Written Nov 28, 2019

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How to Answer, "To What Extent" Questions


1. First, Consider These Points

First, absolutely every word in the Task 2 question wording has IMPORTANCE and cannot be ignored if you want to get a good score for your essay.

Let's look at an example.

Example Question

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

(Cambridge IELTS Book 9, Test 4, Task 2 AC)

You need to classify the types of sentences. First, "Every year several languages die out" is a statement. "Statements" are considered to be the same as "facts", more or less. A "fact" is assumed to be true. Maybe you don't really know what "die out" means in relation to languages. In relation to living species, it means the same as "become extinct". E.g., "Dinosaurs have died out (= are extinct)". Let's assume that a language is similar to a living species and can become extinct. (= people are no longer using that language).

Notice the use of "several". It is an inexact word, i.e., not very specific.

"Some people think that this is not important" is a statement about the opinion of "some people".

Whenever, "some people" is used, (in an essay question or in life in general), one's attention should be aroused and the question asked, "What people?", "Who?"

"Not important" is quite different language to the use of the word, "several", as mentioned above. "Not" is an exact word, meaning something like "zero" or "none", which are both mathematically exact concepts.

So, the opinion of these people is that the death of several languages every year has ZERO importance! Very few people would agree that the death of anything has zero importance! Therefore, a logical person cannot agree with this opinion. "Cannot" is an exact word, meaning "no agreement whatsoever with those words as they are expressed".

An important point to understand is that the words "not important" and "not very important" are very different in meaning. "Not important" means "having zero importance", 0%. "Not very important" is inexact and means something like, "lower than about 60% or 70% in importance".

Furthermore, whenever the word, "important" is used in a question, you should always consider the question, "Important to whom?" Similarly, you need to consider whose lives might be made easier if there were fewer languages. (Is life really made easier for those people whose ancestral language becomes extinct and who have no choice but to use a language that is not their ancestral language?)


2. Answering the Question, "To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?"

  • The words, "To what extent?" mean the same as, "How much?" In other words, you are asked to estimate how much you agree, from "I do not agree at all" (0% agreement) to "I fully agree" (100% agreement).

  • The question, "To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?" is a direct question. In the English-speaking cultures, it is both polite and the best form of communication to directly answer a direct question. "Directly answer" means not waiting too long in your essay before answering it, and answering in clear, direct language. This is called an "explicit" answer.

The opposite of that is an "implicit" (= an implied) answer where the reader can quire clearly see by what you wrote how much you agree, but you, the writer, do not actually state your own estimate of how much you agree. If you want to get the best score you can (for the Task Response sub-score), you MUST write an explicit statement of how much you agree. Almost always, this should be stated in the first paragraph, not at the end of the essay.

  • Obviously, if you think you 75% agree, then you 25% disagree. And if you only 25% agree then you 75% disagree. The question gives you a choice about how to express your degree of agreement but logically you should express it in terms of what you mostly think, agreement or disagreement. So, if you 75% agree, write in terms of how much you agree, but if you 75% disagree, express yourself in terms of how much you disagree.

  • For this particular example, you are not being asked to state how much you think it is important that languages are dying out, and you are not being asked to state how much you think it is simply 'unimportant"   You are being asked to state how much you think it is 'unimportant because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.' (Those are the words in this particular question wording.) That is, how much do you agree with both parts of that two-part statement?

If you think it is unimportant but you think it is unimportant for other reasons instead of, "life being easier" then you only "partially agree" with that statement. You should write that in answer to the question, "To what extent . . ?" and explain it in your essay.

On the other hand, if you think the fact that languages are dying out is important (the opposite to what the question statement in this particular question says), then you disagree with the statement in the question wording, regardless of why "some people" think it is unimportant (life being easier).

  • Some example sentences of how to express your extent of agreement or disagreement are shown below.

  • In reality, there are three basic choices i) "I completely agree" ii( I completely disagree" and iii) "I partially agree". But "partially agree" can mean anything from agreeing 20% to agreeing 80%. So, although "I partially agree" is suitable to write, you should not leave it there. You would need to add another statements or two to better express to what extent you agree or disagree.




















I [completely, fully, totally, strongly, definitely} agree, I [completely, fully, totally, strongly, definitely} concur, I agree completely, very much agree, agree very much, I could not agree more, I agree one hundred percent, I believe this idea is {absolutely, completely fully, totally) correct,

Note: It is incorrect English to say or write, "I very agree" or "I extremely agree."






     I almost fully agree, I mostly agree, I agree except for a few minor reservations,    












    I largely agree, although with some reservations.








     I only partially agree, I agree and disagree in equal parts











     I mostly disagree, I mainly disagree,  I agree very little, There are only a few aspects of this that I agree with, 









      I almost completely disagree, I hardly agree with any {aspect, part} of that opinion,












     I {completely, fully, totally, entirely, strongly, definitely }disagree, I could not disagree any more, I am in complete disagreement with this idea, I am in total disagreement with this idea,  I {absolutely, completely, fully, totally, entirely, strongly }reject this idea, I believe this idea is {absolutely, completely, fully, totally, entirely} {erroneous, incorrect, wrong}