I was sent an email by an IELTS candidate recently in which she told me that in the Reading Test she had not written her answers on the answer sheet during the test and when she was told to stop writing she had not written any answers at all on her answer sheet.

This is tragic but it happens. In the Listening Test an extra 10 minutes is given after the recording has finished to transfer answers to the answer sheet BUT this is not the case in the Reading Test.

In the Reading Test candidates MUST write their answers on the answer sheet during the test.

In addition, in both Reading AND Listening the question book will tell you how many words you are allowed to use in the answer.

For example, suppose the reading article was about transport in big cities and the question was:

What causes the biggest transport problem in large cities?

and you answer “the motor car” (because that is what it says in the text) BUT the question tells you to USE ONE WORD, you will be marked wrong even though you essentially have the right information. In this case, the correct answer would be “cars” or “automobiles”.

Be very careful with both these issues in the IELTS exam.

TASK 2 WRITING: Answering the Question

Here is an IELTS Task 2 Topic taken from the internet:

“In many countries traditional foods are being replaced by international fast foods. This is having a negative effect on both families and societies. To what extent do you agree or disagree?”

In deciding how to approach this question, forget about ‘advantages-disadvantages; agree-disagree’ type essays you may have learned how to write, or any other ‘essay type’ you have been told about.

The danger in trying to classify an IELTS exam question into one of the types you may have learned how to write in the past is that you will miss an important part of the question.

For example, in this question you are asked your opinion about the issue of fast foods replacing traditional schools in relation to the effects it has on both families and societies. This is critical. A response that ignored the issues of the effect of fast food supplanting (replacing) traditional foods that did not talk about the effect on BOTH families AND society would fail to answer the question.

To illustrate this, if you argued that fast food was not a nutritious food and contained excessive amounts of fats and sugar and was therefore not a healthy food, but DID NOT go on to talk about the effect that this has on families (child and adult obesity, diabetes, heart disease, increased days off work/school due to illness, family fracturing due to early death of family members as a result of disease etc. for example) and society (increased health care costs, lost work hours due to worker sickness, damage to economy, increased early death and family disruption due to deaths resulting from poor eating habits etc. for example) then you would not have addressed the question that was asked.

In other words, the question does not simply ask about whether or not you think fast food is good or bad, it asks about whether you think it is bad in relation to the damage it does to families and society as a whole.

One way to structure the essay would be to have one paragraph on the effects on families and the second paragraph describing the effects on society when international fast foods (hamburgers, pizza etc.) replace traditional foods.

It is very easy for candidates to miss the full question in Task 2 and only partially answer what was asked. In fact, this is so easy to do, one well known IELTS website made the same mistake when they posted a sample answer to a recent Task 2 question. When the so called ‘experts’ can make this mistake, it serves as a warning to everyone to be very careful when deciding what you have been asked to do in the task question.

TASK 1 WRITING: Trends In Data

When trying to group data in Task 1 look for trends in areas other than just in time. For example, it might be possible to find a trend that increases or decreases with age, education level or income.

In this example there is a trend in the data that goes with age.

A possible overview for this graph might be:

“In brief, while there was a decrease in the proportion of people who studied because of career opportunities as age increased, the percentage of people who studied out of interest increased with increasing age.”

Notice that there is a trend in this data that is based on age: decreasing percentage of people who study for career opportunities and increasing percentage who study out of interest as age increases.


TASK 2 WRITING – The Introduction

Here is a Task 2 question:

“Some people argue that early marriage is part of traditional lifestyle in some countries and should be respected, others say it is damaging to young girls and their future.
Describe the arguments supporting both these positions and give your own opinion.”

Here is a quite common second sentence from an introduction:

“This essay looks at ideas in favor of and against early marriage.”


“This essay will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of early marriage and give my opinion.”

These are very poor introductions if the candidate is trying to achieve Band 7. One of the reasons for this can be found in the Public Band Descriptors at Band 7 which say, under Task Response:

• presents a clear position throughout the response

These introduction fail to give a clear opinion in the introduction and the next two paragraphs, if they just list the advantages and disadvantages, may also fail to make it clear where the writer stands.

So what could the writer have done to solve this problem?

One approach might be something like this (second sentence of the introduction):

“While some people may suggest that early marriage is simply a reflection of culture and tradition, this argument fails to take into account the damage and devastation it can cause in the lives of many young girls.”

The very strong language “damage and devastation”, make it very clear where the writer stands even though they have not written “I think” anywhere.

This also sounds like it is going to be a much more interesting essay to read.

Try it out. Take a position and make it clear. It is not too hard once you get the idea.