The IELTS writing test differs depending on whether you choose to take the academic or general exams. If you do the IELTS general test, then in IELTS general writing task 1, you will be asked to write a letter. This is a special skill that might be unfamiliar to some people, so if you want to learn how to do it effectively, then you should keep reading this article. It will tell you everything you need to know.
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IELTS General Writing Task 1: An Overview
In task 1 of the IELTS general writing test, you will be given a question that asks you to write a letter to someone. This could be almost anyone and there will be a situation outlined that shows you loosely what you need to write. However, you will have to use your imagination to a great extent because there is not a lot of information to go on.
For this part of the test, you are required to write at least 150 words and you should do this within 20 minutes. It is worth approximately a third of your total score for the IELTS writing exam.
You will be marked in four areas:
- Task Response
- Coherence and Cohesion
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
This means that you need to have a good balance of skills. For each of those sections, you will be assigned a grade between 0 and 9, with the total score being the average of all four parts combined.
An Introduction to Letter Writing
Most people do not write letters anymore, but for centuries it was an important part of communication. Although it is unlikely that you will need to write a letter in English any time soon, you might need to write an e-mail if you wish to go abroad or communicate with people internationally. Nowadays, letter format and e-mail format are pretty similar and so these skills are still necessary.
In the past, there were a great many conventions regarding IELTS letter writing, but for IELTS general writing task 1 you don’t really need to know most of them. You can forego most of the traditional elements of format and instead produce a fairly simple letter outline. After all, this is an English test, not a test of archaic traditions.
Don’t worry about the old-fashioned details, such as including date and address, or laying out information carefully across the page. Instead, you need to focus on the basics:
- A greeting (such as Dear Sir or Madam)
- Relevant information in the body paragraphs
- A sign-off (like Yours sincerely)
- Your name
Having all of these features will put you on track to writing a good letter, but remember that the way it is written is far more important than how it is formatted.
The Importance of Tone
English differs from languages like Korean and Japanese in that there is no set dialect for talking politely. Instead, we shift our language slightly to use more or less formal words and grammar for different situations.
In IELTS general writing task 1, this is particularly important. Whilst it is really a matter of vocabulary and grammar, failing to write in the correct tone would have a huge negative impact on your score for Task Response. This is because part of correctly addressing the question is analysing the tone required and then using it effectively.
But what does this all mean exactly?
There are lots of different tasks you could be given for this part of the test. You might have to write to a friend or a co-worker, a landlord or a boss, the local council or a business manager. There are many different options. You need to assess whether a letter requires formal or informal register and then use it appropriately throughout the whole letter.
Let’s say you need to write to a friend and congratulate them on a new job. How would you begin this letter?
- Dear Mr Stevens, I am writing to congratulate you on your new job position…
- Hi Mark, Well done for getting that new job!
Answer (2) is correct because it is very informal. You would not write to a friend using formal language or else it would sound weird. We certainly don’t call our friends by a title and surname. Thus, you must first figure out what sort of language to use and then use it consistently. If you begin “Hi Mark” then do not switch to formal language later in the letter.
How to Prepare for Writing Task 1
It is not always easy to prepare for IELTS general writing task 1 because these days people don’t send many letters and it is not taught in most English books anymore. However, as I already mentioned, you don’t need to know all of the old conventions. Just being able to write in English is enough, along with a few important features of letters.
As such, to prepare for this you should primarily work on improving your skills in general areas that can help you with both writing tasks:
- Logic and reasoning
However, you should definitely look at some examples of good letters and do some IELTS practice tests to keep your mind agile. Writing letters like this requires a good imagination because you are asked to think of a situation that has not really happened.
For example, let’s say you are asked to write to the manager of a restaurant to complain about a bad experience. To do this, you would need to think of a realistic situation and then imagine it in your head. You then have to translate that experience into English so that you can write about it. This takes some degree of creativity and it certainly helps to have a little life experience to draw upon.
All of this can be a challenge, so it does require some preparation. However, there is no particularly difficult language or structure that you must learn for IELTS general writing. You can just read the question, follow a basic format, and write in clear and precise English.
A Few Final Notes
There are one or two things that we need to talk about when it comes to letter writing because these are not immediately clear to everyone. Here are some words of advice:
- Learn how to give people’s names. Do not write “Mr John” because we only use a title and a surname. Try to think of some real names before your test so that you can use these without wasting any time thinking about them.
- Give your real name. Don’t make up a name or else the examiner will suspect you had copied the letter from someone else or even from the internet.
- Put commas after greetings and sign-offs. It is a strange quirk of formatting that we don’t end these small “sentences” with full-stops. Instead, say “Dear Mr Roberts,” and leave just a comma after it.
- You can sometimes drop the subject in informal letters. When writing to friends, it is quite normal for us to say things like “Hope you’re feeling better” or “Can’t wait to see you.” In these cases, we have omitted the subject. This is technically bad grammar… but actually for informal writing it is acceptable.