How to quickly plan your essay in the test

Planning your answer before you write is very important if you want to score above band 6.

Planning helps make sure that you:

  • address all parts of the question (band 7 Task response)
  • logically organise information (band 7 coherence and cohesion)
  • adequately develop your ideas (band 6 task responses can have main ideas that are inadequately developed – in other words there is a lack of balance)

Nevertheless, many people tell me that they do not have time to write a plan in the test.  If your aim is to score above band 6, you can only afford to take this attitude if you plan on taking and retaking the test many times. To help address this, I devised a quick way to plan your answer using the question you are given.  This image shows how this ideas works.

To demonstrate how this works whether you agree, disagree, or neither completely agree or disagree, look at the following answers I have written to this question.  Try to notice the ways that I make the different positions clear throughout.

In this first version, I completely disagree with the idea in the question:

In the second version, I completely agree with the idea in the question:

In this final version, I neither completely agree nor disagree:

Of course, this is not the only way to answer this question – there is no single correct way to answer any question.  This is just one way to help you answer the question fully, in a balanced way, as quickly as possible in the test.  You can read more about planning and getting ideas in my free book:

Recent Comments

  • Mostafa Karami
    13th September 2020 - 9:18 pm ·

    Hello Ms. Pauline,
    In your book, you said that it is important to have one central topic and to refute the counterargument. In body paragraph 2 of version 3 you brought a counterargument that, in my view, is not clearly rebutted. To further my confusion, the topic sentence that usually represent the central idea of the paragraph is quite contrary to the counterargument and neither of them dominates the paragraph. To simplify the counterargument, I think, first it says that the new rules can have opposite effect on recycling then it concludes that it doesn’t have opposite effect and even may bring about some positive effects but it should be tested before being implemented. Isn’t it like sitting on the fence and doesn’t it contradict with “make the writer’s position and perspective clear”?

    • Pauline
      14th September 2020 - 8:08 am ·

      Hi Mostafa, I am in the process of rewriting my previous sample answers to change them in to useful model answers. You are referring to an essay I haven’t altered yet. As I explain in the introduction to my book, my position on model essays changed in the writing of this book, which took 18 months. I will be changing my previous essays to fit with the ideas and style of writing I teach in the book as soon as I have finished the major projects I am working on at the moment.

  • Reza
    29th July 2019 - 9:09 pm ·

    Someone say in opinion discussion question you should a bit refer on both sides in introduction,while another suggest just have a general view without references and explain outlines in body section…

    Whats your opinion?

  • John
    1st November 2018 - 11:54 pm ·

    Hi madam. Hope you’re doing well. I have one doubt regarding advantage outweigh disadvantage type question? If I get this type question, is it mandatory to talk about two sides or can I say on one thing and state that it is completely outweigh other part?

    • Pauline
      2nd November 2018 - 10:37 am ·

      How can you argue that one side outweighs the other without explaining how it is better? In doing that, you must explain the other side to show why it is not as good / is worse.

  • rashmi dhaka
    2nd October 2018 - 1:33 pm ·

    hi Pauline
    I would be highly thankful to you if you can help me understand where i am lacking and what i can score…

    “No proper recycling of waste” has become a widened problem.It is claimed that there are only few things that can be reused or recycled.I believe that to increase the recycling waste, some strict laws are needed.
    Well,as the waste starts from home so is the recycling process needs to be.Government should make it mandatory to classify their waste.Some products can be recycled, however others cannot be.So there should be classification between recycled and non-recycled waste.In addition to this,goverment should tell the importance of recycling the waste and should aware people about the ways to recycle upto certain extent.It can be done through TV advertisements, radio and newspaper etc.If more people could be motivated to recycle few waste, then it can be more helpful and beneficial for the environment.Furthermore,children should be taught in school to use waste material while doing art and craft work.For example that can use newspaper,wine bottles, bangles etc.
    However government can only set rules and regulations but its only we, who are going to obey therefor saving our environment.Government won’t come at homes to classify the waste.we should make ourselves motivated towards it and we should also help our children understand the reuse of waste.Some private companies are also taking start up to sort out such things which is appraisable.
    I end up with that people need strict rules for everything and so is this issue.It should be done mandatory for everyone to follow the rules and if not, there should be high penalty.

  • Dory
    23rd September 2018 - 11:43 pm ·

    I Pauline,
    Thank you for the post,
    I wonder if it is required to discuss the matter of not enough household waste being recycled?
    Do you think I would lose mark in task achievement criteria if I organise the essay like this:
    Paragraph 1: the new law is a possible way to encourage recycling problem
    Paragraph 2: it is not the only way, there are in fact many more effective ways
    Thanks again

    • Pauline
      24th September 2018 - 10:42 am ·

      Hi Dory, I am sure that you would still need to at least reference or mention the issue that ‘not enough household waste is being recycled’ because this is the reason the law is needed. Without referring to this, your first paragraph would not make any sense. With your first paragraph, your main idea would be ‘creating a new law is a possible way to encourage recycling’ OR ‘ is a possible way to deal with the problem – which is that not enough household waste is being recycled. If you write about the first one, you would need to say why this needs to be encouraged, which again means referring to the problem (that not enough household waste it being recycled.)

      • Dory
        2nd October 2018 - 7:18 pm ·

        Thank you for your reply,
        I think the question use phrases like: “Some people claim that” and “they say that” so we are required to discuss both arguments. However, if the question is

        “Some people who have been in prison become good citizens later, and it is often argued that these are the best people to talk to teenagers about the dangers of committing a crime. To what extent do you agree or disagree? “

        Do you think we should discuss the first question (“Some people who have been in prison become good citizens later”). Of course we can briefly mention it in the introduction but is it necessary to develop a paragraph or support it with an example and explanation?

          • Dory
            3rd October 2018 - 3:05 pm ·

            Hi Pauline,
            I have another task in IELTS 9 (test 4) that follows a similar format (a statement or a fact followed by a opinion):

            “Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.”

            Should I thoroughly discuss the first statement with a paragraph as you do or just refer to it to discuss the argument say “this is not important”?

      • huawn
        8th February 2019 - 3:21 am ·

        Hi Pauline,
        I have been following your weblog for sometime now, and I just came across this discussion. I have had this question in my mind for a long time and I think I have finally found the answer. So thank you for that, just a quick question, is it fine if I say in the introduction that not enough domestic waste is being recycled and start the second paragraph by saying how making it a legal requirement can help, or should I write a separate paragraph about this problem and discuss it? thanks again for the wonderful weblog.

        • Pauline
          8th February 2019 - 11:29 am ·

          Hi Huawn, as long as your discussion throughout the essay was always about the need to increase the amount of domestic waste that is recycled then this would be fine. But I imagine you will run into problems of repetition and a lack of balance if you only discuss making it a legal requirement in your paragraphs.

    • Pauline
      23rd September 2018 - 5:53 pm ·

      Hi Deepika, your question suggests you haven’t read my free book – that should help you to understand that for GT task 1, the tone of you letter is very important. In the vocabulary and grammar chapters, I show you how the language you use affects your tone. The words in your list are those that we normally use in a formal essay. If you use them in an informal letter, then you will lose marks because the tone will not be correct. Nevertheless, if you use words like this in a formal letter to someone, it can make your tone much too formal, which again would be inappropriate. As I explain in the book, you need to understand what the words you learn mean, and how and when to use them.

  • s.j
    19th September 2018 - 12:54 am ·

    hi,i want to ask does the order of body paragraph make a difference e.g we have to write the agreed part first & then the disagree part? or we have to keep the same sequence as given in the Q ?
    & 1 more Q,should we write main idea of disagreed para in introduction or just the agreed main idea ?

  • Jalil
    13th September 2018 - 6:53 am ·

    Dear Pauline
    What about questions like: some people believe that nowadays we have too many choices. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?( Cambridge 13,test 2)
    How we can plan such questions quickly?

    • Pauline
      13th September 2018 - 10:34 am ·

      When there is a single view in the question, I always advise you simply look at the view from all sides. For example, think about the opposite. It’s also very important to begin by carefully reading the question and thinking through your own thoughts and feelings about it. This question is about having ‘too many choices’ – do you believe that? Is it true for you? Is it true in all areas of your life? ‘Too many’ is a negative idea – do you think that having a lot of choices is always negative? Can you think of any occassions when this is true? (e.g. when shopping, do you have too many choices? Why is this a problem?) Can you think of any occasions when there is not enough choice? (e.g. transport) Once you have thought this through, organise your ideas in a similar way to my quick planning method: 1) discuss the idea of having too many choices (when this can happen and the effect it can have and whether this is a bad thing or not) 2) discuss the times when we do not have too many choices (give examples and explain the impact of this) 3) state whether you believe there are generally too many choices or not.

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