Problem solution essay

Are you trying to understand and prepare for the essay writing section on the IELTS test? Do you want to make sure you avoid typical errors? Would you like a simple template for one of the more challenging essay structures? If any of the above interests you, you will find this blog very useful.

What makes a good essay?

When you turn to Task two of the Writing section you will be given a prompt and expected to respond with a written argument. If you do it well, your ideas will be relevant, your line of reasoning will be easy to follow, and you will use examples from your personal experience or general knowledge to support your argument.

What are the essay topics like on the IELTS test, and does one have to study up on the subjects?

The topics are familiar, for example, about family life, the impact of technology on society, issues around health and fitness or the environment. If you have been keeping up with current events by watching or reading the news, you should have something to say, and if you don’t have any real facts, make them up. This test isn’t so much about what you know as it is about how well you communicate in English. 

Are the essay formats all the same?

There are different but common essay types that you can review and practice before you sit down to write the test. For instance, it is not unusual to have to write about how much you agree or disagree with a statement or to present two sides of an issue or to write about the pros and cons of a development. 

Each of these essays can be written using a simple essay structure (introductory, body and concluding paragraphs), but there are some essay prompts that have proven to be more challenging to test takers. The problem/solution essay is one of these. Here we look at how to approach and tackle this essay starting with what not to do.

What are the mistakes to avoid? Many people go wrong before the writing starts. They rush into the task without first clearly understanding what is required. In this case a person’s response can go completely off the rails or in the wrong direction and lower his or her score. 

Therefore, taking the time to read the prompt carefully will help you identify not only the topic but the specific aspects about the topic that you are expected to address.

Take this prompt for example:

More and more wild animals are on the verge of extinction and others are on the endangered list.

  • What are the reasons for this?
  • What solutions can you suggest to deal with this problem?

Don’t spend too much time discussing the situation.

The main situation here is that wild animals are disappearing from the earth and that is a problem. This is given to you as a fact, so you do not need to prove or disprove this. The mistake that many writers make is to write an essay arguing that the problem exists. They then either run out of time or forget to answer the bullet point questions.

To avoid a disappointing score, look to answer the bullet questions completely. You will briefly introduce the situation in your first paragraph, but the main part of the essay should address those questions.

Don’t ignore plurals in the prompt

Notice the ‘s’ on reason and solution! You will be more likely to get a higher score if you include more than one reason and more than one solution in this essay.

Don’t start writing without a plan

Less experienced writers that dive into the essay often digress or go off topic. Their line of argument usually jumps around, and their thinking is hard to follow. In other words, it’s difficult to understand what they are saying because they are writing random ideas. Remember that this test is evaluating your ability to clearly communicate, so using a sound structure is important. Planning will help.

A Simple Plan for Writing Problem/Solution Essays

Let’s look at one way to prepare a higher-level response. First, start thinking about the situation by asking and answering the key questions in a side note.

Let’s use the above prompt as an example:

More and more wild animals are on the verge of extinction and others are on the endangered list.

  • What are the reasons for this?
  • What solutions can you suggest to deal with this problem?

Why are wild animals disappearing from the earth?

  1. Deforestation
  2. Climate change
  3. Poaching

What can be done about these causes to help solve the problem?

  1. Better foresting practices that will restore animal habitat.
  2. Take steps to lessen the effects of climate change on animals’ habitats.
  3. Governments need to understand the serious impact of poaching and bring it to an end.

Notice that the solutions relate to the causes. This keeps the discussion simpler because it’s more focussed and that makes your job easier. 

Keep it simple!

In this example, there are three causes and a solution for each, but we really only need two. Brainstorming a large list of ideas is good to start and it’s a good idea to eliminate points that are harder to explain.

For example, if you felt that the climate change point was too complicated to discuss in a short time, you could just drop it and focus on the other two. If you feel you can handle all three, go ahead but remember you have about 40 minutes to put this entire essay together.

The problem/solution essay prompts can vary in their questioning so be sure to read carefully.

Let’s try that planning strategy with a slightly different prompt:

More and more wild animals are on the verge of extinction and others are on the endangered list.

  • What effects will this have on the world we live in?
  • What solutions can you suggest to deal with this problem?

What effects are the disappearance of wild animals going to have on the world we live in?

  1. Ecosystems will be destroyed and the balance of life on earth will be in danger.
  2. Our ancestors will never see these amazing animals.

What solutions can you suggest?

  1. Educate people about the importance of maintaining ecosystems so they will pressure politicians to do more to save the animals.
  2. Protect these animals in wildlife preserves supported by ecotourism.

Notice that the solutions again relate to the effects. When you narrow down ideas, you make them more manageable in a short essay.

If you take a few minutes to think and plan, the actual writing of the essay will be smoother and faster. This is especially true if you have format that you can now plug your argument into which you will find below.

A Simple Formula for Problem/Solution Essays

Here is one way to organize the problem/solution essay. You could use this format with either of the above prompts. As you read the sample, try to determine the purpose of each sentence. Then look at the formula that follows.

Wild animals are disappearing from our planet at a staggering rate. Two main reasons for this worrisome development are deforestation and poaching, but there are measures we can take to control these threats and make sure we maintain healthy wildlife populations.

As the demands for resources increase, our forests and the animals that live in them are suffering. With every acre of land lost to industrial timber harvests, wildlife habitats are shrinking and the species that relied on them are dying out. This is true in the United States where forests owned by lumber companies, which make up 60% of all forests in the country, are losing the natural richness that keeps thousands of plants and animals alive.

However, today some governments are working to help forestry businesses harvest in a responsible way while protecting and restoring the land for wildlife. These governments are providing financial support to ensure that habitats are restored and safeguarded. This is evident in the United States where large sections of privately-owned forests are being cultivated and preserved forever with the help of government grants.

After habitat destruction, poaching, which involves the illegal killing, hunting and capturing of wild animals for sale, is the biggest threat to wildlife. Consumer demand for animal body parts for medicines or trophies is increasing and millions of animals, birds, plants and marine life are killed every year. More specifically, a recent report stated that wildlife trade accounts for the killing or capture of 100 million tons of fish and 1.5 million living birds annually.

Although illegal wildlife trade is a huge challenge to overcome, some countries are stepping up their efforts to protect animals and it’s working. These governments are taking the problem very seriously by creating strict laws and providing the funding to create militaristic anti-poaching enforcement units to catch and punish trappers and hunters. This is the case in Mali where highly skilled teams of soldiers have been able to successfully protect the elephants in a reserve since 2017 without the loss of one animal.

Our world is in danger of losing more and more animal species every day. If governments take the issue seriously and work to replenish habitats and stop poachers, future generations will also be able to enjoy the benefits of sharing the earth with these magnificent beasts.

Did you notice how easy it was to following the ideas and reasoning in the essay. Why? It was partly because of the structure which follows.

Problem/Solution Essay – 6 Paragraph Formula

Paragraph One – Introduction

Sentence 1: Introduces the main problem.

Wild animals are disappearing from our planet at a staggering rate.

Sentence 2: Outlines exactly what the essay will address with this problem in mind.

Two main reasons for this worrisome development are deforestation and poaching, but there are measures we can take to control these threats and make sure we maintain healthy wildlife populations.

Paragraph Two – Cause/Effect of problem

Sentence 1: States the cause or effect.

As the demands for resources increase, our forests and the animals that live in them are suffering.

Sentence 2: Explains this further.

With every acre of land lost to industrial timber harvests, wildlife habitats are shrinking and the species that relied on them are dying out.

Sentence 3: Gives an example.

This is true in the United States where forests owned by lumber companies, which make up 60% of all forests in the country, are losing the natural richness that keeps thousands of plants and animals alive.

Paragraph Three – Solution

Sentence 1: States a solution.

However, today some governments are working to help forestry businesses harvest in a responsible way while protecting and restoring the land for wildlife.

Sentence 2: Explains this further.

These governments are providing financial support to ensure that habitats are restored and safeguarded.

Sentence 3: Gives an example.

This is evident in the United States where large sections of privately-owned forests are being cultivated and preserved forever with the help of government grants.

Paragraph Four - Cause/Effect of problem

Sentence 1: States another cause or effect.

After habitat destruction, poaching, which involves the illegal killing, hunting and capturing of wild animals for sale, is the biggest threat to wildlife.

Sentence 2: Explains this further.

Consumer demand for animal body parts for medicines or trophies is increasing and millions of animals, birds, plants and marine life are killed every year.

Sentence 3: Gives an example.

More specifically, a recent report stated that wildlife trade accounts for the killing or capture of 100 million tons of fish and 1.5 million living birds, and almost 450,000 tons of plants annually.

Paragraph Five – Solution

Sentence 1: States a solution.

Although illegal wildlife trade is a huge challenge to overcome, some countries are stepping up their efforts to protect animals and it’s working.

Sentence 2: Explains this further.

These governments are taking the problem very seriously by creating strict laws and creating militaristic anti-poaching enforcement units to catch and punish trappers and hunters.

Sentence 3: Gives an example.

This is the case in Mali where highly skilled teams of soldiers have been able to successfully protect the elephants in a reserve since 2017 without the loss of one animal.

Paragraph Six – Conclusion

Sentence 1: Restates the main problem.

Our world is in danger of losing more and more animal species every day.

Sentence 2: Summarizes the main points of the essay.

If governments take the issue seriously and work to replenish habitats and stop poachers, future generations will also be able to enjoy the benefits of sharing the earth with these magnificent creatures.

Now that you have the formula, why don’t you practice using the second prompt and the template. With this tool and a better understanding of what to expect, you are sure to improve the score you need to succeed.

Problem/Solution Essay – 6 Paragraph Template

Paragraph One -Introduction

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

Introduce the main problem.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Outline exactly what the essay will address with this subject in mind.

Paragraph Two - A Cause/Effect of the problem

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

States one cause or effect.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Explains this further.

Sentence 3:

___________________________________________________________________________

Gives an example.

Paragraph Three - A Solution that deals with that cause or effect

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

States the solution.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Explains this further.

Sentence 3:

___________________________________________________________________________

Gives an example.

Paragraph Four - Another Cause/Effect of the problem

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

States another cause or effect.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Explains this further.

Sentence 3:

___________________________________________________________________________

Gives an example.

Paragraph Five - A Solution that deals with that cause or effect

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

States the solution.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Explains this further.

Sentence 3:

___________________________________________________________________________

Gives an example.

Paragraph Six – Conclusion

Sentence 1:

___________________________________________________________________________

Restates the main problem.

Sentence 2:

___________________________________________________________________________

Summarizes the main points of the essay.

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