Students complain a lot about the IELTS exam. A lot of complaints are about how hard it is to do the Reading test in the time available, but even more people complain about how hard it is to think of ideas for some of the Writing Task 2 essay topics, and the Speaking Part 2 talk. Without some good ideas, it is very unlikely that you could get a high enough IELTS score to be accepted onto a postgraduate course.
A really good way to overcome this problem is to begin an Ideas Book as soon as you possibly can, and add to it regularly. You can do this on your computer, in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, or use a folder or A4 notebook.
It's very simple - basically, you list all the topics you can think of (especially difficult ones) in your document or spreadsheet, or allocate a whole page to every topic in your notebook or folder. Then, over a period of time, you write down all sorts of ideas, opinions and useful vocabulary relating to that topic.
There are lots of different places where you can get ideas. If you go to an IELTS preparation class, you will certainly do lots of activities which can be a good source of ideas. Your teacher will probably give you lots of handouts, and you can make a note of anything useful which you talk about in class.
Even if you're working alone, you can still find lots of good ideas, from websites or from the test practice books which you are using. For example, if you do the practice reading test called 'Nature on display in American zoos' from the IELTS Trainer (p140), don't just heave a huge sigh of relief when it's all over and forget all about it as quickly as possible - use some of the ideas from the text for your Ideas Book. In the case of this text, I would add the following to my page entitled 'animals':
Goals of zoos: recreation, education, advancement of science, protection of endangered species, captive breeding programmes.
Problems: animal welfare - some zoos in the past did not provide adequate care
Funding: public (municipal funding), private financial support, admission fees
Even this small amount of information (which took me less than five minutes to find and write down) would be enough to help me write a really good essay about whether zoos are a good thing or not.
Your Ideas Book is also a great place to note down past IELTS questions about the various topics, and your ideas about how to answer them. Look, for example, at IELTS-Simon's question and suggested answer about a wild animal from your country. Write out the question and your own answer (or notes) on your 'animals' page.
If you're studying for the IELTS exam, or any other English exam where you might have to speak or write about a range of topics, why not try an Ideas Book? Email me if you want any help or advice about this!