What does “to what extent” mean?
When the IELTS Writing Task 2 question says ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’ it is simply asking you to say if you agree or disagree.
‘To what extent’ simply means ‘how much’ – Do you strongly agree or disagree? Or do you agree with certain aspects but not with others?
Do NOT worry about different question ‘types’ in IELTS Task 2.
Examiners do NOT assess your writing based on whether it is the right ‘type’.
ALL IELTS Task 2 questions want you to do answer the question directly, sufficiently and appropriately.
Some questions are specific e.g.
- Discuss both views and give your opinion.
- What causes this problem and how can it be solved (in your opinion)?
But ‘to what extent?‘ questions are easy – you can say whatever you like.
- You can write a 1-sided essay [I totally agree OR totally disagree].
- Or you can write a 2-sided essay [I mostly agree/disagree but I can see both sides].
On the whole, it is safer to provide a balanced (2-sided) response: show both sides and say which one you favour.
In this LIVE lesson on YouTube, I show you how to structure your answer to this question, and at the end we write a model in 10 minutes.
‘To what extent…” sample essay
Look at the question below and quickly brainstorm a few ideas.
All children should be made to wear school uniform.
To what extent do you agree or disagree?
If, in the planning stage, you have more reasons IN FAVOUR than AGAINST, then write a ONE-SIDED essay, saying you STRONGLY agree, and give your reasons.
If, in the planning, you realise you have an equal number of arguments, then write a TWO-SIDED essay but ALWAYS say which side you favour.
Step 1: Quickly brainstorm pros and cons
- looks smart and professional
- easy to wash/look after
- suitable for most classes
- easy to decide what to wear in the morning
- no peer pressure about buying designer labels
- helps students take pride in their appearance
- improves performance (students able to focus more on schoolwork)
- reduces bullying
- helps students feel part of a community
- prepares students for the world of work
- every child is treated equally
- sense of belonging
- students are unable to express their individuality
- could be expensive if you have to buy the whole kit at once from an ‘approved’ supplier
Option 1: A 'one-sided' IELTS essay
With this question, I have far more reasons to argue in favour of uniforms.
So when the question asks ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree?’ I can choose to take a completely one-sided approach, saying that I totally agree that uniforms are absolutely marvellous.
I do NOT need to mention the other point of view (though I can if I want to).
Sample one-sided answer
Many schools require their students to wear a school uniform, but recently this policy has been criticised as being old-fashioned and even oppressive. In my opinion, uniforms are an essential component of school life and should be maintained for both practical and pedagogical reasons.
The main reason for having a uniform policy is that every child can be treated equally. These days there is huge pressure, largely from social media, for young people to look good. Appearances matter to young people, and children may suffer from abuse and bullying if their clothes are perceived as ‘uncool’. Having to wear the same clothes ensures that even children from disadvantaged backgrounds look the same as everyone else. The fact that such clothes are generally inexpensive to buy helps in this regard.
A second argument in favour of uniforms is that they give the child a sense of identity and make young people feel that they are part of a close school community within which they can help each other. This sense of belonging is increasingly important in a world where people are becoming more and more isolated by technology.
Finally, there are practical reasons why the tradition of school uniforms should be maintained. Firstly, they are a cheap and convenient way of making sure children dress smartly, relieving them of the pressure of deciding what to wear on a daily basis, so that they can focus their attention on their studies. While some clothes would be incompatible with certain types of classwork, school outfits are designed for comfort and complement the kind of activities that school children are engaged in.
To conclude, I believe that school uniforms are essential for the reasons I have outline above. If children want to express their individual style and taste through the way they dress, they have plenty of opportunities to do this in their free time.
Option 2: A 'two-sided' IELTS essay
Maybe you have plenty of arguments both in favour and against the question, and want to show your understanding of both arguments.
You must still argue in favour of one or the other (in the introduction AND in the conclusion).
- ‘sit on the fence’
- say ‘I agree with both’
Sample two-sided answer
Many schools require their students to wear a school uniform, but recently this policy has been criticised as being old-fashioned and even oppressive. Although I can sympathise with both sides of the argument, I fundamentally believe that uniforms are an essential component of school life and should be maintained for both practical and pedagogical reasons.
There are several arguments in favour of every child wearing the same clothes to school. First of all, this ensures that every child is treated equally. Children from less well-off backgrounds may suffer from abuse and bullying if their clothes are perceived as ‘uncool’. Uniforms also give children a sense of identity and make young people feel that they are part of a close school community within which they can help each other. This sense of belonging is increasingly important in a world where people are becoming more and more isolated by technology.
Having said that, there are considerable costs involved when parents have to purchase a whole new wardrobe that has to conform to strict uniform codes, for example sports gear and even standardised satchels in some cases. Children grow out of their clothes very quickly, and everyday wear and tear means these items have to be replaced frequently and at great expense. I also think that some students might feel stifled and repressed by being forced to wear clothes that they do not enjoy wearing.
To conclude, I am strongly in favour of school uniforms for both practical and psychological reasons. If children want to express their individual style and taste through the way they dress, they have plenty of opportunities to do this in their free time.
Watch the lesson here
Examples of ‘To what extent’ questions
Here are a few examples of how I tackled these ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree’ questions in the Members Academy.
One-sided “To what extent..?” question
- The development of alternatives to fossil fuels should be the most important global priority today. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Our reliance on fossil fuels as a main source of energy has taken a devastating toll on the environment, and the effects of releasing so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can be felt all over the world. Therefore it seems to me that alternatives need to be found as a matter of urgency.
Two-sided “To what extent..?” question
- Some believe it is important for cities and towns to invest heavily in building large outdoor public spaces. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
It has long been accepted that good mental and physical health depends on physical activity and enjoyment of the outdoors. As such, many believe that there should be investment in the creation of attractive outdoor spaces which would encourage a more active lifestyle. However, as this essay will argue, poor planning can often lead to areas that fail to attract the public and turn out to be a waste of money.
How to get ideas for ‘to what extent’ essays
You need to read a variety of Academic texts related to typical IELTS topics.
Often there are comments and opinions about the article at the bottom of the blog, where you can get a lot of good language and ideas.
In this one for example they say
“School uniforms are repressive and should be abolished to allow pupils to “find their own style”.
“They’re an outmoded idea, ultimately a repressive aspect of the educational system itself, designed to keep children in line”.
“It is the right place for teenagers in particular to test out what to wear and find their own style, and that is itself an important part of education.“
“The government does encourage schools to have school uniform because of how it can contribute to the ethos of the school and create a common identity among pupils.”
Quotes taken from Times Educational Supplement March 19th 2021