The post will give you the 10 most common IELTS Writing Task 2 topics.
IELTS Writing Topics
A question my students keep asking, again and again, is ‘What are the most common IELTS writing part 2 topics?’ They are worried that they won’t be familiar with the topic and will not have any relevant ideas. This is especially true for students from ‘developing’ countries, because most of the questions are ‘first world’ problems and issues. Let’s turn that disadvantage into an advantage.
To answer the question I have asked my students over the last few years to send me the topics on their exams.
A big thank you, to those students, who were kind enough to send me their questions. I have built up a huge amount of questions and I think it is about time to analyse them.
Are the same Writing Task 2 topics repeated?
The answer is yes and no. There are a huge amount of topics that come up in writing task 2. At last count there were around 50 different topics (based on collecting data over the last few years) and if you would like all 50, please let me know, but I’m more concerned about the topics that come up again and again. If you have time to familiarise yourself with over 50 topics then please do, but I think must people have to be smart with their time and it therefore makes more sense to prioritise the most common topics.
I try to encourage my students to be efficient when it comes to learning. However, I don’t agree with the saying ‘Work smart, not hard’ as this implies you can do very little work and still achieve your goals. My motto is work hard and smart.
IELTS Essay Topics 2015
There are 10 general topics that come up more often than all of the rest put together. They are:
So what can I do with this information?
Now you know the common topics there are 3 things you can do:
1. Develop a vocabulary list for each topic
Having relevant vocabulary for each topic will give you a big advantage. Many students fail to provide relevant vocabulary and their band score suffers.
When looking at new vocabulary try to guess the meaning from context first and then look up the meaning to make sure your idea matches the actual meaning. Also, be sure to look at the word within a sentence to be aware of the way it relates to other words.
When recording vocabulary do it in a way that will help YOU remember it. Everyone learns in a different way and everyone learns vocabulary in a different way. Some people like to draw pictures beside the word, some people like to write synonyms or antonyms, others prefer to write a few sentences and some people like to use the phonemic chart to write the word that way. Whatever works for you, do it.
It is also very important to review words regularly. This is the most effective way to remember the words. So many people learn lots of words and a week later they can’t remember them. I would recommend reviewing them one day after learning them for the first time, then one week later and then finally one month later. After that they should be firmly stuck in your head for good.
I am developing a vocabulary list for each of the topics above which you can access here.
2. Practice reading and listening within these topics
To do well on your IELTS test you should practice at home. Even just 60 minutes per day can make a big difference. This will not only improve all four skills but familiarise you with the common topics at the same time. Why waste time listening or reading something, if it is about something that probably won’t come up on the test? Unless of course you are listening or reading for pleasure, in that case, be my guest.
If you are reading an English newspaper, look for articles on the common topics and highlight any good vocabulary.
If you like listening to the radio or podcasts, find ones on the common topics.
Please check out my 25 online language learning tools for lots of ways you can study at home for free.
3. Study within the common topics
This method is so effective that some of the best IELTS schools are starting to adopt this approach. If you are going to study or practice anything then do it within the context of one of the common topics. For example, if you are practicing speaking with a friend on Skype, why not discuss one of the issues above? If you are practicing writing essays, find a question about one of the most popular or repeated IELTS topics.
This method allows you to practice both the skills and learn about these crucial topics.
They also come up quite a lot in the speaking test.
Can I just focus on these topics and get a high band score?
Obviously, there is much more to achieving a high score than just focusing on the repeated topics but this will allow you to study and prepare in a smarter and more efficient way, giving you a huge advantage.
However, I would like to add that it is also important to study things you have a passion for. If you are genuinely interested in a topic then it is much easier to study and you are less likely to quit. Please also make time to read, listen, talk and write about your passion. If you love football, read about your team everyday on www.goal.com. Love fashion?- find some fashionista blogs. Have a passion for photography?- why not blog about it? Have a passion for astrophysics? Listen to star talk radio.
Update- September 2015
I looked at 15 Writing Task 2 papers over July, August and September of 2015 to see if the same common topics were coming up. Here are the topics:
- Traditional Culture
- Government Spending
- Traditional Culture
- International Aid
- The Environment
As you can see, Technology, Health and Education are still prominent Task 2 topics. It was interesting to see Traditional Culture popping up twice in such a short period of time, but that doesn’t mean that it will definitely feature again soon.
I still think that Technology, Health, Education and the Environment are important topics and will feature regularly in the future. Reading within these topics will help you and you will also pick up other vocabulary just by reading about them.
The important thing is to read actively. When you see a word you don’t know, note it down and find out the meaning, collocation and synonyms. Soon you will have a notebook full of new words and you review them regualelry until they become part of your vocabulary.
Here’s a live video I did on Facebook about this topic:
I would recommend looking at our IELTS task 2 page for lots more lessons, tips and sample task 2 answers.
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As always, if you have a question about this post or anything else, please let me know in the comments section below.
For more help check out the IELTS Preparation Ultimate Guide.
Some classic questions from previous years…
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020
What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018
The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
–Inspired by Tess Moran, AB'16
How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
–Inspired by Florence Chan, AB'15
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)
"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.
Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07
Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16
So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006
How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel
"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves
University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric
"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)
Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube