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March 17, 2018


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Task 2 is mostly about making generalizations, stating general concepts and practices, such as: "hard work always pays off", or "too much education is a waste of time" (mostly using the present simple).

One approach often involves abstract uncountable nouns, for instance: "Hard work is often seen as a positive trait". When generalizing like this with an uncountable noun often NO article is needed. The sentence above might also be formulated as: "The willingness to work hard is often seen as a positive trait", or: "The ethos of working hard is often viewed in a positive light. " So why do we suddenly have articles in front of uncountable nouns like "willingness" and "ethos"? Because they are referring to one particular type of "willingness" or "ethos" as defined by the descriptive phrase that follows, often beginning with "of". Other examples:
"A great deal of education is about learning to sit down and shut up." (Fixed phrase: a great deal of)
"The education of children is about making them sit down and shut up." (Article)
"Children's education is about ..." (No article.)

Another approach is to make generalizations using countable words like, "person", "people", "someone","adult", "child", "an individual", either in the singular with an article, or more commonly in the plural without. For example:

a) When a person is described as hard-working, this is usually seen as a positive trait.

b) When people are described as hard-working, they are often seen in a positive light. OR Images of hard work are often ....

c) The person described as hard-working, is often viewed in a positive light.

The last option, using "the" plus singular countable noun, sounds somewhat stilted and formal, and is generally only used in an academic context. To my mind, it unnecessary and best avoided in IELTS.

Option B, using plurals for countable nouns (usually without articles) is the most common, and the easiest to formulate. (But see "settings" versus "realms" below)

Option A sometimes leads to gender issues with "he/she" versus "their". See below.

Here are the statistics and references:
















Correction: ...it is unnecessary...

More useful links about article usage in generalizations:




In task 2 there will be over fifty nouns used, and in every case a decision is needed - "a/an", "the", or no article at all. To achieve Band 7, it is necessary to be very familiar with all this stuff, otherwise the number of mistakes with articles will drop the score to Band 6 for accuracy, and Band 6.5 overall, unless somehow we have magically scored 8 for Response, Cohesion, or (an even bigger ask) Vocabulary.

It is of course possible to use singular countable nouns with the article "the", where the item or idea in question is one of a kind. For example:

"The environment is important to her."
"The earth is round."

However, strictly speaking, these are not true generalizations, as we are referring to one particular instance of the noun. A true generalization would be something like:
"Environment is crucial to social development in children." (where "environment" is uncountable)
"The environment of a child is key to their development." (countable singular -> their)
"A child's environment is critical ...."

Hi Simon,

Your lessons are very informative and easily understood.

In Writing Task 2, how do you come with ideas for a topic?

I can write my essay with the appropriate structure, paraphrasing and so on. However, I am finding it difficult to come up with ideas for essay topics.

Please could you give me some advice.

Thank you,

Anne Marie

Anne Marie

There is a list of ideas here:


But I do not find very helpful.

My advice would be:

a) get reading quality magazines and newspapers in English on IELTS topics. This will at least get you the topic vocabulary and give you some examples to use.

b) Plan an essay (do not write it) on every topic and disagree strongly. For example:
"Working hard is an utter waste of time and effort, and will never make you rich and happy. Instead, become a social climber and marry into money like Melania, or just follow your heart and passion, have faith, and the universe will provide, like Mother Teresa."

Remember the examiner does not care whether you agree or disagree or whether your opinion is mainstream or extreme, nor whether it is your real opinion. All that matters is that the examples support your position, you answer the question or questions, there is a logical progression to your argument, and your position clear throughout.

Thank you Sandi

Dear Simon
I cannot fully agree with this idea that there are no such things as easy or difficult words/phrases. I ‎think you are considering this from a native's perspective!‎
According to the Speaking Band Descriptors, one is not given a score beyond 6 in terms of lexical ‎resource, unless he/she uses idiomatic and less common words/phrases. This, in practice, has been ‎proven to me many times. ‎
I have been an IELTS instructor for almost 8 years. I have trained hundreds of Iranian students to sit for ‎their exams. None of them ever achieved higher than 6 using common, non-idiomatic words/phrases! ‎Those who did use them, However, achieved 7 and above with ease.‎
For most of my students, it is a huge challenge to memorize the words and phrases that are not ‎commonly used, even if they manage to do so, they simply forget them while being interviewed. For ‎example, they know that the words friendly, amicable and convivial can be synonymously used with a ‎trivial difference in meaning, but when it comes to their interview they blank out and forget the last ‎two! ‎

Simon's comments about idioms:



In my view, very few idioms are worth learning. "Off the cuff" is something that might be fitted into a speaking answer, but in the stress of the exam it is easily forgotten.

The speaking band 7 talks states " uses some idiomatic vocabulary", it does not say "idioms". So simply using phrasal verbs should be enough. They are far more useful and rewarding, and, if not marked as informal or colloquial in a good dictionary, can also be used in the IELTS writing.

The speaking band 7 talks states

hi Simon,i think your lessons are great and it helps me a lot.
i found that i am always got 6 at writing and speaking sector, though i got 7 at those two sectors before.
so i really want to know, what i should do to improve my scores in speaking and writing?

for writing task 1 and 2, i focus on task response,vocabulary, grammar, coherence.but i do know how to improve myself.
is it ok to use a range of clause ? i found that some clauses are modeled.and sometimes , i think my writing is too 'structured',just like a formula.

somebody tells me that in the speaking part, the best way is to paraphrase.

i am really upset, i try ielts so many times, but i am not able to get overall 7, writing &speaking 6.5. there is always a 6 at speaking or writing. i do know what to do. but it is the last chance for me.


I presume you are under pressure because you there is some sort of deadline, perhaps to do with immigration or career, which requires Band 7 overall.

It is not uncommon to find that writing and speaking are the stumbling-blocks. There are clearly issues with your writing, but it is impossible to assess your speaking over the internet, but given your results so far, it seems likely there is some work to do. At least you realize that simply taking IELTS over and over again, and making the same mistakes, is probably not the best approach.

In my opinion, your best option would be to find a good local teacher who is familiar with IELTS to assess and help you. The reality is this will take time and money, probably more time and money than you anticipate, but if feasible this is surely the best way forward for you to achieve your goal.

Thanks Simon, I find your words very helpful. I never use idioms in real tests, and I sometimes get 7, sometimes 7.5 for speaking. I also get 7.5/8 for listening and reading, 7 for writing.

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