How to Write a “Problem and Solution” Essay for IELTS Task 2

In this tutorial, we look at an example of a problem and solution essay for IELTS writing.

What is a “problem and solution” essay?

A “problem and solution” essay, as its name suggests, proposes a problem to you and asks you to suggest a solution or solutions to it. It may also ask about the causes of the problem or the effects which the problem has.

As with an opinion essay in task 2, there is no right or wrong answer. What is being tested is your competence in writing English, not your skills as a policy-maker!

Basic Elements of a Problem-Solution Essay

A problem-solution essay has some key elements.

  • First, it must identify a problem.
  • Second, it must propose one or more solutions to that problem.
  • Third, it must explain why the proposed solution is the best option.

Before you start writing a problem-solution essay, it's important to first understand the problem. What are the causes of the problem? What are its effects? Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, you can begin to brainstorm solutions.

The Introduction

The introduction to a problem and solution essay should briefly state:

  • The problem
  • Explain why it needs to be solved.
  • A brief summary of the proposed solution.
  • A strong statement that sets out the purpose of the essay.

Body paragraphs

Body paragraphs are where you develop the solution to your problem. In a problem and solution essay, your body paragraphs will need to discuss

  • The feasibility of your solution
  • Its potential benefits and drawbacks.
  • How your solution will impact different groups of people.

When writing your body paragraphs, it is important to keep your argument clear and concise. Be sure to support your claims with evidence, and always keep your reader in mind. Remember, the goal of a problem and solution essay is to offer a practical solution to a real-world problem.

The conclusion

The conclusion of a problem and solution essay should be concise and to the point. It should restate the main points of the essay and leave the reader with a sense of closure.

Examples of “problem and solution” essay questions

  • “Loneliness is an increasing problem in many societies, especially among the elderly. Why is this? How might it be remedied?”
  • “The world’s oceans are filling up with waste plastic. What are the reasons for this, and how can the situation be improved?"
  • “Many of the world’s rarest plants and animals are on the verge of becoming extinct. Why is this? What, if anything, can be done to slow this process or arrest it altogether?”

How are “problem and solution” essay questions structured?

Each of the questions above has something in common.

Each of them begins by stating a problem, asks about the causes (or sometimes about the effects) of the problem, and then asks you to propose the solution. As the name of this essay type suggests, they fall essentially into two parts:

  • the problem
  • the solution

How to structure your answer

There are many different ways to structure a problem-solution essay. But no matter how you choose to organize your essay, it will need to have three essential elements:

  • An introduction that clearly states the problem and your proposed solution.
  • A body that discusses the various causes of the problem and the merits of your proposed solution.
  • A conclusion that summarizes the main points of your argument and reiterates your solution.

As usual, the structure of the question should give you your cue for how to structure your answer.

Problem-and-solution essays fall naturally into two parts, the first describing and exploring the problem, the second setting out the solution or solutions.

For these purposes, treat questions about the causes or effects of problems as part of the description of the problem itself.

Let’s take a concrete example from the series of examples which I gave earlier.
“Loneliness is an increasing problem in many societies, especially among the elderly. Why is this? How might it be remedied?”

Here there are in fact two questions, a question about the cause of the problem (“Why is this?”) and a question about possible solutions to it.

This indicates how the essay should be structured.

  • First describe the problem, including its causes. (Remember, questions about the causes or effects of the problem should be included as part of its description.)
  • Then, in a second paragraph, offer your account of its solution.

How to describe the problem in your essay (with examples)

The first thing to do is simply to state the problem, with examples or illustrative descriptions, if possible. One can begin simply by restating the problem. A good opening sentence, for example, might run as follows:

“Loneliness is an increasingly acute problem in most societies. The problem affects all age groups and social classes, but especially the poor and the elderly.”

With this opening sentence, you have not only restated the problem.

  • You have also added to it, giving a qualitatively richer description.
  • You have made it clear that the problem is not confined to the elderly, but also affects other age groups too.
  • You have also introduced the question of social class.

Try to develop your description of the problem a little bit more. For example, what is the problem (in this case, loneliness) like for those who experience it? What are its consequences?

“Not only is loneliness in and of itself an unhappy state, but it also weakens the ties between family and friends which hold society together.”
“Loneliness is not only a social problem, but, potentially, a medical one: it can lead to poor physical and mental health.”

You now have a fuller, qualitatively richer description of the problem. Good! This could be expanded further, but the approach to take is clear. Now it is time to move on to the question of causes, which you should treat as part of the description of the problem. Single-cause or “monocausal” explanations are sometimes less persuasive than explanations which take into account a variety of factors.

Here is an example of an attempt to address the question of the causes of loneliness in modern societies.

“The causes of increased loneliness in modern societies are not completely certain. Amongst them might be included: the disappearance of many traditional occupations; the decline of public transport links; and the rise of modern cultural technologies.”

The answer starts by admitting uncertainty. It is an indicator of strength to be able to concede limitations to one’s knowledge.

How to suggest solutions in your essay

There is more that could be said here, but it is time to move on to proposing solutions. Remember that you are not limited to any single solution. It is quite in order for you to suggest a number of solutions. This is possible even if the suggested solutions seem to conflict with each other. You are simply being asked to canvass one or more possible solutions.

Let’s consider how this might work in this particular case, with the problem of loneliness. You might begin with a general statement like this:

“Because there are a number of causes at work in the problem of loneliness, it is unlikely that any single solution will by itself be sufficient.”

This sentence does two things:

  • it connects the first part of your essay to the second part, and
  • it prepares the reader for the fact that you will offer a number of solutions to the problem.

“One immediate practical solution is to improve public transport links. This would enable family members and friends in different cities to visit each other more easily.”
“But if, as we have seen, the causes of the problem are more deeply-rooted, we may need to consider structural solutions.”
“For example, can we change the way in which work is organized in our society so that people more often work together and face-to-face?”

Here you have done something quite important: you have made a qualitative, rather than a merely episodic, distinction between your different points. In other words, the structure of your argument now appears logically motivated rather than merely accidental. You have begun with an immediately achievable practical solution, and have gone on to discuss a more ambitious and more general one.

VIDEO: Model Answers to recent "Problem/Solution" essay questions


In this tutorial, we have begun to learn how to

  • write a “problem-and-solution” essay.
  • structure the essay clearly into two complementary parts, as well as how to link those parts.
  • structure the argument internally so that it appears logical rather than merely episodic.

Take a look at some task 2 sample essay questions to help you prepare all kinds of topics for the IELTS exam.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many paragraphs are in a problem-solution essay?

A problem-solution essay is are usually written in five paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a different aspect of the problem or solution.

How do you start a problem-solution essay?

To start a problem-solution essay, you need to first understand the problem. What are some of the main causes of the problem? Once you have a good understanding of the problem, you can start brainstorming solutions. After you have brainstormed some solutions, you can start writing your essay.

How do you end a problem solution essay?

Your conclusion should briefly summarize the main points of the essay and emphasize the importance of solving the problem.

Audio tutorial

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