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How to Identify the Task in an IELTS Essay

Once you have identified the topic (previous lesson) for your essay, you need to identify the task. The ‘task’ is the part of the question that tells you what you have to do to answer it.

This is one of the most important things you will have to do when you analyze the essay question. Why? 

Because 25% of your grade for the essay is based on ‘Task Response’ - how you have responded to the task.

In order to grade your task response, the examiner will be looking to see if you have answered the question. If you have only partially answered the question, this will decrease your grade for this criteria.

Let’s look at the same essay question we looked at in lesson 1 when you identified the topic:

The crime rate among teenagers has increased dramatically in many countries.

Discuss some possible reasons for this increase and suggest solutions.

In the previous lesson, we identified the topic for this question as‘teenage crime’. The task - or ‘what you have to do’ - is usually at the end of the prompt.

As you can see, you are being told to ‘Discuss some possible reasons for this increase and suggest solutions. It’s very common in task 2 IELTS essay questions to get asked to do two things, and this question is a good example of this:

  1. Why teenage crime has increased
  2. Ways to solve this problem

You MUST discuss both those things to ensure you have fully answered the question and you must write roughly equal amounts about each part. Doing any of the following things will reduce your score for task response, and hence may reduce your overall score:

  1. Only writing about reasons or only solutions
  2. Writing most of your essay about reasons and only a small part on solutions (or visa versa)
  3. Writing about the reasons and solutions for crime in general, and not referring to teenage crime (the topic)
  4. Writing about neither reasons nor solutions

This is why it is so important to spend some time at the beginning making sure you identify the task so that you know what you have to write about.

A Common Mistake

It is a common mistake for students to rush at the beginning to start writing as they are worried about not finishing, and then write about the wrong thing.

For example, when you have finished identifying the task, you will brainstorm your ideas. You may come up with reasons for an increase in crime such as ‘lack of parental supervision’ and ‘boredom’.

However, I have seen students come up with problems of teenage crime, such as ‘more young people being put in prison' and ‘stress for their parents'.

This particular task asks you to write about ‘reasons’, not ‘problems’(though being asked to write about 'problems and solutions' is common). So if you do this you will not be answering the question. This comes from rushing and not taking enough time to identify the task properly.

Other Question Types

The previous question was fairly easy, so to identify the task was hopefully not too difficult. Some questions, though, will take more thought in order to identify what you need to write about.

Here is another example:

Advances in technology and automation have reduced the need for manual labour. Therefore, working hours should be reduced.

To what extent do you agree?

Again, look to the end of the prompt to identify the task. You have to say if you agree or disagree with working hours being reduced, or, in other words, automation (machines) taking over from some human’s duties.

You must also say how much you agree or disagree ("to what extent"). Let’s assume you want to look at both sides of the issue. You therefore need to discuss the reasons why you agree, and the reasons why you disagree. Or put another way:

  1. The advantages of reducing working hours
  2. The disadvantages of reducing working hours

And of course in the introduction or conclusion you need to make it clear what your opinion is.

If you do all of these things then you will have answered all parts of the prompt. If you find more reasons to agree than disagree, then you can write more about this side of the argument, or visa versa. 

Identify the Task - Practice

Now you can have a practice identifying the task for some IELTS essay questions.

Pick the one that you think best describes what you would write about in order to fully answer all parts of the question.

  1. The rising levels of congestion and air pollution found in most of the world cities can be attributed directly to the rapidly increasing number of private cars in use. In order to reverse this decline in the quality of life in cities, attempts must be made to encourage people to use their cars less and public transport more.

    Discuss possible ways to encourage the use of public transport.

    Why people have been using cars more and public transport less

    How to get people to use public transport more

    The causes of increasing congestion and air pollution.

  2. Do the benefits of study abroad justify the difficulties? What advice would you offer to a prospective student?

    (a) A discussion of the benefits versus the challenges of studying abroad (b) Strategies to cope with studying abroad

    (a) The benefits of study abroad

    (a) The benefits of study abroad (b) the difficulties of studying abroad

  3. Fresh water has always been a limited resource in some parts of the world. Today, however, growing worldwide demand has made this a global problem.

    What are the causes of the increased demand and what measure could governments and individuals take to respond to this problem?

    (a) The problems with using too much water (b) Government solutions (c) Individual solutions

    How (a) Governments and (b) Individuals can solve water shortage problems.

    (a) Reasons for increased demand for water (b) Government solutions (c) Individual solutions

  4. As global trade increases, many goods including those we use on a daily basis are produced in other countries and transported long distances.

    Do the benefits of the trend outweigh the drawback?

    (a) The benefits of this (b) The disadvantages of this (c) Your opinion on whether it is more beneficial or not

    (a) The benefits of this (b) Your opinion on whether is is more beneficial or not

    (a) The disadvantages of this (b) Your opinion on whether it is more beneficial or not

  5. Some people feel that animals should have the same rights as humans, but others think they are not as equal or intelligent as us so should not have the same rights.

    Discuss both opinions and give your opinion.

    (a) The arguments for giving animals rights (b) The arguments against this

    (a) Arguments for having animal rights (b) The arguments against this (c) Your opinion

    (a) The reasons why animals are not as equal or intelligent as humans

  6. Currently there is a trend towards the use of alternative forms of medicine. However, at best these methods are ineffective, and at worst they may be dangerous.

    To what extent do you agree with this statement?

    (a) How alternative medicine differs from Conventional medicine

    (a) The dangers of alternative medicine

    (a) The benefits of alternative medicine (b) The drawbacks of alternative medicine (c) Your opinion

  7. Overpopulation of urban areas has led to numerous problems.

    Identify one or two serious ones and suggest ways that governments and individuals can tackle these problems.

    (a) Problems of overpopulation in urban areas (b) Government solutions (c) Individual solutions

    (a) The problems of overpopulation (b) The solutions

    (a) How governments can tackle urban overpopulation (b) How individuals can tackle urban overpopulation.

  8. Computers should never have been invented.

    To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

    (a) The reasons why computers were invented (b) The benefits of computers (c) Your opinion.

    (a) The problems with computers (b) Solutions to these problems.

    (a) The benefits of computers (b) The drawbacks of computers (c) Your opinion

  9. Unemployment has become an increasing problem in the recent past.

    What factors contribute to an increase in unemployment and what steps can be taken to solve the problem?

    (a) The causes of increasing unemployment (b) How to solve this problem

    (a) The problems with increasing unemployment (b) How to solve this problem.

    (a) The reasons why unemployment is increasing.

  10. Some people think that young children should be allowed to do paid work, while others think that this should be illegal.

    Discuss both opinions and give your opinion.

    (a) The advantages of allowing children to do paid work (b) Your opinion.

    (a) The advantages of allowing children to do paid work (b) The disadvantages this (c) Your opinion.

    (a) The problems of allowing children to do paid work (b) The benefits of allowing them to do paid work.


Understanding the question is so important in the essay. Make sure you check out our many IELTS sample essays to see all the different types of essays questions and how they can best be answered. 

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