THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO IELTS WRITING: QUESTION TYPES
This is the second part of our guide that contains everything you need to know about the IELTS writing exam. The first section looked at how the test is graded. Sections three and four explore essay structure and frequently asked questions. This section tells you everything you need to know about IELTS writing question types. You can use the links below to explore this section.
Why are IELTS Writing question types important?
Many students feel overwhelmed by the different types of questions in part two of the IELTS writing exam. However, while these questions often look like too much to ever learn, it is possible to break them down into five broad types. Once you know these, you will know how to handle any IELTS writing question that you get in your exam. This article will introduce these question types and how you should go about answering each one.
Before looking at the question types, I want to look at how we’re breaking them down. The easiest way to study IELTS question types is to look at what your thesis statement and topic sentences will be. The thesis statement is a sentence in your introduction that lays out what your whole essay will be about. Topic sentences are the first sentence of each of your body paragraphs which say what those paragraphs will be about. Because these sentences essentially lay out the structure of your essay, they’re a great starting point for understanding question types.
This question type asks you what you think. Usually, this will be a statement followed by ‘Do you agree or disagree?’ or ‘What is your opinion?’. For example:
Online shopping allows people to buy almost anything and have it shipped to their front door and has become increasingly popular in recent years. However, some people believe this is a negative development.
What is your opinion?
For this type of question, it is easiest to have a strong opinion one way or the other. We should then give two specific reasons for our opinion. In response to this example we could write:
- Thesis statement: This essay will argue that internet shopping is, on the whole, beneficial.
- Topic sentence one: First, this type of shopping allows people to have more choice.
- Topic sentence two: Second, shopping online makes it easier for people to get more information about what they are buying through reviews.
This response ticks all the boxes for a good answer. The thesis statement gives a clear point of view while the topic sentences refer to specific points. If the topic sentences were broader, we’d struggle to cover the whole point in a few sentences.
Both sides and an opinion questions
Along with opinion-type essays, both sides and an opinion questions are one of the most common questions in the IELTS writing exam. However, unlike opinion essays, the question is more specific about what you need to cover. It’s common for students to get too nervous during the exam and only give one side of the answer. This is the easiest way to lose marks in your exam, so avoid it by keeping an eye out for this question type. You can spot it easily because it quite explicitly says ‘Compare both sides and give your opinion.’ or ‘Compare both points of view and give your opinion.’ For example:
Question: Online shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years. Some people believe that this has improved people’s lives while others believe it is damaging to both consumers and stores.
Compare both sides and give your opinion.
For this question type, it’s important to compare two specific points. It’s common for students who are new to IELTS to write something like ‘First, there are some advantages.’ This is very broad and impossible to give enough detail on. A useful structure for your introduction is: ‘This essay will compare the advantage of _____ with the disadvantage of _____ and conclude that _____.’ For our sample question, this could look like:
- Thesis statement: This essay will compare the advantage of increased customer choice with the disadvantage of the environmental impact of online shopping.
- Topic sentence one: One advantage of online shopping is that it offers a greater amount of choice to customers.
- Topic sentence two: Conversely, online shopping has a negative effect on the environment.
Problem and solution Questions
A problem and solution, as you might have predicted, will ask you to give some problems and solutions. This essay type can look a few different ways. They may ask you for the causes and solutions for something or for the problems and solutions. One example is:
In recent years, online shopping has grown in popularity and overtaken shopping in-person. What are some problems caused by this and what are some solutions?
To answer this question type you should pick out two problems, one for each body paragraph. In each body paragraph, you should explain what the problem is, give examples and offer a solution. What you don’t want to do is just offer a list of problems and a list of solutions. Remember that your body paragraphs should always be focused on one specific point. One way of structuring an answer to the question above is:
- Thesis statement and outline: This essay will look at two problems this causes and their solutions. First, the environmental damage and second, the damage to local shops.
- Topic sentence one: One problem is that internet shopping involves a lot of packaging and transportation which has an impact on the environment.
- Topic sentence two: Another problem is that internet shopping is causing damage to local high street
Two question questions
The two-question question states something and then asks two questions. These are, in my opinion, the easiest to answer because the exam tells you exactly what you should do. Your first body paragraph should answer the first question and then your second body paragraph should answer the second question. An example of this type of question is:
In recent years, online shopping has overtaken in-person shopping in popularity. How has this affected customers? How has it affected shops?
The thesis statement should contain a brief answer to both questions. Each body paragraph should then answer one of these questions. This might look something like this:
- Thesis statement: This essay will examine how the rise of internet shopping has made shops increase their online offering and has increased customer choice.
- Topic sentence one: The heightened popularity of shopping online has forced local shops to move more of their business online.
- Topic sentence two: In addition, this change has led to consumers having more options when it comes to shopping
describing advantages and disadvantages
This essay type is a little confusing. Many IELTS guides will include questions that ask you to compare advantages and disadvantages with questions that ask you to describe them. However, these are quite different. Questions that ask you to compare the advantages and disadvantages are essentially opinion essays. You make two points and give your opinion. For an essay that asks you to describe advantages and disadvantages, you are not expected to give your own opinion. An example of this is:
The popularity of online shopping has skyrocketed over recent years. What are some advantages and disadvantages of this?
For this question, we should describe one advantage and one disadvantage in detail. We don’t need to give our opinion on it. You can use examples, explanations and reasons to do this. Our answer might be structured like this:
- Thesis statement: This essay will describe the advantage that this shopping increases choice and the disadvantage that it damages local high streets.
- Topic sentence one: One advantage is that online shopping offers shoppers more choice.
- Topic sentence two: However, a disadvantage is that online shopping has damaged community shops.
In this description of the essay types, you might have noticed that I’ve tried to use similar examples for each question type. You might have also noticed that the content of the answers to these questions can be quite similar. For example, a lot of the essays have points about increasing choice. However, the way you present that content changes depending on the question type. By studying these question types, you can learn how to present your ideas in the right way to get a high score in the IELTS exam.