IELTS Task 2 opening with balls

The topic of change in people’s lives has been widely discussed recently.

The opening sentence of any essay is an opportunity to:

  1. introduce the topic
  2. arouse the reader’s interest in the topic

In the opening example the first aim was just about met – the topic is some aspect of change.

The second aim is not met. Let us not forget that the reader is an IELTS examiner. He or she is a well-educated person who reads a lot and keeps up to date with current events.

Is there anything at all in this opening sentence that is likely to arouse such a reader’s interest and make him or her want to continue reading?

  • Yes. Adding the word ‘recently‘ puts the topic in a time frame that is automatically attractive for most people.
  • No. The reader will be less interested in the fact that the topic has been ‘discussed‘. And since you’re not specific about the context of this ‘change‘, or what kind of ‘change‘, then the reader cannot yet predict the content or direction of your writing.
  • At the very best, the reader is hopeful that you will go on to say something interesting about ‘change‘ and that you will explain the significance of ‘recent discussion‘. If you don’t do these things then your writing will be dull and will lack coherence.

Next time do something more ballsy:

  • Recent economic and technological developments have caused unprecedented social change.

Your reader will find this interesting because..

  1. this reader is interested in anything ‘recent
  2. this reader is familiar with recent economic developments in general
  3. this reader is familiar with recent technological developments in general
  4. this reader is familiar with social change associated with recent economic developments
  5. this reader is familiar with social change associated with recent technological developments
  6. this reader is interested to know more about all of the above
  7. this reader is interested to know what you have to say about all of the above

If you can continue from this opening and satisfy your reader’s curiosity, then you will achieve a high score in IELTS Task 2 writing, at least for task achievement! (See public band descriptors)

Can’t get no results satisfaction

If I am given more time in the reading test, I will answer all of the questions with satisfied results.

This is like the bored/boring distinction, right? Let’s say Bill is talking to Mary about space travel, but Mary is not interested in space travel. In this case Mary feels bored (the effect), but Bill is boring (the cause). (Indonesian flag In Indonesian there is an easy translation, where the suffix ‘kan’ behaves a bit like ‘ing’: boring > membosankan).

If we return to the original problem..

  • If I am given more time in the reading test, I will answer all of the questions with satisfying results.

‘Satisfying’ is the cause. The effect – satisfied – is something that you might feel when your results are satisfying.

You can also use a related word with a slightly different meaning:

  • If I am given more time in the reading test, I will answer all of the questions with satisfactory results.

Were you able to bargain for IELTS?

Budi tried to teach himself IELTS but made no progress. Then he discovered @guruEAP and last Saturday he could achieve band 7.0.

Ok,ok.. I made this one up. It may look like shameless self-promotion, but it’s a problem I often see in student writing.

Consider this scenario:

When @guruEAP first arrived in Indonesia he could speak only English and French. Now, after 20 years in Indonesia, he can speak Indonesian fluently. Last weekend he bought some bananas from the local market and he was able to negotiate a reasonable price.

Here there are two kinds of ability:

  1. A permanent ability that existed/exists continuously over time (“..he could speak../..he can speak..“). Note that this can be past or present.
  2. A temporary ability in the past that existed momentarily, relating to a particular event (“..he was able to negotiate..“). Note that this is always past.

So if we return to the original problem:

  • Budi tried to teach himself IELTS but made no progress. Then he discovered @GuruEAP and last Saturday he was able to achieve band 7.0.

Note that the temporary ability was required in a situation that was difficult and required effort / struggle.

Consumptive consumers?!

Advertising tends to make people more consumptive.

Once upon a time consumption meant ‘wasting away’, but in the context of tuberculosis, not shopping. Of course these days consumption is still a kind of wasting, but not as life-threatening!

Coughing, consumptive customers

The modern habit of wasting money on wants rather than needs is consumerism:

  • Advertising tends to make people more consumeristic.

Compare: consumptive and consumeristic.

The allocation of _____?

Preserving endangered languages may trigger negative sentiments about the allocation of fundings.

It’s probably best to think of this as a collocation / vocabulary problem.

First of all ‘funding’ is uncountable and so we can’t put an ‘s’ on it. Secondly, when you’re talking about money, allocation collocates with fundsfunding, and money:

  • Preserving endangered languages may trigger negative sentiments about the allocation of funds.

Making a noun phrase – allocation of funds – rather than a verb phrase, was a good strategy. You just need to be more careful with collocation inside nominal groups. Online tools can be enormously helpful in situations like this!

Earning money vs. earning dollars

Just like their male counterparts, many Australian women earn money 2,000 dollars per month.

If a ‘unit’ can correspond to more than one different noun, then you need to specify your noun:

Good morning. Can I help you?
I’d like 2kg of rice, please.

In this example, kg could apply to many other nouns: potatoes, chocolate, etc, and so it is necessary to be specific about ‘rice’.

On the other hand if the unit can only correspond to a single noun – unambiguously –  then there’s no need to mention that noun:

Good morning. Can I help you?
I’d like to withdraw 1,000 dollars, please.

In this example, ‘dollars’ clearly corresponds to ‘money’, and so it is redundant to say “1,000 dollars of money”.

If we apply this to the original problem then we get:

  • Just like their male counterparts, many Australian women earn 2,000 dollars per month.

As we know, fixed expressions rock!

As we know that, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

English, even academic English, is full of ‘fixed expressions’ – phrases that are always written and spoken in exactly the same form. Fixed expressions can be quite long and may include some sophisticated grammar, but it’s best to think of them as individual vocabulary items. Record them as vocabulary items. Memorise them as vocabulary items. Don’t change the word order of a fixed expression, and don’t change any word forms inside a fixed expression, even if you think your alterations make sense:

  • You’re playing with fire!
  • You’re playing with fires! (Altered word form)
  • You’re playing with flames! (Changed word)
  • You’re playing with the fire! (Added word)
  • You’re with fire playing! (Changed word order)
Indonesian flag You will be less likely to make errors like these if you memorise fixed expressions much as you might memorise individual vocabulary items. You may also notice how the structure of a fixed expression differs from its translation. For example, Indonesians feel a strong urge to add bahwa after seperti kita ketahui. (In English there is no bahwa):

  • As we know, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

As we know  = 1 item, 3 words (not 4!)
Notice also that in this example as we know also requires a comma (,) to separate it from last year.

Record fixed expressions in your vocabulary notebook. Review them. Memorise them. Use them in sentences. And watch how your IELTS scores for writing and speaking start to increase!

Aggressive contents(!)

Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive contents.

It’s difficult to imagine contents behaving aggressively:

aggressive contents

Take a look at some examples of sentences using content (uncountable) and contents (plural countable). Remember that when you’re talking about something that can be countable or uncountable, and if you are writing in general terms about that thing, then you should use the uncountable form.

  • Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive content.

Half-baked comparison

Some Asians have less difficulty in intercultural communication.

Indonesian flag If your reader speaks Indonesian he will understand that you’re translating kurang. Other readers, however, will begin to ask themselves:

Is he comparing Asians with some other group of people?
Which people?

Is he comparing difficulty in intercultural communication with some other kind of difficulty?
Which kind?

Is he comparing difficulty in intercultural communication with some other kind of communication?
Which kind?

What is he comparing?!

If you’re an Indonesian translating kurang then you’re probably not comparing anything. You’re simply saying:

  • Some Asians find intercultural communication easy.

As a general rule, when you use comparative adjectives, include the thing or things that you’re comparing in the same sentence. If you’re not comparing things, then don’t use a comparative adjective.