This post will clarify what I mean when I advise band 6.5 candidates to ‘discuss both sides’, and help you to understand when and where to write a counter-argument.
I often find my advice about ‘discussing both sides’ being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Some people mistakenly believe that when I say that ‘you must always discuss both sides of the question‘ that this means ‘ You must always give a counter-argument.’ This is not at all what I mean, especially as I know that the latter can be bad advice for people stuck at band 6.5 in writing.
In writing task 2, we can always talk about ‘two sides‘ of the question, but there are times when it is not a good idea to write a whole paragraph presenting a counter-argument. To understand this, let us begin by understanding the key terms we are using.
Understanding the terms
1 What is ‘a side’?
The word ‘side’ has several different meanings in English. The image below, from the Cambridge online dictionary, shows the two most relevant meanings here.
As you can see, the word ‘side’ does not always mean ‘opinion.’ It can be used to refer to ‘one opinion’ in an argument but it can also be used to mean ‘one part‘ of an issue. We can only understand the precise meaning of a word from the context it is being used in. So, only when I am talking about a question with two opinions, should you interpret ‘both sides’ to mean ‘both opinions.’
2 What is a ‘counter-argument’
To fully understand what a ‘counter-argument’ is we need to also understand the verb ‘to counter’:
So, a ‘counter-argument’ is an argument made ‘against’ an opinion. The main problems arise when this idea is mistakenly interpreted as:
‘I must always write a paragraph that argues against the opinion in the question.’
In my experience, this mistaken belief stops many people from reaching band 7 because they often alter the question or task in some way in order to force what they see as a ‘counter-argument’ into their answer, no matter what the question asks.
Consider this question from Cambridge test book 10:
‘Countries are becoming more and more similar because people are able to buy the same products everywhere in the world. Do you think this is a positive or a negative development?”
As you can see, there is no clear ‘opinion’ in the first statement, so candidates who mistakenly believe that they must always write a paragraph that gives a counter-argument will struggle here. Remember, you must be able to show ‘flexibility’ in your writing – this means reacting and responding to the very specific task you are given. The two ‘sides’ of this issue that need to be discussed are whether this is 1) a negative development or 2) a positive development.
Let us try to interpret this idea of ‘discussing both sides’ in the context of more essay questions.
What do you mean by ‘the different sides’ to a question?
Writing task 2 can take several different forms. There may be one view, or there may be two views on an issue. There may be extra information included in the question to give you a clear context for the issue you need to discuss (and to make sure you fully understand it). There may be a description of an issue or of a development. These prompts are followed by one or two questions such as ‘To What extent do you agree or disagree?’; ‘Discuss the advantages and disadvantages / problems and solutions etc.’; ‘Discuss both views and give your own opinion.’ ; Do you think this is a positive or a negative development?”
The Task response descriptor tells us that band 6 candidates ‘address all parts of the task although some parts may be more fully covered than others.’ This is not a problem at band 7. So, if you want to score band 7, you MUST cover all parts of the question equally. This is what I mean when I refer to ‘discussing both sides’ of the question. If you have read Chapter 7 of The Key to IELTS Success, you will know why so many people follow bad advice and ignore parts of the question altogether.
Your argument must represent a balanced discussion of the issue like this:
Not an unbalanced one like this:
This means that, if you are given two differing opinions and asked to ‘Discuss both views and give your own opinion,’ you must discuss both opinions equally. In this case, Side A = one argument and Side B = the counter-argument you are given.
Similarly, if you are asked to say whether an issue ‘has more benefits than problems’, then Side A = the benefits and Side B = the problems. If you are asked whether the topic ‘is a positive or a negative development’ then Side A = the positives and Side B = the negatives and so on.
The main problems seem to arise with questions where you are given one viewpoint and asked, ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’ The two ‘sides’ of a question like this will always depend on 1) the issue raised and 2) your own views on it. However, your language ability also plays a part in how you respond. Band 9 candidates (and the invisible band 10 writers I sometimes refer to) are capable of responding to these questions in a very subtle and skilful way, which creates problems for the candidates at band 6 and below who try to emulate it. For example, the higher level candidates are able to explain their complete agreement on an issue in a way that is not at all repetitive. At the end of their essay, they may also refer to a possible counter-argument, without discussing it in detail but also without making their position confusing or unclear. Examples like this can be found in Practice test book 10 on pages 162 and 166. Such examples are very difficult for candidates at band 6 and below to learn from.
So, how should I respond if I am band 6 and aiming for band 7?
This is my advice for candidates aiming for band 7: For questions where you are given one viewpoint and asked ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’ (or in GT, ‘Do you agree or disagree?’) I always give the advice to ‘discuss both sides.’ This helps band 6 candidates to avoid writing in a repetitive way. What these ‘2 sides’ are will depend on your views and the issue you are given. Often, there are two clear ‘sides’ within the question. Look at the following example:
“In many places, new homes are needed, but the only space available for building them is in the countryside. Some people believe it is more important to protect the countryside and not build new homes there. To what extent do you agree or disagree?”
There are 2 clear sides to this issue: Side A = building houses in the countryside Side B = protecting the countryside and not building there. In organising your answer this way you will ‘discuss both sides’ of the issue while also (hopefully) making your complete agreement or disagreement clear. You can also apply the same balanced discussion of the two ‘sides’ if you neither completely agree nor completely disagree.
The ‘two sides’ are less clear in a question like this:
‘Some people say that it is possible to tell a lot about a person’s culture and character from their choice of clothes. Do you agree or disagree?”
For a question like this, a band 8 or 9 candidate can easily argue that they completely agree (or completely disagree) and explain exactly why. For a band 6.5 candidate trying to reach band 7, this is not so easy; often they will simply repeat the same ideas in both body paragraphs and so remain stuck at band 6.5.
An easy way to see the ‘other side’ of an issue is to think of the opposite. In this case: Side A = You can tell a lot about a person from their clothes and Side B = You cannot tell a lot about a person from their clothes. This immediately gives you two clear main ideas for each body paragraph and helps to make your essay less repetitive.
In my experience, when band 6.5 candidates follow the advice to ‘always give a counter-argument,‘ they tend to interpret this in a very narrow way as Side A = I completely agree Side B = I completely disagree. This creates problems that keep them stuck at band 6.5. Instead, look for ‘the other side‘ of the issue or argument by considering the ‘opposite’ – this can help you to write in a way that is balanced but not repetitive and yet still make your position very clear throughout.
When should I write a counter-argument?
For me, a counter-argument is most appropriate in the following situations:
- When you are given a view that you completely disagree with. (Side A = the view in the question Side B = your counter-argument.)
- When you are given an argument and a counter-argument and asked to discuss them both (Side A = one argument, Side B = the counter-argument)
- When you are given one statement with one viewpoint that you completely agree with and…
- you feel confident that you can write only about your agreement without repeating your ideas, and
- you are a confident band 8 or 9 candidate and want to show that you have considered both sides, and
- you are confident that you have the language skills to mention a logical counter-argument without making your overall position unclear.
Learn more about different types of questions in The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS
Learn how to write a band 7+ essay in my new book: The Key to IELTS Writing Task 2
Once you understand how to answer, you need to build the right language so that you can write confidently about any topic.
Learn the right vocabulary for bands 7 and above with my IELTS vocabulary books…
Couldn’t be clearer, thanks for taking the time to do this.
Thanks, Behrooz! I really appreciate your support, as always.
Hi Ms. Cullen, thank you very much, so writing about both sides doesn’t necessarily mean writing a counterargument?
That’s right. Let me know if there is anything in the post that you can’t understand -it’s a very complex issue and difficult to make clear.
This is great, thank you always Pauline
Hi Pauline, thank you very much, your site has a problem, I tried a lot. So I can achieve 7 without counter argument?
This happens when I write a new post on a very popular topic. You should be able to access it now.
Thank you. I got 6.5 in writing and I need 7, can I get 7 with balanced view or I should always write strong view?
Hi Negin, read The Key to IELTS Success to answer that – it’s my free book and there is a link at the bottom of this post.
Hi pauline, thank you very much, I tought when I write counter, it helps my score, it is not right?
Hi Maryam, if you read the post all the way through you will see at the end the only times when a counter-argument will help your score.
?? can I write a middle view in an opinion essay?
I did mention this in the post. As I have always said, write about what you actually think and feel – if you believe in a middle view, then explain it.
But my teacher say middle view is not clear, for 7 you should have strong view
I can’t answer for your teacher or for why your teacher believes that. I can only answer for myself. If you believe that both sides have their merits, and you are able to make this clear, then this is a strong view. If you believe that, but then force yourself to lie (and condemn a viewpoint that you actually support) then I don’t believe you will succeed in making your position clear. It’s more than likely that your argument against something you partly agree with will be confusing and unconvincing. Write what you think and feel.
Thank you so much, this is a relief because it is easier to write about other side than counter argument
Thank you for your writing, it is very helpful
Could you please cite examples for the post you have shared on counter agreement .This will help in understanding the main idea easily.I shall be thankful to you.
I’m not sure what you mean by citing examples? I did give page references for some example materials. What sort of information are you looking for?
This is fabulous thank you ☺️
Thanks pauline, this is awesome. My question is about a discussion question (discuss both these views), when I agree with one opinion/side completely, should I show my disagreement with the other opinion when I represent it, or should I present both opinions fairly without taking one side in the body paragraphs and say my opinion in the conclusion. In that case how can I have a clear position throughout?
You can still show your lack of agreement while discussing an issue – in fact, this is exactly what is meant by ‘making your position clear throughout’. Even when you are discussing a view that you disagree with, we should know that you disagree with it because of the language you use. Reread the chapters on Grammar, vocabulary and on Task 2 in The Key to IELTS Success to see how to do this.
Also, N.D, if you read chapter 7 of The Key to IELTS Success you will see why every task 2 question should be seen as both ”a discussion and an opinion essay” – these ‘types’ actually have no meaning in IELTS.
Thanks Ms. Cullen. It was very clear and thorough, like always.
I think the gist of all your posts is: “Be yourself, write about the raised question”
I always try to answer the question in a way that a friend of mine is asking about that issue; Simple and Precise.
Yes, that’s exactly right 🙂
Thank you Pauline, can you send the download link to your free book?
The link is at the bottom of the post.
thank you pauline, I tried many many times but it says invalid download link, can I download it from somewhere else? also there’s something wrong with your website, I couldn’t reach it for 2 hours
When there is a lot of traffic I’m afraid this happens.
Hi Pauline, thank you very much for your valuable information. I have a question when the question is cause and solution, my causes and solutions should be related?
Thats’ a good question! Yes, the ‘solutions’ must be linked to the ‘problems’ you have outlined. If they weren’t, your ideas would not be logically connected and your argument would not develop.
Dear Pauline! First of all thanks a lot for your valuable advice for us 6.5 “stuckers”. My question is if we are asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of ,say, advertisements then can make one paragraph for advantage side, one for disadvantage and one for our opinion like how to regulate them etc? It is is better to mention our opinion in the conclusion breafly? Thanks in advance!
What you are describing would be a plan for an essay that has 2 questions (e.g. What are the advantages and disadvantages? What is the best way to regulate them?) In which case, yes, your plan is the same as I would use.
Many thanks for the clarity on this. Your books and apps are really helpful. Now, I can easily recall vocab while writing and speaking. I cannot wait for your book on writing.
That’s great to hear, Ashish
After reading and understanding this post and your book The Key to IELTS Success I have produced an essay. Kindly provide feedback on the second body paragraph whether it makes sense in regards to counter-argument or not. I’m posting the whole essay as I don’t think the only paragraph in isolation would make sense.
Thanks for your generosity.
Some people say it is important to keep your home and your workplace tidy, with everything organized and in the correct place.
What is your opinion about this?
Having a place for everything and keeping them on their designated places are keys to efficient management. Those who value these skills manage to utilize their time in appropriately, whereas others being disorganized waste their time and energy.
Organizing your belongings is important, be it your home or office. It gives us an opportunity to utilize our time diligently rather than wasting on finding things which might be lost due to untidiness. If we know exactly where our things are, we can locate them easily without squandering time. Consequently, an organized and neat workplace provides peace of mind which ultimately extracts the best out of us, and we manage to make better decisions. Additionally, when we organize our important things, we also separate the stuff which is not in use anymore, hence it can either be discarded or recycled. In either way it reduces our burden of handling unnecessary items thereby reducing our workload.
On the other hand, people leave things haphazardly as they think keeping them in order is just a waste of time. They are reluctant to clean their surroundings, as they believe it is a never ending process, and they will be messy again, somehow. They do not realize that a little time spent on organizing them could save their precious hours of finding things in an otherwise dirty and unsystematic place. Such disorientation could lead to wastage of both time and energy, ultimately preventing people to excel in their endeavors.
In conclusion, organizing and managing our homes and workplaces, and keeping them clean are of uttermost importance as they save time and energy, and help us to give our best towards things which matter the most. Although it’s a cyclic process, it ultimately leads to efficient and smart working.
Hi Hamza, I don’t have time ti give detailed feedback at the moment. Your main problem here is that you do not make it clear when you are giving your own opinion. Your ideas are good and your counter argument is handled very well, but we need to know what you consider fact and what is your opinion. E.g, it would be better to being the second sentence of your introduction with: “In my view…’ Similarly with the conclusion, tell us what you think – after all, this is what the question has asked you for. In terms of language, your have used some very nice language, though there are errors: “Having a place for everything and keeping everything in ITS designated place…’ ‘rather than wasting IT on…’ ‘could save THEM precious hours’ ‘preventing people FROM excelLING..’ ‘disorientation’ doesn’t work here (confusion would be better) and ‘wastage’ is not a word that we use with time – we would say ‘waste of time and energy’. Again, to make your opinion clear, it would be better to say: ‘In fact, I believe that working surrounded by such confusion can cause people to waste time and energy…’
Ma’am you have pointed out some very technical issues of mine. I will definitely work on them. Maybe these are the little but critical issues which are keeping me away from band 7. Thank you very much.
Not answering the very specific question you’re given is the main thing that will keep you below band 7. Always focus on that and keep going back to the question to check you ARE answering it.
Could you please also explain how to handle the language of low certainty. I’ve heard that, in discus both views or to what extent essays, if a candidate wants to present a counter argument then he or she needs to use various degrees of certainty and present information from “other people’s point of view” with phrases like: it seems, some people believe that, it seems to be the case and etc. Whereas your own position must be clear and presented with “however, from my point of view”. How far do you agree with that? Could you please tell us more? Unfortunately, I can’t find trustworthy source of how to present info. Apparently, you can also make a mistake by presenting info as a fact. Thank you so much for your help!
I am dealing with this in my next book (which will not be ready for a few months). Until then, read the grammar chapter of The Key to IELTS Success – I do deal with this there.
Thank you Pauline. You are the best!
Hi Pauline, thank you for the great thing you are doing online for many people. I read this essay and your feedback, I understand that your feedback is not detailed but you said that the counter argument here is handled well, don’t you think this essay lacks progression, maybe because same ideas are repeated in both paragraphs? The first body paragraphs says “It gives us an opportunity to utilize our time diligently rather than wasting on finding things”, and repeats this same idea for 5 or 6 more lines. The second paragraphs is also mainly about saving time: “They do not realize that a little time spent on organizing them could save their precious hours of finding things”. So I think one of the reasons this essay is not a 7 is because there is no progression throughout, am I right in thinking that?
Hi Naser, you have identified the main idea in both paragraphs, which is exactly what you should be able to do as a reader. The rest of the paragraph explains and supports this main idea. I don’t see any repetition here. The progression comes from making a point and developing the argument so that the reader fully understands the point and can be persuaded about the argument. AS you said, I don’t have time for detailed feedback at the moment.
Thank you Pauline, but in your previous post you wrote that when we have only one idea, it usually leads to repetition, and the problem is that the main idea in both paragraphs is the same, you can save time if you are tidy and organized, isn’t it?
Again, I don’t have time to give detailed feedback and I don’t agree that the paragraphs have the same main idea.
I read this reply. So can you please explain how progression in CC is different from development in TR?
There is overlap between the two and I think TR and CC are more connected than people realise. TR is looking at how all of your ideas work together to create your answer overall while CC looks at how you organise, connect and explain those ideas within your essay.
The argument on the difference between a “counter-argument” and “both sides” was not clear to me. Am I right if I interpret that counter-argument means just writing about a view without giving my own opinion, while “both sides” means giving my view on both sides?
A counter-argument is an argument against what you believe. It isn’t connected to giving your own opinion. It is just showing you understand the argument of the people who hold an opposite view. You may disagree with neither (i.e. the argument on one wise and its counter-argument.) Interpret ‘both sides’ as discussing everthing in the question equally.
Hi Pauline, I have read it on your blog that when he question asks whether it is a positive or negative development we should talk about both the positives and the negatives of something. I took the IELTS test today and the question was about shops being open late and whether this a positive or negative development for shoppers and the local community. (I know you don’t share recent exam questions so I expect that you might edit it (PC – I did!), I have read all your posts and books about writing, but I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, according to what you said I need to talk about both positives and negatives, I should also talk about both shoppers and the local community. This means positives and negatives for shoppers, and positives and negatives for the community, which makes the essay very long. Can you please tell me if there is another way I can answer this question? Thank you so much.
Hi Mehrdad, the 2 sides of this question are ‘the shoppers’ and ‘the local community’. If you can see only positives for both, then you only need to write about those. If you can see negatives, then discuss those too. As I explained in the above post, a band 8 -9 candidate will mention the possible negatives even if they believe there are only positives (and vice versa), but this does not need to be discussed at length. TO answer it, think about your local community and local shops – do they benefit from shops being open late at night? How? (think of the convenience etc.) if not, why not? (think of noise at night etc). Does this helP?
Thanks a lot Pauline, it was very helpful
To ensure that we have understood the issue completely, we need to look into it from all sides, exploring it essentially. I do write only 4 paragraphs for my essays (Intro, 2 BPs, Conclusion).
With this approach, considering that there should be only one idea to focus on in a single paragraph, if my second Body Para is for the opposing side (=the side I disagree with, and find reasons for its rebuttal). This limits my ideas for each paragraph for the side I agree with.(First BP)
This would mean that if I fully develop my argument in the first BP, thats going to be more than enough for the sake of word count and the development of argument, which would not allow me to write on many reasons (if I have more than one).
Do you think I am looking at it too mechanically in this way??
Hi, the issue here is that you are trying to be as inflexible as possible, but the test requires you to be flexible. By this I mean that you appear to be trying to find one single rule that can be applied to all writing task questions. There is only one ‘rule’ that can and does apply to all, and I explained what this is in chapter 7 of The Key to IELTS Success. To show the problems in your thinking, below I have added comments or questions in response to your ‘plan’:
1) ‘considering that there should be only one idea to focus on in a single paragraph‘
My comment: To clarify, there should be one MAIN idea. This is not the same as one idea.
2) ‘if my second Body Para is for the opposing side (=the side I disagree with, and find reasons for its rebuttal). This limits my ideas for each paragraph for the side I agree with.(First BP)’
My comment: I don’t understand why the contents of your second paragraph will limit what you write in your first paragraph, or how you can generalise about this without seeing a question. Creating a ‘rule’ like this means you cannot respond to each individual question in an individual way.
3) This would mean that
My comment: Your conclusion here is based on the assumption that the previous statement is true – which it isn’t.
4) ‘if I fully develop my argument in the first BP
My comment: your argument develops over the entire essay – your rebuttal of a point IS a part of your argument.
5)’thats going to be more than enough for the sake of word count and the development of argument, which would not allow me to write on many reasons (if I have more than one).
My comment:Again, this conclusion follows on from the previous limitations you have set, which will not be ‘true’ for every essay question.
You may not be aware of it, but you have presented an argument here which echoes the most common problems in the arguments I find in essays, and which make conclusions unclear. I am writing about this very topic at the moment in The Key to IELTS Writing Workbook – before you ask, it will not be ready for several more months. For the moment, don’t try to limit your planning, respond naturally to each writing task.
Thank you for the detailed response. Allow me to explain what leads me to this thinking.
Consider this that I have read your book and your posts as well. The reason for this inflexibility is following:
• I have a habit of producing 4 paragraphs (self-imposed)> the reason of this inflexible approach is that I believe most of the essays can get their job done, if written effectively, in 4 paragraphs, otherwise, and I have felt this while practicing, I wonder around the ideas just to fill the body paragraphs somewhere in my mind not sure on the number of paragraphs (an added burden to think of). While staying with the 2 Body paragraphs ensures that I stay on topic and fully develop my arguments.
I know that all of your advice is about flexibility and spontaneity and being natural on the test day breaking free any rules, structures, and ready-made approaches, may be it is the lack of confidence in my own writing that I fall for these limitations.
I agree that 4 paragraphs should be sufficient in many essays – I use the same approach myself in that I plan my ideas to fit into those two main paragraphs. Try to see it this way and not the other way around. Having said this, there are questions where 3 body paragraphs may be better – for example when you are asked 2 questions.
One more thing, I was preparing for the GRE some time ago, and I felt it has the Analytical Writing Assessment – Issue Essay which is very similar to the IELTS WT2. Do you think reading those sample essays would be useful for general understanding of how to frame your arguments and the approach?
The IELTS has very few authentic samples written by examiners.
I don’t know that exam so it would completely depend on 1) the criteria used to assess writing in it 2) the style of questions and 3) the writing skills of the people writing the samples. My writing workbook will have lost of samples.
Thank you ❤️
I have a question about this topic from cambridge books. Please help me because I really can’t find a solution. ‘Some people believe that it is best to accept a bad situation, such as an unsatisfactory job or shortage of money. Others argue that it is better to try and improve such situations. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.’ I really can’t understand the first view in the question and why some people should believe it is better to accept a bad situation than to try and improve. Why do you think some people might think this? I’m really desperate for need, thank you so much Pauline.
Can you tell me which book it is from?
Hi, I saw it in my school library. It was either book 12 or 14.
It was actually book 14 Academic.
Can you please help me?
I am confused about which of the above comments are yours.
I’m sorry for the trouble. I didn’t know I need to write my name, the comments are all mine, the question is from book 14, test 1. Thank you for your help.
Ok, I just thought I was getting messages from 2 different people! 🙂 To answer your question, you need to either think about people you know or put yourself in the position of someone who has this issue. It can be difficult if you have never had a job yourself, but think about all of the people in your family – I am sure someone you know has held a job that they did not enjoy or that was unsatisfactory – why do you think they accepted this? Perhaps they accepted it for a while until they could change their job? Perhaps they really needed the money or there was a shortage of good jobs? Or perhaps they were studying and so needed extra money until they could graduate and get a better job? I am sure If you think about it, you can think of people like that and the reasons they perhaps needed to accept something. If not, then you are completely disagreeing with the first view, and you just need to explain why it is never ok to accept a bad situation.
Thank you so much Pauline, the problem with the question is that it does NOT say that it is better to accept a bad situation FOR A WHILE or that accepting a bad situation is the first step in order to improve, it simply says that it is better to accept a bad situation and this is hard to argue for (because the question has asked us to discuss both views). To me the only reason people may think it is better to accept a bad situation is because they are not willing to risk the little things that they have and are afraid to lose what they have, which may not be much. Do you think my line of argument makes any sense?
Yes, this is exactly the type of explanation that you must provide. Why you think this would be wrong?
Thank you Pauline, I’ve been checking the website for the past several days, I assume you are very busy, thank you for answering my question. Honestly, the main reason for my confusion is the sample answer at the back of the book that has received a 7. It generally says that people need to first accept a bad situation in order to improve. To me it sounds like the argument for the other side that says it is better to improve a bad situation instead of accepting it.
Yes, I am travelling for work at the moment and preparing for a conference talk. I think the issue here is that you are trying to fond one answer from a single sample answer – even if that answer was a band 9, it would still only show you one person’s way of answering – no single answer can show you more than that. It isn’t possible to show every way of answering, because your answer will always be personal to you. My question is why you think your plan / ideas are ‘wrong’ – what do you think the problem is? I am asking this to try to understand your area of doubt.
I have a question about the band descriptors for task 2. In the descriptors for band 7 it is written that supporting ideas may lack focus, what does it mean by supporting ideas, and more importantly what does lack focus mean? Can you give an example to help me understand it better? I really appreciate your help.
Have you read my free book, The Key to IELTS Success? I do try to explain this in chapter 7 with examples. A lack of focus often means the candidate is using examples (often learned) that are not related to the question or the main idea in the paragraph.
Thank you for the response. I have read your book thoroughly and thank you for that. But my question is that when I present the main idea and then I give an example that does not help the development of my idea, is this a feature of band 5, 6 or 7? Because in band 5 it says that there may be irrelevant detail, in band 6 it says that the main idea is inadequately developed, and in band 7 it says that the supporting ideas may lack focus. So what band is it when our examples do not help the development of main ideas? Thank you again.
What those descriptors are attempting to describe are 3 different ‘shades’ of the same issue – imagine if we represented Task response as a colour, then the deepest colour would be at band 9, and the shade of this colour would become lighter and lighter until we can barely see it by band 1. It isn’t possible to say just how the shade is acheived by each candidate, their reasons for arriving at that band will be varied (some may use irrelevant examples, some may have none etc) what matters is the extent to which their overall task response is affected (ei†her positively or negatively) – †hat is what will result in the band 6 or 7 etc. The truth is, that you cannot single out short phrases from the descriptors – they have †o be seen as working together. So, for example, with band 7, it matters that it says ‘presents, extends and supports main ideas, but there may be a tendency to overgeneralise and/or supporting ideas may lack focus’ While a band 5 candidate ”presents some main ideas but these are limited and not sufficiently developed; there may be irrelevant detail.”
It’s also important to note that not all ‘supporting ideas’ are ‘examples’ as I pointed†ed out in chapter 7.
Task response is really assessing how all of the ideas work together to form a complete, effective response to the question. At band 5, the ideas generally don’t always work together, while at band 7, they do. Though there are still issues at band 7 that prevent these responses from reaching band 8 etc.
I hope this helps.
Perfect, Pauline ?
Thank you Pauline for your posts, can you please give us an example in which supporting ideas may lack focus? I appreciate it.
Generally this is an idea or an example which is not clearly linked to the previous ideas within the paragraph.
I’m an IELTS teacher and I have been teaching IELTS for almost 10 years. I have had this question for many years but I have never found the answer. The problem is when I’m dealing with essays that have almost no grammar mistakes, but there are serious problems with the task response and especially with the position. And I can’t say what band score the grammar is, because there is a wide range of structures and the majority of sentences are error-free except for occasional errors and according to the band descriptors the GRA should be an 8, but at the same time these grammatically accurate sentences do not help develop a position. One of my knowledgeable trainers always says that grammar and vocabulary should always be used to help develop a position. So my question is whether we should rate grammar on its own based on how grammatically correct and varied the sentences are or should we assess grammar on the basis of how much it helps the task response and the development of ideas? Thank you so much for your help.
Hi Reza, that’s a really goor question. The main issue for me would be where this band 8 level grammar comes from if the Task response and coherence and cohesion are lacking. Could you send me an example? If the band 8 grammar comes from learned patterns, showing no / little understanding of meaning, this would be a different matter to an an answer that simple misinterpret the question. In some cases, the grammar can be rewarded while the other scores are reduced, but in other cases, if a candidate is effectively saying ‘I can’t write on the topic you have given me, but I can write this’ the we cannot say that they have shown the flexibility and range required of a higher band. If you can send me an example id be happy to try and be more helpful.
I’m sorry to take up your time, I have a question about writing task 2 band descriptors. In band 4, it says that the candidate ‘responds to the task only in a minimal way or the answer is tangential’, what does it mean by a minimal way or tangential? Is it different from being off-topic? Thank you for your help.
“off-topic’ refers to some parts of the answer, while tangential describes an answer about something else completely.
Thank you, but it sounds strange, you mean if a candidate writes about a completely different topic, they can still get a 4 for task response? Also the band descriptors for band 1 says ‘answer is completely unrelated to the task’, so wouldn’t that be a 1?
Another thing is that band 4 says ‘in a minimal way’, does it mean parts of the answer is related to the question and parts of it are unrelated? Thank you.
I don’t mean the it is impossible to see any connection – tangential could be seen as related to the phrase ‘going off on a tangent’ – which means moving away from the original discussion of something. The question gives you a very specific issue to discuss, at band 4, either through misunderstanding or through an inability to discuss the issue, a candidate may aim to write 250 words but, in doing so, will move away from the original issue so much that it seems unrelated. This is not the same as, for example, writing about fashion when you are given a topic about traffic. It is closer to being given a topic about traffic but going on to write about pollutions caused by planes. It isn’t really possible to make it clear without an example.
Thank you so much, I understand. I also have a question about speaking descriptors. In speaking we have fluency and coherence and there is no mention of cohesion, can you tell me if coherence in speaking is the same as coherence in writing and why is cohesion not mentioned in the descriptors for speaking? Thank you so much.
Coherence means ‘being understood’ which applies in writing and speaking. Cohesion is the logical connecting and linking of ideas to form paragraphs – we don’t naturally speak in that way.
You have said:
“When should I write a counter-argument?
When you are given one statement with one viewpoint that you completely agree with and…
1.you feel confident that you can write only about your agreement without repeating your ideas, and
2.you are a confident band 8 or 9 candidate and want to show that you have considered both sides, and
3.you are confident that you have the language skills to mention a logical counter-argument without making your overall position unclear.”
Since I am trying to attain 7 score in writing and I prefer to avoid any risk, I am a bit confused as to whether in what cases writing a counter argument is not compulsory if the candidate is a 7 band one? As you have mentioned when it comes to the third case, which I have rewritten above, the candidates who are band 8 or 9 could write a counter-argument. Therefore, I would like to know what means the third case exactly. Would you please give some examples?
Thanks in advance,
Actually, you have changed what I said. I gave 3 separate descriptions of when it is appropriated / necessary to make a counterargument, and the third of these has these 3 bullet points. So, the 3rd point I makes is:
– if you are given a question with only one viewpoint and asked ‘to what extent do you agree or disagree?”
– and you completely agree with †he view in the question
you could reach band 7 in TR without mentioning the counterargument
only mention the counterargument if you can make it clear that you do not agree with it.
So how about when I am given a question with only one viewpoint and I completely agree with it, is it possible to achieve an 8 or 9 without mentioning a counterargument or is counterargument a must for higher scores in these questions?
I talk in terms of what is generally true – with skilled native speaker writers, there is always a possibility that they can break rules and still achieve the main aim of the question. If you read the bottom of the post, I give all of the times when a counterargument is used and one of these is exactly what you describe here.
Thank you very much Pauline, so is this a rule that we MUST use a counterargument in the situations that you have described at the bottom of your post in order to score 8 or above?
There is no ‘must’ (as I said in my previous answer skilled professional native speaker writers might find a way to answer without doing that) We can only generalise and state that, in general, what makes band 8 and 9 answers different is that they manage to completely agree while also making their dismissal of the counterargument clear.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I have read the samples that you have written for the topic of recycling from Cambridge book 11, in the version that you said you completely disagree, you first mentioned the reasons why people do not recycle their domestic waste (lack of time, confusion) and in the next paragraph you concluded that if these are the reasons, making it a legal requirement does not work, and instead we should make the process simpler and also educate the people. But here in the post you have said that writing a counter-argument is what candidates at bands 8 or 9 will do.
The other point that has confused me is that I took the test 4 weeks ago, and before I took the test IDP arranged an online webinar with an IELTS examiner for those who had registered for the test. I asked the examiner if a counter-argument is needed for bands 8 or 9, and she said the exact words as you did, she said that it is possible to EVEN achieve a 9 without writing a counter-argument, and that candidates at band 7 do not need to do it AT ALL, but only those at bands 8 or 9 can do it well. And she also said that if candidates at lower bands attempt to do it, they may fail to do it well and this might affect their score negatively.
And my last point is that one of my friends took the test with me 4 weeks ago and she scored 8 in writing, but she said that she hadn’t included a counter-argument.
So my question is, as I saw in your sample and according to the examiner and also my friend, it is not necessary to include a counter-argument for band 8 when the question asks to what extent do you agree or disagree? Thanks so much for your support.
Hi Armin, I’m afraid I don’t see the problem – can you explain this sentence to me: ‘But here in the post you have said that writing a counter-argument is what candidates at bands 8 or 9 will do.” Are you saying that I didn’t give a counterargument? or that I should not have given a counterargument? I don’t understand the issue with this.
I completely. agree with what you say the examiner said to you, I have also made exactly the same points myself on many occasions. If you want to ignore the advice of the examiner, and myself, and the IDP course you took, and instead follow a comment made by someone else, that is entirely your choice. Just understand that candidates are not experts on why they achieved the score they did. People often send me writing samples and add comments in the margin saying ‘Here, in this sentence, I am giving the main idea, and here, I am adding evidence’ And I will then have to say to them that, actually, these sentences are not doing this. Your friend is giving you their own opinion about what they wrote and how they achieved their score, you are both drawing a conclusion about counterarguments from that. It is absolutely up to you if you want to do that, but my advice will continue to be the same.
Thank you for the comment, I think you misunderstood what I meant. What I said about your recycling sample was that you haven’t included a counter-argument in the ‘I disagree’ version. I also said that the examiner said that a counter-argument is optional and we don’t have to include one for band 8 or 9. My friend who took the test also told me that she didn’t include a counter-argument in her essay but she scored an 8. So I think all these (what you have done in your sample, what the examiner said, and what my friend did in her test) show that a counter-argument is optional and not necessary even for bands 8 or 9, am I right in thinking that?
The only reason you can find a post about counterarguments on my website or anywhere in my books is because people outside of the test keep on bringing it up. People want to pin down writing to make it into a science, when in fact this is not possible. I talk about counterarguments not because they are essential but because someone (I do not know who) has made them into a confusing and controversial issue. This post was written because of the many questions I was being asked about it, not because I felt it was important. A counterargument is just one way of making a point, it is not always essential, but many people believe that it is and so attempt to make one in their essay. In doing so, they create problems for themselves. My problem is that, as you see here, when trying to help those who have trained themselves to think about counterarguments and to make the ideas clear, there will always be someone who tried to find an example when the advice does not fit. Writing is a skill – it is both science and art and cannot be pinned down to absolute rules. There are questions when you MUST discuss the counterargument (see the post) and there are also times when you CAN discuss a counterargument. I don’t know how to make it clearer really – the point of writing this post was to make it clear for those stuck at band 6.5 and aiming for band 7.
With the recycling model answers, I wrote those around 3 years ago and did not memorise them so I do not know whether I included a counterargument or not. Can you send me a link to the essay you are referring to?
I think I got my answer, I have also heard a lot about writing a counter-argument maybe for the reasons that you mentioned (somebody must have been looking for a short cut), so when I read your post I thought including a counter-argument must be important for the test that’s why you have written a separate post about it. But with the explanation that you gave I now understand why you have written this post. By the way, I saw the recycling model answer on your facebook page and I saved the image. I don’t have the link, but I can type it here if you want. Thanks again for clarifying the point, it was a great help.
No problem! It’s been made into a very complex issue (much more than it needs to be!) My main concern is that if I say ‘you do not need to write a counterargument’ then people will also do this ‘discuss both views’ essays, where they mustn’t just choose one side to write about. Don’t worry about the recycling essay – it may be an old version of it anyway – I was going to rewrite them at one point I’ll see if I can find the post about it.
This is the latest version of those answers:https://keytoielts.com/making-your-position-clear-throughout/
Thank you so much for your support Pauline, it means a lot to all of us candidates.
No problem 🙂
Thanks for the link Pauline.
I have a question about this topic from book 14:
‘Some people believe that it is best to accept a bad situation, such as an unsatisfactory job or shortage of money. Others argue that it is better to try and improve such situations.
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.’
In this topic there are 2 examples for what it means by accepting a bad situation. Should a stick to those examples or can I think of another bad situation? If it is okay to think of another bad situation, should it be related to money like the examples or can it be for instance losing a loved one? Because in the second part of the question it says it is better to improve the bad situation, but a bad situation such as losing a loved one cannot be improved.
Thank you for your support.
Hi Rima, when examples are given in a question, the aim is to help you understand exactly what is meant by ‘a bad situation.’ As with all tests, topics that are too upsetting are avoided as it can be difficult for people to write about. It is fine to come up with your own types of bad situation, but I would avoid talking about losing a loved one for the reasons I have mentioned. You could use it as just one example of a case where not all bad situations can be improved on, but I do think the question is really asking you to talk about situations where you can make the choice to act or not to act, so this would not be a main point of a paragraph.
I am an IELTS candidate from Iran, my IELTS teacher told me that recently IELTS has changed the rule for the minimum number of words and it is no longer necessary to write 250 words for task 2 or 150 words for task 1. Is this true that? Because I took the test today and in my task 2 it was written write at least 250 words. Can you tell me what the rule is? Thank you
When it is no longer written on the page, then it will be a reality. It is under discussion, I know, but I don’t know when it will be implemented. Personally, I don’t see this as a benefit for non-native speakers. It is only skilled native speakers who can generally answer fully in less than the recommended number of words. I intend to continue advising people to aim for a minimum of 250 words and not much more than 300 if possible.
Thank you, but in my test it was written ‘write at least 250 words’. So this change has not yet implemented?
Hello Pauline. I have a question about speaking, is it important that the information I give in my speaking is factually true? For example if I say that my favourite city to visit is Tokyo because of the Eiffel tower and the Pyramids. So will I lose marks for this, and if so in which speaking criteria will I lose marks? Thanks a lot.
Hi Ditri, I recommend you read the speaking chapter of The Key to IELTS Success. I talk there about the problems with giving invented information like this. You can find the link to the free book on my website.
Thanks for the reply, I have read your book and I know that you advise against inventing examples in both speaking and writing, but my question is specifically about giving information which is not factual, I don’t mean inventing examples but this could be because might not know this or might mix up information about different cities, so the question is that if this happens will the candidate lose marks, and if so in which criteria? Thank you for taking the time to help us.
The candidate wouldn’t lose marks for incorrect facts.
There is a very helpful discussion about position in your book, but after reading the writing chapter several times I still cannot fully understand the difference between a relevant position in band 6 and a clear position in band 7? In what ways are they different and what determines this difference?
Thank you so much for your support.
It isn’t possible to separate out phrases – they ideas expressed work together. So, at band 7, the main difference is that the candidate ”presents a clear position throughout the response” and band 6 candidates may state their opinion but the conclusions may become unclear or repetitive. It is the word ‘throughout’ used together with the word ‘clear’ that makes the difference.
I’ve read all your posts and they have helped me so much. I’m going to take an IELTS soon, so could you please do me a favor, giving me some comments and band scores for each of the 4 criteria on my writing below (I wrote this without timing, and lots of time proofreading it, so on test day I might perform much less than this). Thank you so much and hope to have your feedback!
“In many countries today, people in cities either live alone or in small family units, rather than in large, extended family groups. Is this a positive or negative trend?”
In many cities nowadays, families in are small, usually having only one to four people from one to two generations. This seems to be a result of modern societies where many people leave their home towns for urban areas to pursue their study or careers. Although this trend has a major benefit, I believe it is a negative development.
Perhaps the main positive side of this is that conflicts related to age gaps can be avoided. In extended families with multiple generations, habits of grandparents might be totally different from those of their grandchildren. For example, my grandfather tends to go to bed early, whereas I usually go home late and stay up until 1 am. As a result, sometimes I make noises at night and disturb his sleeps, causing us to have arguements about whether I should be at home earlier. If I stayed in a separate place, this conflict would be less likely to occur. However, despite this advantage, not being surrounded by many family members might have negative effects on individuals.
I believe the biggest impact on nuclear families is the lack of child care support. For households with children, looking after children is one of the most important tasks of their daily life. Without grandparents or relatives around, parents have to find alternative ways to take care of their children, such as sending them to day care centers or leaving them alone at home. Day care classes are expensive, while leaving children at home can limit their interaction with the outside world, and can even bring them bad habits such as video game addiction. These long-term impacts, in my opinion, far outweigh the short-term benefit discussed above.
In conclusion, while living in small families can bring some benefits, I believe this overal development is negative. Because this trend appears to be inevitable in modern life, one should adapt to it and minimize its impacts to have a more comfortable life.
Hi Cuong, I’m afraid I don’t have time to give detailed feedback on your 3 task 2s at the moment. I will try to take a look at some stage in the next few weeks.
Thank you Pauline. My test is on September 7,so I would really appreciate if you could give me some feedback whenever you can. By the way, I have only 1 writing, not 3.
My apologies, someone else also sent me 3 different versions of one essay.
Given the fact that my test date is on September 7th, after all my preparation I feel a bit confused. I am going to take a GT. I was wondering whether you could kindly see the question below and the two options and let me know if the 2nd option would be what you consider as both sides of the question?
Moreover, would you mind telling me if the 1st option is considered off-topic?
“Students from disadvantaged families and rural areas are finding it difficult to get a university education. Some people believe that universities should help them.
To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Give reasons for your answer and include examples from your experience.”
1st option :
My position: I agree with the idea that universities should help but not solely their responsibility.
Paragraph A: Why the poor students in rural areas find it difficult to obtain post-secondary education?
I wrote about the reasons behind this problem.
Paragraph B: Why it should be the government and universities effective collaboration to deal with this issue?
I depicted how the university and government can collaboratively tackle this problem.
My position: I agree these students should be helped by the universities but not solely.
Paragraph A: Why people think this is solely the universities responsibility?
The reasons why people in the question think this should happen.
Paragraph B: Why this is not only the universities responsibility?
I explain why I think this responsibility should not be shouldered only by universities.
Hopefully, I could be able to hear from you sometimes this week before my exam date.
Hi Ali, first of all, be very wary of trying to reach conclusions about IELTS using shared test questions (if that is where this question comes from). Secondly, I think your best solution is a combination of these 2 approaches – I am not sure why you think a different approach is needed for each as your overall position appears to be the same. Paragraphs A in your first approach seems a logical start, then Paragraph B of your second plan (or a combination of the two paragraph Bs) The most important point is to make your argument clearly and make it clear that you are answering the main question of ‘to what extent do you agree or disagree?” You appear to agree that something should be done but that universities alone are not responsible. I would expect to see an explanation of why you think the universities are responsible and what they could do and why you think governments should also help followed by ways that they can do this.
In paragraph A of your second plan you propose something I see attempted a lot and that often causes problems: an attempt to state why the unknown people who hold the view in the question believe what they do. We can only guess at this, we cannot know it, and there is enough to write about in your proposed plan without this.
Hi Pauline, thank you so much for the time you spent replying me, I do appreciate it.
A little clarification, in fact, the first option is my way of dealing with this question before reading your book (the key to IELTS success) and this post, and the second option is what I came up with as the main paragraph ideas after reading those materials.
The confusion is coming from tons of materials for IELTS that made a huge mess outside of British Council, for instance, I had the following question and I was told that I have written off-topic while I was mainly trying to explain my position to answer that:
“Some governments say how many children a family can have in their country. It is sometimes necessary and right for a government to control the population in this way.
Do you agree or disagree?”
Suppose that I disagree with this statement and in fact, I argue that the government has no right to officially limit the number of children in a family.
Paragraph A: Why the government has no write to officially curb the number of children in each family?
In my essay, answering this question I also breifly explained why some people may sypport the official limitation to consider the other side of the argument.
Paragraph B: Instead of such limitation being enforced to the public, the government should introduce incentives to encourage parents to have fewer children so that they could decide freely.
My essay was commented as “In agree/disagree writing: Do not give alternative solutions. Just give arguments for or against the statement. ”
Do you agree with this quoted comment? I am aware taht you do not accept any categorization for the essays such as opinion, and discussion, I was wondering if giving such alternatives to the topic is considered off-topics?
Now that I put your essay written in your books as the actual references alongside other practice books, and yor answer to my post I feel a lot more confident and I suggest the others to only focus on the official materials and that is indeed enough.
Hi Ali, I can’t really comment without seeing the full answer – for me, it would really depend on how and when you present the alternative solutions. For example, you could argue that:
1) overpopulation is creating serious problems around the world – unsurprisingly many governments want to find a solution
2) some governments try to control this through ABC – I completely disagree with this because XYZ
3) controlling people in this way goes too far and governments need to find another way – (e.g DEF)
In that essay, the main discussion would be 1) the issue itself and 2) the reasons for my complete disagreement. Only at the end would I suggest another possibility. This means the main discussion is still about my complete disagreement and, in fact, the alternative solutions are support for the idea that governments do not need to control people in this way. Does that help?
Two quick questions here.
First, the equality of two sides means the equal length. Is this correct? For example, two paragraphs are of the same size or similar size.
Second, what about questions that require you to talk about causes and solutions. So “two sides” here refer to causes and solutions and they must be of the equal length. Is this correct?
Thank you for your education on “two sides”.
Th two sides would be discussed in a balanced way if they have been discussed in the same depth – this will not always result in exactly the same number of words in each paragraph, but there would be a similar amount of discussion involved and so they would be of a similar length. With causes and solutions you would equally discuss 1) the causes and 2) the possible solutions.
OK. I get it, thank you. But that sentence should be “this does not always result in…”, correct?
I was aiming for ‘this will not’ but yours works too! I have edited my response.
Hi Pauline, I have a question about cause and solution essay. Should the solutions we offer be directly related to the causes or can we offer general solutions? For example if I say that one of the causes that children behave badly these days is the influence of celebrities who behave badly in society. And then for the solution I say that parents need to increase their supervision on children and teach them good manners from an early age. Thank you.
If the causes you raise are not addressed, and the solutions are not clearly related to them then I think that would be odd. You should find a way to link the two e.g by saying: One way for parents to try to minimise the impact this has on their children is to supervise them more. For example,…
Sorry for the previous comment which I accidentally posted. It is incomplete. Kindly read this one.
Hey tutor Pauline
Hope you are in the pink of your health
Learners are adversely affected by the improper learning, wrong guidelines from websites, private people, wrong feedback and structuring of essays. A new student started following you would become successful in a minimum amount of time but the misguided ones like me are actually confused about writing.
I have a few questions for you dear tutor.
You said it is better for an average writer: 6.5 level to write the opposite side of the argument to avoid repetitive ideas. Well, great advice. You said we should not completely disagree when writing the opp side, and a balanced approach would be good. How?
In a discussion model essay ( means to discuss two views ), suppose if we are supporting one side, what should we talk about the opp side ( other people’s view?). Should we say they are wrong ( in that body paragraph or just talk about the benefits, seeing through their eyes )?
If so then we are also supporting them!
What if we talk about our side( talked about the benefits ) and criticize the other side( other people’s opinion ) in 2nd body para? Is that ok?
An example body para
I do not support the idea of implementing struct rules to reduce the crime rate in society ( my side ). Just imagine I explained.
Now I’m talking about the opp side
However, others vouch for implementing stringent rules that can bring down violence in society. People who are into dreaded crimes and those making troubles very often are now afraid of being caught and put in jail which can deter them from committing crimes. ( see, I explained why they want struct rules). Here is my doubt. Shouldn’t we counter them in the same paragraph? What if I write this following their view. Nevertheless, I think that imprisoning someone for long periods for their crimes actually causes repercussion since jail life can make the person more insane and cruel due to mingling with other criminals.
Then I’m going to a conclusion.
Is that ok?
I think it is better if you post a few of your essays on the website so that people can learn and follow the right structure.
Hi Ajeesh, I will try to answer your questions and respond to your comments (numbered below). The main problem appears to be that you are trying to apply my advice for ‘To what extend do you agree or disagree?” with questions that ask you to ‘Discuss both views and give your own opinion.’
1) You said we should not completely disagree when writing the opp side, and a balanced approach would be good. How?
My answer: Can you tell me where you believe I have said this? My advice is always this: if you agree, show it, if you disagree, show it. You show it through your language and ideas (read The Key to IELTS Success – especially the chapters on vocabulary and grammar).
2) In a discussion model essay ( means to discuss two views ), suppose if we are supporting one side, what should we talk about the opp side ( other people’s view?). Should we say they are wrong ( in that body paragraph or just talk about the benefits, seeing through their eyes )?
My Answer: If you are asked to ‘Discuss both views and give your own opinion.’ Then you need to do exactly that. Notice that you are not asked to ‘choose one side to agree with and only write about that’ (which some people believe). Always answer the question you are given. Here you are asked to ‘discuss’ each of the views in the question – i.e. look objectively at each viewpoint and what it means. The way that you do that should help the reader understand why you fully support only one side, or neither side. If you discuss the side you eventually say you disagree with using language that is very supportive, then the reader will be confused.
3) What if we talk about our side( talked about the benefits ) and criticize the other side( other people’s opinion ) in 2nd body para? Is that ok?
My Answer: As I explained above, this would only happen in a different question – one where you are given one viewpoint and asked ‘To What extent do you agree or disagree?” Always respond to the question you are given. If you are asked to discuss both views, do that. If you are given one viewpoint to discuss, do that. As I explain in the post above your comment, my advice for this type of question is, if you are stuck for ideas, consider the opposite point of view or the opposite side (what if we DIDN’T have or do this?”)
4) An example body para – I do not support the idea of implementing struct rules to reduce the crime rate in society ( my side ).
My Comment: Just to be clear, I assume this is a question where you are given one viewpoint and asked ‘Do you agree or disagree?” etc. Not a question where you are given 2 viewpoints to discuss (as in your first question).
Just imagine I explained. Now I’m talking about the opp side
‘’However, others vouch for implementing stringent rules that can bring down violence in society. People who are into dreaded crimes and those making troubles very often are now afraid of being caught and put in jail which can deter them from committing crimes.’’ ( see, I explained why they want struct rules).
My comment: Actually, you DIDN’T explain ‘why THEY want strict rules’ Your position is unclear here because your second sentence tells the reader that YOU believe this. It is your language that is creating the problem. (NB there are also vocabulary problems here as you are trying to use as many different words as possible to talk about punishment or crime.)
5) Here is my doubt. Shouldn’t we counter them in the same paragraph?
My Comment: If this is an idea you disagree with, then you must show this disagreement throughout. You must make it clear 1) what you believe 2) what others believe 3) how you feel about others’ opinions. Your problem is that you are not making it clear which views are yours and which belong to others. E.g. When you write ‘People who are into dreaded crimes and those making troubles very often are now afraid of being caught and put in jail which can deter them from committing crimes.’ You are telling the reader that you believe that strict punishments are effective in reducing crime – in other words, showing support for strict punishment. (NB again there are problems with vocabulary here)
6) What if I write this following their view. Nevertheless, I think that imprisoning someone for long periods for their crimes actually causes repercussion since jail life can make the person more insane and cruel due to mingling with other criminals.
Then I’m going to a conclusion.
Is that ok?
My answer: Writing this after the previous sentence will mean that your position is not clear ‘throughout’ because you are saying 1) strict punishments can reduce crime 2) I think strict punishments make things worse. Which part of your second sentence (‘People who are into dreaded crimes and those making troubles very often are now afraid of being caught and put in jail which can deter them from committing crimes.’) shows that you do not hold this view?
7) I think it is better if you post a few of your essays on the website so that people can learn and follow the right structure.
My comment: Like most people, I cannot afford to work only for free. Sadly, too many people simply look for free downloads of my books. Until sales of my books improve, I can’t add more free content like that.
I would like to know whether the tense(s) used in the overview has to correspond to that or those of the data. For example , in a sample answer(unit23-Vocab for IELTS Advanced) you’ve used the present perfect in the overview, whereas the barcharts show a past period(1950-2010).
I can’t find the sentence you mean but you shouls definitely be conscious of the tense you use when there is a change over time being showman the data
I have a question about writing a brief counter-argument in the conclusion paragraph of the essay without discussing it in detail (as you have mentioned in the post). I read it on an IELTS blog that in such cases we cannot begin the final paragraph with “in conclusion”, because here we are referring to a possible counter-argument that is not mentioned in the body paragraphs, so it can’t be a conclusion of our arguments, and therefore we cannot use “in conclusion” or “to sum up” at the beginning of this paragraph, do you think it’s true? Thanks for your support.
There is no rule like this, Soheil. I can certainly imagine a band 9 writer referring to a counterargument in the conclusion.
Hi again, I don’t think I could make myself understood. The blog post didn’t say that we cannot write a counter-argument in the conclusion, it said that when we write the counter-argument in the conclusion we cannot begin the conclusion paragraph with “in conclusion” or “to sum up”. Would you say this is accuarate?
Oh, I see, well, I think it would be unconventional but not impossible to do that (there are conventions but no rules like this) The result would probably be a longer paragraph than usual because you would need to summarise all of your points, refer to a counterargument, and then find a way to finish. I would not rule out a native speaker being able to do this, but I am sure the blog was trying to make life easier for learners. The only reason I say that it is possible is that you may find examples like this in the wider world. It is best to see this not as a fixed rule but as ‘good advice’ for what to aim for.
Thank you Pauline, but allow me to explain more; the post in the blog was not concerned about a long paragraph, the only concern was about the use of the phrase “in conclusion”. It said it would be perfectly fine to write a brief counter-argument in the conclusion, but just that we must not use the discourse marker “in conclusion”. The exact post from the blog said the following: “If you want to write a counter-argument in your conclusion, do not write ‘in conclusion’ at the beginning of the paragraph, because you are not just concluding from your body paragraphs, but including a counter-argument as well.” So I imagine the advice was not given to avoid a long paragraph, it simply said write a brief counter-argument, summarise your main points, but just don’t use “in conclusion” at the beginning of it. Honestly I found the advice rather odd, so I wanted to know your opinion. Thanks you so much for your help.
I think there are many people trying to impose ‘rules’ like this, but the reality is actually much more complicated. When teaching the lower levels, (bands 5 or lower) we new present language with very strict rules, but as the learners become more advanced, they learn that language is less structures and much more complicated. I don’t know the bog post or the writer, but it is very difficult to give advice that suits every level at the same time.
My name is Barry and I’m a native speaker. I’ve been following your blog for some time now and thank you for the amazing content. I’m planning to take the IELTS test and I’m aiming for a 9 in writing. To my experience, the biggest challenge is planning. I came across this example question from a recent Cambridge book and I’m not sure how to plan for it, do you think you could help me with it?
‘Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?’
I was thinking of writing a paragraph about how music helps bring people of different ages together, and another paragraph about how it can bring different cultures together. Do you think this plan is good for a 9? Or do you think I need a more considered position (maybe by offering a counter-argument)? (honestly I’m not sure how and if a counter-argument fits here). I really appreciate it.
You are correct in thinking that one of the greatest problems (in my view) for native speakers is a lack of planning – aim to spend 5-10 minutes thinking about the issue and about how to explain your own feelings about it before you begin writing anything. The suggested organisation of your paragraphs (what you have written here is an outline and not a plan) could work for someone who is confident that they have sufficient ideas to support these views. It all comes down to what you think about believe about music and its ability to unite people. For me, I would find it easier to write about either of these:
A) how music can unite people of different cultures and ages B) ways music doesn’t always unite people of different cultures and ages
If the question said ‘Some people think that music is the best way to unite people of different ages and cultures’ Then I would write organise my answer like this:
A) ways music does and doesn’t unite people B) other ways of uniting people of different ages and cultures.
The main issue is having ideas that actually do support your main ideas and being able to clearly explain them and logically organise them. Feel free to send a practice essay and I will give some feedback.
In your comment to Barry, you said that what he has written is an outline, and not a plan. Can you explain how a plan is different from an outline, and which one do we need for the test,an outline or a plan? Thank you so much.
A plan is far more detailed – I am showing this as a step by step process in my next book, which will be available next month.
Hi Pauline! Can I just clarify your advice to discuss both sides in a ‘to what extent do you agree or disagree’ essay?
Is this advice simply to help candidates avoid repetition?
Is it to help candidates to “address all parts of the task”? Because you seem to equate “sides” with “parts”, then you say that a ‘to what extent’ essay can have 2 sides, thus implying that candidates MUST address both “sides” in a ‘to what extent’ essay in order to get Band 7.
Hi Charlie, yes, it is to help candidates address all parts of the task , but it is also to help in getting extra ideas and avoiding repetition.
The ‘sides’ refers to different sides of an argument, while ‘parts’ relates to ‘parts’ of the question – often these are the same thing (e.g. if there are 2 viewpoints in the question then the ‘parts’ are also ‘sides’ of an argument. Where there is one viewpoint, the different parts can be within the topic itself. E.g, in a question like this: ‘Some people think parents should teach children how to behave so that teachers don’t have to.’ The two ‘parts’ are 1) ‘parents teaching children to behave’ and 2) teachers teaching children to behave’ – which is also, again, 2 different sides of the argument.
Hi, Pauline. This post is of extreme importance to me. Really appreciate your effort!
Just to confirm: If we aim for 7 or higher, we need to cover both sides whether we completely agree or disagree, is this correct? I mean, we don’t have to agree with the other side but we need to give it due attention. So we arrive at our conclusion with equal consideration of both sides. This is my understanding of “discuss”. Correct me if I am wrong. Much appreciated!
Yes, that’s exactly right, Thomas.
Dear Ms. Cullen ,
I am really glad to find this great and helpful site with a great and skilful IELTS teacher .
I would like to say that I read some of your points . They are really amazing .
most are the counter-argument essay have unclear conclusions
how can we write a counter argument and come to logical conclusion?
I’m explaining this in detail in my new book – it isn’t something you can explain briefly.
Hi, dear Pauline, I remember in your reply to my question last year (which is also on this page), you agreed that if a question has two parts, the discussion of each part should be of an equal amount. However, in the Official Guidance book, the sample for Test 2 (which I know is not written by you) clearly gives more paragraphs to the second question than to the first question. This really confuses me. If the task has two questions, we should answer both in the same or similar length. Is that correct?
Another question is, how do you understand “How true do you think the statement is”? Can I understand it as “to which degree do you agree with it”? The sample does not give me a clear answer. So I am here to bother you again. I really appreciate your time and attention!
Hi Thomas, I am planning on writing new models for the questions in the Official Guide once I have completed my writing book. There is no rule on how much of your essay to devote to different questions when there are 2 – sometimes there is naturally more to say about one than the other, sometimes the second question is there to prompt you so that you have enough to talk about. In my new book I show you how to make sure you address each issue in a balanced way. The question ‘How true do you think the statement is?” should definitely be ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?”
Thanks again for your clarification and I am eager to know when your new book will be available.
Thank you very much Ms. Cullen. I just came across your website and found it really helpful.
And now I was wondering if you could find the time to answer my question.
As someone who has recently started preparing students for IELTS, do you think I should categorize what I want to teach to students with different target band scores? I mean, for someone who, for example, needs to get a 6 in writing, should I just tell them to take one side (in a TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE essay question) and try to develop it using some certain structures?
Hi Morteza, I address this idea a little in my new course – I am sure you will find it helpful. I have aimed the course at bands 6.5 at the moment but I plan to write a lower level version when I can. There is advice for teachers as well as self-study students. It is a 20-lesson course that could be done in 20 days, or 20 weeks, depending on the time you have. There are printable worksheets too. I’ll be sharing a link soon.
Hi, Paullen. A quick question for you: When “discussing both views”, must I say explicitly that “some people believe”? In other words, is it a must that I should distinguish the views I discuss from my own views, even though I might totally agree with one of them?
Hi Thomas, you need to make it clear 1) when you are addressing the question and 2) what your position is. So, you would need to show through the way that you discuss the opinion you agree with, that you also support it. You do that explicitly (by saying that you do!) and also through the ideas and language you use. The main problem people have is when discussing the idea they disagree with (they tend to show too much support for that idea!) I discuss both of these in my new book and show you how to address it. The ‘counterargument’ chapter is the longest!
Oh, thank you. Cannot wait to buy that book.
So is it a must that I say explicitly that “some people believe…”? Or I just directly discuss the view I agree with?
It’s impossible to give a rule like that – there are many ways to do this, and it will always depend on the individual situation. This is certainly one way and it is a way that I recommend in the book.
Do students get marked down in a question that asks for advantages/disadvantages if they just talk about one in a paragraph? Is it the same for problems/causes and solutions? If they develop one solution really well, would that just be ‘partial’ and limit them to band 6?
Hi Ming, the following post will help:https://keytoielts.com/do-the-advantages-outweigh-the-disadvantages/
There is also information about this in my new book.
thanks for the useful explanation. I have just purchased your latest book. Love it!
for this post, I checked the practice test book 10 page 162 and 166. Why do they only have a counter argument paragraph but no conclusion. So can I not write a conclusion or can I include the counter argument into the conclusion?
Hello, I suggest you read the lessons in my new book in order – they explain everything step by step. If you are still confused by the end then let me know. If you read the introduction you will understand why the sample answers in test practice books are not always helpful.
Thanks for amazing tips.
One small question.
Is this a good plan for a discussion question.
BP1: discussing side A
BP2: discussing Side B briefly (in two sentences). + refuting the ideas of side B.
Concluding that side A is good.
What I mean is can we discuss one side only briefly? and does it need to be refuted?
That isn’t a ‘plan’ for an essay, it is a very basic description of what an essay looks like. The counterargument needs to be refuted so that you make your own position clear. My task 2 book shows you how to plan your essay and there is a lesson on when and how to write a counterargument:https://keytoielts.com/product/the-key-to-ielts-writing-task-2-course/
When you say Side A and Side B, do you mean one body paragraph should talk about Side A and the other about Side B. I have seen a sample answer in Cambridge IELTS book 10. It is a response to an ‘ is it a positive or negative development’ question. But the sample essay only talks about why the writer thinks it is a negative development. Could you explain why?
That’s the way that I recommend you write so as to get the highest score you can in the test. I refer to the sample answers in the test books as an ‘invisible band 10’ because they are not produced in test conditions and are generally edited professionally. The result is often more subtle, so it will cover all that you need to cover but not in a way that is helpful for candidates. My Writing Task 2 book has over 20 models that were all written in 40 minutes, were assessed as being band 9, and are helpful models for you to follow:https://keytoielts.com/product/the-key-to-ielts-writing-task-2-course/