones, like family or technology. However, space is still an important topic that may arise in your test.
What do you mean by “space”?
First of all, let’s clarify what “space” is and what may occur in the IELTS test. By space, we mean basically anything not on this planet. For IELTS, you may be asked about space in a limited capacity because, honestly, it’s a really difficult topic and even native speakers would struggle to speak about it in depth.
Some things that occur in this topic are:
- The value of space travel
- The importance of studying space
- Life on other planets
There really isn’t much more than that, but you should be aware that they could ask you something else. It is impossible to predict IELTS questions.
IELTS Vocabulary: Space
It’s important to note that you don’t need to be an expert on space to answer any IELTS questions. Indeed, IELTS is a very general exam and so you only need a broad and general set of knowledge and vocabulary. As such, I have made the following PPT that contains some useful vocabulary for IELTS students on the topic of space.
Those words are some quite general ones about space, but in the next PPT I have a few words that relate more specifically to space travel:
Now let’s do a short test. Using the words from those PPT files, you should fill in the blanks in the sentences below.
- Space travel has become more practical since the invention of the reusable _________.
- The sun is located at the centre of the ___________.
- Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first men to walk on the surface of the _________.
- At NASA, highly skilled people are trained intensively to become _____________.
- When a rocket or space shuttle leaves the ground and heads towards space, the process is referred to as a __________.
- Some people believe that _________ have visited earth and made contact with humans.
- There are teams of scientists around the world searching for life on other __________.
(You can find the answers at the bottom of the page.)
IELTS Speaking Questions: Space
The topic of space is not a common one for IELTS speaking because most ideas are too difficult to expect a candidate to answer fully and the vocabulary required for a discussion about space is beyond a reasonable level expected for most IELTS candidates. However, you could encounter questions like these for part one:
- Do you want to travel into space?
- Do you like movies about space?
- If space travel became affordable for everyone, would you want to visit another planet?
To be honest, questions that are more specific than these are unlikely. You can answer any of these without a vast knowledge of space terminology, and that’s what is required for IELTS. Being able to give a basic answer with just a few topic-specific words is fine.
For example, I would give the following sample answer:
Do you want to travel into space?
Yes, I would definitely choose to visit space if I had the chance. I’ve always wanted to see what the Earth looks like from faraway, and very few people have ever actually been able to witness it. Although it might be a bit dangerous, it would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As for part three, the questions would be a little more advanced. Due to the nature of the topic, then, it is unlikely that you would really encounter many space questions here. However, if you did, they would look like this:
- Do you think it’s worthwhile looking for life on other planets?
- Is too much money spent sending people into space?
- Do you think that space travel will become as common as air travel in future?
For each of these questions, you would need to offer a more detailed reply, giving a three-part answer:
- State your answer.
- Explain your answer.
- Give evidence, example, or recommendation.
For example, to the first question, I might reply:
No, I really don’t think that it’s worthwhile looking for life on other planets. Lots of time, energy, and money is spent on this pointless project, when there are clearly many issues on Earth that need resolved first. There may well be aliens in another galaxy, but we have nothing to gain from contacting them because we have no hope of ever reaching them. Even reaching the edge of our own solar system would take thousands of years. Instead, we ought to reverse climate change and end poverty, both of which are ultimately far more achievable goals than communicating with extra-terrestrials.
You can look at my answer in three distinct parts:
- State your answer
- No, I really don’t think that it’s worthwhile looking for life on other planets.
- Explain your answer
- Lots of time, energy, and money is spent on this pointless project, when there are clearly many issues on Earth that need resolved first. There may well be aliens in another galaxy, but we have nothing to gain from contacting them because we have no hope of ever reaching them. Even reaching the edge of our own solar system would take thousands of years.
- Give recommendation
- Instead, we ought to reverse climate change and end poverty, both of which are ultimately far more achievable goals than communicating with extra-terrestrials.
This basic structure has allowed me to present a fully-developed answer that is logical and appropriate. Note that I haven’t used much advanced vocabulary, although I did use the following space-related terms:
I could have replaced them with other words from this lesson – solar system and aliens. These are synonyms. Instead, I wanted to add some variety and avoid repetition.
IELTS Writing Questions: Space
It is more common to encounter the topic of space in IELTS writing, where the issues presented tend to be a little more complex and require answers of about 250+ word in order to really cover them sufficiently. The issue of spending money on space travel, for example, is a little too vast to sufficiently describe in just a short, spoken answer.
Here is how that same topic may be presented for IELTS writing task 2:
Some people think that space exploration is a waste of resources while others think that it is essential for mankind to continue to explore the universe in which we live.
Discuss both sides and give your opinion.
I have written a sample band 9 answer that includes some useful vocabulary. I have highlighted those phrases in bold:
Some governments and private companies spend vast amounts of money on space programmes, but this is often criticised as wasteful when there are clearly issues here on Earth that need to be solved. This essay will look at both viewpoints, and then decide that some limited space exploration should be undertaken.
First of all, it is true that there are issues plaguing this planet that need our attention more than space travel. Around the world, millions of people are starving to death or dying from preventable diseases. It seems unjust that governments are devoting billions of dollars to send people into space when these fundamental problems still exist. There are also existential threats such as extinction due to climate change, and yet we are devoting the best minds to explore other planets rather than saving this one. If it is just a matter of exploration, then there are even parts of this world that are not yet explored, such as the bottom of the ocean.
Despite those valid concerns, space exploration is still important. The astronauts who go up into orbit are not just “exploring space” in the sense that explorers used to travel the world, but rather they are scientists conducting experiments that may prove beneficial to the future of humanity. The work that they do in space could be instrumental in stopping the next pandemic or ending hunger. Certainly, money spent on Earth would appear to be a more direct resolution, but perhaps these space experiments will have a greater ultimate benefit.
In conclusion, this is a difficult issue because, while space travel is important, it seems hard to justify the vast amounts of money spent on it. However, this money will probably yield important long-term results and so it is important to continue.
(Note: This sample answer was originally posted here in November, 2019.)
IELTS Listening: Space
I really doubt that you would encounter the topic of space in IELTS listening unless it occurred in the lecture portion. In that case, the language used would not actually be about space but rather you would be listening to someone talking about space and you would be asked more general questions. Phrases like “solar system” would not really be necessary.
If this topic did arise, you might be presented with a basic discussion of an idea like space tourism or a human community on Mars. Any difficult concepts would be explained slowly and clearly, but ultimately it would be your general English that is tested, and not your knowledge of space.
If you want some listening practice on the topic of space, you can try these listening exercises that I made last year or look at this exercise from Breaking News English. For more general practice, you may want to look up videos about space on YouTube and see how much you can understand.
IELTS Reading: Space
It is very possible that you could encounter a reading passage about space in your IELTS test. This could cover almost any aspect of space because the reading test allows for difficult ideas. There may be questions about space travel, science, life on other planets, the history of space travel, and so on. It’s hard to predict because honestly there are so many options.
Again, you don’t need to be an expert on space to answer these correctly and you don’t have to know lots of space vocabulary, either. If there are any difficult words or phrases, they will be defined in the text or in a footnote. You can find a pretty useful reading practice exercise here from a university in Hong Kong.
- space shuttle
- solar system