Top Tips for IELTS

How to address the topic in IELTS essays

In this lesson I look at the need to address and answer the topic in IELTS essay questions. There are 4 parts to the lesson:

understanding IELTS essays questions

the problem of not answering the question

what to do as you plan 

what to do as you write

Understanding the topic in IELTS essay questions

All IELTS essays questions come in the same format. There are 3 different parts to them as shown below.

More and more adults spend time playing computer games.

Why do you think so many adults are doing this? Is this a positive or negative development?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience

What I call the topic is the part in red – it is telling you the background information for the question part or task in blue. You should note

the topic is precise – it is a complete idea that you need to discuss and think about
it isn’t something very general such as “computers” or “computer games”
to answer the task properly you need to address the topic completely and not just a few words in it

See a common mistake

Very often the best way to explain something is to see what can go wrong. Look at this example and try to see what the mistake is. The highlighted words should help you:

More and more adults spend time playing computer games. Why do you think so many adults are doing this? Is this a positive or negative development? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience

Computer games became a passion among people, particularly the adults of the new generation. Although there are so many reasons behind this trend, I strongly believe that it will adversely influence them in numerous ways

Individuals are indulged in computer games, because of various reasons. Leading among these is addition of high definition animation to these games. These programs motivate pupils to involve in this more time by giving them new targets and scores. The competitive spirit in the younger generation like to break each level and gain more points faster than their peer group. Therefore, parents should keep an eye on them. Lack of sufficient outdoor space is another reason. Those who are living in cities, especially in flats are facing this problem. Ignorance of rules to follow a game and absence of enough friends to participate in a game, further keep them on computer games. In the virtual world of computer games, they can satisfy their suppressed emotions such as beating or killing and burst out their anger safely. Lastly, parental restrictions to go outside home due to the absence of supervision and security reasons block children from engaging outdoor games.

I hope you see the problem.

The introduction works well. The question is identified and the writer’s point of view is clearly defined. But the first content paragraph doesn’t discuss the topic – it’s about children and not adults. This is very bad for task response.

Make sure all the parts of your essay relate to the topic in the question

How to avoid the problem

There are a number of different ways to avoid this problem – some are at the writing stage but most are are the planning stage

Read and understand the question – underline key words?

This is where many people go wrong I suspect. They identify just one or two words in the question and write about just those words and not the whole question.One piece of advice is to underline key words in the question. But be careful here and make sure you don’t miss a key word. See this example

An increasing trend nowadays is for young adults to play computer games. Some people say this is a negative development. Discuss and give your opinion.

The best way to answer this question is to write about young adults and not just adults. In the example underlining only the word adults may be a mistake.

Underline words in the question but also read the whole question

Focus on the topic as you plan – brainstorm?

Another way people can go wrong is if they don’t focus on the topic throughout the planning stage.  This can be a particular problem if you brainstorm ideas. Brainstorming can be great for getting more ideas and I do think it’s a good technique to try but the danger is you include all the ideas you think of – some of which may not relate to the topic.

For instance, during your brainstorm you may come up the idea that the internet is now more important to many people than reading books or playing outdoors by thinking like this. You go from computers to the internet to other forms of leisure:

computers → internet >outdoor games and books

This can be a problem because the question is not about the internet. You can still use the idea but only if you refer back to the question as you are planning:

 computer games are often played online and thanks to the power of the internet they stop people playing outside or reading books

Brainstorming can help you get more ideas but you need to get relevant ideas – refer back to the question

Select ideas that fit the question

This should be an important part of how you plan. You choose which ideas most clearly relate to the question. This means deleting ideas that do not fit the question.

For instance you may think about how some games contain violence and that children should not be exposed to shoot ’em up games where the idea is to kill people. This may be a “good” idea but may not be relevant to an essay asking about how adults use games. You can of course still use the idea but you need to state that shoot ’em up games are a bad influence on adults – here you alter the original idea

Remember to choose only ideas that fit the topic – this means deleting/altering ideas that are irrelevant

Refer to the question as you write 

Plans are just plans. It’s also a good idea to refer back to the question and topic as you are writing the essay to make certain that you are writing about the correct topic. It’s quite easy to start well and then get sidetracked. This is most often the case with reasons and examples. Look at this instance where the paragraph starts well by looking at the topic but then goes off onto another question:

One major reason why adults should play computer games less is how these can affect emotional responses in day-to-day life. This is because people who become addicted to their games console are often unable to interact with friends or colleagues and are unwilling to spend time talking about life and problems with them. Men are much less likely to discuss their everyday feelings with friends and tend not to share their problems and so can become isolated and depressed.

The sentence in red does relate to the previous sentence but it doesn’t refer to the question.

Always look back at the question as you write – certainly at the beginning of each paragraph and perhaps at the start of each sentence

How to practise the skills

A sensible way to practise the skills in this lesson is to look at 2/3 similar questions on the same general topic and decide how you would answer them differently. This is an example I posted to my FB page.

All 3 questions are on similar topics and ask for your opinion but require different approaches. How you answer will depend on your opinion and what you know but here is a start for you. It may look simple but it’s getting the simple things wrong that are most dangerous

An increasing trend nowadays is for young adults to play computer games. Some people say this is a negative development. Discuss and give your opinion.

young adults – your ideas must refer to them

computer games – not computers/internet

More and people are using their mobile phones for entertainment purposes and not to communicate. Is this a positive or negative development? Discuss and give your opinion.

people in general

entertainment not communication

Some parents decide not to allow their children to play computer games and others restrict the hours to do so. What are the potential risks of children playing computer games?

parents and children

risk of playing computer games

More connected lessons

Read a sample essay

This sample essay uses the ideas in this lesson to answer a question about computer games

IELTS computer games essay

Task response

Answering the topic in the question is part of task response – one of the 4 key criteria in writing. If you don’t know what task response is I suggest you check out this quick guide:

Task response explained


To make sure you use the right ideas you need to plan carefully. I talk through some of the basics of planning in this lesson. 10 minutes is not too long to plan

How to plan an IELTS essay – the 10 minute solution

Avoiding mistakes with reasons and examples

The most common mistake is probably to use reasons and examples that are not right for the topic. I have a lesson to help you with just this problem:

How to use reasons and examples in IELTS essays


Finding ideas for essays

One reason you might go wrong is that you can’t think of enough good ideas and so you include ones that are irrelevant. This lesson suggests a way of finding ideas by thinking of vocabulary and using the words in the question

How to get and organise ideas for IELTS essays



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