In this tutorial, ex-examiner Robert reviews an informal letter in IELTS General Task 1.
Here’s what you will learn:
- 4 things you must do after reading your Task 1 Question
- Paragraph-by-paragraph review of the Task 1 Letter
- How an IELTS examiner would grade this letter
- How many words should you write in IELTS Task 1 Letter
- How to use contractions correctly in IELTS Task 1
Sample IELTS Task 1 Question
When you look at IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 questions, the first thing you notice is how clear the instructions are. They describe a situation and tell you what direction your letter must take.
Your friend works as a fitness instructor in a gym. You would like to receive his/her advice.
Write a letter to your friend. In your letter you should:
– describe your exercise programme
– explain what your goals are
– ask for advice on how you can improve your fitness
Write at least 150 words. You do NOT need to write any addresses.
The three bullet points clearly tell you what to include. They ask you to describe, explain and seek advice and we also have a clear idea of how formal your letter should be. This example is informal. Others might be formal or semi-formal.
The level of formality influences the way we write in every way: the grammar, the vocabulary, the greeting and the ending.
4 things you must do after reading your Task 1 Question
- Remember that each paragraph must have a definite purpose.
- Think about the connection between these purposes and the three bullet points that you have to write about in the letter
- Make sure your letter has a good opening and ending.
- Think about the vocabulary and maybe the grammar too. This is a letter to a friend asking for advice. Ask yourself which words, expressions and grammar show that this is written in an informal style
Paragraph-by-paragraph review of the Task 1 Letter
How are you? I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch but things here have been busy.
Paragraph 1 opens with a classic greeting and a sentence that links the writer to the recipient.
I guess you’re working hard as usual in the gym. In fact, that’s partly why I’m writing. With this new job, I’ve become so lazy. I’m hardly doing any exercise at all apart from walking to work sometimes and doing some stretching exercises and work with weights at home. Well, on Sundays I go jogging in the park but that’s about it!
Paragraph 2 outlines the reasons why he is writing. He introduces the topic of exercise routines and describes what he is currently doing to keep fit.
Actually, what worries me is that everyone in the company takes part in an annual half-marathon event for charity but, honestly, I really need to get into shape for it. Luckily, it’s next spring so I have a few months to prepare.
Paragraph 3 explains the real motive for his desire to get into shape.
I’d really appreciate your thoughts on what to do. If I joined the local gym and started a serious workout programme, would that be the best idea? I know I need to strengthen my leg muscles so I could buy a running machine. And do you think riding a bike is a good idea?
Paragraph 4 asks for specific advice from his friend on what to do.
I can’t wait to hear your advice and don’t forget that open invitation to come for the weekend. It would be great to see you.
This short paragraph 5 concludes with a typical personal touch we usually see in informal letters and is followed by a friendly ending.
How an IELTS examiner would grade this letter
Let’s think about the person who will grade your IELTS writing essays. It’s always a good idea to think of what the IELTS examiner is looking for.
The four areas the examiner looks at are
- Task Achievement
- Coherence and Cohesion
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
To get a high Band score, at least a Band 7 but hopefully an 8 or 9, you must answer all parts of the question and your ideas, the details and examples if you like, must be relevant to the task instructions. As we have seen, our letter covers all parts of the question and that means a very high grade in Task Achievement.
Coherence and Cohesion
The paragraphs as well as the sentences within them are also well-organised and well-connected. When we talk about coherence and cohesion, many of us concentrate on the “cohesion” rather than the “coherence”. We pay more attention to those “cohesive devices”, and those “connecting” words such as but, besides, therefore and so many others. Yes, there are some examples of these in the letter.
Look at Paragraph 3:
the company takes part in an annual half-marathon event for charity but, honestly, I really need to get into shape for it. Luckily, it’s next so I have a few months to prepare.
What an examiner is interested in is not only cohesion of that type but the way everything connects in a logical way. Notice how the beginning of Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 5 all “connect”, are linked to, the information at the end of the previous paragraph.
Paragraph 2, for example, begins with I guess you’re working hard as usual in the gym. , which refers to the writer’s life being “busy” at the end of Paragraph 1.
Another example? Well, how about when the next paragraph, the third, starts off with “Actually, what worries me is ….” where “Actually” is used to put the information in the previous paragraph into a kind of perspective. It’s saying something like, “Well, what I’ve told you so far is true BUT now I’m going to tell you the real reason why I’m writing.”
Look at the other two paragraphs, 4 and 5. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on what to do. I can’t wait to hear your advice, they begin; the first links to the fitness goals of the writer, the second to the request she made for advice.
That is what coherence is really all about. Everything fits perfectly together.
Grammatical Range and Accuracy
A high Band score, say at least 8, will be given to an essay that includes a wide range of grammatical structures which are sufficiently complex where necessary. There will always be a small margin of error. Very few IELTS essays are completely error-free but as long as you can produce a good number of error-free sentences, then expect a high Band score.
In our letter, verb tenses are handled well. The use of the present perfect to refer to events happening from the last time the writer saw the recipient until now (I’ve haven’t been in touch; things here have been busy), the use of the simple present tense and present continuous to describe current exercise routines (I’m doing, I go, ) to take two examples. Modal verbs (should, can’t etc) are all accurately used. There’s a good mix of the complex with shorter, simple sentences, which I think is fine, especially in a personal letter to a friend. There’s also a conditional sentence: If I joined the local gym and started a serious workout programme, would that be the best idea?, a grammatical feature an examiner will always look for.
This covers how wide your vocabulary is and how deep. Depth of vocabulary suggests we know a lot about many different topics but we cannot always know about the subject, even in Task 1.
Here I tried to use simple vocabulary that most of us would probably be familiar with no reference at all to special fitness programs. You don’t really need specialised knowledge to mention weights, jogging, stretching exercises, running machine, workout programme. It’s not as if the writer is an expert fitness fanatic who mentions “cardiovascular training” every 10 seconds! Remember that the examiner is interested in how you use English to good effect, not your insider knowledge on any particular topic.
How to use contractions correctly in IELTS Task 1
A contraction is a unique type of word that combines two or more other words in a shortened form, usually with an apostrophe. For example,”that’s” instead of “that is” or “haven’t” instead of “have not”
Looking back over the letter again, notice how many contractions there are. If you want to know how many, there are 11 of them. Since it is a personal, informal letter contractions are perfectly acceptable. However, please be very careful here. If your letter is formal, do not include contractions.
How many words you should write in IELTS Task 1 Letter
A good length. I always think we need to go over the 150 minimum and try to write at least 200 words. In fact, a “short” letter may not develop all the bullet points and therefore not score so well on Task Achievement. So, when you are preparing for Task 1, yes, count your words, but more than that, double-check that you have followed the instructions and covered all the bullet points.
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