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A Test Taker's Journey:IELTS writing task 2: a twist

【明報專訊】IELTS questions are getting increasingly tricky in this day and age. To start with, in the last issue I proposed an essay topic that went like this:

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Question 1:

Some educators believe that streaming is a good way to ensure the best learning opportunities for students of different abilities. Do the advantages of streaming outweigh the disadvantages?

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But in these days you are more likely to encounter a question like this:

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Question 2:

Some educators believe that streaming would benefit all the students. Do the advantages of streaming outweigh the disadvantages?

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From this issue on, we will be studying Question 2 not only because it is more challenging, but also because it is modelled from a real IELTS question that I came across the other day, so it is likely that you will have to tackle this type of question in a real exam.

An analysis of Question 2 reveals that it contains several premises, i.e. ideas that you are expected to accept as true from which other ideas can be developed:

(1) Some educators believe that ''streaming would benefit all the students''.

(2) Streaming has some advantages and also some disadvantages.

(3) Because the words ''advantage'' and ''disadvantage'' are in the plural, you have to accept that there is more than one advantage and more than one disadvantage.

The reason why Question 2 is trickier is that its first premise is not an ''advantage'' at all. It is an assertion by ''some educators'' that the advantages of streaming, which are not provided, ''would benefit all the students'' (In contrast, in Question 1 the assertion of ''some educators'' is about an advantage, i.e. ensuring the best learning opportunities).

This also implies that in Question 2 the first premise can be completely irrelevant to the essay question. Whether the advantages of streaming outweigh the disadvantages (or vice versa) can have nothing to do with whether streaming benefits all the students.

First, it is possible to argue that streaming can have some merits that ''benefit all the students'', but even their combined benefits brought to the entire body of students can pale in comparison with the demerits. For example, you might contend that streaming ensures that it is easier for students to build confidence about learning when they get to study alongside those with similar levels of abilities, something that ''benefits all the students'', but such a merit is outweighed by the demerit that it makes students less ready to collaborate with people of different levels of intelligence at the workplace.

Second, streaming can have some advantages or disadvantages that have nothing to do with the students (or their well-being). For example, you might argue that streaming reduces teachers' workload and a school's utilisation of its resources, which do not benefit students directly.

So we are faced with a dilemma: should we address the first premise in our answer? If yes, how? Should we say whether we agree with ''some educators' view''? We will discuss these questions in the coming issue.

■Writer's Profile

Terence Yip is passionate about English more than anything else. Never has he studied or worked in an English-speaking country, but he scored 8.5 in IELTS nevertheless, and is ceaselessly honing his skills as a test taker with the aspiration to score 9 someday.

(Email: terenceyipmingpao@outlook.com)

For previous issues, visit: link.mingpao.com/61866.htm

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