IELTS Writing Task 2 Problem and Solution Essay Lesson

Problem Solution Essay

This lesson will:

  • discuss common mistakes
  • show you how to analyse the question
  • show you how to think of ideas
  • give you a structure than can be used again and again on all problem solution IELTS essays
  • describe how to write an introduction, main body paragraphs and conclusion
  • give you a full band 9 sample answer

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This is one of the most common IELTS writing task 2 questions on the academic paper. Despite being very common, lots of students fail to do well in these questions. This post will look at some of the most common mistakes and then take you through how to answer these questions step-by-step.

Common Mistakes

  1. The most common mistake is not expanding on your ideas and instead simply listing lots of problems and solutions. The examiner does not want a list of all the problems and solutions you can think of and please don’t do this in the exam. Instead, if you look at how the exam is marked, the examiner wants you to pick one or two problems and solutions and then expand on them with explanations and examples. More on how to do this below.
  2. Another common mistake is writing about problems and solutions that are not directly linked to the question. You should be like a sniper when answering the question and only give very specific ideas, rather than ideas that generally talk about the overall issue. This has a lot to do with how you identify keywords and micro-keywords in the questions which we will look at below.
  3. Lots of people think of good ideas for problems and then fail to link their solutions to these problems. Each problem should have a solution that is directly linked to it, or in other words, should solve the actual problem.
  4. Finally, some candidates think of really good problems and solutions that answer the question properly and then expand their answers with explanations and examples, but they talk too generally. Instead, you should be thinking of specific examples and explanations. We will look at how to avoid this below.

Analysing the Question 

This is one of the most crucial parts of answering any IELTS writing question. If you don’t take the time to properly think about what the examiner is asking you to do, then it is very difficult to answer the question correctly.

We analyse the question by thinking about three things:

  • keywords
  • micro-keywords
  • action words

Keywords are the words that tell us what the general topic is.

Micro-keywords identify which part of the general topic the examiner wants you to talk about. They often give an opinion, qualify the statement or talk about a sub-category of the bigger general topic.

Action words tell us what the examiner wants us to do.

Problem and Solutions Sample Question

Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century and sea levels are continuing to rise at alarming rates. 

What problems are associated with this and what are some possible solutions. 

If we look at this question we can see that the keywords are ‘global warming‘. This is our general topic. We are going to write about this, but we cannot write about any problems associated with global warming. If we do this, we have not answered the question properly. We therefore need to look at the micro-keywords.

The micro-keywords are ‘humans‘ and ‘sea level rise‘. So instead of writing just about the huge topic of global warming and any problems associated with that (such as increased storms, extinction of certain animals, erosion of soil) , we have to talk about how particularly sea level rises will affect humans. If for example, we talked about the problems affecting the ‘planet’ or ‘animals’ or the ‘atmosphere’, we would not be answering the question.

The action words are problems and solutionsOur task is therefore to write about that and only that. It does not ask our opinion or about the disadvantages and advantages or about the causes, just the problems and solutions. If we talked about the causes of sea level rise, then we would not be answering the question.

For more information on how to effectively analyse an IELTS question, please go to our post here.

How to Think of Ideas 

Problem or solution essay

Now that we know exactly what the question is asking us to do, we need to think of specific and relevant ideas. There are many strategies for thinking of ideas for IELTS task 2 questions but for these kind of questions I like to use something called the ‘coffee shop method’.

Instead of brainstorming or mind-mapping- which take too much time and lead to irrelevant ideas in my opinion- you should just pretend you are in a coffee shop with a friend and they have just asked you a simple question. In this case it would be “What are the problems and solutions associated with sea level rise on humans?”

If you were talking to friend about this, I’m sure you would have no problem thinking of at least 2 or 3 problems and solutions. This method takes you out of an exam situation and puts your mind into a more relaxed environment. Try it and see. If you don’t like it, try one of my other methods.

There are several problems and solutions including:

Problem: flooding of people’s homes and businesses

Solution: build flood barriers or move to higher areas

Problem: loss of agricultural land and starvation

Solution: switch to more suitable crops

Problem: displacement of millions of people

Solution: move people in a planned and orderly way before the floods

Problem: ground water undrinkable

Solution: build desalination plants

As you can see, I didn’t think of lots of problems and then lots of solutions. For each problem, you should think of a solution that directly solves this problem.

You now have lots of ideas, but now you must decide which ones to use. I always tell my students to pick the ones you know most about i.e. that you can explain and give relevant examples.

Structure

problem and solution essay structure

I advise my students to use a basic four paragraph structure with all problem solution IELTS essays. You four paragraphs should look something like this:

Paragraph 1- Introduction

Paragraph 2- Problems

Paragraph 3- Solutions

Paragraph 4- Conclusion

At a sentence level, your structure should look like this:

Introduction 

Sentence 1- Paraphrase question

Sentence 2- Outline sentence (say what you will discuss in the rest of the essay)

Problem 

Sentence 3- State problem

Sentence 4- Explain what problem is

Sentence 5- What is the result of this problem

Sentence 6- Example

Solution

Sentence 7- State solution

Sentence 8- Explain how solution will solve problem

Sentence 9- Example

Conclusion 

Sentence 10- Summary of main points in paragraphs 2 and 3

Sentence 11- Prediction or recommendation

That’s it! 11 sentences that can be used again and again for any problem solution IELTS essay.

Some students have commented that this structure only has one problem and one solution and they are worried this will not be enough to get to 250 words. In my experiences, one problem and one solution is more than enough to answer the question properly, but if you prefer, feel free to add one more problem or solution. I wouldn’t have two problems and two solutions because this will either lead to you not expanding and explaining your ideas enough or take too much time to write.

Practice and see what you feel most comfortable doing.

For more structures check out our IELTS task 2 structures guide.

Now let’s look at each paragraph in more detail.

Introduction 

Problem solution essay

The introduction will have two sentences: a paraphrase of the question and an outline statement.

Paraphrasing is simply saying the sentence again with different words but with the same meaning. We can do this by using synonyms and/or changing the order of the words.

Question- Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century and sea levels are continuing to rise at alarming rates. 

Paraphrased- Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century and ocean levels are increasing dramatically.

As you can see above, I have used synonyms to change the words of the questions but it still has the same meaning. The examiner will be looking for your ability to do this in the exam, so it is a good idea to practice this skill.

Our outline sentence is next and this tells the examiner what they are going to read in the rest of the essay. This makes it very clear to the examiner and makes the rest of the essay much easier to understand. You will therefore gain marks for coherence and cohesion.

Our outline sentence should look something like this:

This essay will first suggest that the biggest problem caused by this phenomenon is the flooding of homes and then submit building flood protection as the most viable solution. 

Our introduction will therefore look like this:

Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century and ocean levels are increasing dramatically. This essay will first suggest that the biggest problem caused by this phenomenon is the flooding of homes and then submit building flood protection as the most viable solution. 

It should be noted that this introduction does not contain a thesis statement. This is because this particular question does not ask us for our opinion. However, IELTS problem solution questions sometimes do ask you for your opinion and you should then include a thesis statement.

Problems Paragraph 

Our problems paragraph will have this structure:

Sentence 1- State problem

Sentence 2- Explain what problem is

Sentence 4- What is the result of this problem

Sentence 5- Example

State problem: The foremost problem caused by climbing sea levels is the flooding of peoples’ residences.

Now that we have stated the problem, we must explain what this is. You should always consider your audience to be someone with no specialist knowledge in this area and you therefore need to explain what everything means. Don’t assume that the IELTS examiner is an educated person and knows what you are talking about. These assumptions will stop you writing what you need.

Explain: Millions of people all over the world live in coastal areas and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they will be inundated with water and lose their property.

Now that we have explained what our main point is we need to explain why this is a problem. First explain the what and then the why. 

Result: Shelter is one of the most basic of human needs and widespread flooding would cause millions of people to become homeless, not to mention losing all of their possessions.

Now we must give an example of what we are talking about. When we give an example, it should be as specific as possible.

An example of a very general example would be:

Lots of people in the world have experienced floods recently. 

This is far too general to be considered a good example.

Example: The devastation brought about by widespread flooding was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced.

This example is much more specific. Stating a place and/or date can help you make your examples more specific.

Our second paragraph will look like this:

The foremost problem caused by sea levels creeping up is the flooding of peoples’ residences. Millions of people all over the world live in coastal areas and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they will be inundated with water and lose their property. Shelter is one of the most basic of human needs and widespread flooding would cause millions of people to become homeless, not to mention losing all of their possessions. The devastation brought about by this was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced.

Now we must move on to our solutions.

Solutions Paragraph

Our solutions paragraph will have this structure:

Sentence 1- State solution

Sentence 2- Explain how solution will solve problem

Sentence 3- Example

State solution: A possible solution to this problem would be to build flood barriers.

We now need to explain how our solution will help solve the problem. Again, do not assume that the examiner has any specialist knowledge of this topic, so you need to explain what you mean.

Explain solution: Flood defences, such as dikes, dams and floodgates,  could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water reaching populated areas.

Example: The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to flooding and they have successfully employed various flood defence systems.

Our whole solutions paragraph will look like this:

A possible solution to this problem would be to build flood barriers. Flood defences, such as dikes, dams and floodgates,  could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water reaching populated areas. The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to flooding and they have successfully employed various flood defence systems. 

We have now answered the question and we now just need to sum up what we have said in the conclusion.

Conclusion 

problem solution IELTS

The conclusion should have no new ideas, but instead should simply list the main points from the previous two paragraphs. You can also use synonyms in this paragraph to avoid repetition.

Conclusion: To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face and it will ultimately lead to many of the worlds’ cities being left underwater, but a possible solution could be to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland.

It is also possible to make a recommendation or prediction. This should only be used if you have time and you are over the word limit already.

Prediction: It is predicted that more and more countries will be forced to take such measures to avoid a watery catastrophe.

Our whole conclusion will look like this:

To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face and it will ultimately lead to many of the worlds’ cities being left underwater, but a possible solution could be to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland. It is predicted that more and more countries will be forced to take such measures to avoid a watery catastrophe. 

Problem and Solution Sample Essay

Here is the whole essay:

Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century and sea levels are continuing to rise at alarming rates. 

What problems are associated with this and what are some possible solutions. 

Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century and ocean levels are increasing dramatically. This essay will first suggest that the biggest problem caused by this phenomenon is the flooding of homes and then submit building flood protection as the most viable solution.

The foremost problem caused by sea levels creeping up is the flooding of peoples’ residences. Millions of people all over the world live in coastal areas and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they will be inundated with water and lose their property. Shelter is one of the most basic of human needs and widespread flooding would cause millions of people to become homeless, not to mention losing all of their possessions. The devastation brought about by this was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced.

A possible solution to this problem would be to build flood barriers. Flood defences, such as dikes, dams and floodgates,  could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water reaching populated areas. The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to flooding and they have successfully employed various flood defence systems.

To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face and it will ultimately lead to many of the worlds’ cities being left underwater, but a possible solution could be to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland. It is predicted that more and more countries will be forced to take such measures to avoid a watery catastrophe.

(298 words)

I hope this post helps you with IELTS problem solution essays and if you have any questions please comments below.

Next Steps 

If you found this lesson useful, you should also check out our lessons on task 2 opinions essays, discussion essays and advantages and disadvantages essays.

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27 Comments

  1. Moeed khan says

    Dear Chris, Thank you for such a beautiful piece of writing, I literally felt sitting with you in a class.
    Just a small comment, The climate change and Global warming are not similar phenomenon. Global warming refers only to rising of temperature of earth whereas climate change can be something anywhere from the mean, For example many parts of planet are undergoing climatic changes where moderate temperature in winter has now changed to extremely cold weather.

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