The IELTS General Training Writing Test Task 1 is, I feel, the part of GT test that people can prepare most for. Because the scope of the task is fairly limited, you can practise extremely similar tasks, which will greatly prepare you for the exam.

Practice is the magic word though. Even good English users need practice for the IELTS exam and it could mean all the difference between pass and fail. There is limited practice available and it’s quite expensive. That’s why we would recommend you download our practice material. You will get more practice for less money. Go to the Home Page to find more information about our Practice Tests and other Practice Tests available.

The IELTS General Training Task 1 Writing Test

The IELTS General Training Writing Test lasts for 1 hour and includes 2 tasks. Task 1 is a letter and you must write at least 150 words. You should spend about 20 minutes out of the hour for task 1. Task 2 is an essay and you must write at least 250 words. You should spend about 40 minutes for Task 2.

The Task for the IELTS General Training Task 1 Writing

The IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 asks you to write a letter of a minimum of 150 words in response to some situation or problem. The task will probably ask you to complain about something, to request information, ask for help, to make arrangements and/or explain a situation. All these are fairly similar tasks.

Marking for the IELTS General Training Task 1 Writing

Your task will be marked in three areas. You will get a mark from 1 to 9 on Task Fulfilment, Coherence & Cohesion and Vocabulary and Sentence Structure. Your final band for Task 1 will be effectively an average of the three marks awarded in these areas. Task 1 writing is less important than Task 2 and to calculate the final writing mark, more weight is assigned to the Task 2 mark than to Task 1’s mark. To get a good overall mark though, both tasks have to be well answered so don’t hold back on Task 1 or give yourself too little time to answer it properly.

Task Fulfilment This where you can really make a difference through careful preparation. This mark grades you on basically have you answered the question?

Cohesion and Coherence These two are interrelated which is why they are done together. Cohesion is how your writing fits together. Does your writing with its ideas and content flow logically? Coherence is how you are making yourself understood and whether the reader of your writing understands what you are saying. An example of bad coherence and cohesion would be as follows:

1 We went to the beach because it was raining.

Probably the writer of this sentence does not mean «because» as people don’t usually go to the beach when it is raining. The writer should have written:

2 We went to the beach although it was raining.

Sentence 1 has made a cohesion and coherence error (as well as a vocabulary one). «Because» does not join the ideas of the sentence together correctly and, as a result, the reader does not understand what the writer wants to say. This is an exaggerated example but it shows what I mean.

Vocabulary and Sentence Structure This area looks at the your grammar and choice of words. The marker will look whether the right grammar and words are used and whether they are used at the right time in the right place and in the right way. Most people are predominantly worried about their grammar but, as you can see, grammar is only half of one section of three used to grade your writing. IELTS is much more interested in communication rather than grammatical accuracy.

Paragraphing for the IELTS General Training Task 1 Writing

This is a very easy thing to do but it can have an enormous effect on the clarity of your writing. Very often people use no paragraphing and the examiner is faced with a «sea» of writing with no breaks from start to finish. For me, the best writings are those where there are paragraphs separated by an empty line and also indented. In this way your ideas are separated clearly. It shows and gives organization to your writing and makes it more readable.

For a longer section on paragraphing and how useful it can be, see GT Writing Task 2 Tutorial.

Areas to Prepare

As I said earlier, Task 1 is the best for preparation. Below are some areas for you to consider:

1 Answering the question.

As I said above, task fulfilment (answering the question) is one third of your total mark and it is an area in which everyone should do well. This is often, however, not the case.
What you must do is to write a letter, which would fully answer the needs of the problem in a real life situation. Even if you have covered all that the question itself asks, have you included everything in the letter needed to realistically perform its function. For example, a question I have seen somewhere gives the candidate the following task:

You have some library books that you are unable to return as a member of your family in another city has fallen sick and you have had to go and look after them.

Write a letter to the library explaining the situation. Apologize for the inconvenience called and say what you are going to do.

You should write at least 150 words.

This seems a fairly typical IELTS General Training  Task 1 writing question.  Answering the question in a way that will get you a good Task Fulfilment grade needs a number of things for you to do.

1) Write at least 150 words.

Writing less does not answer the question, which tells you to write at least 150 words. If you write less than 150 words, the examiner marking your paper will give you a maximum of 5 for Task Fulfilment or even less.

2) Fully do all the things that the question asks you.

In this case it asks you to do 3 main things:

  1. explain the situation
  2. apologize for the inconvenience
  3. say what you are going to do

The important part is to fully do these things. Don’t take 1 line to explain about your relative – people who do this often don’t make the 150 word limit. Enlarge on what the question tells you. Use your imagination. It must be something fairly serious to make you leave town and you must be the only one possible to look after the relative so go into these things. Be realistic as well.

You’re writing to a library and you won’t make it too personal. Apologizing won’t take up much space but you can still devote a couple of sentences to it. Saying what you are going to do should be a full explanation as well.

3) Make your letter realistic so it would function in a real life situation.

This involves adding other things to the letter, which it may not ask you for, but without which your letter would not perform its function. For this question, it would mean introducing yourself by name, giving your library card membership number, telling the library the titles of the books that you have borrowed, the names of their authors, their library reference numbers, when you borrowed them and when they were due back.

Finally, in this question, the situation might involve you getting a fine for the late books so you could ask politely for that to be cancelled due to the circumstances. Without this information, the letter wouldn’t help the library much in real life and, even though the question doesn’t ask you specifically to include it, the examiner reading your work will be looking for such things. These are things that are needed to get a 9 for task fulfilment and, theoretically, anyone, whatever their level of English, should be able to get a good mark here.

2 The Opening Greeting of the Letter

Your letter will probably need to be a reasonably informal letter to a friend or a semi-formal letter. The opening of your letter should reflect which one you are writing.
A friendly letter will open with Dear followed by a name which should then be followed by a comma, eg:

Dear John,

A semi-formal letter will also open with Dear and then be followed by a name, (if you decide that in the situation you would know the name) or by Sir (if it’s a man), Madam (if it’s a woman) or Sir/Madam if you don’t know, eg:
Dear Mr. Phillips,
Dear Mrs. Phillips,
Dear Sir,
Dear Madam,
Dear Sir/Madam,

The question also might specify how you are to begin so follow what it says.

3 The Opening Paragraph of the Letter

In a semi-formal letter, I feel it is important to state the reason for the letter straight away. You could use the following to help you:

I am writing to ask/ tell//inform you that…
I am writing to ask/inquire…
I am writing with regard to…
I am writing with reference to…
I am writing in connection with…
I am writing in response to…
In reply to your letter, I am writing to… (if the question indicates that you
have had a letter)

If the letter is a less formal one to a friend then you should open the letter in a friendlier way. EG:

Dear John,
Hi there! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from you. I hope you are doing well and I hope all you family are doing fine. I’m pretty good in spite of working hard. Anyway, the reason I’m writing is…

4 The Substance of the Letter

I’ve already gone into detail about answering the question fully and using your imagination to produce a realistic letter fulfilling all functions so I won’t repeat that. Through great experience with IELTS, I can say that questions tend to ask you to do certain things. Here I will give you some ideas about some language to use in the substance of the letter which will help you to answer the task well.

Asking for Help
I would like you to…
I would be grateful if you could…
I need to ask your advice about…
I’d like to ask for information about…
What I’m looking for is…
I’m writing to express my dissatisfaction/annoyance/ about…
I’m writing to express my anger at…
I am not happy about…
… is not what I expected/was expecting.
I want to know what you are going to do about this situation.

NB When complaining, don’t get too angry. I’ve had students who really became too heated in their complaints. In a polite semi-formal letter, this should not happen. Also, do not over-exaggerate. If it’s a reasonably small and understandable problem, do say that you’re not satisfied but show that you understand and stay calm in your expressions.

I’m very grateful for…
I’d like to thank you very much for…
I very much appreciated…
I’m very sorry that/about…
Please forgive me for…
I’d like to apologize about…
Please accept my apologies

5 Ending your Letter

First of all, in English we often end letters before the sign off with certain phrases. These can be included in most letters and will make your letter seem realistic and polished. For a formal letter, you could use:

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanking you in advance for your help, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

For a more informal letter you could use:

If you need to know anything else, just get in touch with me as soon as you can. Thanks a lot for your help and I hope to hear from you soon.

Be careful though! IELTS examiners quite rightly look for writing that has been memorised and just repeated so, if you use expressions like the ones above, make sure that they fit in with the rest of your letter.
Finally you’ll need to sign off your letter. For a formal letter use:

Yours faithfully, OR
Yours sincerely,

Remember the commas (it makes a good impression on the examiner if you use good punctuation) and spell «sincerely»  correctly (a lot of people don’t!).
For an informal letter, love is not always appropriate though English speakers use it a lot. Better would be to use:

Best wishes,

Other Hints for the IELTS General Training Task 1 Writing

DON’T copy any part of the question in your answer. This is not your own work and therefore will be disregarded by the examiner and deducted from the word count. You can use individual words but be careful of using «chunks» of the question text.

Don’t repeat yourself or the same ideas. This gives a bad impression and the examiner realises that it isn’t adding to the content of your letter.

If you are weak at English grammar, try to use short sentences. This allows you to control the grammar and the meaning of your writing much more easily and contributes to a better cohesion and coherence mark. It’s much easier to make things clear in a foreign language if you keep your sentences short!

Think about the tenses of your verbs. If you’re writing about something that happened in the past, your verbs will need to be in the past tenses. If you’re arranging something in the future, you will need to use the future tenses. If it’s a habitual action, you’ll need the present simple tense and so on. If you have time, a quick check of your verbs at the end of the exam can help you find errors.

As I just said, if you have finished the exam with time to spare, DON’T just sit there!! Check what you have done. If you have time after the check, check again. And so on….

Don’t be irrelevant. Although you can use your imagination to expand on your answer, if any part of your letter is totally unrelated to the question and put in to just put up the word count, then the examiner will not take it into account and deduct it from the word count.

If you want to improve, there’s no secret. Practice. Practice. Practice. You won’t get better sitting and doing nothing. Even good English users need practice for the IELTS exam. It could make all the difference between your getting the band that you need, and getting half a band less than you need and having to wait 3 months to do the exam again.

Finally, there are no correct answers or methods. Here I’ve given you some ideas to guide you and hopefully to help you but the questions can be answered well in different ways. Good luck!

Below are links to the other free IELTS General Training Tutorials.

The IELTS General Training Listening Test Tutorial

The IELTS General Training Reading Test Tutorial

The IELTS General Training Speaking Test Tutorial

The IELTS General Training Writing Test – Task 2 Tutorial


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