How to Understand and Analyse an IELTS Writing Task 2 Question

This article will help you understand IELTS writing questions and answer these questions more effectively.

One of the main reasons students fail to get the score they deserve in writing task 2 is not analysing the question effectively. I had one student recently who had great grammar and vocabulary, but always failed to read and analyse the question properly and therefore didn’t understand the question. He was so confident in his ability that he went straight in to writing without really thinking about what the examiner wanted him to write. He should have got at least a 7 or 8 but ended up with a 6 instead.

Some students think that analysing the question will take up too much time, but they are normally the students who don’t do as well as they should. I know teachers say over and over again ‘read the question’ but what does this actually mean?

The examiner is actually looking to see if you have understood the question properly and a failure to take the time to do so could result in you dropping down a few band scores.

So why do some students not do so well? There are four main reasons:

  1. Failure to take the time to actually read the question;
  2. Writing about the topic generally and not answering the specific question;
  3. Failing to recognise the kind of question being asked and
  4. Misunderstanding the question.

Luckily, there are simple steps you can take in the exam that will save you time and help you to understand and analyse the question effectively, therefore boosting your band score.

These 3 easy steps are simply identifying three easy things:

  1. The topic words;
  2. The micro-topic words and
  3. The instruction words.

I will explain how you can do this below.

What do questions normally look like?

It is a good idea to at least have a look at the different types of questions that normally come up in this part of the exam. You will be much more confident in the exam and there will be no surprises.

The question will always start off with one or two statements. It will then give a set of instructions that will differ from question to question. For a summary of question types, click here.

Now we know the format, we can get in to analysing the question.

  1. Identify the Topic Words

Each essay will be about a general topic and we must identify this first.

Let’s look at an example question:

The internet allows us to stay connected with each other no matter where we are. On the other hand, it also isolates us and encourages people not to socialise.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answers and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

The topic word here is obviously ‘The internet’. If it is obvious why am I telling you about it? Because too many students will simply write generally about the topic and this is how you lose marks. It is fine to write about the topic, but it is must be linked to the rest of the question. This is where ‘micro-topic’ words come in.

  1. Identify Micro-Topic Words

These words define the question and tell you which particular part of the main topic the question would like you to discuss and what the examiner is looking for. They often give an opinion or qualify the statement in some way.

Let’s look at our example question again:

The internet allows us to stay connected  with each other no matter where we are . On the other hand, it also isolates us  and encourages people not to socialise .

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answers and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

So as you can see, we should only include things in our essay that are relevant to the words highlighted above. If we discuss anything else, such as how the internet helps us study, how it is dangerous for children, the history of the internet or how the internet is used for entertainment, then you are not being relevant.

Let’s look at another question:

Many children these days have an unhealthy lifestyle. Both  schools  and parents  are responsible  for solving  this problem.

To what extent do you agree with this statement.

The main topic is children’s unhealthy lifestyle. This is a very wide topic and we can’t write about it in general. Instead, we have to look at the second sentence for the micro-topic words. Here we have to look at both schools and parents and how they are responsible for solving this problem.

Remember; write about the micro-topic words, not the topic in general.

  1. Identify Instruction Words

The next stage is looking to see what the examiner wants us to do. They could ask us to give an opinion, or evaluate the advantages and disadvantages or present problems and solutions. For a guide on the different question types click here.

Let’s look at our example question again:

The internet allows us to stay connected with each other no matter where we are. On the other hand , it also isolates us and encourages people not to socialise.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Give reasons for your answers and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

We can clearly see that this is an agree or disagree question and we therefore must follow this format or we will lose marks. We should also give reasons and include some relevant examples.

That’s it! You’re now ready to present relevant arguments backed up by supporting information.

This will also keep you focused throughout the essay and you should refer back to it from time to time to make sure you are staying within what the question asks.

Let’s practice

Have a look at this example question below and identify:

  1. The topic words;
  2. The micro-topic words and
  3. The instruction words.

Women and men are commonly seen as having different strengths and weaknesses. Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Do you think the examiner wants you to discuss men and women’s strengths and weaknesses or something else? Comment below with your answers and we will reply.

If you have any questions then please feel free to leave a comment below. Any questions, no matter how big or small, are always welcome. We are always happy to help.

Click here to return to the homepage, or click one of the links below to check out more great IELTS stuff.

Writing Task 1

Writing Task 2

Speaking

Vocabulary 

Reading

Listening

Tips 

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18 Comments

  1. Widiatnala says

    Women and men are commonly seen as having different strengths and weaknesses. Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender?

    Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

    1. The topic words: Different strengths and weaknesses between women and men.
    2. The micro-topic words: exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender
    3. The instruction words: agree or disagree opinion

  2. donbosco says

    Sir, I’ve been bombarded with alot of your tips. Sir currently I’m scared and worried. Im still finding it difficult to understand how to have a good introduction

  3. Mata says

    Hello, you aren’t answering the question. The question isn’t about when to execute the punishment like you stated in the concluding paragraph. I think you should be writing about a fixed punishment for certain kinds of crime or a punishment depending on different circumstances.

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