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IELTS Writing Task 2 Analysis – Video

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by Gina Mares on May 19, 2021 , Comments Off on IELTS Writing Task 2 Analysis – Video

In this lesson, you can learn about an essential skill for writing IELTS task two essays. You’ll see the single most important problem that we see in the IELTS students we teach, and how you can avoid it. Learn our best tips for IELTS writing task 2 analysis to get the score you need.

QUIZ: IELTS Writing Task 2 Analysis

Now, test your knowledge of what you learned in the lesson by trying this quiz. There are 20 questions, and you will get your score at the end, when you can click on ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers and some feedback.

Are you planning to take an IELTS writing exam soon? How do you feel about IELTS writing task 2?

The task two essay in the IELTS writing exam is the most difficult part of the test for many people.

Many people get stuck at a lower score than they need, often around 5.5 to 6.5. They think the solution is to learn more vocabulary, or learn more grammar, or find a template to follow.

Probably, none of these things will help. Why? Because there’s almost certainly a bigger problem.

Many of our students on Oxford Online English, who we teach in online classes, have major problems with planning.

Actually, the problem starts even earlier – it starts with reading and analysing the task. What’s the problem, exactly? Let me explain.

We see that people often don’t pay attention to key words in the task, or they misunderstand key words in the task. Then, their answer starts going in the wrong direction from the very beginning.

It’s like you’re going on a long journey, and you start by going in the wrong direction. The further you go, the worse it gets.

If this is your problem, then more vocabulary won’t help you. Learning grammar rules or correcting your grammar mistakes won’t make much difference.

In this lesson, you’ll see tips for IELTS writing task 2 analysis, and how to avoid these problems. Before that, let’s just look at one point related to the scoring system, and why going off task is such a big problem.

I’m sure you already know that your writing score has four parts: task achievement, coherence/cohesion, vocabulary and grammar. However, these four parts are not independent.

If you go off-task, this mostly hurts your task achievement score. However, your C&C and vocabulary scores track your task achievement scores to some extent. Only your grammar score is independent.

For example, imagine that you write a perfect essay, which is coherent, clear, with great use of vocabulary, but you’re answering a completely different question. What would you score?

You would score maximum one for TA, two for C&C, and four for vocabulary. You could theoretically get band nine for grammar, but even in this case, your maximum score overall would be band four.

Similarly, if your answer is on the right general topic, but you don’t try to answer the question in the task, then your maximum scores for TA, C&C and vocabulary would be four, five and six respectively. Remember that it doesn’t matter how good your essay is, or how good your vocabulary is! Going off task puts hard limits on the score you can get.

Learn more about scoring here: IELTS scoring in detail.

To stay on task, you need to understand the task fully. So, what do you need to do?

1. Basic Task Analysis

IELTS Writing Task 2 Analysis - Reading Image

First, decide which parts you don’t need to pay attention to.

IELTS questions often have a format like this.

  • Some people say that the government should provide financial support to the long-term unemployed. Other people argue that unemployment benefit should only be available for a limited period.
  • Discuss both of these views and give your own opinion.

Which parts here are important, or not important?

First, you can ignore anything like ‘some people say…’, ‘some people argue that…’, ‘other people claim…’ or anything like that. This is just a way to introduce different ideas. Try to see the task like this.

  • Idea A: the government should provide financial support to the long-term unemployed.
  • Idea B: unemployment benefit should only be available for a limited period.
  • Discuss both of these views and give your own opinion.

This is true in different question types, too. Ignore anything like ‘some people say…’ It’s just a way to introduce an idea, and it’s not relevant for your essay.

Next, look at the instructions, and focus on what they’re telling you to do, and what they’re *not* telling you to do. If the task tells you to discuss both views, then you need to put forward arguments on both sides of the issue.

Simple, right? But, if the task doesn’t tell you to discuss both sides, then *you don’t need to*.

This is the bigger problem: students often add things to their essays which are not in the instructions. For example, we see many essays where the question asks ‘Do you agree or disagree?’, and students try to put forward arguments on both sides, because they think it’s necessary. It’s not.

These are the basic points. Don’t ignore them! Mistakes with these ideas are extremely common.

But, what else should you look for in IELTS writing task 2 analysis?

2. Quantifiers and Limiters

Look at a sample task two question.

  • Many people do not enjoy their jobs, and work out of necessity.
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree?

When you see a task two question, you should look for quantifiers and limiting words.

What does this mean? We mean words like ‘some’, ‘all’, ‘most’, ‘many’, ‘no’, ‘only’ or ‘main’.

‘Only’ is an example of a limiting word. It limits something to a specific group.

For example, if I say ‘I like apples’, then it’s quite possible that I like other kinds of fruit, too.

If I say ‘I only like apples’, then the statement becomes much stronger. It’s telling you that I don’t like any other kind of fruit except apples.

So, why are these words so important?

Let’s demonstrate this by looking at some different versions of this question.

  • Most people do not enjoy their jobs, and only work out of necessity.
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree?

What do you think? Does this make a big difference?

It’s still the same basic topic and task, but it *is* different.

First, saying ‘most people’ is a stronger claim than ‘many people’. ‘Most people’ means more than half. ‘Many people’ just means a significant number, but possibly less than fifty per cent.

If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with this statement, these points matter.

Also, the word ‘only’ makes a big difference.

Saying that people *only* work out of necessity means that there is no other reason why people work. Again, this is a much stronger claim than the original task.

In the first version, you could say that people work out of necessity, but also work for other reasons, and in this way you could agree with the idea in the task.

However, in the second version, if you wrote the same thing, you would now be disagreeing. Why? Because the second version – with ‘only’ – doesn’t allow for other reasons. If you say there are other reasons why people work, then you’re disagreeing with the idea that people *only* work out of necessity.

Let’s look at one more version of our task.

  • Nobody enjoys working, and no one would work if it was not necessary.
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree?

What do you think? How does this change the task?

To be clear, this third version is not a realistic IELTS writing task 2 question, because the claim it makes is too strong. Saying ‘nobody enjoys working’ means that there is not even one person in the whole world who enjoys their job, which is a ridiculous idea.

Similarly, ‘no one would work if it was not necessary’ means that there is not even one person in the whole world who would choose to work if they didn’t have to.

We’re showing you this so that you see the difference these words make. In your exam, or when you’re practising, look for quantifiers and limiting words in the question, and think about how they affect the meaning of the task.

3. Value Words

Highlighted words image

Again, let’s start with a sample task two question.

  • Children and teenagers nowadays spend too much time in front of screens.
    Parents and schools should set limits on screen time for children and teenagers.
  • Do you agree or disagree with these ideas?

When you see the task, look for value words.

‘Value words’ mean words which express an opinion. This includes words like ‘should’, ‘need to’, ‘better’, ‘best’, ‘bad’ or ‘too’.

Here’s a question: why does ‘too’ express an opinion?

‘Too’ expresses a negative opinion about something. For example, if you say ‘it’s very hot today’, you’re simply describing a fact. This doesn’t say anything about whether you like the weather or not.

However, if you say ‘it’s too hot today’, this tells us something about how you feel. You’re saying ‘it’s hot and I don’t like it!’

Look at the sample task. Where are the value words?

The value words here are ‘too’ and ‘should’. These express opinions: that children and teenagers spend more time in front of screens than they should, and that it would be better for parents and school to set limits on screen time.

To see why this is important, look at a different version of this task.

  • Children and teenagers nowadays spend a large amount of time in front of screens.
  • Why do you think this is?
  • What could be done to change this situation?

Obviously, the second task is a different question type. But, there’s another important difference. This second version doesn’t contain any value words. It doesn’t say ‘too much time’; it says ‘a large amount of time’, which is a simple, factual description.

Let’s look at one more version.

  • Children and teenagers nowadays spend an unhealthy amount of time in front of screens.
  • Why do you think this is?
  • What could be done to tackle this problem?

How does this change the task?

This third version contains value words: ‘unhealthy’, ‘tackle’ and ‘problem’. In this case, the task presents the situation as something bad. In the second version, the task presented the situation in neutral terms.

These might seem like small differences, but if you want to write a high-scoring essay, you need to notice these points, and they need to be reflected in your writing. Look for value words in the task, and think about whether the language used is neutral, or whether it presents the topic in a positive or negative way.

4. Undefined Terms

Let’s see another sample question.

  • Traffic congestion in cities not only leads to severe health problems, but also impacts people’s quality of life in general.
  • Do you agree with this statement?
  • What can be done to alleviate the negative effects of traffic congestion?

IELTS tasks often contain general, abstract words, like ‘problems’, ‘benefits’, ‘advantages’, ‘negative effects’ and so on.

Often IELTS students simply reuse these words – or, they try to paraphrase them, but without thinking about what they really mean. This often results in an essay which is too general and not developed enough, and which is likely to score band six maximum for TA and C&C.

In IELTS writing task 2 analysis, look for general words like this and think about what they mean in the context of the task.

In this task, these are the words we think you should focus on.

  • Traffic congestion in cities not only leads to severe health problems, but also impacts people’s quality of life in general.
  • Do you agree with this statement?
  • What can be done to alleviate the negative effects of traffic congestion?

First, what does ‘severe’ mean? Generally, ‘severe’ means ‘extremely serious’. What counts as a ‘severe health problem’? Does traffic congestion lead to *severe* health problems, as opposed to
less serious health problems? If you think so, then what are some examples of severe health problems caused – directly or indirectly – by traffic congestion?

What does ‘quality of life’ mean, and how can it be affected by traffic congestion? Does someone who lives in a city with bad traffic have a worse life than someone who lives in a city without major traffic problems? How?

What does ‘alleviate’ mean here? In general, ‘alleviate’ means something like ‘improve’; more specifically, it means ‘to reduce the effects of a problem’.

So, to answer this question, you need answers to all the questions you heard just now, because you need to talk about the specific problems – health, quality of life – which you’re going to use in your essay.

Then, you need to think about what it means to reduce the effects of these problems.

Also, the question is slightly open. You could say that the only way to avoid these problems is to solve the problem of congestion itself. Or, you could argue that the problems caused by traffic congestion can be tackled without reducing traffic congestion itself.

Confused? Don’t worry – this isn’t something that most people can do just like that [snap fingers]. We’re not giving you answers here, because you need to develop your own ideas to write a successful task two; we’re showing you the questions you need to think about, and which you need to have an answer to.

Finally, remember that all of this needs to happen before you write. In fact, you need to do all of this before you even start planning!

So, practise with task two questions. Find as many task two questions as you can, and practise task analysis. Look for parts of the task which you can ignore. Look for quantifiers, value words and abstract words, and think about what they mean for the task.

Find some practice task 2 questions here: IELTS Writing Practice Questions.

In the exam, you need to be able to do this fast, so try to start developing these habits while you’re practising and preparing for your exam.

If you want, use the comment section to practise. Find a sample task two question, and post it in the comments, with your analysis. Other people can then comment on whether they have the same idea or not.

Good luck if you have an IELTS exam soon. Keep preparing with our other lesson on 10 essential IETLS writing tips. Thanks for watching!

Gina MaresIELTS Writing Task 2 Analysis – Video

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