Today, I am going to help you write an IELTS task 2 essay on the topic of mobile apps. Specifically, we will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of apps that allow you to pay for things. This is a very modern topic but it is not widespread enough that it could be considered IELTS-worthy.

[You can read more about IELTS and mobile phones here.]

Understanding the Question

ielts writing task 2 - question analysis

First of all, let’s look at the question we will explore today:

In many countries, paying for things using mobile phone apps is becoming increasingly common.

Does this development have more advantages or disadvantages?

There are a few things you should do when you see an IELTS question like this:

  1. Find the keywords
  2. Look for micro-keywords
  3. Recognise the question words

By “keywords” I mean the words that tell you what this topic is basically about – ie the main idea. In this case, I would say that “mobile phone apps” is the keyword. This is the main idea of the question.

However, we need to look beyond that. We should find some micro-keywords, too. In this case, you should note the word “paying.” That is quite important here. It tells you what aspect of the main idea that you should focus on.

Then, we need to find the question words, which is very easy: “advantages” and “disadvantages.” (You can read a full guide to advantage/disadvantage essays here.)

Once you have done all of this, you should have a reasonable understanding of the question. Basically, you need to say whether there are more advantages or disadvantages to the increasing use of mobile apps for payments.

Avoiding a Pitfall

I want to note a common problem here. In my IELTS writing correction service, I sometimes see people make a mistake with this question. They read the keyword (“mobile phone apps”) but not the micro-keyword (“paying”).

The result is that they talk about online shopping in general, but that is not what you should talk about. If I wrote about shopping on Amazon or eBay, for example, I would get a terrible score for Task Achievement. Instead, I should look into online payment systems:

  • PayPal
  • Alipay
  • Venmo
  • Etc

Please make sure that you always read the question carefully to avoid such misunderstandings.

How to Answer the Question

Once you understand the question fully, you should spend some time planning your answer. Do not spend too much time or else you will run short of writing time. Instead, plan quickly but carefully. Think of your overall position and then the main ideas you want to write about.

Here are some important things that you must do:

1. Establish and Maintain a Clear Position

It states in the IELTS marking rubric that candidates are required to give and maintain a consistent position throughout the essay. That means, in the most basic sense, that you should not say “the advantages outweigh the disadvantages” in the first paragraph and then “the disadvantages outweigh the advantages” in a later paragraph.

For this reason, it is essential that you provide a clear position in your introduction and then stick to it throughout the essay. In my first paragraph, I will include the following line:

This essay will argue that these provide far more advantages than disadvantages.

In this case, “these” refers to “mobile phone apps.” I have used a pronoun to avoid repetition in the actual essay.

Note: You are not required to provide balance in this sort of essay. It is fine to do so, but it is also fine to give a totally one-sided argument. You can read more about providing balance in IELTS essays here.

2. Provide a Simple, Functional Structure

It is important for all IELTS essays that you provide a reasonable structure. This will differ from essay to essay, but there are some basic formats that you can adapt to almost all questions.

For task 2, I pretty much always use a four-paragraph structure although sometimes five is better. My essays typically look like this:

IntroductionIntroduce the topic of the essay and give my position.
Body paragraph #1Main argument or first of two viewpoints
Body paragraph #2Secondary argument or second of two viewpoints
ConclusionSummarise the position and arguments/viewpoints

In the case of this particular essay, I would structure my essay like this:

IntroductionState that online payments are now common, then give my viewpoint: There are more advantages.
Body paragraph #1Main advantage: Increased convenience. Example: Alipay in China. Explain why it is so convenient. Wrap up point and add one more factor: Control spending.
Body paragraph #2Main disadvantage: Privacy. Example: Chinese government. Explain why this is a bad thing but then argue that it needn’t always be necessary. Example: Cryptocurrencies. Explain that this could overcome privacy concerns in future.
ConclusionWeigh the options by saying “despite the drawbacks…” and re-affirm support for the advantages.

Note: I mentioned above that you do not have to give a balanced viewpoint, but you see that I have devoted one paragraph to advantages and one paragraph to disadvantages. I would not call this balanced because I have argued against the disadvantages. This is a slightly advanced method that allows you to use good language and demonstrate your capacity for logical thinking.

3. Pick the Right Language

Once you have come up with your ideas and structures, you can begin to write the essay. It might be worth noting a few useful words and phrases before you begin. If anything brilliant strikes you, you can note it down and use it later.

Here is some useful vocabulary that I will use in my essay:

  • vast array of payment options
  • revolutionised the global economy
  • paying street vendors
  • fumbling about for money
  • track and limit their expenditures
  • government intrusion of their privacy
  • authoritarian surveillance states
  • algorithms
  • cryptocurrency wallets
  • transaction speed
  • digital payment methods

I will also use the word “adopt” when talking about using a new technology for the first time. This is a great word that shows intent to use something useful. I will also say “the advent of…” when talking about something being invented.

Sample Band 9 Answer

Ok, that’s enough preparation. Here is my essay:

IELTS Essay About Mobile Phone Apps

In the twenty-first century, people have been provided with a vast array of payment options that have revolutionised the global economy. In many places, mobile phone apps can now be used to make payments quickly and securely. This essay will argue that these provide far more advantages than disadvantages.

The ability to pay for goods and services with a mobile app has made life far more convenient in many parts of the world, where this sort of technology has been adopted. In China, for example, people can use Alipay or WeChat in most shops, as well as for online purchases, transport, and even when paying street vendors. It is more convenient than using cash because people do not have to search for the correct change, nor do they need to wait and receive coins or small notes. Having this phone app allows them to give the exact fee without fumbling about for money in their wallet or purse. In fact, many people no longer take money out with them and instead rely upon their phone for all payments. This makes life more convenient and also allows them to track and limit their expenditures easily.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. For one thing, people are rightfully worried about government intrusion of their privacy. Particularly in authoritarian surveillance states like China, governments closely watch people to monitor their activity, using algorithms to detect unusual spending patterns. Whilst the seriousness of this cannot be downplayed, it is one of the only major disadvantages of this technological breakthrough, and in future it is possible that a more private system may emerge. At present, there are cryptocurrency wallets that could offer the same basic functions but with more privacy; however, they are not yet as convenient because they are not widely accepted, fluctuate wildly in terms of value, and are comparatively slow in transaction speed.

In conclusion, despite there being some valid concerns about privacy, the advent of digital payment methods has been a huge boost for consumers around the world due to the vastly improved level of convenience provided.