IELTS & TOEFL Writing: 5 Common Mistakes

Today’s lesson is an IELTS lesson, so as usual, I’ll be speaking a little bit faster than normal, give you a little bit of listening practice. And today we’re going to look at specifically the essay types, the types of essays you’re going to have to come across for those of you taking the IELTS test in the writing section task two, the independent essay. I’m going to talk about the types of essays, and a very general idea, a very general discussion about how to approach, generally again, the essay. I want to make… Talk about templates, but I’ll do that a little bit later.

So first of all, the main thing to remember, you have essentially three types of essays that you’re going to come across on the IELTS essay writing test. You’re going to have an essay that asks for an opinion, you’re going to have an essay that does not ask for an opinion, and then you’re going to have a hybrid, you’re going to have a combination of the two. Okay? So first let’s go over the types of questions you might see that ask for an opinion. Now, it’s very important to recognize that not all of you… Sorry, not all of the questions are going to be specifically mentioning the word: “opinion”, or “think”, or “believe”, but you still have to recognize. So: “Do you agree or disagree with whatever has been mentioned before?” or whatever is written there. “Do you agree or disagree?” Take a side. “I agree with this because”, reasons. “I disagree because”, reasons. And similarly: “To what extent do you agree or disagree?” A quick word about “to what extent”, I personally recommend completely, totally, fully agree with whatever you agree with because it’s a much easier essay to write. If you say: “I somewhat agree”, then you have to look at both sides and tell me what you agree with, what you disagree with. If you say: “I completely agree with this idea”, then you only have to focus on that idea. It’s much easier. “Do you think” something, so this is a very direct question about your opinion. “What do you think about this?” or “What do you think are the causes of”, “What do you think are the main issues or problems?”

Now: “Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks”, or: “Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?” As soon as you see, here, the word: “Do”, it’s a yes/no question, you have to say yes or no, and we’re going to talk about yes/no questions. But this word: “outweigh”… “Are there more drawbacks or are there more benefits?” This is an opinion question. You decide if there are more drawbacks or opinions. “Which is better: This situation or this situation?” Okay? “Is it more important to do this or to do that?” So, again, these are all yes/no… This is a choice question because you have the “better”, you have the comparative. And, again, you have this, plus the yes/no. So as soon as it’s a yes/no question, it’s an opinion question. Make sure that you answer very specifically yes or no, this side or this side, and say why you think so. Support your opinion. And yes/no, if a question begins with: “Should some… Should somebody do something?”, “Should this be done?”, “Do… Do people need to do this?” for example. Excuse me. Any yes/no question is asking for an opinion. Okay? Make sure that you give an opinion, make sure that you support that opinion.

Okay, now, let’s go on to the non-opinion questions. “Discuss”, so they’re going to give you two attitudes, or two views, or two approaches to something. They say: “Discuss both views. Discuss both attitudes.” This is not asking for your opinion. So, one thing, it’s a general rule of thumb, don’t always apply it because some of you don’t like to use the word “I”, but if the question has a “you”, the answer can, and in most cases should, have an “I”. Okay? You don’t have to use the personal pronoun. It’s not wrong to. A lot of people are afraid, they think academic essays shouldn’t use “I”. Totally okay, recommended for a lot of people. If you can’t make your views clear without using the “I”, then use the “I”. Here, don’t use the “I”.

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