IELTS Writing Task 2: confusion on advantage-disadvantage topic; benefits and drawbacks; what to do with 'outweigh'; best solutions

IELTS Writing Task 2: confusion on advantage-disadvantage topic; benefits and drawbacks; what to do with ‘outweigh’; best solutions

A good number of IELTS candidates regularly ask me about IELTS Writing Task 2 advantage-disadvantage topics and the differences between “What are the advantages and disadvantages of…..” and “Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?” They also ask whether they should write it in the same way or not. This special post deals with this issue and I’ve provided some best solutions as well. Follow the links for example answers.

IELTS Writing Task 2: confusion on advantage-disadvantage topic; benefits and drawbacks; what to do with 'outweigh'; best solutions

Well, how can you actually do this?

Identify the task carefully and decide what to write:

If you find any ‘advantage disadvantage essay’ in the IELTS Writing exam, you must not panic. First, try to understand the question well.

What does it say? What is the question tail?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ….. . ?

Or,

Do the advantages of ….. . . .. outweigh the disadvantages?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ….. . ?

When you are given an essay where you find the question tail “What are the advantages and disadvantages of…..”, you need to discuss only the merits and demerits. Be sure that you are not being asked to write your opinion.

So, the essay you are going to write may have only four paragraphs:

An Introduction A good start of the essay by rephrasing the topic
Body one The merits / benefits / positive points
Body two The demerits / drawbacks / negative points
A conclusion An excellent finish by summarizing what you have said

Do the advantages of ….. . . .. outweigh the disadvantages?

Now, when you find the word “outweigh” or any question tail like “Will this trend have more positive or negative effects?”, it means that they want you to put down your opinion and you must decide and explain which side contain the most of positive or negative impacts.

It is important for you to remember that failing to show your opinion and deciding on the side containing the most of positive or negative impacts may cost you marks. This is because you have not completely addressed the question and failed in your TASK RESPONSE. Being short in task response will surely reduce your band score in writing. (Find more about it in www.ielts.org)

So, why should you give your opinion here?

THE WORD ‘Outweigh’

According to Cambridge dictionary, the word ‘outweigh’ means “to be greater or more important than something else”.

Let’s use it in a sentence:

The benefits of this treatment far outweigh any risks.

The sentence means that the treatment has more benefits than risks.

Now let’s try it in a reverse angle.

The risks of this treatment far outweigh any benefits.

Now, the sentence means that the treatment has more risks than benefits.

As you can see, the word ‘outweigh’ contains a special meaning of comparison, you need to put down your opinion on the issue whether it has more or fewer benefits or drawbacks.

Many IELTS candidates get mixed up with writing the thesis statement and they say completely opposite to what they actually write in the essay!

For instance, candidates will say the demerits outweigh the merits, but when the examiner checks the body paragraphs, it is found that the candidates have given more merit points in the essay. Consequently, the essay makes no sense and candidates are given poor marks!

But, there’s a catch! No need to worry.

If you get mixed up with writing the thesis statement, you need not focus on this point. Just simply write your opinion:

“In my opinion, there are more benefits here than drawbacks.” Then, make sure you write more benefit points.

For example, you can write 3 strong benefit points and 2 average drawback points.

This will do the trick! Trust me.

Real Examples from Cambridge IELTS Books

Now let’s have a look at some Cambridge IELTS book examples:

This one is from Cambridge IELTS Series 10:

Some parents buy their children a large number of toys to play with.

What are the advantages and disadvantages for the child of having a large number of toys?

Look closely, this ‘advantage-disadvantage essay’ is not asking for your opinion. So, you may simply write one body paragraph on the advantages of getting more toys for children and another one on the disadvantages of too many toys for children.

However, look at this example topic taken from Cambridge IELTS Series 7:

Some people prefer to live in a house, while others feel that there are more advantages to living in an apartment.

Are there more advantages than disadvantages of living in a house compared with living in an apartment?

Or,

Will this have more positive or negative impacts?

Or,

Do the advantages of living in a house rather than apartment outweigh the disadvantages?

Here, it is quite clear that you are asked to provide your opinion about the advantages and disadvantages of living in a house or apartment. You must also decide which one has more points to cover; house or apartment. Remember, you can decide on either advantages or disadvantages and say that it has more points than the other. It depends completely on your writing ability.

And one more thing! Many students will get confused on writing about either house or apartment.

Look closely again, when you write a benefit of living in a house; make it unavailable for an apartment. Do the same for the apartment. Thus, your points on house will contradict with apartment. It will save both your energy and time to think and write about each point separately.

Sometimes, the title of the essay may suggest that there are more advantages than disadvantages. Do not bother that! If you can arrange your writing with more disadvantages –points, you can write on that. Just remember that you need to write at least one point for each part and one or two more for the part you will give priority to.

Writing your notion for this type of topic:

Now, you need to think of at least three supporting ideas, one for the side which you think has minor points and two for the side you think has major points to cover.

Thus, you have three body paragraphs. So, in total, you need to write five paragraphs.

Let’s look at the table below.

An Introduction A good start of the essay
Body one  Demerit / drawback / negative point
Body two Merit / benefit / positive point number one
Body three Merit / benefit / positive point number two
A conclusion An excellent finish by supporting the points you have written

Most of the IELTS and language experts have agreed that it is better to start with the point you are opposing. Then, you can write the two or three points in favor of the side you want to highlight.

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