Top 5 Mistakes in Task Response

Top 5 Mistakes in Task Response that can keep you from scoring 7+ Bands in IELTS

By Sriyash Mangal

Top 5 Mistakes in Task Response

Every day, I correct at least 5 IELTS Writing Task 2 essays which are written by students living in different parts of the world (thanks to the internet!). I see a variety of grammatical and vocabulary-related mistakes in these essays, but you will be surprised to know that most answers lack a good task response. So, in this blog, I would like to discuss the 5 most common mistakes in task response and how you can avoid them.
The Band Descriptors

Before we dive into the mistakes, it is important to understand how your writing task-2 is assessed. IELTS examiners score every task-2 response on a scale of 9 for the following four criteria called the band descriptors:  

  • Task Response (TR)
  • Coherence and Cohesion (CC)
  • Lexical Resource (LR)
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy (GRA)

The final writing task-2 band score is an average of all the four scores. If the final score is not a full or half band then it is rounded DOWN to the next-lowest band or half band. For example, if you score 7, 7, 7, 6, the average will be 6.75 and your final writing task-2 score will be 6.5 and NOT 7.0. Therefore to achieve band 7 in the IELTS writing task-2 you must score 7 in all the four criteria.

Note: IELTS examiners never assign half bands for individual band descriptors. For example, you cannot get 6.5 for the task response. It will either be 6 or 7.

Band Descriptors for Task Response
Now, let’s have a look at the official marking criteria for task response. In case you want to go through other band descriptors, click here and see the page 2 of the pdf file.
Top 5 Mistakes in Task Response

Clearly, to score 7 in task response, it is crucial that you:

  • Answers all parts of the task
  • Present a clear position throughout the essay (opinion)
  • Properly explain your main ideas and support them with relevant examples.

If you fail to achieve anyone of these requirements, your score for task response will fall below 7. It should be quite easy, isn’t it? Afterall, most of us have written essays in school or college on a variety of topics. However, sadly this is where a majority of students commit mistakes and I will discuss these mistakes with examples wherever possible.

Top 5 Mistakes in Task Response

1. Misunderstanding the Question
One main reason behind low scores in IELTS Writing Task 2 is the failure to understand the question properly. If your essay lacks the content relevant to the given task, then your band score for task response may drop to 5 or even lower. Therefore, it is very important that you read the question properly and identify the requirements of the task. Following are the two common situations that may lead to misunderstanding the question: 1) Not spending enough time to carefully read and analyse the question. 2) Failure to recognise the type of question being asked. e.g. advantages/ disadvantages, discussion, opinion, double question, etc. And sometimes, students actually understand the topic but they write about it generally instead of answering the specific question.

Example 1:
Women and men are commonly seen as having different strengths and weaknesses. Is it right to exclude males or females from certain professions because of their gender? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples form your own knowledge and experience.

Over a period of time, significant progress has been made in terms of gender equality at work. Although, I agree that both men and women should be given equal opportunities at workplaces, there are however some professions where either men or only women should be recruited owing to the differences in their respective strengths and weaknesses. This essay will discuss why some jobs are more favourable for men while others are better suited for women.

The student wrote a good introduction in terms of structure and has clearly paraphrased the question. But, in the outline statement (the last sentence) the student mentioned that “the essay will discuss why some jobs are more favourable for men and some for women.” And the student continued to write the main body paragraphs on these lines (not shown). This is where the task response went wrong. The question asked whether males or females should be excluded from certain professions because of their gender. In other words, is it right to exclude men or women from certain professions? It did not ask to discuss which jobs are more favourable for men or women and why.

Example 2:
Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children). To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Education gives us a knowledge of the world around us and changes it into something better. People debate over the subject that whether unpaid community services should be mandatory for school students. This essay completely agrees with that because of the benefits that it gives to pupils. In my opinion, the advantages of adding community services to schools outweigh the drawback.

This is a classic example of misunderstanding the prompt that follows the task statement. The student discussed advantages and disadvantages of adding community services to school and how advantages outweigh disadvantages. The question said “to what extent do you agree or disagree”, so this is not an advantages and disadvantages question. This means that you are required to state your opinion and give reasons for agreement or disagreement. You can include a couple of advantages or disadvantages with examples to support your claim, but the essay should not generally discuss advantages and disadvantages of including community service in high school curriculum.
Example 3: Some people think that one of the best ways to solve environmental problems is to increase the cost of fuel for cars and other vehicles. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
This question requires the student to explain whether or not increasing the cost of fuel for cars and other vehicles can solve environmental problems. In response to this task, many students discuss environmental problems like air pollution and global warming, and how cars are responsible for it. Then in one or two sentences they mention that increasing the cost of fuel would deter people from using their vehicles. This is a case of answering the question generally while missing out the specific question almost entirely. It is fine to briefly explain how cars are responsible for environmental problems but your main focus should be on answering whether increasing the cost of fuel can solve this problems. If yes, then how. If not, then why not.
2. Answering the task partially
After you have understood the question, you must answer all the parts of the task. This is important as the description of band 7 clearly states “addressed all parts of the task”. For example, if the question asks you to “discuss both sides and give your opinion”, then you are expected to explain both the sides of the topic equally and give your opinion. Similarly, if the question says “do you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages”, then you should dedicate one paragraph for each – advantages and disadvantages and compare whether advantages outweigh disadvantages. Let’s look at the following example:

More people decided to have children in their later age than in the past. Do advantages of this outweigh disadvantages? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Nowadays, people are inclined to delay having children until they reach their middle ages. I would like to demonstrate several reasons for this tendency and discuss that the drawbacks outweigh its benefits.

There are some reasons for why people avoid to become parents at a very young age. Many couples want to be financially prepared before starting their own family life. People who are at a very early stage of career may find it extremely difficult to afford a child’s basic demands, so they wait until they are financially secure. Another reason could be that the young adults may want to enjoy their lives before having responsibilities of a new born. For example, it is easier for married couples to travel without a child.

Families living on a stable income are capable of providing their offspring with high quality education and nutritious diets. However, I believe that the disadvantages of this trend are more convincing. It has been scientifically proven that older parents are more likely to give birth to less healthier children. These children may suffer from a number of serious diseases ranging  from autism to rickets. Perhaps, this may have an adverse effect on the overall competence of the workforce in the future.

In conclusion, it is understandable why people want to have children in their middle age, but they have to stay alert from the threats that may occur at an older age.

This student has written about 250 words but the task has been answered only partially and has some irrelevant content. The task was to discuss advantages and disadvantages of the given trend and comment whether advantages outweigh its disadvantages. The first main body paragraph starts with reasons for why people avoid to become parents at a very young age (highlighted in green) which is not directly related to the given task. This paragraph has one advantage of the trend highlighted in blue colour, which is good, but it is not properly discussed. The second main body paragraph discusses one disadvantage of this trend, although it could have been extended further. So this means that the task was answered only partially and contains irrelevant details.
3. Not expressing your opinion

Task-2 questions frequently ask for your opinion. For example, all the following prompts require a student to express his/her opinion in the task response:

  • to what extent do you agree or disagree,
  • do you agree or disagree,
  • discuss both views and give your opinion,

However, I frequently observe that student fail to express a clear opinion on the given topic..

With the rise in popularity of the internet, newspapers will soon become a thing of the past. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

A global decline in the number of newspaper readers and growing popularity of reading news on the internet has led to a concern that newspapers will soon disappear. However, in my opinion, while reading news online has numerous benefits, an important role of the newspapers even in terms of giving few benefits cannot not be neglected.

Main benefit of reading news online are convenience and cost-effectiveness. A person with a hectic schedule can read online news anytime on any electronic gadget such as iPad, computer, or mobile phone at a very low cost or for free…….

In the above example, student completely failed to express an opinion on the given topic. He writes that although there are many benefits of reading news on the internet, advantages of newspapers cannot be ignores. So what is his opinion? We don’t know and can only guess. Then, in the main body paragraph he continues to write about benefits of reading news online but  completely fails to express his opinion. Let’s look at another example:

Some people say that music is a good way of bringing people of different cultures and ages together. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

It is sometimes argued that music is a good way to bring people of different cultures and age groups together. I completely agree with this idea. Music plays an indispensable role to connect different cultures and maintain peace and harmony in the society. But, many times it creates a barrier between people of different age groups.

In this case, the student presented contrasting opinions (= opinion not clear). First, he completely agreed with the idea that music brings people together and then, he said that many times music can also drift people apart. You should try not to commit this mistake in your exam. If you want to take a neutral stand, then you should not completely agree with the given belief. Instead, you should say that you agree to a certain extent.
4. Not extending your idea enough/ having too many underdeveloped ideas
To answer majority of IELTS task-2 question, you only need two key ideas. You should write one paragraph for each point and include relevant examples. I often see task-2 responses that are overloaded with ideas but none of the ideas are properly explained. For example:

Governments should spend money on railways rather than roads. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? Discuss both these views and give your own opinion. Give reasons for your answers and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Main body paragraph:
It is quite evident that cost incurred for construction of roads is far less than compared to railways and it benefits the population. Recent studies show that upper and middle class people prefer to travel in their own vehicles instead of railways for comfort and convenience. In addition, setting up roads in rural places can aid the locality. For instance, when the grandfather of my close friend was sick, he could not be taken to a hospital in time due to poor road connectivity.

The above paragraph begins by saying that construction of a road network is cheaper than laying railway lines. Then, a new idea is introduced – road transport is convenient and comfortable for upper and middle class people. Finally, another new idea appears that roads can aid rural locality followed by an example. So what is the key idea in this paragraph? Cost of construction is less as compared to railways but how? How is this linked to convenience and comfort of the middle class? How does setting up roads can aid a rural locality? Such a task response will not fetch you high marks and, moreover, it will also negatively affect you score in coherence & cohesion as the ideas are not properly linked. Try to focus on one idea, explain it properly and support it with a nice example.
5. Stating unrealistic examples and overgeneralising
If you want to score 7 or more in task achievement, it is important that you support your claims with proper examples. Avoid presenting made-up statistics and unrealistic examples as they negatively impact your score in task response.  For example:
For example, in a recent report published by the Hindustan Times, it was clearly stated that 99% of the schools in India still do not have infrastructure to impart online learning and are still not planning to adopt this in coming 10 years.

The statistics presented in this example is clearly exaggerated and saying that 99% of Indian schools are not planning to adopt e-learning is totally unrealistic. I strongly recommend NOT to write such examples in your task-2 essays. A simple fix can be:

Majority of schools in India, especially those in small towns and villages, still do not have infrastructure to impart online learning and they do not even plan to adopt e-learning in the next 10 years due to lack of funding.

On the other hand, railways improve mobility between various far-flung territories rather than a small localized area and strengthen trade relations between the neighbouring states or even countries. This is because large numbers of passengers and goods can be transported with very little effort using railways. For example, huge quantities of exports can be processed with railways in place and large numbers of migrant workers can be moved in trains easily. ….
The example stated in the above paragraph is not really an example. It repeats what has already been mentioned in the previous sentence. Writing “for example” before a sentence does not make it an example. It may sound ridiculous, but I see this mistake frequently.
Concluding Remarks

So, let’s recap what we have learned in this blog. Top 5 mistakes in task response are:

  1. Misunderstanding the Question
  2. Answering the task partially
  3. Not expressing your opinion
  4. Not extending your idea enough/ having too many underdeveloped ideas
  5. Stating unrealistic examples and overgeneralising

I hope that this article helped you to understand top 5 mistakes in task response that students frequently commit. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the comment’s section below.

How to improve IELTS Writing Score

Write more in English: Try keeping a diary or journal in English. Any practice can help you. Write more, and you will discover more common grammar mistakes you make.

Subscribe IELTS Writing Correction Service: Practicing without feedback will not result in much improvement. The best way is to buy a writing correction service for IELTS, so that you get detailed feedback on your answers and mistakes. This was you can improve much faster. See our affordable writing correction service for academic and general IELTS. 

Practice Makes Perfect
Practicing your writing as much as possible will help, but unless you review your work or get a teacher to check it, then you are basically going to make the same mistakes over and over again. What to do? Write – read – correct- write – read – correct. Once you have finished writing a paragraph, go back and read it again before writing more.

Courses to improve your IELTS Writing Score

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