Each time I share my post about how to write a quick plan in your #IELTS writing, people say to me: ‘But what about when it says…?”

The main issues seems to be with what people call ‘agree or disagree’ essays. I’ve also seen essays labelled as ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’ essays’. These descriptions only exist outside of the test. They can be helpful for teachers to plan their course and to make sure they cover different types of language. But, the message often gets confused when people start to say things like ‘With a discussion essay you must only do xyz while in an argument essay you must do a,b,c’.
In reality, there is only one type of essay question in IELTS – a question that forces you to take a position and clearly outline your argument and ideas.
Apart from bad or confusing advice, the biggest problem with using writing tasks you find online is that they force you practise doing the wrong thing. Here is an example someone shared with me today:

Some businesses now say that no one can smoke cigarettes in any of their offices. Some governments have banned smoking in all public places. This is a good idea but it also takes away some of our freedom.
Do you agree or disagree?

This is not a good example of an IELTS test question because it has too many different components, so it would be impossible to answer fully in 250 words and in 40 minutes. If you attempted to answer it in 250 words and 40 minutes you would not be able to fully address all of the parts in a balanced way. Other questions I have seen do not force you to take up a position, which you will ALWAYS need to do in the test. So these types of questions force you NOT to use the skills that you MUST use in the real test.

If you want to just practise writing, then these types of question are fine – just don’t aim to answer them in the time limit or the word limit. But if you want to practise for the test, then you need to use authentic writing test questions.



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4 thoughts on “

  1. Confused

    Think i made a blunder by presenting my position in conclusion only. I didnot use word agree/disagree to some/great extent. Instead i wrote ” i think women SHOULD be given liberty….” taking clear position in favor of one side. will this cause me loose marks??

    1. Pauline Post author

      Hello, if you look at my essays you will see that I didn’t give my position by saying ‘I agree’ etc. There are many ways to make your position clear.

      1. Men Nil

        Hello. I read your post about the type of question containing “Some businesses now say that no one can smoke cigarettes in any of their offices”, and you mentioned this type of question is not common in the IELTS test. However, the Cambridge Practice Test 10 includes an essay question which reads:

        It is important for children to learn the difference between right and wrong at an early age. Punishment is necessary to help them learn this distinction.

        To what extent do your agree or disagree with this opinion?

        What sort of punishment should parents and teachers be allowed to use to teach good behaviour to children?

        I think this question is also not a straight-forward question because it also contains several aspects (importance of learning the right and wrong + role of punishment + sorts of punishment).

        How would a candidate fare if (s)he were faced with a question of this type? Thanks.

        1. Pauline Post author

          Hello, I think you may have misunderstood my advice. It isn’t the topic that is the problem – it is the fact that it has too many different ‘parts’ to it so you could not answer it within 250 words. The question you mentioned here from Book 10 forces you to consider and discuss an issue that everyone can relate to – the main idea is always to discuss all sides of one issue in an objective way and give your own opinion. I recommend not using sites where people write their own questions because these often don’t require you to do that.


Hello! All feedback and any IELTS questions are welcome.