I don’t know anything about that subject.

One common complaint that IELTS candidates make is that in the writing task they often don’t really know anything about the subject they are asked to write about. Very often the question asked, especially in Writing Task Two, seems to be asking for specialist knowledge that some IELTS candidates feel that they don’t have. The subject of the question might never have crossed their minds before.

Look at this question:

Cheap international flights lead to increased levels of tourism. Some people feel that this is a positive thing for the visited country but others do not.
What are your opinions on this issue?

I showed this question to an IELTS student recently and the student stared at me blankly. I asked what his thoughts were about this subject. The student was stuck.

“My country is not a popular tourist destination,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”

I pointed out that the question was not about his country but about his opinions related to the issue. I asked the IELTS student to make a list of the positive aspects of increased levels of tourism and the negative aspects. The list was very simple and looked like this –

positive aspects of tourism
1 more money coming to the country
2 greater understanding of the visited country’s culture

negative aspects of tourism
1 too busy in some places
2 pollution caused by more flights
3 too many new hotels
4 prices go up for hotels and restaurants
5 destroys local traditions

It was clear from this little exercise that the IELTS student had more information and opinions about the negative aspects of tourism. The IELTS student was more than capable of answering the question and was able to generate ideas related to the subject to write about. Find some IELTS writing questions (particularly part two questions) and practise generating ideas about the subject. Start this practice way before the exam!! It was necessary for the IELTS student to understand that the content of this piece of writing is not as important as the way in which opinions and arguments that answer the question are presented. Of course, this is only true if the content is relevant.

Think about these two sentences from the conclusion to the above piece of IELTS writing:

There are good and bad things about tourism but the bad things are more important.

It is clear that increased levels of tourism have both negative and positive aspects but, on balance, the bad far outweighs the good.

Both of the sentences express the same idea but the first sentence is very basic. The second sentence uses specific phrases to express the main idea clearly. These phrases can be used over and over again in different pieces of writing. Can you identify the language that you could take away from the second sentence and “recycle?”

….it is clear that….
….have both positive and negative aspects….
….on balance….

One of your jobs as an IELTS student is to read lots of example IELTS writing exam answers and identify words and phrases that you can use again in your pieces of writing. You cannot learn the complete model answer and try to reproduce it in your IELTS exam. The IELTS writing questions are always different and you gain nothing by learning complete pieces of writing. If you learn complete model IELTS answers, there is the danger that you will answer the wrong question and you won’t get the IELTS band score you need.

Look at this question:

Humanity has made many changes to the planet. Some people feel that these changes are good and some people feel these changes are bad. What is your opinion?

First, think about your opinions. What changes has humanity made to the planet? Are they good changes or bad changes? Do you think the good changes are more important than the bad changes?

Use the phrases we picked out above and write a concluding sentence using our model sentence about increased levels of tourism.

It is clear that increased levels of tourism have both negative and positive aspects but, on balance, the bad far outweighs the good.

Did you write this?

It is clear that humanity has made both good and bad changes to our planet, but, on balance, the good far outweighs the bad.

It should be obvious to you that the language we are reusing is the language that gets you the points in the IELTS writing exam. The more phrases and expressions that you can learn, the better. These words and phrases will help you to express your opinions clearly. You only need two or three content ideas to answer writing task two well : what is more important is how you express these ideas.

Can you write a similar sentence for this question?

Many children have access to computers and the Internet on a daily basis. many teachers believe that this affects their learning processes negatively but others disagree. What is your opinion?

Make sure that the next time you read an IELTS piece of writing (or any piece of writing in English for that matter), you pay close attention to the language used to express ideas and make points. Try to use these phrases again in your own IELTS writing. It is necessary to understand that this language is what will get you the IELTS band score you need.

Coming soon: a model answer or two using lots of useful language.

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