Recent Confusing Questions

A lot of you send me your Writing questions after you do your exam. Recently, there have been a few very confusing questions. One student even emailed me to say that he probably won’t do very well because he found it difficult to focus because one person was crying throughout most of the Writing test.

But don’t worry. The best thing to do in these situations is to analyse the questions, think about the best way to answer them and you will improve your technique. You should see these difficult questions as a chance to improve, not an excuse to give up.

Below I will look at 4 recent questions and discuss:

  • why they are confusing;
  • what type of question they are and
  • the structure I would recommend using.

Questions Types

In general, I believe that there are five general question types for Writing Task 2. They are:

  1. Opinion (Agree or Disagree)
  2. Discussion (Discuss Both Views)
  3. Advantages and Disadvantages
  4. Problems/Causes and Solutions
  5. Double Questions (Two Questions)

Question types are important because it affects how we answer the question and the overall structure of the essay.

Beware of Fake Questions

Lots of websites and books make up their own questions. This is fine if you know what you are doing, but not so good if you don’t. IELTS has a very standard format for writing questions and if this format is not strictly followed, the result will be a very misleading question.

If you find a question that you do not understand, check that it comes from a reliable source first. Remember that not all websites and books are reliable sources.

Question 1

There is an increasing trend of old people living longer in many countries around the world.

Do you think this has a positive or a negative effect on the population as a whole?

Why is this question confusing?

The main reason students get confused about this question are the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. Many feel that because these are two opposites that they must discuss both of these.

‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ are also very similar to ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’, therefore many students believe that this question should be answered as an ‘advantages and disadvantages’ question.

The most important words above are ‘Do you think’. These three words indicate that the examiner wants to know your opinion. It also indicates that you do not have to discuss both positives and negatives, or in other words, you don’t have to answer this question as an ‘advantages and disadvantages’ question.

The other thing that might cause students trouble are the words ‘the population as a whole’. This means that you have to talk about the whole population and not specific people or specific groups of people.

What type of question is it?

The words ‘Do you think‘ indicates that this is an opinion question.

I would advise my students to simply pick one side, either positive or negative, and say why you have this point of view.

You could also give a balanced answer and say that you think it is both positive and negative, but I think this is an overly complicated way to answer the question and it will not get you higher marks.

Structure

If I agreed that it has a positive effect, I would use the following structure:

Paragraph 1- Introduction

Paragraph 2- First reason why I think it is positive

Paragraph 3- Second reason why I think it is positive

Paragraph 4- Conclusion

If I think it has a negative effect, I would use the same structure but give two reasons why I think it is negative.

Question 2

Nowadays more and more people read news on the Internet. Nevertheless, newspapers will remain an important source of news and information for the majority of people.

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Why is this question confusing?

The question statement ‘Nowadays more and more people read news on the Internet. Nevertheless, newspapers will remain an important source of news and information for the majority of people.’ has two sentences and therefore many students believe that this should be answered as a ‘discuss both views’ question.

However, if you look at the question, the first sentence is only for background purposes. It is really just giving you information to help you with the question. The most important sentence is the second sentence. It states ‘Nevertheless, newspapers will remain an important source of news and information for the majority of people.’

What type of question is it?

This is an opinion question. It is asking you if you agree or disagree with the second sentence. In other words, do you agree that newspapers will remain an important source of news and information or do you disagree?

You do not have to discuss the merits of old style newspapers vs news on the internet, you simply must say if you agree or disagree with the second sentence and why.

Structure

If I agreed with the statement, I would use the following structure:

Paragraph 1- Introduction

Paragraph 2- First reason why you agree

Paragraph 3- Second reason why you agree

Paragraph 4- Conclusion

If I disagree, I would simply state two reasons why I disagree in paragraphs 2 and 3.

Question 3

Some people think the main purpose of school is to turn children into good citizens and workers, rather than to benefit them as individuals.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Why is this question confusing?

The question seems like it has two opposing views. Normally, when there are two opposing views the question will ask you to discuss both of these views. Even though the question asks you if you agree or disagree, many students answered this question like a discussion question and many did not give their opinion at all.

However, if you read the question statement again, it does not have two opposing views, it has only one view- that the main purpose of school is to turn children into good citizens and workers.

What type of question is it?

This is an opinion question. Therefore, your job is to say whether you agree that the main purpose of schools is to turn children into good citizens and workers or that you disagree with that statement.

It is rare to get a question that is this confusing. Don’t worry, the vast majority of opinion questions are not like this.

Structure

If I agreed with the statement, I would use the following structure:

Paragraph 1- Introduction

Paragraph 2- First reason why you agree

Paragraph 3- Second reason why you agree

Paragraph 4- Conclusion

If I disagree, I would simply state two reasons why I disagree in paragraphs 2 and 3.

Again, it is possible to give a balanced answer and say you both agree and disagree, but I think, for most students, this is a very difficult thing to do and it normally results in more mistakes and lower marks.

Question 4

Research indicates that the characteristics we are born with have much more influence on our personality and development than any experiences we may have in our life.

Which do you consider to be the major influence?

Why is this question confusing?

The main reason this is confusing is the last sentence ‘Which do you consider to be the major influence?’. This does not follow any of the normal question formats. However, the key words in this sentence are ‘Which do you consider‘? They are asking you to pick one. This is therefore an opinion question.

It is also confusing because there are two opposing views, so many people would instantly think that this is a discussion question.

What type of question is it?

They are asking what ‘you‘ think and they are asking you to pick one side by asking you ‘which‘, therefore, this is an opinion question.

You could discuss both views, but you must state which one you think is the major influence. The easiest way to do this is simply pick one side and give two good reasons why you think this.

Structure

If I agreed with the statement, I would use the following structure:

Paragraph 1- Introduction

Paragraph 2- First reason why I think one side is the major influence

Paragraph 3- Second reason why I think one side is the major influence

Paragraph 4- Conclusion

Conclusions

  1. Questions will not always follow the standard format.
  2. Just because it appears that there are two opposing views, does not mean you have to discuss both sides.
  3. Look at the last sentence carefully. This will tell you what the examiner wants you to do.
  4. Spend at least a minute reading and thinking about what the question wants you to do.

You might also like More from author

Comments:

4 Comments

  1. jass says

    First of all lots thanks for sending me this very useful email. .I don’t have enough word appreciate you……sir I have little bit confusion for debate questions. ..how to analyze debate questions. ?…..I’m waiting for your answer. ..

  2. jass says

    First of all lots thanks sending me this very useful email. .I have don’t enough word appreciate you……sir I have little bit confusion for debate questions. ..how to analyze debate questions. ?…..I’m waiting for your answer. ..

  3. El Rey says

    Hi Chris! I took the IELTS last January 21, 2016 and my writing task 2 question was exactly the same on your Question 2. I was really confused on how to answer the question but what I did is the same format on discuss both views. I was surprised I was given a score of 7 because after the exam I realized that I made a mistake on my writing task 2 but thankful enough that the examiner gave me a good score. 🙂

  4. Oksana Kc says

    There are perfect and clear options for writings task 2. Thank you a lot for valuable help:)

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Loading Facebook Comments ...