In this tutorial you will learn:
- How to use the present perfect vs. the past simple.
This will help you in your IELTS speaking exam because:
- You will learn to use a mix of simple and complex structures to score a band 6 and higher.
There will be many times when the examiner is going to ask you about your past.
‘What music did you like growing up?’
‘What was the last book you read?’
“Tell me about your first teacher.”
Because of this, it is essential that you are ready to talk about the past fluently.
Why you should use the past simple and present perfect in the IELTS speaking exam.
Although there are lots of tricks and tips for talking about the past in interesting and complex ways, one of the first tools to master is the use of ‘past simple’ and ‘present perfect.’
These two tenses are among the first things that an examiner will check, and if you have difficulty using these tenses early in the exam, then the examiner might think you are a low scoring candidate.
It’s much better to master these tenses consistently and feel comfortable using both these tenses with ease.
This is one of the first tenses every student learns and one of the most important.
In short, we use the past simple tense when we want to talk about an event in the past that has either finished or isn’t connected to now.
We usually know the time of the event from the conversation, and if we don’t then, we include the time in the sentence.
- I went to a concert last night.
- I played tennis when I was young.
- I lived in Italy in 2001
In example one we know that the concert was last night and that it is not happening now. In example two we know that the speaker does not play tennis now.
Like the present simple, we can use the past simple to talk about single events (I went to the concert) or a state (I lived in Italy in 2001).
To make the past simple you only need to change the verb in the sentence to a past form. Usually, the verb takes a regular form by ending in ‘ed,’ but there are around 200 words in English that take the irregular form.
- Subject + Past Verb form
- I go to the market -> I went to the market (Irregular)
- I live in China -> I lived in China (Regular)
- She bakes cakes -> She baked cakes. (Regular)
How to use past simple in part 1 of the exam
To use the past simple in the speaking exam, you should listen for hints from the examiner. In part 1 they will usually start by asking a general question such as ‘What is your favourite colour?’ and will follow up with a question about the past, i.e. ‘Did you like this colour when you were young?’.
Look out for this pattern and also listen carefully to any time markers such as ‘when you were young,’ ‘before…’ or ‘last…’.
Let’s take a look at an example conversation:
Examiner: Do you work?
Candidate: Yes, I work at a restaurant in town.
Examiner: What was your first day like at your job?
Candidate: It was very difficult. I arrived late because I got lost and my boss was very angry. Honestly, I felt so embarrassed that…
In this example, the speaker has identified that the question is about their first day at work and has decided to show the examiner that they are aware of a number of past forms, both regular and irregular. By answering the first question in the present simple, the speaker has also shown that they clearly know how to use both forms.
The present perfect form is a little more complex than the past simple. The form is:
- Subject + have/has + Past participle
- I have seen the movie twice already
- She has lived here for 3 years.
- We have visited her every day.
It is a good idea to think of the present perfect of having two jobs. 1. To talk about doing something that has finished some time before now and 2. To talk about something that happened from the past up to now. Let’s look at both of these in more detail.
1. An action that finished some time before now
If something happened in the past and we want to say that we have done it, then we may use the past simple or the present perfect. However, the past simple is used when we know the time, and the present perfect is used when we either don’t know the time, or it isn’t important.
- I have been to Paris twice
- I’ve only been in love once.
In both of these cases, time isn’t important. What is important is that they have happened.
2. An action that occurred from the past up to now
We can also use the present perfect for talking about something that started in the past and continues to now.
- I have lived in London for 10 years.
- She has been a teacher since 2010.
In the first example we know that the speaker still lives in London now and in the second example, we know that she is still a teacher.
How to use present perfect in part of the IELTS speaking exam
We often use the present perfect in combination with the past simple. The present perfect is used as a general introduction and is then elaborated on with the past simple. Let’s take a look at an example:
Examiner: Tell me about a time you moved schools.
Candidate: Well, I’ve moved schools about 3 times in my life, but the last one was the most difficult for me. You see, I lived in a town….
In this example, the speaker is able to show that they can easily switch between the two tenses. By showing that they can easily switch between the two tenses the speaker can demonstrate to the examiner that they have control over these tenses in English.
From this, the examiner will think that the speaker is a strong candidate.
Both part 1 and 2 will require that you talk about the past at some point and so if you want to score a band 6 or higher on the IELTS speaking test, you are going to need to master talking about the past with these two tenses.
You can download or listen to the audio version here: