(Written Sept. 16, 2007)  

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Below is an email from a student. It contains his/her Task 1 & Task 2 for the Cambridge Practice Tests, Book 6. Following the essays are my comments and my grade.

[Feb. 18, 2011. Note that the grading criteria has been changed since this page was originally written. See here for the current grading criteria.]





The table below gives information about changes in modes of travel in England between 1985 and 2000.

Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.


Average distance in miles traveled per person per year, by mode of travel













Local bus



Long distance bus












All modes





The table illustrates the average distance traveled per person in England by different means of travel between 1985 and 2000. By all traffic tools used by travelers, the total distance jumped from 4,740 miles in 1985 to 6,475 miles by the year 2000.


Compare each travel mode to another, it is easy to find that the distance of people choosing walking, bicycle and local bus as ways to travel went down during the 15-year period. Instead, distance of people traveling by car, long distance bus, train, taxi and other increased during the same period. The most significant increase was the distance of residents traveling by taxi, which raised up to 42 miles in 2000, approximately 3 times as it was in 1985 (13 miles). By contrast, the most obvious drop happened in travel tool of local bus. The distance people traveled by this means decreased from 429 miles to 274 miles in 2000.


In general, distance of residents traveling in England increased by approximately 36 per cent between 1985 and 2000 in all travel modes.


P1: 2 sentences, 43 words

P2: 5 sentences, 110 words

P3: 1 sentence, 22 words

Total: 8 sentences, 175 words


Successful sports professionals can earn a great deal more money than people in other important professions. Some people think this is fully justified while others think it is unfair.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.



It has been argued that it is totally unfair that athletes earn much more money than professionals who succeed in other vital fields. Those who claim that it is unfair, however, ignore the unique character of sports profession: athletes represent not only themselves but also the image of the whole country. Considering this unique trait of sports, the conclusion could be drawn that it is reasonable for successful athletes to receive more income than others.


As we know, athletes represent the nation to attend sports games. Once they win, the reputation of the country is built. Since the reputation of the country is so precious that it cannot be measured by money, athletes should be paid more as a kind of reward to celebrate their achievements. Consequently, it is quite fair that successful sports professional gain more wealth than people in other important areas. Hold China as an example to support this phenomenon. When Chinese athletes win in Olympic Games, they would receive a large amount of money from not only the central government, but regional government as well in that they are considered to gain reputation of China and they deserve these rewards.


In addition, those who believe that it is unfair to pay athletes more than others ignore the connection between the success of athletes and the image of the nation. They focus on how much money athletes earn, rather than the importance of national reputation. Hence, this claim is irrational and unreasonable.


To conclude, it is justified and reasonable that successful sports professionals receive more income than other specialists in various areas in that they build positive images for both themselves and the whole nation.


P1: 3 sentences, 75 words

P2: 6 sentences, 119 words

P3: 3 sentences, 51 words

P4: 1 sentence, 33 words

Total: 13 sentences, 278 words



Task 1

Task Fulfillment: 8

Coherence & Cohesion: 7 Quite good usage of connective devices. (Better to use ‘On the other hand’ rather than ‘Instead’.) Just a little difficult to follow in places due to vocab/grammar errors and inappropriacies.

Vocab & Sentence Structure: 5 (Several minor errors)

Total Task 1 score: 7  (8+7+5)/3 = 7

Task 2

Arguments, Ideas & Evidence: 6. Range of arguments, ideas & evidence too narrow.

Your interpretation of the meaning of a "professional athlete" is different to what most foreigners would consider to be a "professional athlete". Most other countries do not reward Olympic Gold Medallists as well as China does for its Gold Medal winners. 

Most foreigners think of people such as Yao Ming or Tiger Woods when they think of professional athletes and the fact that you did not mention Yao or similar sportspeople leads me to believe that you are not sure of the wider meaning of a "sports professional". Yao Ming is the perfect example of an athlete who fits the description of, a " sports professional who earn a great deal more money than people in other important professions." Obviously, the original intention of the test question writer was for you to write about this group of athletes. In other words, athletes who primarily compete to represent their country, such as in the Olympic Games, Asian Games etc., are not the highly-paid athletes referred to in the question. Don't forget that IELTS Writing test questions are used throughout the whole world and therefore reflect the worldwide situation, not just the situation in China. For you to be aware of the world outside China, you need to read widely. 

The usage of the term, "sports professional" instead of, "professional athlete" implies that there are others who make their living from sport, besides the athletes themselves. Do you really understand the meaning of, 'professional'? A weakness in your essay is that you only referred to one sub-set of 'sports professionals'. Sports is now a business and top sports managers earn high salaries. You only referred to professional athletes.

It is true that Chinese Olympic Gold Medallists are well rewarded when they return to China and that many of them move on to rather well-paid positions (compared to other professionals) in the sports world as a result of their Olympic success. It is also true that these people can be labeled as "professional athletes" or, after they retire from competition, as "sports professionals" if they continue to work in the sports world. Furthermore, your argument that the value of national reputation far surpasses the value of most everyday achievements is an acceptable personal opinion, although this level of patriotism is unusual overseas, where foreign IELTS Writing test examiners come from. However there is one serious weakness in your choice of Chinese Olympic Gold Medallists as, "sports professionals" - their income is not a great deal more than that of other professionals such as doctors and engineers. It is important to be factually correct in a Task 2 essay.

Your idea of the value of national reputation was the only idea you presented in support of the high salaries of these sports professionals. If you had given more details about why national reputation is so important your argument would have been stronger and more convincing. IELTS examiners want to see several ideas, not just one. These several ideas could be several ideas that support a single central idea or they could be several central ideas. If you had discussed the value of national reputation in more detail, that would have qualified as 'several ideas'. 

Furthermore, you 'dismissed' all discussion of the other side of the argument by labeling their beliefs/feelings as, "irrational and unreasonable" simply because they do not have the same degree of nationalism as you. You did not give any further details about how or why their beliefs/feelings are, "irrational and unreasonable". This is not a good example of the kind of rational, logical argument that IELTS essays should contain. The essay instructions asked you to give your opinion and the opinion of the other side but you did not really do that in the balanced, 'academic' style that is expected in Western universities. To repeat: The style of writing that is expected in Task 2 includes your personal opinion and that of the other side of the argument, without making dismissive judgments such as calling those who disagree with your opinion, "irrational and unreasonable". [A 'dismissive judgment' seems to give you a good reason not to discuss the matter any further. But that is just an excuse, not a valid reason.]

Looking at the wording of the question again, we see that these words are included: "Some people think this is fully justified while others think it is unfair. " Basically, you gave your opinion concerning the justification for these higher salaries but you didn't really focus on the question of the fairness of these salaries; these two ideas are not the same, in fact, they are not even related. That is, the idea of 'unfairness' is really quite unrelated to ideas about the value of national reputation. Fairness involves a comparison with others to see if there is some kind of balance. The question says that, "others think this is unfair". Which 'others'? What unfairness? You did not touch on these questions. For the topic of this essay, 'others' are the people in other important professions, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. The unfairness implied in this question is the fact that these other important professionals are much more educated than most professional sportspeople. The assumption is that educated (brain developed) people have a higher intrinsic value than those who are highly developed in physical skills and prowess because the assumption is that highly educated people contribute more to society than other people. Basically, this discussion is about the importance to society of professional sportspeople, relative to the importance of other professionals. This further leads to the question of how salaries should be determined - whether one's salary should rigidly reflect one's educational level, or whether salaries should reflect the importance to society of one's work, or whether 'market forces' should determine salaries.

If you had chosen to write about professional athletes such as Yao Ming, some of whom have annual incomes in the tens of millions of U.S. dollars, any comparison of such salaries with those of typical doctors, lawyers and engineers would have been pointless and ridiculous. The nature of the 'fairness' question would now be changed to the philosophical question of whether any one person should be allowed (by the system) to earn an income that is astronomical, compared to the average person, not just compared to professionals. Ultimately, this line of discussion leads to a re-examination of the socio-economic system itself. 

Traditionally, taxation has been the means to create some semblance of fairness among people but even a rate of taxation of 60% is possibly too low when we are talking about a personal income of tens of millions of U.S. dollars per year

Communicative Quality: 6. It's relatively easy to follow your logic. And you did use some connective devices appropriately. 

However, there were patches where I had to pause to think about what you really mean. For example, your introduction was referring to professional athletes in general, (that means worldwide because you did not specify, 'in China']. It is important to understand that Task 2 topics are used all over the world. Therefore, the wording applies to the whole world, not just China. Yes, as an example, you can and should refer to what you know best, the situation in China. However, when you write about a situation that is unique to China, you must specifically mention that you are referring to China. (But first you have to know it is unique to China!) [What 'uniquely Chinese situation' was your introduction referring to? It was the idea that, "(professional) athletes represent not only themselves but also the image of the whole country". Most native English speakers such as IELTS Writing test examiners do not think that people such as David Beckham, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan (if he were still playing) or even Roger Federer are representing their countries to any great degree. But you might not be aware of this fact.]

In your writing, you should try to avoid causing the examiner to 'pause in order to consider your meaning' - if the reader has to do that, it means your meaning is not immediately clear. Remember, your overall aim in the Writing Test is to COMMUNICATE with the examiner, not to 'impress' the examiner. 

In the case of IELTS candidates, especially those from cultures or societies that are quite different to the main English-speaking cultures, you have to remember that you are communicating not just across language barriers, you are also communicating cross-culturally. This means you need to understand how China differs to say, Britain, Australia & the U.S. in terms of culture & social system. For Chinese candidates, you need to be aware that your culture & society is basically composed of two parts: a) the traditional Chinese culture & society that was strongly influenced by Feudalism, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism and, b) the modern Chinese culture & society that has developed in China since 1949. In both of these areas, Chinese people are quite distinctive, compared to people from most of the West.

Vocabulary & Sentence Structure: 6. A few (minor) errors balanced by some well-written sentences and suitable vocabulary.

Total for Task 2: 6. 

Overall Writing Test total: Band 6.0 (Task 2 has more weight than Task 1)

Further Comments:

Speaking about professional athletes: These high salaries for some athletes result from the large amount of money that is connected with the advertising industry – the ‘saleability’ of athletes and their teams. 

Another fact is that more and more professional athletes are willing to represent their counties in the Olympics, in contrast to the situation a few years ago when these athletes were more concerned about making large incomes.

Those areas in your essay highlighted in yellow have errors or unsuitable/inappropriate English. For example, ‘Olympic Games’ should always be preceded by the word, ‘the’. And, ‘traffic tools’ should be, ‘means of transport’, ‘forms of transport’ or ‘modes of transport’. I do not have time to point out and explain every error in your essay. This is the most time-consuming part of grading essays and I hate doing it for no pay. I have other things to do.

The richness of your ideas and the strength of your arguments (including the logic, not just the strength of your English) is VITAL for getting a good Task 2 score. This requires a certain level of general knowledge, maturity and sophistication.

Wide reading is the key to improving your writing ability.


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