If you look at the official Writing Task 2 Marking Criteria you will notice that to get a band 9 you must:
present a fully developed position in answer to the question with relevant, fully extended and well supported ideas
In order to be easy to understand a paragraph should have only one main idea. A common mistake by IELTS students in Task 2 is thinking that if they include lots of ideas they will get higher marks. In fact, the opposite is true. You get higher marks for developing your ideas with explanations and examples. You don’t get any extra marks for just listing lots of ideas.
Let’s look at an example question:
Today people are traveling more than before. Why is this the case?
Supporting Paragraph A
I think more people are traveling because people are earning more money these days and they can afford to travel. Additionally, flights are much cheaper than they were in the past. Moreover, people have very stressful lives these days and need to go on holiday. Furthermore, children expect to be taken on holiday when they are off school during the summer. Finally, it is good for the family to spend time with one another.
The person who wrote the above paragraph thinks that the way to get a high score is to list as many ideas as possible and show the examiner how much they know about the topic. This is actually one of the worst things you can do because Task 2 is not a test of your knowledge, it is a test of your academic writing ability. The paragraph above is simply a list, not a coherent, cohesive paragraph that takes ideas and fully develops them.
Supporting Paragraph B
In the past, air tickets were only for the rich and famous because most salaries could not cover the price of a flight to a foreign country. This meant that the majority simply stayed at home or took their holidays domestically; however, this has all changed with the creation of budget airlines. Low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair in Europe or Tiger Air in Asia, have meant that anyone can save up and travel to a new country, with prices starting as low as $1.
The paragraph has only one main idea- that air travel is cheap. The author of this paragraph has stated their main point in the first sentence, then explained what this means and how it relates to the question and then used a specific example to illustrate their point. This is exactly what the examiners are looking for and you should try to use the following structure to help you write your supporting paragraphs:
- Topic sentence (state your main point)
- Explanation (What does your main point mean? Why have you included it? How does it answer the question?)
- Example (A specific example that illustrates your main point)
The following can be used to give examples:
- For example,
- For instance,
- This is illustrated by….
- …such as….
You will notice that this is not a very long list. I have intentionally made it short for two reasons. You are only going to have time to include 2 or 3 examples in Task 2 and you have enough new vocabulary to learn already without trying to learn ten different ways to say ‘For example,’.
Below are some examples to show you how they are used in a sentence:
For example, thousands of Palestinians and Israelis have joined the same online groups that show support for peace and solidarity, something that would have been impossible 25 years ago.
For instance, Cambridge University found in a recent study that 62% of men and women who paid for an annual gym membership failed to go entirely after just one month.
This is illustrated by the fact that in the United States you must complete four years of higher education before you can study law.
Many sports brands, such as Adidas and Nike, pay professional athletes million of dollars to endorse their products.
There are now a few low cost airlines in the UK, namely Ryanair and Easyjet, that offer very affordable flights.
How to Think of Examples
One of the biggest complaints I get from students is ‘But teacher, I can never think of an example!’. There is a very quick solution to this problem- make them up, or in other words, create them. The examiners will never check your examples for authenticity. They do not care if your example is real or not, just that you know how to write one.
You should obviously never do this in school or university, only the IELTS exam.
It is always better to write about a real example, but if you can’t think of one use one of the examples below:
1. The University Study
Universities do research all the time and you can use this to invent a study that supports your main point. Let’s say your main point is that using iPads and iPhones increases literacy among young children. You could say:
For example, a recent study by Queen’s University found that regularly using smart phones or tablets increased literacy rates by 28%.
2. A Government Opinion Poll
Governments often ask their citizens their opinion on various issues and you can use this to support your main points. Let’s say you get a question on whether it is better to educate children in mixed or single-sex schools. You could say:
For instance, a recent poll by the UK Government found that 68% of people who attended single sex schools would have preferred to have gone to a mixed school.
3. A Newspaper Report
It is also very easy to use newspaper stories to support your view. Say your question asked you to discuss whether you think violent video games are to blame for rising levels of youth crime.
The New York Times reported in March 2015 that violent crimes committed by under 15 year olds, such as assault, murder and rape, were linked to playing violent video games.
4. Personal Experience
You can also use experience from your own life to illustrate a point. In general you shouldn’t use personal pronouns in Task 2, but it is fine to do it here. Say you are given a question about solutions to traffic jams. You could say:
In my local city they have installed bike lanes and places where you can safely park your bike and this has encouraged thousands of people to stop using cars.
So now you know how to structure a paragraph and how to give examples, you now need to avoid one of the most common mistakes students make when using examples- being too general. If you look at academic journals or books you will notice that the examples they give are as specific as possible. This gives your points more authority and strengthens your arguments.
Below we will look at a question asking why women should receive equal pay. Our main point is that women achieve higher grades than men at university.
Let’s look at three examples:
1. For example, women achieve more than men at university.
This is a very general statement and does not really support our main point and because it is so general, it sounds like we are just repeating the main point again.
2. For instance, most women on my university course did better than men.
This is a little better because the author has been a little more specific about which university and which course, but there are no details so it is still a little vague.
3. For example, at Queen’s University in 2009 32% of female law graduates achieved First Class Honours , while only 8% of males achieved the same.
This is a very specific example because it includes a time, place and specific numbers. Think about it this way, if you were arguing with someone about this point and they gave you one of the three examples above, which one would you accept? By being as specific as possible we can add weight to our argument and give a more academic answer.
You can make your example more specific by adding:
- place/business/university names
- names of people
You don’t have to add all of these things, only one or two are required to make it more specific.
Go to our Writing Task 2 page where you can find lots of sample answers and each of them have very specific examples for you to compare. You can use practice using them in your own essays. Here are over 100 real sample questions to get you started.