Test Tips for General Training Task 1 Writing 

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Why Learn Test Tips for Letter Writing?

Writing a letter might seem like an easier task than writing an academic style essay in task 2, but because there are so many different kinds of things that you could be asked to write about in your task 1 letter, it is a good idea to be prepared by learning as many tips as you can that will help you before you sit the test. Note: these tips refer to the Official IELTS Marking Criteria used by examiners when they mark your test, so they provide valuable advice about how to write higher band scoring answers.

Essential Tips for General Training Task 1 Letter Writing 

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1. Timing and planning. 

  • Spend no more than 20 minutes for the task 1 letter, or you will not have enough time to plan and write task 2. Also, you need to plan your answer for about 2 to 3 minutes, and leave at least 2 minutes for checking your answer. 

2. Don't plan too much. You need time to check your answer. 

  • Be careful not to spend too much time planning because you must try to leave some time at the end of the test to check your answer. Timing is key to success in the writing test, so you must give yourself plenty of practice. If you have a few minutes left at the end of the test to check for basic spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, this could be increase your band score.  

3. Write about 170 to 200 words.

  • The instructions in the test tell you to write at least 150 words, so you should aim for about 170 to 190 words. Some students can write (or type) faster than others. My advice would be - try not to go over the word count by more than 50 or 60 words as it might be counter-productive - you don't get more marks for writing more, just as you don't get any penalty for writing more, but by writing too much, the quality of your answer may not be as good as it could be.  

4. Understand the format of the letter

  • There is no need to write the date or to write your own address at the top of the letter. Apart from this, you must follow all the other rules about writing formal, semi-formal, and informal letters depending on who you are writing to and what you are writing about.  

5. Write in clear paragraphs. 

It is essential you write in clear paragraphs or you will get a low bad score. The questions require you to write about 3 bullet points, so your letter should have the following structure:

  • A greeting (Dear Mr Smith / Dear Susan / Dear sir or Madam)
  • A short  introductory sentence stating the reason why you are writing.
  • body paragraph 1 - covering the detail for bullet point 1.
  • body paragraph 2 - covering the detail for bullet point 2.
  • body paragraph 3 - covering the detail for bullet point 3.
  • a short summary sentence.
  • The correct salutation (goodbye) for the type of letter written.

Note. Of course, you need to read the question very carefully because sometimes you will be asked to introduce yourself in the first paragraph. This makes sense sometimes, like when you are writing to someone you do not know, but it is not normally a requirement. Also, try to separate paragraphs by leaving a line in-between each one. This will make it clear when you are starting a new paragraph.


6. Understand who you are writing to.

It is essential that you think about the relationship you have with the person you are writing to because this will decide the tone of the letter and the writing style.

  • If you don't know the person (like a job application), the letter will be formal.
  • If you know the person well (like a close friend or family member), it will be informal.
  • If you have known the person a long time, but mostly in an official way (like a landlord), you will use a semi-formal tone.  


7. Understand the purpose or reason why you are writing

The purpose or reason why you are writing the letter will also give you some idea of how formal or informal the letter should be.  There are many different types of letters. The main categories are as follows ...

  • Complaints - nearly always formal letters written in a serious tonebut a complaint to a close friend will be mostly informal because of the relationship you have with that person. Of course, if you are making a complaint about something serious to a friend, you wouldn't be as friendly as you normally are, but you won't be formal or official either.
  • Making Arrangements - these letters could be any style. It will depend on who you are writing to. If it's a friend, the letter should be informal; if it's for a business meeting, it should be very formal; if it's to a colleague from work who you have worked with for many years, then a semi-formal tone is more appropriate.
  • Invitations - these letters are usually semi-formal or informal because they usually involve asking someone to a social event or personal celebration. However, they could be formal if, for example, it was a letter inviting a job candidate to spend a few days at a company recruitment assessment centre.
  • Apologising - any style - depends who you are writing to. If you are apologising to a friend, then you will use an informal tone. A student apologising to a university professor for a late assignment would use a formal tone. If you are apologising to a business friend you know very well, you would use a semi-formal tone.  

    Making Requests - any style - depends who you are writing to. If you make a request to an organisation for information, you would write a formal letter. However, if you write to your cousin, who is good at cooking, and request information about Italian food recipes, your letter will be informal. By contrast, if you make a request to your neighbour to pay half the cost of a new garden fence that you share, the letter would be semi-formal. As you can see, the tone of the letter depends on who the person is and what the situation involves. Therefore, a complaint to a neighbour, who you do not know very well, would be more formal. 

    Making an Offer / Declining Offers - any style - depends who you are writing to. If you make an offer to buy a house to a property agent, then this is a business relationship, so the tone of the letter will be formal, but if you make an offer to your brother to buy your house, the tone will be informal because it is your brother. However, if you offer the house to a friend, the tone will be semi-formal because you will be informal with your brother 99.9% of the time.  

8. Use the correct greeting and salutation

Depending on whether you are writing a formal, informal, or semi-formal letter, the following guidance is recommended. You must write a greeting and a goodbye (salutation). If you fail to do this, you will lose marks.


  >>>  QUICK REFERENCE for saying hello (GREETINGS) and goodbye” (SALUTATIONS) 

  • People You Don't Know (e.g. business letters, complaints, job applications)                              Dear Sir or Madam, (Yours Faithfully, )  or  Dear Mr. Smith, (Yours sincerely,) 
  • People You do know (friends, family, colleagues you know, semi formal letters)                        -  Friends - Dear David, (Best regards, )   Note. Never use a surname for a friend.                       -  Someone you know (not a friend) Dear Ben, or Dear Mr. Smith, (Yours sincerely,)                 -  Family (or very close friend) Dear Mum, Dear Benny, (Love, / Best regards,)

9. Include an introductory sentence.

  • Your letter will look better if you have a short introductory sentence. Try to state clearly in the introductory sentence WHY you are writing. You can see examples in the vocabulary sections, which show band 9 answers.

9. Practice brainstorming body paragraph ideas. 

  • You must brainstorm some ideas for the body paragraphs because the question will not provide enough details about the situation for you to write the letter. To do this, you must be creative and think of an imaginary situation similar to the situation given in the question. A good idea is to think of places and people you know. For example, if you need to write a letter about a hotel or a restaurant, try to use examples of a hotel you stayed at or a restaurant you dined at in the past. This will help you to make your letter seem more 'real'.

10. Use the correct grammar and vocabularyDepending on the type of letter you are writing, you will need to write the correct form of grammar and vocabulary. Here is a handy reference guide you can use for formal, informal and semi formal letters. 

The slideshow (below), is an overview of correct writing styles for all types of letters.  Essential reading if you want to write high band scoring letters. Click to expand.

Click on the links (below) for other writing test tips.

Academic Writing Task 1 Tips  (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)

Writing Task 2 Tips (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)

General Training Writing Task 1 Tips  (Quick-view)  (Extended Version

Test Day Tips  (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)