I'm asking this question in the interest of getting a high score on IELTS writing, specifically Task 2, the 40-minute 250-word one. My primary confusion is whether to write subjectively or objectively when writing an essay (in the test).

In TOEFL, a typical essay topic "Do you like to eat out or eat at home?" encourages you to write subjectively. However, IELTS writing topics usually have a more objective tone, like this one (in the book Cambridge IELTS 7):

"As most people spend a major part of their adult life at work, job satisfaction is an important element of individual wellbeing. What factors contribute to job satisfaction?"

It's argumentative. I recall college professors saying

subjective phrases like 'I think', 'to me', 'as far as I'm concerned' should NOT be appearing in an argumentative essay

However, the sample essay in the book contains the sentence

"I think it is not unrealistic to promote ...."

The other sample essays contain phrases like

"I personally think that some people do have talents..."

"I agree that any child can be taught..."

"I think to tackle the problem of pollution ..."

All sample essays in the Cambridge books seemed to be using subjective tones consistently. The book did mention that these models are prepared by examiners as examples of very good answers.

There's the other book series "IELTS Practice Tests+" by Longman / Pearson. This series didn't provide that many sample essays. But the ones it did provide are written purely objectively. In the sample essay on the "How to encourage employees" topic, no "I" or other subjective phrases are used. The book did mention this is Band 9, which is the highest score.

I've been trained to write objectively. I'm wondering generally speaking, for argumentative topics, is it really unprofessional to use subjective tones? And does tone actually matter in English tests for foreigners.

  • 1
    IELTS? TOEFL? WTF? Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 10:36
  • IELTS is International English Testing System. TOEFL is Test Of English as a Foreign Language. (I knew the second; never heard of the first.) Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 11:33
  • 1
    @LaurenIpsum FYI, IELTS is the British standardized test.
    – He Shiming
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 12:46
  • "...getting a high score on IELTS writing..." I have no advice, but only encouragement: Your writing is excellent, as good as that of a native English speaker with a college degree. Good luck.
    – RSASE
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 0:56

2 Answers 2


From my understanding of tests like the IELTS, it doesn't matter.

The purpose of the essay is to see if you can string together a few sentences in a paragraph, while following basic grammar and spelling. The goal is to see if you can express yourself in the written format.

I think that the subjective form is hence better, as it allows you to better put forward your own viewpoints. The objective form can get a bit dry and mechanical, the sort of thing a computer could write.

Which is why the book says the subjective answers are excellent. You have to give your own views, you cannot hide behind formal language. Using the subjective tone forces you to put your own views forward, with passion and feeling.

But ultimately, it doesn't matter. From my own knowledge of the IELTS, the examiners are looking for a clear and coherent essay. If you can write objectively without sounding like a machine or a photocopy of some essay you read online, go for it.


You will need to do both.

Assuming that you are doing IELTS Academic, writing task 1 will be analytical, a task based on some graphic or pictorial information. You will be asked to write a descriptive report, of around 150 words, using the information provided in the question. As you are using facts from the question, this answer will be mostly objective.

Writing task 2 is usually a statement that you are expected to agree with or disagree with. You will be asked to produce a written argument of around 250 words on the given topic, clearly organised, with examples to support your points. As this is basically argumentative, the answer will be mostly subjective.

  • I'm actually talking about task 2 only, sorry. Thanks for the input.
    – He Shiming
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 12:33

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