Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ideas, anyone? Let's brainstorm!

One complaint I hear both in IELTS and ECPE prep is regarding lack of ideas.  I know that it can be overwhelming to write an academic essay on an issue you more than likely do not really care about, especially in a foreign language.  Especially when you only have about 40 minutes (30 in the ECPE). Well, I am here to simplify this task.   The first thing  I want to remind you of is that the IELTS is developed for people exactly like you:  English Language Learners who seek employment or education at the university level.  So, you don't need any specialist knowledge about a particular topic.   Let's assume that your vocabulary is good and you have a good grasp of grammar.  What you then need is ideas. 

Take a look at this task borrowed from our friends at

Successful sports professionals can earn a great deal more money than people in other important professions. Some people think this is fully justified while others think it is unfair.
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

The key words here are sports professionals,  important professions, more money, justified and unfair.  Jot them down on some paper.  You are now about to do the most underrated but important task of writing:  brainstorming.  I know, I know, you think it's a waste of time. After all, you only have 40 minutes, so why use it writing down little notes that you may not use in the end? 

Allow me to speak from personal experience that if you spend 5 minutes jotting down notes you will thank me.  Many, many (many, many) years ago when I was a university student, I took a class where there was a mandatory 3-5 page writing assignment every week.  In the beginning of the semester, I would begin my assignment with a few ideas in my head and just start writing.  While I was writing, invariably other ideas would come to my head & I remember thinking to myself, "okay, I will write that idea when I get to my next paragraph."  Can you imagine what happened when I got to my next paragraph?  I forgot my idea.  What a waste of a good idea!  I finally learned my lesson and starting brainstorming for these writing assignments and spending a little time writing down my ideas before getting down to the business of writing.

So, back to our sports professionals:  I am sure that you have some opinions about this issue.  Think about them.  Is it fair for a basketball or football star to earn millions of dollars for playing a game when people who save lives, like nurses or doctors for example, earn a lot less?  Should sports stars make so much money?  Are there any reasons why this is justified?  You'll have to answer both these questions because the task has asked you to discuss both views.   What you then have to do is write down some key words or a sentence to answer these questions.  You should try to come up with at least 2-3 points for each question.  In my next post, we'll work on turning our ideas into paragraphs. 

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