Top Tips for IELTS

Problem vocabulary for IELTS

When you are studying for IELTS, it is sensible to concentrate on language that will be most useful in the test. Here is a suggestion for you: study the language of problems. This is a very important area of language because almost every IELTS essay task will ask you to write about a problem. It’s not just in “problem/solution” essays you need problem vocabulary.

In this lesson you’ll find lots of help with this problem vocabulary and a series of exercises to practise your skills on.

problem vocabulary


What words do you need?

This will depend on your target band score but you will need variety in these areas

  1. nouns: variations of the word problem
  2. adjectives: how to describe problems
  3. verbs: what to do with problems


You wan to try and avoid repeating words unnecessarily so this means you want some similar words that you can use instead of problem. Here are two ideas:

issue: Truancy is a major issue in many inner city areas and it needs to be dealt with

question: How to bring back community spirit to out cities is a complex question 

Phrases and collocations

You’ll also need to be able to use these words accurately in word combinations (collocations) such as

face a problem

address a problem

You’ll see below that I help you with this by giving you examples of phrases in use.

How big is the problem? Some adjectives

It is always useful to describe the scale of the problem. Not all problem are equal. Here are some key adjectives to help you

significant: A significant problem that many countries face today is falling birth rates

fundamental: Unemployment is not a minor issue, rather it is a fundamental problem that the government needs to resolve.

real: A very real difficulty in many households is rising fuel bills.

minor: In my view, global warning is only a minor problem.

pressing: This is a pressing problem that needs to be dealt with urgently.

serious: Of course, climate change is a serious issue that must be addressed immediately.

complex: The level of divorce is a complex issue and there is no easy solution to it.

What problems do. Some verbs

pose: The number of  cars on the road poses a serious problem with regard to pollution.

create: While the use of IT in education has brought many benefits, it has also created a new set of problems.

face: How to combine work with having children is a problem facing many women

What can be done? Some more verbs

Another set of language you need is what can be done about problems. For this you need some verbs:

address Of course, global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed

deal with The government need to deal with the problem of carbon emissions as a matter of urgency

tackle The nuclear industry needs to tackle the issue of long-term safety in their plants

experience Many students who go to student abroad experience difficulties in adapting to their new learning environment

resolve/find a solution to The first step must be to find a solution to the problem of overcrowding in our cities
respond to It is imperative that employers respond to the problems facing young graduates who are looking for work

What about solutions?

Of course a closely related group of words relates to solutions to problems. Here are some ideas for you:

offer/provide a solution to: New forms of renewable energy may offer a solution to this issue of our dependence on fossil fuels.

(find an) answer: One answer to the rise in youth crime is to improve social education in schools

remedy the situation; It is very important that the government tries to remedy this situation as a matter of urgency

Try some idioms too

You can use idioms when you write. You just need to use the right ones. Here are some that can work in your IELTS essay writing. You should note that many of them come from the idea of health

the root of the problem – this is where the problem starts

be a headache for – this is a minor but nagging problem

be unhealthy – if something is unhealthy, it is sick and a problem. You can use this idiom

a remedy for – a remedy is a cure for an illness, it can also be used more generally as a solution to a problem

to recover – you recover from an illness and the economy is also said to recover. Don’t use this idiom more generally

the heart of society – if something is at the heart of something it is vital. Use this as a set phrase – don’t try and vary it

How can you learn these phrases?

There is no one answer to this question but here are one or two suggestions:

  1. do not try to learn too much at once: if you do, you may become confused
  2. do not learn words by themselves, learn them in combinations as that is how you need to use them
  3. try to use the phrases for yourself by using them to describe problems you know about
  4. use a dictionary to look at examples: examples are often much more useful than definitions

Interactive exercise

If you are looking for some quick online practice in how to use problem language, you can try my interactive online exercise

More practice – IELTS essay introductions

One place you may need this vocabulary is in the introduction to your IELTS essay. In the introduction you need to state what the problem/issue behind the task is. You should also use your own words for this and not just repeat the wording of the question. Here is a sample IELTS essay question:

The idea of having a single career is becoming an old fashioned one. The new fashion will be to have several careers or ways of earning money and further education will be something that continues throughout life. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

What is the problem/issue behind this question? Can you rewrite the question in your own words using some “problem” language?.

See a possible answer

One complex question nowadays is whether people will only have one career or move from job to job and continue to study throughout their working lives.

Where next?

I have lots more vocabulary help and exercises here

IELTS vocabulary


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17 Responses to Problem vocabulary for IELTS

  1. Dominic Cole January 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    One complex question nowadays is whether people will only have one career or move from job to job and continue to study throughout their working lives.

    • daniela August 15, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

      how long should be the introduction???

      • Dominic Cole November 14, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

        I suggest no more than 3 sentences. However, there are no rules here and different approaches are possible. What is important is that you identify the question and make clear to the examiner what your point of view or approach is.

  2. tran huong January 25, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    that is useful.thanks.

  3. Name April 28, 2010 at 1:48 am #

    Your guide is so helpful. I would want to visit this website often.

  4. Venu June 6, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    The premise of choosing a single profession has become an old fashion and gradually loosing its flavor. In the modern world, more and more people are inclined toward a multi-faceted career path with life long learning that in turn could bring them additional money. This issue will be addressed with some real life examples supporting my opinion of how a multi-career approach with additional studies will outweigh a monotonous career path.

    • nath August 15, 2011 at 2:11 am #

      great intro

    • Olli September 2, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Impressive. Are you a native speaker ?:)

  5. M November 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    It is often said that in old times people like to have one profession rather than different careers.

    • Dominic Cole November 17, 2010 at 8:05 am #

      It is often said that in times gone by people preferred to remain in one profession and not to change careers.

      Be careful with your tenses. I have also given you some better vocab, but the killer is to get the basic tenses wrong.

  6. w February 15, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    one problem which confront us is whether the single job still has their advantages and it is no necessary to fulfill education through a life time is the right case when we are involved in a more competitive world today

  7. Amin May 17, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Years ago people preferred to have a single occupation.Whereas, nowadays, people are more interested in doing two or three jobs concurently.

  8. Melaminefree July 6, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    People are faced with the dilemma whether they should stick to a life long career or to move from one occupation to another with continual vocational training.

  9. Nancy May 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Nowadays people are attracted to change job frequently rather than have a fix and secure career to fulfill the desire to continue their studies

  10. Melih Kabacam January 4, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    Most people are struggling with finding a job related to their expertise. Additionally, rising unemployment is one of the major concerns many governments need to dealt with. For this reason, additional expertise may create alternative job opportunities for job seekers. Nowadays, most of the people prefer to add extra expertise with the help of easily acquired information.

  11. Zaeem October 17, 2016 at 8:47 pm #

    As much fashionable as it seems performing multiple jobs and continual education as its logical prerequisite for only deepening ones pockets comes with a price. Discussed cost would most probably would be social. Such person may have more purchasing power to buy best services and products in the market. However, he will miss the opportunity to make social bonds and most probably will reduce this quality family time. I disagree with this notion, will try to provide certain assertions to solidify my points.

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