Most people doing IELTS Writing Task 2 get stressed out about which IELTS essay topics they will face. They worry about getting an unfamiliar topic and not having any good ideas or enough vocabulary to complete the task.
This article will help you by giving you the most common IELTS essay topics and showing you how to use these to get higher scores.
Why is it important to know the IELTS essay topics?
If you are familiar with the most common topics you will have a huge advantage because you will be better at two of the most important things:
- Thinking of relevant ideas
Of all the things people worry about when doing Task 2, not having enough ideas to complete the essay is normally top of the list. However, you should remember that IELTS is not a test of your knowledge, it is a test of your English. The examiners do not expect you to be an expert on the essay topic, they just want you to show that you can write clearly and persuasively in English.
You should also realise that IELTS is a global exam and when the writers of the exam are making the questions, their main concern is writing questions that can be understood by nearly everyone in the world. For example, common IELTS essay topics are education, crime and health. Everyone in the world has an opinion on these everyday topics and you need to understand that the examiners are not looking for the ‘best’ ideas, they are just looking for relevant ideas.
Let’s look at an example question on the topic of international aid:
Rich countries should help poorer countries when they suffer natural disasters. Do you agree?
You don’t have to think of the ‘best’ ideas, you just have to think of two ideas that are relevant to this question. Reasons why rich countries should help are:
- It is the morally correct thing to do.
- They have legal obligations under international law.
- Not helping will result in many deaths and suffering.
- They have more than enough money to do this.
- It is in their interests to do so for the peace and security of the world.
- Some of their own people might be involved in the disaster.
- Every rich country has a fund for disaster relief within their budget.
- They might suffer a disaster one day too and need help from the international community.
You obviously do not need to think of this many ideas and some of the ideas are better than others, but the point I am trying to make is that there are lots of ‘relevant’ ideas you could think of.
Despite this, you will obviously be more confident and be able to think of ideas more quickly if you are familiar with the common topics. Below I will show you how you can use the common IELTS essay topics to learn about the general topics and improve your English at the same time.
25% of your marks come from vocabulary and this is directly linked to IELTS essay topics. One of the main ways the examiner will judge your vocabulary is something called ‘topic specific vocabulary’. The idea is that someone with a wide ranging vocabulary should be able to talk about any of the common essay topics easily using words that are specific to that topic.
For example, if the question was the same as above, you would be expected to use words like ‘international aid’, ‘wealthy’, ‘developed’, ‘developing’, ‘earthquake’, ‘hurricane’, ‘relief fund’, ‘obligation’, ‘moral’ etc. These are words that you use specifically to talk about the essay topic. You don’t have to use these words, but they would help.
Therefore, the more familiar you are with the topic, the more topic specific vocabulary you will know and the higher your score will be. Knowing the most common IELTS essay topics allows you to focus on the most important vocabulary. Below I will show you the most common topics and some of the more important words you should know.
Are IELTS essay topics predictable?
Yes and no. You will obviously not be able to predict the exact topic that will come up. There are just too many to do this and it would be a very easy test if you knew what the exact topic was going to be.
However, there are between 10 common topics that come up more than others. You should focus on these first, especially if you don’t have much time before the test.
The most common IELTS essay topics are:
I think that technology, health, education and the environment are the most important topics and will feature regularly in the future.
For more information on the most common topics, please visit my most common topics page.
How can I use the most common topics?
There are two main ways you can use the most common IELTS essay topics to your advantage. The first is to familiarise yourself with them while practicing and improving your English and the second is to focus on topic specific vocabulary.
Common Topic Familiarisation
If you are going to do well in the IELTS test you need to be using and exposing yourself to English everyday. You should be reading, listening, writing and speaking in English as much as possible. You can therefore make sure that if you are listening to or reading something in English you do it within the common topics. For example, you could listen to a podcast on technology one day and then read a newspaper report about education or health the next day. Most of the questions are on current topics, therefore staying up to date with what is happening in the world will really help you think of ideas.
For example, three of the biggest news stories of 2015 were the refugee crisis, terrorism and internet privacy issues. These topics have, unsurprisingly, already appeared on the IELTS writing paper this year.
Please check out my 25 online language learning tools for lots of ways you can study within the common topics at home for free.
If you really want to get advanced, you could also try making up your own questions based on the news of the day and then give these questions to a study partner. This is something that I do with my classes. They go to a popular news site like the BBC and write a Task 2 question based on one of the stories they were reading about and then they give it to a classmate who does the essay for homework.
There are two things you can do here: start a vocabulary notebook and focus on key topic-specific vocabulary.
As mentioned above, you should be listening to and reading English as much as possible before your test. This will not only improve your listening and reading skills, but will, more importantly, expand your vocabulary.
When you are reading or listening you will always notice words that you don’t know. Most students simply look these up immediately in the dictionary and then forget about them. I think this is a total waste of time because the words do not stay in your head and you never use them again. A much better thing to do is to start a vocabulary notebook. This is the single most effective way to improve your vocabulary. Follow the steps below:
- Buy a notebook that you will only use for vocabulary.
- When you see or hear a new word try to guess the meaning from the context of the sentence or paragraph. This step is very important because it is an essential skill to develop and will help you remember the words.
- Check the meaning after you have guessed it in the dictionary.
- Note the new word and the definition in your vocabulary notebook.
- Note down some of the following things beside the new word:
- Word forms
- Review the list of words and test yourself on these words after one week, two weeks, one month and two months. Soon you will have expanded your vocabulary dramatically.
You can also do this using apps like Memrise to record and review vocabulary.
Vocabulary- Topic Specific Words
As mentioned above, one of the ways in which the examiner judges your vocabulary is how many topic specific words you use. Learning these words before the exam for the most common essay topics should help you get a higher vocabulary score.
However, one of the worst things you could do is simply learn a list of words and insert them into your essay. This is not how good vocabulary works and the examiners are trained to spot this. Your focus should always be on accuracy i.e. using words correctly. Because of this I advise my students to use the 100% rule.
You should never use any word or phrase in IELTS essays if you are not 100% sure about it. By 100% I mean that you are sure about its:
If you are not 100% sure about the things above, then do not use it. If you do, you will probably get it wrong and this will lower your band score.
Vocabulary for Four Most Common Topics
Below are some key words and phrases for the four most common IELTS Task 2 essay topics:
For all of the words above I have made word circles like the one below:
These will help you remember them and they are based on the 100% rule I mentioned above.
Click there link below to access all of them:
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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