IELTS General: Writing Task 1 – 14 Top Tips!

Hi. I’m Rebecca from engVid. If you need to do the IELTS general exam, I’m sure it’s for a very important reason. Perhaps you’re trying to immigrate to another country, or get admission to a college program, or join a professional training program. Whatever your reason, I know you want to get the highest marks possible. Right? Of course. So I’m going to help you to do exactly that in one particular area of the exam, and that’s in your writing section. Now, in the writing section there are two parts, one is a letter and one is an essay. In this lesson we will focus on how you can get the highest marks possible in the letter-writing section.

Okay? The 14 tips that I’m going to give you I promise you, if you apply each one of these things, step by step you’re going to get more and more marks. Okay? So stick with me and we will go through them. Let’s get started. So, the first thing you have to identify when you read the letter-writing task is: What type of letter am I being asked to write? Is it a formal letter, is it a semi-formal letter, or is it an informal letter? Well, how do you know that? Well, you can know it in a few ways and I’m going to explain them, but one of the ways that you can know it is to look at the second point that you need to understand, is to identify the purpose of the letter because some purposes are more formal than other purposes. All right? For example, some formal letters might ask you to request information; or apply for a job; or complain about a product or a service, maybe to an airline, maybe to a store, something like that; or to make a suggestion or a recommendation.

All right? To a shopping mall, to a restaurant, something like that. These are more formal situations. These are when we are writing to people or companies that we don’t know. All right? That’s the clue: You don’t have anybody’s name, you just have the name of the company. All right. Semi-formal letters might include things like this: Complaining to a landlord; or explaining something, a problem or a situation to a neighbour; or asking a professor for permission to miss an exam or to submit your assignment late. Whatever it is. Okay? The details vary. Doesn’t matter. And here, what’s…? What identifies the semi-formal? The semi-formal we know it’s still a kind of a formal situation, but here we usually do know somebody’s name.

You would know the name of your landlord, or your professor, or your neighbour, for example. Right? So that means something in terms of the way that you write the letter, the language, the tone, the style. All of this is affected by whether it’s formal, semi-formal, or informal. And I’ll explain more to you as we go along. Now, examples of informal letters might be where you’re being asked to invite a friend, or thank a friend, or apologize to a friend, or ask for advice from someone that you know. Okay? Here what’s important is that you really know this person well and you’re probably going to call them by first name. So I’m going to explain exactly how all of this translates into the next step, which is how you begin your letter. So the first step was to identify the type of letter. Second step, the purpose. Now the third step is to open and close the letter correctly.

Once you’ve done steps one and two, you will know how to do this step. Because if it’s a formal letter then you start with: “Dear Sir” or “Madam”, and you end with: “Yours faithfully”. Okay? That’s how it is. If it’s a semi-formal letter, you will start with something like: “Dear Mr. Brown” or “Dear Ms. Stone” or “Mrs. Stone”. “Ms.” Is when you don’t know if a woman is married or not, or if she’s just a modern woman. And you end the semi-formal letter with something like: “Yours sincerely”. Okay? What we’re trying to do is to match up the formality of the situation with these terms that we’re using. Okay? The opening and closing salutations they’re called, these are called. All right? Next is the informal one. So here, you know the person really well, it’s your friend or a family member, and so you know… You’re going to call them by first name.

Right? So you might say: “Dear John”, “Dear Susan”, and then because it’s a warm friendship or relationship, you can end in a warmer way by saying: “Best regards” or “Warm wishes”. Now, what makes it a little bit easier for you and this is a clue is that usually in your letter prompt, in the task that the IELTS exam gives you, they will give you the letter situation and then they’ll say: “Start your letter with ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Madam’, or ‘Dear Mr. So-and-so’, or ‘Dear John’.” Now, that helps you a lot because now you know if it’s going to be a formal letter, a semi-formal letter, or an informal letter, and you will know how to end your letter and you’ll also know what to say in your letter and how to say it, which is what we’re going to look at next. Okay, number four: Start the letter appropriately. That means based on whether you decided it was a formal letter, semi-formal, or informal – you need to use appropriate language. Right? Let me give you an example. For formal or informal letters, we could start with something like this: “I am writing to inquire about…” Okay? “I’m writing to inform you that…” whatever the situation is.

Or: “I’m writing in connection with…” Okay? These are some of the standard expressions that we can use when we start formal or semi-formal letters. Look how different that is from the informal ones. Now, what happens in an informal situation? Here we know the people, so first we want to acknowledge the relationship. We don’t start talking about business. Here, these are strangers, we don’t want to waste their time, we don’t want to be friendly here, we just want to get down to business. But here you want to be warm, you want to be friendly because these are people you know.

So you might start with something like this: “I hope you and your family are all well.” Okay? That could be your first sentence. You know what? And in fact in your first paragraph you’re probably just going to talk about nice things, and only in your second paragraph are you going to get down to tell them exactly why you’re writing. Okay? But first you want to say… Tell them… Ask them how they are, and things like that. Another way you could start an informal letter is: “How have you been? It’s been too long since we were last in touch”, and so on.

Okay? This is just to give you some idea. I’m going to later tell you where you can go to refer to sample letters, model letters that you can read so that you really become familiar with the entire format. Okay? All right. Now, number five: Use standard written expressions. What does that mean? Look, the reason it takes you a longer time to write a letter than let’s say someone who has been speaking and writing English all their life is because we have picked up the standard expressions that are used when we write, and you need to try to do that. That will save you a lot of time and it’s very important, of course, on an exam to write as fast as possible.

It’s also important all your life to write email as fast as possible. So, by learning these standard written expressions you will be able to get higher marks and save time and effort. So what are some of these standard expressions? Well, let’s look at one example when we are asked to apologize about something. So if it’s a formal situation, you could say something like: “My sincere apologies for missing the meeting” or “missing the conference”, something like that. Okay? If it was an informal situation and you’re writing to a friend or something like that, you could say: “I’m very sorry for missing your wedding.” Okay? See, you’re still apologizing, but when it’s formal you use certain expressions, and when it’s informal you’re going to use other kinds of expressions.

But these are still expressions which you can learn. And again, you can download a list of these kind of expressions from the resource that I’m going to tell you about. Now, let’s say you are asking for something, you’re making a request, if it’s a formal situation you could say something like: “I’d be grateful” or “I would be grateful if you could please send me the information as soon as possible.” Okay? For example. And if it’s more informal you could say: “Could you please send me the book as fast as you can?” Okay? So you see that the tone varies based on whether it’s formal, informal, or semi-formal. Okay? Let’s look at some other points. Okay, number six: Use correct spelling. Now, you’re going to say to me: “Rebecca, I know that”, and I know you know that, but unfortunately sometimes even on the IELTS students are still making mistakes on words like these which you know you’re very likely to use so you want to make sure that you really know how to spell these words. Of course you can’t know every word you’re going to use, but there are some words you can definitely know will probably be there.

So, for example: “sincerely”, people forget the “e”; “faithfully”, people forget that there’s two l’s; and “connection”, people forget that there are two n’s, that kind of examples. Okay? So just read over… When you read over many sample or model letters you will see and you will find the words which appear very often, and make sure that you know how to spell those words so that you get higher and higher marks which is our goal. Okay, number seven: Divide the letter, your letter into paragraphs.

Now, I know you know that, but let’s just review it. So of course you will have an introduction and you will have a conclusion, and usually IELTS letters in the 20 minutes that you have and in the situation that they’ve asked you to write about, usually IELTS letters have about four paragraphs. Okay? So, introduction, then a second paragraph will be describing the problem or the situation, the third paragraph will move into the solution or what action you’re asking someone to take, and the last one is the conclusion, just the ending. Okay? So make sure you divide your paragraphs… Your letter into paragraphs. Now, when you do that there are two ways to do it. One way is to indent to show that you’re starting a new paragraph.

What does it mean to indent? To start a little bit from the left side. Okay? So don’t start here, start inside. Or you can start every paragraph from the left, what we call flush left, but then you have to leave a line in between to show that this is in fact a different paragraph. Otherwise they… The examiner will think that you’ve written one solid piece of writing in your letter instead of writing in paragraphs. Okay? So make sure you do that. Next: Use clear, legible handwriting. Now, on the IELTS in case you didn’t know, you have to actually write by hand. You can’t use a computer. So you have to make sure that your handwriting is clear and legible. “Legible” means that someone can read it. Don’t write like a doctor, even if you’re a doctor because then the examiner will not be able to understand and won’t be able to give you all the high marks that you want.

So, make sure… Also some people when they’re cursive… For example, when you write with cursive writing-okay?-handwriting which is joined. Right? Some people have difficulty with some of the letters, like “n” and “r”. For example, an “n” or an “r”, if you don’t make it properly it could look like another letter, and then to the examiner that could look like a spelling mistake and then you would lose marks. So make sure your handwriting is clear for this reason that you don’t want the examiner to consider it a spelling mistake, because then they have to reduce your marks.

Okay. Next, you are asked to write and you should write 150 words. How do you know what 150 words is? By practicing and checking lots of times, so practice writing letters. If I had an IELTS exam coming up, I would write a letter and an essay every single day so that I’d feel completely comfortable and confident, I know exactly what I’m going to do, and that’s what you go ahead and do.

And then you will have a feeling and a knowledge of what 150 words is. Okay? Make sure you know. Because if you write less than 150 words, you will lose marks. If you write more than 150 words, you will not lose marks. Okay? So make sure you write at least 150 words. But what’s also important, I said here that if you write more you’ll get… You’ll still be fine, you won’t lose any marks, but you don’t want to spend too much time because you need to finish in about 20 minutes. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are two tasks in your writing section, the letter plus the essay.

The essay is worth twice as many marks, so you want to make sure that you leave enough time, about 40 minutes for your essay. Right? This is also very important. All the marks count. They check… They give you marks separately for the letter and they give you marks separately for your essay, and then they give you a separate score for that, and finally they combine everything. So everything matters, but make sure you finish this part, the letter in 20 minutes. And again, the way to be able to do that is to practice. Practice and practice and practice. So you will write 150 words in 20 minutes and so on.

Okay? With the paragraphs and all the other rules that I told you about. Okay. Now, number 11 tells you to include all three bulleted points. What do I mean by that? If you have looked at some sample letter tasks that appear on the IELTS exam, they give you the situation and then they give you a second section which says: “Include this information in your letter”, and they tell you three points. They’re usually bulleted points. Okay? When they have a little dot like this it means it’s a bullet. And you must do those things. If you don’t do one of these you will definitely lose a lot of marks. So, for example, suppose it was a letter that you’re being asked to write to a landlord. It might say… Or, sorry. You want to write a letter, let’s suppose, to your landlord because the neighbour is making a lot of noise every night and you’re having a lot of problems. So they will say: “In your letter explain the situation”, so you have to make sure you do that. Next: “Describe why it bothers you.” Tell them you’re a student.

I mean, you need to make up a lot of information here. They don’t tell you exactly what to write. Everyone on that… In that examination hall is going to write a different letter, but you have to include certain points. And third, maybe suggest a solution. What are you going to do? So if you leave out one of these, you will lose marks. So don’t do that. Always make sure whatever they have asked you to include, you include, and then include whatever else you have time for that makes sense according to the task you have been given. Okay? And a few more important points which we will cover next. Okay, the last three points, which are also very important for you to get that really high score.

Here we go. We’re going to start from here and go upwards. Okay? There is a reason behind this. Okay, number 12: Understand the scoring criteria. What does that mean? You’re going to get your points, or mark, or grade based on certain things that the IELTS examiners want you to do in this task. So let’s understand what those four things are. Number one is task achievement. That’s a big word which simply means they want you to do everything you’re supposed to do in the letter. Do all. Give a full response. Remember those three points and everything? Make sure you include all the bulleted points, you do what they ask you to do. And that you should write at least 150 words. You will see that in their criteria a lot of the details of it is what I have covered also for you in these 14 points.

All right. Coherence and cohesion. “Coherence” means that you present your ideas logically, it makes sense, you used paragraphs that are structured. Okay? And “cohesion” means that it all goes together in a way that makes sense. For example, your ideas should make sense, they should sort of stick together. And you should use standard expressions that we talked about for apologizing, for thanking, for making a request and so on. Okay? The third point is Lexical resource they call it. What does that mean? That means they want to make sure that you’re using your vocabulary correctly, naturally, fluently. Okay? Lots of varied vocabulary. Not the same words again and again. The last one, they also want to make sure that you use correct spelling. They do minus marks if you get… Make spelling mistakes. Okay? So be careful of that. We’ve talked about it before. And the last one is grammar range and accuracy.

They want you to use varied grammar structures. All right? To write different kinds of sentences; simple sentences, complex sentences, compound sentences. All right? Don’t just write the same kind of sentences. And use correct punctuation and capitalization, which goes with proper English writing. Okay. Now, let’s go upwards. What’s the other really, really important thing that you need to do to get very high marks in this letter-writing section? Write a letter every day. Practice and practice this letter writing. But there’s a second part to that. Practice and get your letters or letter checked by an IELTS teacher. Ideally, an IELTS teacher. Not only an English teacher because not every English teacher has IELTS experience or understands this exam, or the demands of this exam. So the best… Always try to get the best teacher you can get who really knows what you need to do. So, try to get your letters checked by an IELTS teacher because if you keep practicing every day and nobody checks it, that’s tricky. Okay? There are two sections of this exam which you can really cannot prepare for by yourself according to me, and I’ve been teaching for a long time, so they are speaking and writing.

Somebody has to give you feedback. When you get that feedback you will know what you need to improve and correct to get that higher score and also to improve your English. So make sure you get some feedback somewhere along the way so that you know what’s strong and what’s weak. Okay? And last: Read model letters from reliable sources, but don’t memorize them.

Okay? Don’t memorize. Don’t try to memorize the entire letter because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. But it will help you a lot to read sample letters and only from reliable sources. For example, I wrote a website called www.goodluckielts.com and there, there are many sample letters, sample letter topics, and you can be sure that the English there is perfect. Unfortunately there are a lot of websites today, and not all of them have perfect English even in their so-called model essays or model letters.

Okay? So make sure whenever you go to a site that it is a site that you can be sure of so that you learn the right things and don’t do any of the wrong things. Okay? So, what do you do now? Well, I suggest these things: Go to our website at www.engvid.com. Why? Because there you can download for free a resource which will contain all 14 of these points-okay?-for you. So in case you didn’t write them down, don’t worry, I’ve written them all down for you clearly. Plus you will get those expressions, those standard expressions that I mentioned you need to use to make your letter writing easier. You also will get sample letter topics so that you get some idea of what is a formal question look like, a semi-formal, an informal. And also sample letters, which I’ve written for you. Okay? So please grab that resource. It’s free and it’s available for you, for anyone who wants to download it.

Okay? And while you’re there also check out our website because we have lots and lots of other resources which can help you, and lots of videos and lessons which can help you do better on your IELTS. And subscribe to my YouTube channel because that will really help you improve your grade in terms of very many aspects that go into making a really good English speaker and English writer. All right? I wish you all the best with your IELTS and with your English. Thanks very much for watching. I know you’re a serious student, and I’m sure you’re going to do well. All the best. Bye..

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