Think before you write: Planning well in Writing Task 2

One thing I always tell my IELTS students is that, during the test, they must set aside at least 5 minutes of planning time in Writing Task 2. If you don’t plan, you’re likely to end up with a very disorganised essay which is littered with repetitions and doesn’t clearly respond to the task.


But what exactly should you do with that planning time, you might ask.

Here is what I suggest:


Step 1: Highlight the keywords in the question.

See what I’ve done with this question:



One of the consequences of





is that people are living


longer and life expectancy


is increasing.


Do you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

Not only have I underlined all the keywords to help me understand the specific topic and the question that is being asked, I’ve also highlighted the general topic which is ‘improved medical care’. This will help me to decide on the next part of my plan which is…..


Step 2: Decide on the number and content of the paragraphs

In the majority of cases, your Writing Task 2 answer should comprise four or five paragraphs – each paragraph containing one main idea.

For this question, I’m being asked to compare the advantages and the disadvantages of improved medical care, so I’m going to structure my essay as follows:


Notice how I’ve actually written the exact main idea of the two main paragraphs? I haven’t just written ‘Advantages’. I’ve gone one step further and added ‘Advantages of better medical treatment’. I’ve done this intentionally – to keep me on the right topic while I plan. Notice also how I’ve started to paraphrase the keywords of the question in my paragraph plan. This will help me later when I’m trying to maximise my lexical resource score by using synonyms of words from the question paper.


Step 3: Think of ideas for the main body paragraphs


Now it’s time to think of the advantages and disadvantages of improved medical treatment. One or two main ideas per paragraph should be enough but make sure these ideas are well developed. Support them with clear and simple examples, where possible, and keep asking yourself the questions: Why is this an advantage? or What is the possible result of this? to develop your ideas even further.




Now you should be ready to write!


But what if I struggle to think of any ideas?


This is a common complaint from my students and the advice I give them is this:

Firstly, prepare ideas and useful vocabulary for the most common topics before you go into the test. in my experience, the top ten most popular topics are:

  • education

  • health

  • the environment

  • technology

  • childhood

  • transport

  • crime