IELTS Writing Task 2 – Tips and common mistakes to avoid

As promised in last month’s blog, which focused on Task 1 of the IELTS writing exam, this month offers tips about the second task.

One of the most important factors to remember is that Task 2 is worth double the amount of points, so be sure to tell students to spend twice as much time writing this essay.

In my experience preparing students for this exam, many candidates initially consider Task 2 trickier because the question generally asks for an opinion on some quite controversial topics. Despite this concern, I’m able to put your mind at rest here and make assurances that a conclusive opinion one way or the other is not the ultimate goal of the essay, and that a well-balanced argument that considers both perspectives is far more important. In short, don’t be afraid to sit on the fence!

Consider the following Task 2 essay question:

It is inevitable that traditional cultures will be lost as technology develops. Technology and traditional cultures are incompatible. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this view?

This is a complex topic, and it is subsequently reasonable to conclude your essay explaining that there are both positive and negative aspects related with this phenomenon.

However, before focusing on the conclusion, I would like to provide some tips in order to compose a succinct and well-structured argument that can be applied to any essay question. First of all, students need to remember to keep it simple and they shouldn’t try to squeeze in too much information as there simply won’t be time. They only have 40 minutes for this essay – the examiner is not expecting a PhD thesis!

Candidates should always spend some time structuring your essay by choosing two main points that support both sides of the argument. Upon writing a brief introduction, they should expand on these points in the two main contrasting paragraphs, and use appropriate discourse markers to present these points in a coherent manner. By discourse markers, I mean words such as ‘firstly, secondly and finally’, which will assist the reader in clearly understanding the thread of the argument. However, candidates should try to be confident regarding their choice of discourse markers and connectors as these are often used erroneously, resulting in lost marks. For example, the words ‘Nevertheless’ and ‘Although’ are not synonyms – the former is used to connect two sentences, while the latter is used to connect two clauses. Although it is admirable of students to try and expand their vocabulary, it is better within the context of the IELTS writing exam to choose only a few connecting words, of which the correct usage is completely understood, rather than a more expansive vocabulary that is used incorrectly.

If candidates arm themselves with a variety of discourse markers and conjunctions, and observe the aforementioned structure for each essay they write (introductory paragraph, two contrasting paragraphs, and a conclusion), then any essay topic can be adjusted to fit this format – and strong IELTS results will follow.

Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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