Sunday, 11 May 2014

A Variety of Hobby Topics (Task 2 Writing)

One thing students often worry about during Writing Task 2 is not having enough time. They begin writing their essays as quickly as possible because they are afraid of not finishing. 

However, you must believe the following advice:

  • You are more likely to finish quickly and write a better essay if you MAKE A PLAN beforehand.

This is especially true if you would like to write about two sides of an Argument Topic which asks for your opinion. For more general information on planning and structure, look at the previous entry:

Make A Plan!

One good way of planning your essay is to make a Mind Map. There are many kinds of mind maps but my favourite is one that I like to call "The Tree."

Your tree will probably not look like this one, but this does give you some idea of what we will do when we make our tree.

In order to practice making a tree to organise our ideas, let's look at a common Task 2 Writing Topic.

Actors, musicians, and sports players make millions of dollars every year while many other people in the world are struggling with poverty. Do you believe this is justified? Explain your answer.

We can see that this is an argument topic with two main sides. The two possible opinions we can take are as follows:

It is justified that actors, musicians, and sports players make millions of dollars even though some people in the world are poor.


It is NOT justified for actors, musicians, and sports players to make so much money while others in the world are struggling with poverty.

Now that we have recognised the two sides of this argument, it's time to make a tree. Just quickly draw something like this on your exam paper:

  It's justified                         It's not justified

Then, take a few moments to think of points for each side. Remember: You may only want to write about one side of the argument, but it's often helpful to look at both sides. You only have a few minutes to prepare, so it's not necessary to write full sentences at this point. Look at the example below:

It's justified                         It's not justified

Actors and sports players have special skills                         People are too focused on entertainment these
which are in demand.                                                             days, and these people only give entertainment.                                                    
They have short careers.                                                      Actors and sports players work very short
- injuries                                                                               hours compared with other workers.
-getting old                                                        
These are high-risk jobs sometimes.                                       These people live extravagant lifestyles and
                                                                                             waste their money. It's wrong for them to do
The market demands that some careers have                          this when there are so many poor people.
higher pay.                                                          

Now you try! Look at the topics below and try making some trees! The more ideas you can prepare before the exam, the easier the exam will seem.

Many people argue that modern children spend far too much time with sedentary activities like TV and computer games. Do you agree or disagree?

Some people say that children have too many extracurricular activities and that they are not given enough time for free play. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Actors, musicians, and sports players make millions of dollars every year while many other people in the world are struggling with poverty. Do you believe this is justified? Explain your answer.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Care For A Chat?

Andrea of Super Best IELTS is now available to give you online lessons!

Conversation lessons, practice speaking tests, and personalised tips and tricks can all be yours.

Click the link below the picture to view Andrea's profile and to view rates and lesson times. 

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Problem & Solution Essays on Crime Topics

We’ve seen many examples of how to write an essay on an argument topic, that is, a topic that requires you to give your opinion. However, it’s not always necessary to give your opinion on an issue. Sometimes you need to understand a problem, discuss its causes and effects, and give possible solutions. This kind of essay can be referred to as a Problem & Solution Essay. They are sometimes called Cause & Effect essays.

Here are some common Task 2 Essay prompts on the topic of crime that require a Problem & Solution Essay:

The rates of violent crime are increasing in many countries around the world. Give some reasons for this situation and some possible solutions.

Traffic congestion and air pollution from automobiles is at an all-time high in many major cities, which creates a number of problems for residents. Discuss the causes and effects of this issue and suggest some ways to remedy the problem.

This days, children spend a large amount of time playing computer games and doing other sedentary activities, which leads to increasing rates of childhood obesity. Discuss some of the factors that influence this problem and give potential solutions.

These days, many cities are becoming overcrowded due to heavy migration from rural areas. Why do you think this problem is occurring and what measures can be taken to remedy it?

As you can see, these topics are stating factual information and so it is not necessary for us to give our opinions. We should assume that the information in the topic is true and proceed from there. In this type of essay you should not try to argue with the main statement!
Most Problem & Solution Essays should follow this basic structure:

Paragraph 1: Introduce the problem
Paragraph 2: Mention possible causes of the problem 
Paragraph 3: Discuss common effects of the problem.
Paragraph 4: Offer solutions and conclude.

In some cases, you may need to combine the cause and effect paragraphs to leave room for more solutions. Also, if you have a large amount of information, you can write a separate conclusion paragraph, but the above structure works well for most essays.

Let’s take a look at this topic to help us understand the best way to write about Problems & Solutions:

Prison overpopulation is becoming a significant problem in many developed countries. What has caused this situation and what, if anything, can be done about it?

Similar to Argument-style essays, you need to write an introduction which gives basic information about the topic. This can be taken from the topic itself and modified slightly. (Remember, it’s ok to copy a little bit from the topic!) In a Problem & Solution essay, we don’t need to give our opinion, but the overall introduction paragraph will be the same. We should begin by saying what the problem is, then explaining why the problem is important, and briefly describing what we will write about.

A good introduction for the above topic would be:

These days, overpopulation in prisons is becoming a serious problem in many countries. Obviously, this situation creates serious negative repercussions for individuals and for society as a whole. The following essay will outline some of the possible causes for the increase in imprisonment, discuss its effects on society, and suggest some ways to resolve this issue.

The most difficult thing about writing a Problem & Solution Essay is having the correct information on hand. Remember that the examiner is not worried about whether or not your essay is 100% factual. They are concerned about your ability to use English! However, it’s usually not a good idea to invent statistics or completely lie about information. (Some people are simply bad at lying!) It’s better to use HEDGING to make “soft” statements that cannot be wrongly interpreted.

Do you know why the prison population is growing? It’s ok if you don’t. Just make an intelligent guess and use HEDGING to soften your idea. For example:

There are many possible reasons as to why the prison population is growing in developed countries. It could be due to an increase in urban population, which brings a large number of people together in a small area. When many diverse groups of people live together in close proximity, there’s bound to be confusion, conflict, and crime. Another possible reason for the growing number of prison inmates is income inequality. As the gap between the rich and the poor grows larger, more and more people are likely to feel desperate for financial stability, thus turning to criminal activities to make ends meet.

You can see that the writer is not completely sure of the information, but does a good job of presenting his or her guesses in an intelligent way. Reread the preceding paragraph and circle all of the hedging words!

Now let’s talk about possible effects. These are usually easier to describe than causes, since we can observe them in the world around us. Use your common sense!

There is no doubt that having a large number of citizens in jail is a profoundly undesirable situation. Prisoners, who are usually male, leave behind their families and live in terrible, violent conditions. Women and children without financial support become reliant on the government, putting pressure on an already overstretched system. Furthermore, young men who lose their fathers to prison may become marginalized by society and end up turning into criminals themselves, continuing this vicious cycle.  Additionally, the cost of maintaining prison facilities can be very high and consume funding that could certainly be used in a more positive manner.

Now we just need to offer a few solutions and conclude our essay. Again, you don’t need to worry if your solution is not perfect. You are not a political commentator or a sociologist (or maybe not yet!) but you need to show that you have enough language to write intelligently on a wide range of topics. Give your best ideas and use accurate vocabulary that you know. It’s alright to give your opinion at this point. It’s even ok to admit that the problem is difficult to solve, like so:

The problem of overcrowding in prisons is undoubtedly a difficult one with no clear solution.  In my opinion, we must start by reducing income inequality and removing people’s motivation to commit crime. It might also be useful to institute other forms of punishment, such as community service, for non-violent offenders. Reducing the number of people in prison and increasing the number of productive citizens would certainly change society for the better.

Are you ready to try one?? Pick one of the topics given at the top of the page and write a brief outline for a Problem & Solution Essay. You don’t need to write down everything now, but you should have a clear idea of what the main points will be. Making this type of plan will REALLY help you during the exam, and ensure that you have plenty of time to finish your essay.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Language and Indirect Speech (Listening)

The following talk by psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker is quite similar to IELTS Listening Section 4.(This lecture does contain references to sex and dating, which are not likely to appear on the IELTS exam!)

The specific topic of the lecture is indirect language. He explains why people often avoid making commands or asking directly for something. It is partly due to politeness, but also due to the speaker's wish to avoid embarrassment and awkwardness.

Watching this video may help you to understand English-speakers better!

Before listening, look at the vocabulary words below. If necessary use an English to English Dictionary to find their meanings.

hostage        proffer        bribe       euphemism        infer

veiled         threat         literal     metaphorical     ethos

ubiquity       dominance      altruism    anomalous        cheeky

awkwardness    reciprocity    naive       innuendo    deniability

Now read the fill-in-the-blank questions below the video and look for key words. Make a guess about what word might logically complete each sentence. Then listen as many times as necessary to complete the exercise. Some words will appear within the video, so you'll have an advantage if you're a quick reader. It's ok if you don't understand everything! 

Complete the sentences below with NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS.

1. Language is a ______________ into social relations.

2. A kidnapper has a hostage tied up in the back seat of a car and, inconveniently, is ______________ by the police because he's missing ______________.

3. So the puzzle is why are bribes, ______________, seductions,solicitations and threats so often veiled when both parties presumably know _________________ they mean?

4. Behaviour that is acceptable in one ________________ type can be anomalous in another.

5. You wouldn't go up to your boss and ________________ to a prawn off his plate because what you can get away with in a communality relationship you can't get away with in a ________________ relationship.

6. One remaining ________________, which is why we resort to indirectness even when there is no ________________.

7. What is the psychological status of an overture that ________________ to be out there or on the record that makes it feel so much more ________________ than a veiled overture that is conveyed indirectly?

8. When a little boy said the emperor is ________________ he was not telling anyone anything that they did not already know and even if they could not see with their ________________.

9. Once again, that gave them the collective power to _______________ the dominance of the emperor through their  _______________

10. The moral of the story is that explicit language is an ________________ of creating mutual knowledge.

To read a transcript of the talk, and to check your answers, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Should Students Study Overseas? (Task 2 Writing)

One of the criteria on which your writing is judged is Coherence and Cohesion. In other words, organisation!

Essays that do not have a clear structure will lose points in the area of Coherence and Cohesion. They may also receive a lower score because your lack of organisation causes the essay to become confusing or wander off topic. The following structure is most useful for Thesis essays or Report-style essays. For more about what those terms mean, Click Here.

  1. The first paragraph should clearly state the topic and give your opinion (assuming an opinion is needed.)
  2. The second paragraph should give a clear reason to support your opinion, plus examples or personal experiences to support your reason.
  3. The third paragraph should give a new, different reason for why your opinion is correct. Try to avoid repeating points from the second paragraph.
  4. You many want to have a fourth paragraph with a third distinct reason, but this is not always necessary or possible due to time limitations.
  5. The conclusion should RESTATE your opinion in another way. This is a necessary step.

Let's look at the structure for the following topic:

Going overseas for university study is an exciting prospect for many people. However, while it may offer some advantages, it is probably better to stay home because of the difficulties a student inevitably encounters living and studying in a different culture.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?


The introduction, conclusion, and main supporting reasons are given. You can see that each reason is slightly different from the others. We should include examples to support each point.

Here is a suitable introduction for this topic:

                These days, more and more students decide to leave their home countries and travel overseas to attend foreign universities. Although this decision is a difficult one which poses many challenges to young people, I believe that the advantages of studying overseas far outweigh the disadvantages.

You can see that the writer clearly sees more advantages than disadvantages to studying abroad. Let's give a reason for this opinion:

First Point: Studying overseas allows students to learn about other cultures, which makes them more valuable in an increasingly globalised society.

Now we need to give an example to support this idea. Why are students more valuable after studying overseas?  

Students who study overseas are often able to master a second language and learn about new cultures, both of which are essential skills in the increasingly globalised world marketplace.

Here are two more points to support the original opinion. Can you think of suitable examples to illustrate them?

Second Point: It’s true that studying abroad is very challenging. However, the ability to solve challenging problems is an important life skill.

What are some challenges that foreign students face? How might this help them in the future?

Third Point: Last but not least, when students travel outside their home country, they can have amazing new experiences and create long-lasting friendships.

What are some fun things you can experience while traveling abroad? How might having international friends help me in the future?

Now that we've given three reasons to support our opinion and given examples, we can add our conclusion:

For the above reasons, I believe that spending time studying in another country is a very valuable experience for young people. It provides them with experiences and opportunities that can improve the quality of their lives and advance their careers. As such, it is the best choice a student can make.   

NZ© Andrea Holland 2014

Thursday, 30 January 2014

How to Write About a Table (Task 1 Writing)

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful wooden table. It was round and made of the finest mahogany, and it stood proudly in the home of a wealthy business man…”

WAIT! Not that kind of table!

This kind of table:

This chart gives information about the proportion of people from various age groups and family statuses who are currently living in poverty in SomeCity, along with a figure giving the exact number of families in destitution.

Like many other Task 1 Essays, your first goal should be to make a general statement about the information. In this case, we have a clear general statement. What do you think it should be?

In this case, we can make a very general statement such as:

From the table, we can see that the percentage of people living in poverty varies significantly between different family and income groups.

The next step should be to find the most notable features. In a table, this is generally fairly easy, because we can always look for the smallest and largest numbers.

In this case, which two categories have the lowest percentages of people living in poverty?

It's clear that elderly couples, couples with no children, and single aged people experienced the lowest rates of poverty.

What do these categories have in common?

Generally, couples and individuals who are not responsible for children are least likely to live in destitution.

After stating the general trend, give an example to illustrate your point:

The percentage of elderly couples living in poverty was just 4% or 48,000 individuals.

Which two categories have the largest percentages of people living in poverty?

Single people, either with or without children, are more likely to be poverty-stricken.

Give another example to illustrate your point:

The highest rate of poverty can be found in the single parent group, with around 21% of families or 232,000 individuals.

Now we're almost finished!

Important Hints for This Topic
  • Always use the present tense, unless you are given a specific date in the past.
  • Do not give opinions or include background reasons!
  • Use only information you are given.
  • Make sure to state a general trend, then give an example.

Here is an ideal sample essay for the topic above:

This table gives information about the proportion of people living in poverty in SomeCity and categorises the information based on type of household. It also provides precise figures as to the number of families in each group. We can see that the total percentage of households living in poverty is about 11%, which represents nearly 2 million individual households overall.

Generally, couples tend to have much lower rates of poverty than single people, either with or without children. Older couples are the least likely to suffer from poverty with a proportion amount of just 4%. Couples with no children are also unlikely to live in destitution, with a poverty rate of just 7% or 211,000 households. Although couples with children have a higher rate of poverty than those without them, they still have the relatively low proportion of 12%. This accounts for a notable number of individual households, however, accounting for 933,000 families.

Expressed as a percentage of households by category, single parents are more likely to experience poverty in SomeCity, with a proportion of 12% or more than 200,000 families. The percentage of childless singles with financial strife is also quite high, accounting for 19% of that group.
In sum, even while there are a significant number of couples with children living in poverty, the group with the highest percentage of households in poverty consists of single-parent families.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Describe An Open Air Market (Speaking Part 2)

You speaking score is judged on four distinct criteria. The first is fluency and coherence (your ability to speak continuously and at a natural pace), grammatical range and accuracy (using grammar well and using complex sentences), pronunciation (your ability to say words and sentences with appropriate pronunciation and stress), and lexical resource (your use of vocabulary.)

One way that you can improve your vocabulary for Speaking Part 2 is to improve your use of adjectives. Since many Part 2 questions will ask you to describe something, you need to use sophisticated and accurate words to speak about whatever it happens to be.

PLEASE try to avoid repeating the following words:

Good     Bad     Happy     Sad     Nice    Special    Important 

They will cause your examiner to fall asleep!

Instead of these simple words, try to use participial adjectives. Participial adjectives are -ed or -ing forms of common verbs, but they are used as adjectives. For example:

The excited children jump up and down when they see the ice cream truck.

The history text was highly engaging and so she read it well into the night.

In the first sentence "excited" is a participial adjective describing the emotion of the children. In the second sentence "engaging" is a participial adjective to describe the feelings CAUSED by the book.

There's a wide range of participial adjectives that you can use:

                  -ED            -ING

                bored             boring
                excited           exciting
                interested        interesting
                amazed            amazing
                engaged           engaging
                fascinated        fascinating
                surprised         surprising
                involved          involving
                thrilled          thrilling
                frightened        frightening
                bustled           bustling
                overwhelmed       overwhelming

The MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember about participial adjectives is when to use "-ed" and when to use "-ing." 

Remember: The "-ed" form refers to FEELINGS and should therefore only be used to describe people or very emotional animals!

The "-ing" form is active and means that the subject is CAUSING a feeling.

Look at the following sentences:

Maria is bored.            Maria is boring.

One of them is a very rude thing to say! Do you know which one? It's the second sentence, since it states that "Maria causes boredom." Don't invite her to your party!

Listen to the Speaking Part 2 Response to the following question:

Describe an open-air market which you enjoyed visiting. You should say:
  • where the market is located
  • what the market sells
  • how big the market is

And explain why you enjoyed going there.

Listen and read the text below. Pay attention to the use of participial adjectives.

Right. Well, when I lived in Korea, it was sometimes difficult for me to find the things that I needed in normal shops, so a friend recommended that I check out a market called Namdaemun. I know I’m not pronouncing that correctly, sorry! Anyway, we took two or three buses to get there, and when we arrived, it was absolutely staggering. I had never seen such a bustling market in my life! The stalls were packed into all the streets and alleyways, stretching for several blocks as far as we could see. Vendors were selling just about every product you can imagine. They had shoes, socks, jewelry, electronics, household items, toys,…just…everything, right? To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed. There were just too many choices and I ended up going home with just a headache and a pair of socks. On the plus side, the Namdaemun market had excellent street food, for instance, fried rice with kimchi and tokpoki. Those are some of my favourite Korean snacks. So in the end I really enjoyed eating food and exploring with my friends, but I don’t think I’d go back there. It was just too hectic.

Here are two more excellent sample answers to this question. The first is by a native English speaker, and the second is spoken by a Chinese student. This response would likely receive an 8 or 8.5. Pay attention to the variety of adjectives used. Also, listen for sentence stress and pronunciation.

OK. I’ll talk about a market that I visited in Prague, the Christmas market. These’re common in lots of European cities. At first I wasn’t that excited about going, but my girlfriend kind of dragged me along because she said it would be romantic, and I ended up having a pretty good time. Anyway, Prague is a gorgeous old city, and the Old Town Square has some buildings that date back to the 12th century. This is where they hold the Christmas market. There are hundreds of stalls selling arts and crafts and food as well as Christmas decorations. Musicians play classical music and sing carols while you walk around, and all the stalls are decorated with lights and wreaths and those kinds of things. It’s very nice, and ok, I’ll admit it’s pretty romantic. Unlike most outdoor markets, this one takes place in the dead of winter, and uh, it’s freezing. But the best thing about the Christmas market is drinking hot mead to keep warm. Mead is an alcoholic drink, that’s brewed from honey. At the markets they serve it warm and spiced with cinnamon and… maybe cloves. Anyway, it’s just the thing on a cold day and keeps you going while you shop for gifts. If you ever visit Prague, I highly recommend seeing the Christmas markets.

One market I really enjoyed visiting was a farmer’s market here in Auckland. It takes place every Sunday near the harbor, and it’s one of the largest farmer’s markets in New Zealand. I think there are about… 30 stalls. … It’s nice because you can do your shopping with a nice view of the sea. Like most farmer’s markets, it mainly sells fruits and vegetables. You can choose from a variety of fresh produce, from ordinary things like apples and bananas to exotic fruits like feijoas. …Buying fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market is a good idea because they usually cost less than at the supermarket. There’s also a wide range of specialty goods that you can’t find elsewhere. For instance, you can buy handmade jam and honey which isn’t available at the supermarket. These items are a little pricey, but it’s usually worth it! … I enjoy outdoor markets because they’re good places to get together with friends when the weather is nice. This market is a little different from the open air markets in China, but it’s still an enjoyable place to go.