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Writing Problem / Solution Essay

The IELTS Writing Task 2 Problem / Solution Essay task tests your ability to write about a problem(s) and suggest ways that the problem(s) may be solved. You will be given a statement about a contemporary issue and two questions. One asks you to identify the cause of the problem, the other to suggest solutions to solve it.

You will need to first analyse the question carefully to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. It helps if you highlight or underline the keywords in the exam task.

Let’s look at a typical IELTS Problem / Solution essay question:

One problem faced by almost every large city is traffic congestion.

·  What do you think the causes are?

·  What solutions can you suggest?

Before you begin to write your IELTS Problem / Solution Essay, make a brief plan.  You should make a note of the main causes and possible solutions. Two problems and two solutions are usually sufficient.

Problem 1- Causes The solution for problem 1
More vehicles on the roads these days. Most families now own more than one car Better infrastructure. Car sharing schemes. Cycle lanes to encourage people to use bicycles instead of cars.
Problem 2 – Causes The solution for problem 2
Public transport is often inconvenient and overcrowded More frequent and comfortable buses and trains would encourage people to use public transport.

Your Problem /Solution essay should contain an introduction, two main body paragraphs and a conclusion.

Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence (usually the 1st sentence) should indicate that you will discuss the cause of the problem, the topic sentence in the second paragraph should indicate that you will discuss solutions to the problem.

Tip: In both paragraphs don’t forget to use link words to signal that you are moving from one point to another.

In the first paragraph, you may need to use a vocabulary of cause and effect to explain why the problem exists. To do this you will need to use language to express Cause and Effect/Result

Introducing the cause(s)  

  • A major cause of …….. is ….
  • Perhaps the major cause of this is
  • The main/ primary cause of this is …
  • A further cause of this is
  • An additional cause of …. is
  • …. also plays a role in …
  • …… is (often/ usually) responsible for …

If you are uncertain of the cause you can add the modal verbs may / might, which are used to give more information about the main verb and are used for suggestions

For example:

Another cause may / might be

Introducing the result(s)

For example:

  • More vehicles in city centres have resulted in poorer air quality
  • Poorer air quality results from the high number of vehicles on our roads.
  • Poorer air quality leads to an increased number of residents in the city who suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. (lead to is used with results that happened after some time)

How to introduce and propose possible solutions

The question usually asks you to suggest solutions – not just one solution. Therefore, you will need to use linking words to propose other solutions such as:

  • First and foremost,  
  • Another possible solution is
  • In addition, Moreover,
  • Finally,

Tip: Checking your work.

Candidates often forget or run out of time and don’t edit their writing carefully which can result in a lower band.

Make sure you:

  •         Check for mistakes in spelling
  •         Subject + verb agreement
  •         Capitalisation i.e. using capital letters on proper nouns
  •         Grammar – Especially the use of the definite and indefinite articles a/an/ the

Writing the introduction of a Problem/ Solution Essay

In the introduction, you should first make a general statement related to the problem.

Then you should restate the exam question in your own words. Look at these introductions and decide which one is best. ( 1 or 2)

Sample Problem / Solution Essay Exam question

‘One problem faced by many large cities worldwide is traffic congestion. What do you think the causes are? What solutions can you suggest?

Which is a better restatement of the question? Why?

  1.      It is true that in many big cities traffic congestion is a problem.  There are a number of causes for this. I will suggest some solutions in this essay.
  2.      Congestion caused by too much traffic on the roads and streets in major cities and towns all around the world is a growing concern.

The second one is better of course because the student has restated the exam question is his or her own words.

Below is a model introduction to the Problem / Solution Essay exam question. You will see that the introduction contains 3 sentences: 

  • A general statement related to the topic.
  • The exam question in my own words (check out more paraphrasing tips here)
  • A sentence which suggests it is a serious or controversial issue, or a statement saying that the issue will be discussed and some solutions will be suggested

A sample of a three-sentence introduction

More and more people are driving private cars nowadays than ever before. Congestion caused by too much traffic on the roads and streets in major cities and towns all around the world is a growing concern. This issue will be discussed in this essay along with some possible solutions that may be implemented to alleviate the problem.

Paragraph 1- Discuss 2 problems

Paragraph 2 – Discuss 2 solutions

Write a conclusion (2-3 sentences)

You can also check out more IELTS Writing topics and Essay Structures here.

Written by Janet Wilson

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4 thoughts on “How to write an IELTS Writing Task 2 Problem / Solution Essay”

  • A sample of a three-sentence introduction

    More and more people are driving private cars nowadays than ever before. Congestion caused by too much traffic on the roads and streets in major cities and towns all around the world is a growing concern.

    the in ” the roads” appears to be wrong as the passage is not specifying a particular road nor ” roads ” was used in the passage earlier.

    Please confirm if the observation is correct or not.

  • Silvia Sembiring says:

    Hi guys, my PTE test score results are as follows:

    Communicative Skills:
    Listening – 90
    Reading – 83
    Speaking – 90
    Writing – 90

    Enabling Skills:
    Grammar – 90
    Oral Fluency – 90
    Pronunciation – 90
    Spelling – 90
    Vocabulary – 77
    Written Discourse – 90

    If you need help, email me at: sildude_92h@yahoo.com
    I’m currently located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

  • These days,there is an ongoing debate between people(about/whether) ( reframing the question) . While it is possible to claim that (negative) , my view is that (positive). In this essay, I shall explain my point of view by analysing both sides of argument.

    Para2
    There are a couple of reasons why I (agree or advantages or disagree/disadvantages). One of the reason is that(. ) .While the other reason why I (support/don’t support) (2nd point)

    Para3
    On the other hand, those who agree (for/against)

    Para4
    In conclusion, there are strong arguments on both sides of the case, my opinion is that (. ). I believe this because .

    Sir, I have my exam this Friday that is 11/03 . Can you explain me how this format is going to help me.

    Thank you

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