It's important to be able to identify what the essay question is and what they are asking you to discuss- because you want to answer it correctly!
The problem is, is that some of the way the questions are articulated makes them sound similar, i.e. a discussion essay might also look like an advantages and disadvantages essay.
Task Response/Achievement is so important. If you are off task and your ideas don't consistently respond to the question, you're drifting into the 5/6 territory. Even if your grammar and lexical choice is good, it won't compensate for lack of TR.
A key thing to remember- What you see on the surface may not be what they are asking you to discuss. Let's go through some together.
Part of recognising the question type is creating good language identification habits and using my 4 tier-system of questioning.
What is language identification?
This is simply identifying certain parts of language in the question, to guide you to your answer. Whether its for the IELTS exam, or any other English exam, I always tell my students to tackle the question first and spend a few minutes analysing it so you set yourself up well.
What is 4 tier-system of questioning?
I believe that these four questions are useful to understand any IELTS question you are given.
- How many ideas am I being asked to discuss? (task response)
- Is there a suggestion to discuss or am I being explicitly directed to discuss? (explicit vs implicit)
- What vocabulary am I unsure with? (contextualise where unsure)
- What is my position? (consistency)
A recap on the essay question types
- Opinion essay
- Discussion essay
- Problem solution essay
- Advantages & Disadvantages essay
- Double question essay
Some people say that instead of preventing climate change, we need to find a way to live with it. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this view?
This is a discussion essay because there are two different opinions and we need to say whether we agree or disagree.
If it were an opinion question which it could be mistaken for, it might look like this 'Climate change can't be prevented and we need to find a way to live with it. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Let's apply the 4 tier-system questions
- How many ideas am I being asked to discuss? (task response) You need to discuss both ideas here.
- Is there a suggestion to discuss or am I being explicitly directed to discuss? (explicit vs implicit) You need to be careful with the use of 'instead' here. The 'instead' doesn't mean we ignore the idea of prevention. Its implication here is coaxing you to notice it as a contrasting device, by introducing another idea.
- What vocabulary am I unsure with? (contextualise where unsure) 'prevention' and 'find a way to live with it' are perhaps where you might take a pause over. These are however not difficult words and hopefully you have come across 'prevent' before, and you can deconstruct 'find a way to live with it' for meaning, it's all in the verbs here!
- What is my position? (consistency) This question presents two ideas and to what extent you agree or disagree. Therefore, you need to pick your position. Do you agree or disagree? There will be one side you lean more towards. Be consistent with this throughout your essay. If you go the other way, it will demonstrate you didn't understand the question as ultimately, they are asking you to pick a side. This however, also does not mean you only discuss one idea.
A lot of research has shown that overeating can have a number of negative effects on the body. Some people therefore believe that the advertising of certain foods should be banned in the same way that some countries have banned advertising cigarettes. Do you agree or disagree?
So, there is quite a lot happening in this question. Let's break it down.
The opening sentence is generally introducing the main topic of the question- overeating/health/food consumption, and its subsequent consequence. It has created a relationship to the negative effects of overeating, to the negative effects of smoking, implying that excessive consumption of food is as bad as smoking for health.
The second sentence is the crux of the question. They are asking you to talk about whether you agree or disagree that food items should be banned in the same way as cigarettes.
Let's apply the 4 tier-system questions
- How many ideas am I being asked to discuss? (task response) Because the question is fundamentally asking you to discuss why you agree or disagree with advertisements around food, your writing should focus on this. Smoking is your tool to counter or validate your argument, but it is not what you should lead your writing with. Your two main paragraphs should be on reasons for or against banned advertising of food.
- Is there a suggestion to discuss or am I being explicitly directed to discuss? (explicit vs implicit) The implication here might seem like they want you to talk about the banning of advertisements for cigarettes, but actually, they are asking you to discuss your viewpoint on the banning of advertisements for (certain) foods. A more explicit part to the question is where they say that research has revealed the negative effects of overeating. The implied meaning here is that overeating is a health issue and similar to smoking, and therefore should be treated in the same way- this is where you put your stance. Do you agree or disagree? And herein, you build your two paragraphs on the 2 main reasons as to why you agree or disagree.
- What vocabulary am I unsure with? (contextualise where unsure) I think with this question, it's not the words themselves, but their arrangement. It's about breaking the sentences up singularly, understanding them, and then assessing their relationship to one another.
- What is my position? (consistency) With a question like this, its really important to choose your stance and stick to it. You are talking about the issue of overeating and whether as a solution, advertising of certain foods should be treated similarly to cigarettes. So, the two leading ideas need to feed into this and consistently answer this question. For example, your two main ideas could be, 1. it is not the food itself that is the problem but overeating as the habit so advertisements would not curb someone's individual choice to overeat, 2. healthy eating habits can be taught from a young age whereas it would be inappropriate to expose young children to the subject of smoking. Or, 1. should be banned in the same vain because it is a growing problem and many countries have a rising obesity rate, 2. it brings on other serious health issues and could prevent other illnesses developing.
- Practice applying the 4 tier-system questions with other IELTS essay questions- practice with as many as you can!
- Feel free to book in a call with me to go over questions and practice breaking their meaning down
- The first thing to do is to deconstruct the question. Never start writing until you have spent five minutes on the question
- Identify what essay question type it is