Do The Advantages Outweigh the Disadvantages?

I was asked this question elsewhere on the blog today:


“More and more students are choosing to study at colleges and universities in foreign countries. Do the benefits of studying abroad outweigh the drawbacks?”

The candidate asked the following question:

“From what I understand, this is a discussion essay that we need to write two body paragraphs which talk about advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad. I’m not sure how to conclude it. I mean, is it good to tell which side is outweighed or do I need to balance ideas as the question didn’t ask for an opinion.”

Three things about the wording of this essay question:

  1. You do not necessarily have to write on both sides of the issue because it didn’t specifically tell you to – it just asks do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
  2. It is asking for an opinion. It is asking if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – that is asking what the candidate thinks about the issue.
  3. Don’t try to classify questions according what teachers have told you. Read the question and answer the question you have been asked. (A recent survey of IELTS Task 2 questions available on the internet revealed that questions can be asked in over 25 different ways with each one requiring a distinct approach. Nobody can teach you all of these and few of us would remember how to do them all anyway.)

As already stated, this question actually doesn’t make it mandatory for you to discuss both sides of the issue (although this would be expected in a university essay). I could therefore answer this question without giving the opposing view.

For example, I could begin my essay:

“Many students are attracted to the possibility of studying overseas these days. Although it has been suggested that studying abroad has a number of drawbacks, the advantages it provides in relation to educational and personal development are clear and overwhelming.”

I would then go on to write a body paragraph on the educational benefits and another on the personal development benefits.

Sometimes the IELTS Task 2 question will say:

“Discuss both views and give your opinion”

In this case, if you do not give both views you will lose marks for not completely answering the question.

For candidates who are trying to obtain band 7 it is essential that you make your position clear throughout your essay. Therefore the idea of writing a balanced essay is really quite dangerous if it is not asked for. It can be done, but the danger is that the reader will be confused about which side you are on. (There is terrible advice current in Bangkok at the present time on this issue which basically tells candidates to say something to the effect:  ” …  ‘name of topic’ is a controversial issue which has both pros and cons and the individual should make up their own mind on this issue.”)

When asked to give an opinion, as in this essay, take a side and present your argument.

If you do put the opposing view to the one you will take, put that paragraph first and give the side you agree with the second body paragraph (or second and third if you write three body paragraphs). Do not attempt to give the side you do not agree with a strong case. Make your opinion clear in the introduction and again in the conclusion.

Here is an introduction and conclusion that make the writer’s position clear for the essay topic given above. (The body paragraphs gave a negative paragraph about the cultural problems faced and problems with visas and the positive paragraph talked about the things summarized in the conclusion below.)

Nowadays, studying abroad has become a very popular trend with students. Although study in a foreign country has some disadvantages, the advantages are overwhelming and make it essential for a very high level education which will maximize the future possibilities for our people and nation.

In conclusion, although there are some disadvantages, studying in a foreign country provides significant and unquestionable advantages in giving access to knowledge that is unavailable in the students’ home country, cultivating the qualities of independence and responsibility and improved understanding of and tolerance for people who are different. If we are to maximize the opportunities education provides, studying in a foreign country should be encouraged for all who are interested in it.

IELTS Task 2 Question and Sample Answer

“Many people think it is very important to protect the environment but they make no effort to do it themselves. Why do you think this is the case? What actions should individuals take to protect the environment?”

This answer deliberately uses some quite high level vocabulary. If you don’t know some of these words, use a dictionary to find out the meaning and then try to use some of the expressions in your own writing. This essay is long (385 words) and it should be cut a little in each paragraph. I have not done this but stress that you should NOT try to write this length essay. (I will try to post an edited version late next week).

While the world makes amazing technological advances almost daily, it is also facing more serious environmental concerns than it has had to face at any time in all of human history. Although many people are sympathetic to the problem and say they care, various reasons prevent them from taking personal action, even when very simple steps are available that would, if adopted, allow everyone to participate in reducing the impact of environmental problems.

To begin with, many factors inhibit people from taking action on environmental issues. One of the most important is the feeling of powerlessness which is felt by many people in the face of these huge problems. Environmental issues such as global warming, atmospheric pollution in big cities and even holes found in the ozone layer feature on major news services on a regular basis.  Although many people profess to be concerned about environmental issues, in the face of such huge problems, most people believe there is little they can do to change the situation.

Fortunately there are many things that individuals can do that would have an impact on the problem over time, if enough people become involved. One of the first but most significant actions individuals could take is to use public transport. While it is less convenient for most people, the use of public transportation would significantly reduce the effect of atmospheric pollution from cars, which is devastating to the air quality in all big cities. Moving to public transport would not only reduce the amount of pollution from car exhausts, which would result in cleaner air, but it would also have the added benefit of reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are responsible for global warming, which many scientists say we are already suffering from, and would circumvent (prevent) the predicted catastrophic changes to weather patterns that global warming will bring in the future.

In the final analysis, using public transport is just one of many things that people can do to assist the environment and improve the chances that the world will survive the environmental dangers which are currently on the horizon. Nevertheless, if this is to be achieved, it will require a concerted effort by everyone to overcome the feelings of powerlessness many people experience in the face of this seemingly insurmountable problem.


This advice may well sound too simple to be serious. It is indeed simple advice, but it is critical to IELTS Writing success.

When you write an essay, how many times do you look back at the question to check that what you are writing is answering the question you think you have been asked?

Am I serious? You bet!

Many candidates get a very low IELTS score in Task 2 writing because they have not answered the question they were asked. Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say about this:

Band 5: addresses the task only partially;

Band 4: responds to the task only in a minimal way or the answer is tangential (not directly related to what was asked)

Band 1: answer is completely unrelated to the task

If you think Band 1 would not be given to a good writer, think again.

How do you make sure you are writing on the topic you have been asked?

Re-read the question every time you start a new paragraph and identify which part of the question the paragraph you are writing answers.

Every time you write a sentence identify how that sentence answers the question you have been asked. Don’t do this from memory – take your pencil and POINT to it on the question paper.

Even though you are under severe time pressure, do not just write the essay without constantly referring back to the question you have been asked.

The penalty for missing the topic and writing an irrelevant answer is huge – do not become a victim to this frequent mistake by IELTS candidates.


Here is another YES/NO/NOT GIVEN question:

“The recently published report indicates that between 2000 and 2010 the proportion of consumers claiming to be unaware of or unconcerned about green issues fell from 18 to 10 per cent but the number of green spenders among older people and manual workers rose substantially. The newly published report shows that regions such as Scotland have also caught up with the south of England in their environmental concerns. The new report reveals for the first time that the image of green consumerism as associated in the past with more eccentric members of society has virtually disappeared. CEO of the market research firm, Jack London, explains that the innovative ‘green’ product approach to marketing has now become established as a mainstream market. He explained that as far as the average person is concerned environmentalism has not ‘gone off the boil’. In fact, he says, it has now spread across a much wider range of consumer groups, ages and occupations than ever before.”

If the following statement agrees with the claims of the writer mark it YES, if it disagrees mark it NO and if there is no information if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks mark it NOT GIVEN:

Consumer’s green shopping habits have been influenced by the research report’s findings.


The passage refers to the research report many times. It even indicates that it is a new report and refers to it being published, which MIGHT mean that many people have seen it and could have been influenced by its findings. However, this is NOT stated anywhere in the paragraph if this is the case and we are not required to infer, we are simply asked to find what is said in the passage on the issue.

There is NO INFORMATION about consumers having even read the report, let alone having been influenced by it; it is therefore IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY what the writer thinks about this statement and the answer is therefore NOT GIVEN.


Here is another YES/NO/NOT GIVEN question.

“A recent market research report concluded that despite the recession since 2008 and the serious financial pressures, more people than ever want to buy environmentally friendly products and a wave of ‘green consciousness’ has swept through consumerism, taking in people who previously knew nothing about the environment.”

If the following statement agrees with the claims of the writer mark it YES, if it disagrees mark it NO and if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks mark it NOT GIVEN :

Being financially better off has made people more aware of buying green products.


The text says:

“ … despite the recession since 2008 and the serious financial pressures, more people than ever want to buy environmentally friendly products…”

this means that people were not “financially better off” (i.e. wealthier), in fact they were probably poorer than before because of the recession, however, even though they were NOT wealthier they were still concerned with the environment:

“more people than ever want to buy environmentally friendly products…”.

This is a direct contradiction to what is written in the statement which says that because people were wealthier (“being financially better off”) they were more aware of buying green products.

This statement is therefore a NO …. It does not agree with the claims of the writer.

IELTS Reading Test

TRUE/FALSE/DOESN’T SAY and YES/NO/NOT GIVEN questions essentially ask you to do the same thing: they ask you to say TRUE or YES if the statement in the question agrees with the text, say FALSE or NO if it is a direct contradiction to the text (i.e. the text says the OPPOSITE to the question) or say DOESN’T SAY or NOT GIVEN if there is no information about the statement.

Remember, you will read key words in the statement, words which appear in the text, but you need to look VERY CAREFULLY if the text says the same thing as the statement.

In principle not so hard, in practice not easy sometimes.

Here is an example. give a YES/NO/NOT GIVEN answer to the statement below this paragraph:

“Research in Australia has shown that increasing numbers of consumers favor products that are environmentally friendly when shopping. This suggests that politicians who put the profits of big companies ahead of environmental considerations, which they claim are yesterday’s issue, may be seriously misjudging public opinion.”

Question: Is the following statement YES, NO or NOT GIVEN?

Research indicates commercial rather than political trends.


The “trend” referred to is the one related to the environment. Shoppers (consumers) are buying more and more (“increasing numbers of consumers”) environmentally friendly products because they see it as an important issue.
If you wanted to sell something, labeling it “environmentally friendly” would probably boost sales. This is a commercial trend.

The politicians, on the other hand, think the environment is “yesterday’s issue” i.e. they think nobody cares about it anymore. They are clearly wrong as the research showed “increasing numbers of consumers” were buying ‘green’ products.

The trend is therefore commercial (to do with selling things) rather than political because the politicians think nobody is interested anymore.

The statement is a YES – it agrees exactly with the text.

IELTS WRiting Task 2: Giving an Opinion

I was asked at the end of the Writing Clinic on Sunday about what a candidate should do if they were asked for an opinion in Task 2 writing in the IELTS exam.

Band 7 of the Public Band Descriptors says this on the issue:

presents a clear position throughout the response

One way to achieve this is for the candidate to state their opinion clearly in the introduction.


Let’s suppose the question was to:

“Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of giving financial aid to poor countries in the developing world and give your opinion on the issue.”

Instead of this very poor sentence from the introduction:

“In this essay I will discuss both sides of the issue and give my opinion.”

the following is much clearer in what it says and far superior in grammar:

“Although there are a number of disadvantages in giving financial aid to poor countries, it is imperative that wealthy nations continue to give this assistance to developing countries as the benefits far outweigh any disadvantages.”

There is one word in this sentence (which would be the last sentence of a two sentence introduction) that expresses a clear and strong opinion. Can you see which word it is and why it gives a strong and clear opinion?

Writing Task 1 Academic: Bar Charts

This answer is actually a little too long and could be shortened in places where it is a little wordy.



The bar chart shows a variety of influences on work performance for workers who are employed at a big company. The data is for workers who are aged from 18-30 and 45-60 years-old.

On the whole, the work performance of young people is affected by various factors to a much greater degree than the older group. While a “competent boss” and getting “respect from colleagues” were the only factors that affected older workers to a greater extent than the younger ones, even then, less than 5% more people in the older group claimed that these factors influenced them.

In detail, almost 80% of the younger group were affected by the “chance of personal development”, a “relaxed working environment” and “promotion prospects”, whereas the corresponding figures for the older age group are approximately 40%, 30% and 50% respectively. In relative terms, these three factors are therefore from 60% to 160% more significant for the younger group than they are for the older one. For example, a “relaxed working environment” stood out as a major factor that affects the younger group almost three times as much as older workers.

In addition, “job security”, which was mentioned by 40% of the younger group, was only important for 20% of older workers. While the importance of this factor for both groups is around 50% lower than the previous factors mentioned, in relative terms, 100% more younger workers claimed “job security” as a factor affecting work performance than workers in the older group.

In contrast to these large discrepancies, a number of factors affect both groups almost equally including “money” at 70%, “team spirit” at 60%, a “competent boss” and “job satisfaction” at about 50% and “work environment” at approximately 30%.

(286 words)