An essay on the Op-Ed page tells the story of a program at Bell in the 1950s in which young executives were plunged into “what amounted to a complete liberal arts education” in 10 months. Many of the students – most of whom had backgrounds in technical fields like engineering – found some of the advanced material quite challenging. yet in the end they got a lot out of it. What are the hardest tasks you have had to tackle in school? How did the experience affect you?
As Wes Davis writes in an Op-Ed, managers at Bell believed that, as a 1955 Harper’s magazine article put it, “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions […]; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” So the University of Pennsylvania devised an intensive liberal arts program of study for the executives, who found reading demanding literary works difficult but quite rewarding:
When the students read “The Lonely Crowd,” the landmark 1950 study of their own social milieu, they didn’t just discuss the book, they discussed it with its author, David Riesman. They tangled with a Harvard expert over the elusive poetry in Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Cantos,” which had sent one of the Bell students to bed with a headache and two aspirin.
The capstone of the program, and its most controversial element, came in eight three-hour seminars devoted to “Ulysses.” The novel, published in 1922, had been banned as obscene in the United States until 1933 and its reputation for difficulty outlived the ban. The Bell students “found it a challenging, and often exasperating, experience,” Baltzell wrote.
But, prepared by months of reading that had ranged from the Bhagavad Gita to “Babbitt,” the men rose to the challenge, surprising themselves with the emotional and intellectual resources they brought to bear on Joyce’s novel. It was clear as the students cheered one another through their final reports that reading a book as challenging as “Ulysses” was both a liberating intellectual experience and a measure of how much they had been enriched by their time at the institute.
At the end of the 10-month course, an anonymous questionnaire was circulated among the Bell students; their answers revealed that they were reading more widely than they had before — if they had read at all — and they were more curious about the world around them. At a time when the country was divided by McCarthyism, they tended to see more than one side to any given argument.
Students: What’s the most challenging assignment you have ever been given? Why was it so difficult for you? How did you fare? What did you get out of it? Did the experience change you at all?
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
It’s difficult to go seriously wrong with the Reading and Listening tests in IELTS. Even if you have trouble understanding the text or the audio, the question paper gives you a pretty clear idea of what you need to write. And if you’re not sure, you can always guess. With the Speaking test, you’ll answer a series of questions, so even if you make a mistake with one of them, you’ll get another chance with the next question. Writing Task 2 is different — If you fail to understand the question, and go off on the wrong track, you could score no marks at all. And that could mean missing the band score you need.
Let’s start by looking at a sample Writing Task 2 question.
WRITING TASK 2
A person’s worth nowadays seems to be judged according to social status and material possessions. Old-fashioned values, such as honour, kindness and trust, no longer seem important.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.
Write at least 250 words.
How should I approach this question?
The easiest mistake to make is to jump on one or two words, and decide that these are the focus of the essay. For example, in the pressure of the test room, you could decide to write about how ‘social status and material possessions’ are important to people these days. You would not get a good grade for that essay because you are not answering the question.
The first thing you must do is to spend a minute looking at the question and deciding what kind of essay it is asking for. In this case it is a ‘for and against’ essay. You look at one side of the question (that people are valued according to social status), then you look at the other side of the question (that people are valued according to old-fashioned values). Finally, you come to a conclusion.
I’m confused! How can I learn to write an essay like this?
It’s not difficult to write this kind of essay, provided you follow a process. ClarityEnglish and the British Council have published a range of excellent materials to help you learn to do this. First of all, click into Practical Writing here. Work through the unit called “Essays: for and against”. It’s available free of charge. This will teach you exactly how to approach this kind of essay, and will give you plenty of practice.
For more examples of Writing Task 2 and Task 1 questions, as well as activities to help you learn to answer them successfully, subscribe to Road to IELTS here. You can also subscribe to Practical Writing on this page.