As you may already know or have read about on our site, we recommend starting with Task 2 in the writing test (it’s worth more points than Task 1). But what happens if you get a Task 2 essay title with words you don’t understand?
Consider this Task 2 style topic:
‘Traffic jams and congestion in major cities could be reduced by spending more on prenemials in the local area. Do you agree?’
Although most of the words should make sense, you should have noticed one word (possibly underlined in red on your browser) that you don’t know – PRENEMIALS. There is a good reason why you don’t know this word – it’s made up! – but if this was your official test and that was a word you don’t know, what do you do? What do you write about? Can you ask anyone? Here are some useful tips for what to do if you don’/t understand part of the question.
TIP 1: Use what you do understand
Look at the question above again. You should be able to tell that the question is focusing on traffic problems in larger urban areas, and that the question is asking whether you agree that this could be reduced. OK, so you don’t know exactly what the question is saying could help, but you can make an educated guess and write about traffic problems in major cities. Keep in mind the question is asking ‘whether you agree’, so don’t write a problem / solution type of essay – make sure you are agreeing or disagreeing to what you do understand. This leads us to Tip 2…
TIP 2: Explain what your understanding of the essay title is
In order to get the maximum score, you need to write on the topic. However, if you are unclear as to what the complete topic is because of some words you don’t understand, then use your introduction to ensure the examiner is clear on what you are writing about, even if it is slightly off-topic. You will be penalised for not sticking completely to the question, but from that point in the examiner will grade your work based on what you have stated the question to be.
Here’s an example introduction you can write based on the question above:
‘There is a strong argument to be made in favour of decreasing traffic related issues in major cities by expenditure on various alternative measures such as public transport, as will now be discussed’
The examiner will read your introduction, realise that you have misunderstood a word in the question and penalise you accordingly, but from that point in they will read the essay based on your description, not the title.
TIP 3: Don’t waste time trying to ask anyone
Unfortunately, no-one invigilating the exam will be able to help you in any way. They can’t describe a word, let you ask anyone else, look it up or change to another question. What you’re given is what you have to write about, so just get started. It’s very important (and easier advice to give than to act on) that you don’t panic. It is feasible to get a Band 7.0 result or higher even if you didn’t fully understand the question, so long as you follow Tips 1 and 2 above.