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How to Identify & Answer Problem and Solution Question Types in IELTS Writing Task 2

Ron Ross September 19th, 2019

In this article, we'll discuss Problem & Solution question types and look at how to identify them and what essay structure you should use to answer them. After learning about this question type, you'll get a chance to look at some practice questions and a complete sample essay.

How to Identify IELTS Writing Problem & Solution Question Types

Whenever you see a question that askes you to describe a problem or the causes of the problem, and describe some solutions to the problem, you know you're dealing with a Problem & Solution question type. Let's look at an example of this.

Many inhabited areas of the world have been affected by severe flooding in recent years. What are some of the causes of this phenomenon? What can be done to prevent if from happening?

Now let's look at how to structure your essay for a Problem and Solution question.

IELTS Writing Task 2 Essay Structure - Problem & Solution

There are three types of outlines that are frequently used for Problem and Solution essays.

Outlines A and C can both be used for questions that involve more than one problem and more than one solution. Sometimes, however, Outline B is the only option if the question presents two different types of solutions to one problem (we will examine this below).

Outline A Outline B Outline C
  1. Introduction
  2. Problems (1&2)
  3. Solutions (1&2)
  4. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Problem
  3. Solution1
  4. Solution 2
  5. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Problems (1&2)
  3. Solution 1
  4. Solution 2
  5. Conclusion
The difference between Outline A and Outline C lies in how confident you feel based on the topic. If you can write more about solutions (or if the question emphasizes the solutions), you should choose Outline C, as it gives you one paragraph for each solution. In terms of scoring, all three of these examples would be considered as a cohesive and logical process to use, depending on the question at hand.

Let's look at some examples of question types that call for these different outlines.

Question 1: What problems do children face in the age of social media? What should be done to address or solve these various concerns?

In this case, you must think of both problems and solutions. Depending on your interest in the topic, you could use either Outline A or Outline C. It is important to note that Outline B would not work in this case, since you need to think of more than one problem.

Question 2: Traffic congestion is becoming a major problem for global cities. Analyze and present some measures that could be taken to reduce traffic in these cities.

In this case, the problem is clear: "traffic". You would not need to think of another problem besides traffic, and the question explicitly asks that you think of "some measures" (or, in other words, solutions). In this case, Outline B would be the best option as it includes one problem and two solutions.

Question 3: Explain some of the ways in which humans are damaging the environment. What can governments do to address these problems? What can individual people do?

In this case, the question has already presented two different parts of both the problem and the solution. Thus, it would be best to use Outline C, and devote two different paragraphs to the two solutions (one paragraph for what governments can do, and one paragraph for what individual people can do).

To conclude, it is rare for a question to feature many different problems while asking for only one solution. Therefore, it is best to prepare for questions that will feature one problem and ask for various solutions.

Unless the question states otherwise, you will most likely want to include two problems and two solutions. Why? Using just one problem and solution is most likely not going to be substantial enough for 250 words, and using more than two would be superfluous. Additionally, it is extremely important that each problem has its own solution. In other words, if you mention two problems, be sure to mention two solutions to those problems.

Now, let's take a closer look at how to plan each paragraph.

We will use Outline C from the previous section, as it tends to be the most complicated and most common question type of the Problem and Solution type essay. Below, we will detail how each paragraph should be written.

Introduction - In general, you will need two sentences for this paragraph. Since this is the first paragraph of your essay, you should paraphrase the question that was given to you. In other words, rewrite the question in your own words using synonyms. This will help you in a few ways. First, it will guarantee that your essay is on target and following the theme given to you in the question. Secondly, it will give you a chance to show the examiners that you have a wide range of vocabulary and can call upon synonyms when necessary. The second sentence will introduce the specific topics that you plan to discuss in your main body paragraphs. Therefore, your introduction paragraph should look like:
  1. Rewritten Question
  2. Introduction of Specific Topics
Problems 1 & 2 - This paragraph should be about 4-5 sentences long. In this paragraph, you will describe the specific problems with explanations, details, or examples. The paragraph should look like this:
  1. Topic Sentence - This will introduce the problem(s)
  2. Explanation/Detail of Problem 1
  3. Example of Problem 1
  4. Explanation/Detail of Problem 2
  5. Example of Problem 2
Solution 1  - This paragraph should be about 4-5 sentences long. In this paragraph, you will describe the specific solutions with explanations, details, or examples. Keep in mind that you can use up to two sentences for the explanation and detail of the solution, and two sentences for the example of the solution. The paragraph should look like this:
  1. Topic Sentence - This will introduce the solution(s)
  2. Explanation/Detail of Solution 1
  3. Example of Solution 1
Solution 2  - This paragraph should be about 4-5 sentences long. In this paragraph, you will describe the specific solutions with explanations, details, or examples. Keep in mind that you can use up to two sentences for the explanation and detail of the solution, and two sentences for the example of the solution. The paragraph should look like this:
  1. Topic Sentence - This will introduce the solution(s)
  2. Explanation/Detail of Solution 2
  3. Example of Solution 2
Conclusion - This paragraph will wrap everything up, and it is not the time to add any new information into your essay. This paragraph should be around 3-4 sentences, and include the following information:
  1. Summary of the Main Points (2 sentences)
  2. Something Important about this Topic (1-2 sentences)

In short, here is what the final Paragraph Planner would look like for Outline C:

I. Introduction
         A. Rewritten Question (1 sentence)
         B. Introduction of Specific Topics (1 sentence)
II. Problems 1 & 2
         A. Topic Sentence (1 sentence)
         B. Explanation/Detail of Problem 1 (1 sentence)
                      C. Example of Problem 1 (1 sentence)
         D. Explanation/Detail of Problem 2 (1 sentence)
                       E. Example of Problem 2 (1 sentence)
III. Solution 1
         A. Topic Sentence (1 sentence)
         B. Explanation/Detail of Solution 1 (1-2 sentences)
                      C. Example of Solution 1 (1-2 sentences)
IV. Solution 2
        A. Topic Sentence (1 sentence)
         B. Explanation/Detail of Solution 1 (1-2 sentences)
                      C. Example of Solution 1 (1-2 sentences)
IV. Conclusion
         A. Summary of the Main Points (1-2 sentences)
         B. Something Important About This Topic (1-2 sentences)

IELTS Writing Problem and Solution Sample Question and Model Essay

Question: In the developed world, the average life expectancy is increasing. What problems will this cause for individuals and society? Suggest some measures that could be taken to reduce the impact of ageing populations.
Model Essay
Topic sentences are in bold.
Explanations and details are in
red.
Examples are in blue.

Introduction:

People in industrialized nations can expect to live longer than ever before. Although there will be some negative consequences associated with this shift, societies can take steps to diminish these effects. (31 words)

Paragraph 1:

The ageing population will bring about rising costs to society. As citizens age and grow weaker, society’s tax burden increases. If a large amount of the population is elderly and retired, pensions costs and taxes will increase, thus creating a burden for younger tax-paying individuals. Additionally, older members of society will require more specialized care as their health worsens, which will bring about higher medical costs due to increased demand. (70 words)

Paragraph 2:

However, there are some steps that both the government and individuals can take to mitigate these problems. Firstly, an increase in the retirement age would offset increasing costs from older generations.  If people are able to retire later, the age for receiving a government-funded state pension would rise. Additionally, this extra time would allow the ageing population to pass on knowledge and help train younger workers in their respective fields. (70 words)

Paragraph 3:

Promoting programs and initiatives in the health care industry could also alleviate potential risks from the aforementioned problems. If the healthcare industry prepares for the increase in the ageing population, the potential problem of higher taxes could be avoided. For example, by promoting advances in medical programs, elderly people may be able to live with better health standards and contribute to society for a longer period of time. These medical advances would also help future generations as they get older. (81 words)

Conclusion:

Various measures can be taken in order to offset potential problems from the ageing population. It is crucial that both individuals and governments work together in this venture. (28 words)

Total Word Count:  280 words

Note: It is normal for this specific essay to be longer than 250 words, since there are different proposed solutions. Given the topic and question type, 30 words over the limit would definitely not count against you.


IELTS Writing Task 2 - Problem & Solution Questions

This section presents a list of common IELTS Writing Task 2 - Problem & Solution questions. If you want to prepare for the IELTS Writing Test, these questions are a must study.

Question 1: An increasing number of professionals, such as doctors and teachers, are leaving their own poorer countries to work in developed countries. What problems does this cause?  What can be done to deal with this situation?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 2: More and more people are migrating to cities in search of a better life, but city life can be extremely difficult. Explain some of the difficulties of living in a city. How can governments make urban life better for everyone?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 3: Public transport is essential but problematic. Describe some of the problems connected to public transport and suggest some solutions.
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 4: In many countries schools have severe problems with student behavior. What do you think are the causes of this?  What solutions can you suggest?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 5: Overpopulation in many major urban centers around the world is a major problem.  What are the causes of this?  How can this problem be solved?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 6: In many parts of the world, water sources are becoming more polluted. What are the consequences of this problem?   What can be done to combat it?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 7: Many people say that human society has developed into a “throw-away” society, which is filled with plastic bags and rubbish. What are the causes and solutions?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 8: Nowadays we are producing more and more rubbish. Why do you think this is happening? What can governments do to help reduce the amount of rubbish produced?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 9: Many small local shops are closing as they are unable to compete with large supermarkets in the area. How does this effect local communities?  How could this situation be improved?
[Practice and View Model Answer]
Question 10: More and more wild animals are on the verge of extinction and others are on the endangered list.  What are the reasons for this? What can be done to solve this problem?
[Practice and View Model Answer]



 
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