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The Ultimate Guide for the IELTS General Writing Task 1

Ron Ross May 8th, 2020

In this post, you will learn everthing you need to know about the IELTS General Writing Task 1. First, we will go over the test format and question styles in this task, and then we will look at the strategies for writing a high-scoring IELTS General Writing Task 1 essay. Finally, we will look at a Band 9 and a Band 4 essay and examine their scoring breakdowns.

Table Of Contents

45 IELTS General Writing Task 1 Practice Questions

If you are looking to start practicing IELTS General Writing Task 1 questions with sample essays right away, then start by selecting any test links below.

IELTS General Writing Task 1 Mock Test 1 - 12
Mock Test 1 Mock Test 2 Mock Test 3 Mock Test 4 Mock Test 5 Mock Test 6 Mock Test 7 Mock Test 8 Mock Test 9 Mock Test 10 Mock Test 11 Mock Test 12
IELTS General Writing Task 1 Mock Test 13 - 24
Mock Test 13 Mock Test 14 Mock Test 15 Mock Test 16 Mock Test 17 Mock Test 18 Mock Test 19 Mock Test 20 Mock Test 21 Mock Test 22 Mock Test 23 Mock Test 24
IELTS General Writing Task 1 Mock Test 25 - 36
Mock Test 25 Mock Test 26 Mock Test 27 Mock Test 28 Mock Test 29 Mock Test 30 Mock Test 31 Mock Test 32 Mock Test 33 Mock Test 34 Mock Test 35 Mock Test 36
IELTS General Writing Task 1 Mock Test 37 - 48
Mock Test 37 Mock Test 38 Mock Test 39 Mock Test 40 Mock Test 41 Mock Test 42 Mock Test 43 Mock Test 44

Alternatively, here are all 45 questions categorized by letter type:

The Overview of the IELTS General Writing Task 1

In the IELTS General Writing Task 1, you are asked to write a letter requesting information or explaining a situation. You need to write at least 150 words, and it is suggested that you should spend about 20 minutes on this task. The letter will be one of the following types:

Types of IELTS General Writing Task 1 Letters

Formal Letter

To people that we do not know or have never met.

Semi-Formal Letter

To people that we may know, but are not close friends with.

Informal Letter

To people we know well, like friends or family.

A Formal Letter – This type of writing style is used when writing to people that we do not know or have never met. Common examples of these types of letters include those that go along with job applications, or to a government office, for example. The video below provides you with strategies and tips for tackling this type of quesiton and includes a band 9 sample essay.

Practice the questions from the video lesson

A Semi-Formal letter – This type of writing style is used when writing to people that we may know, but are not close friends with. Additionally, it can also be used for people with whom you have a professional relationship. Common examples include writing a letter to your boss, or a former professor at your university. The video below provides you with strategies and tips for how to write a semi-formal letter and includes a band 9 sample essay.

Practice the questions from the video lesson

An Informal Letter – This type of writing style is used for people we know well, like friends or family. The language in this letter will be the most informal and familiar of the three different types of letters. Sometimes, this type of writing is also listed as ‘personal style’. Examples include sending condolences to your best friend, or writing a letter to a family member. Check out the video below for strategies and tips for this type of question and a band 9 model essay.

Practice the questions from the video lesson

Further, most letters will include a mix of:

Styles of IELTS General Writing Task 1 Letters

Personal Correspondence

These types of letters can include a letter of condolence (i.e, sending a letter to a friend for the death of a family member), a letter of appreciation (i.e, thanking a friend for helping you paint your house), or even a letter of apology (i.e, apologizing to your aunt for not being able to attend her birthday party).

Giving or Asking for Personal Information

These types of letters would include requesting information (i.e, asking if your friend would be interested in taking tickets for a concert you cannot attend), or asking for suggestions or feedback (i.e, asking your friend to give you his/her opinion on your resume).

Expressing Needs, Wants, Likes, or Dislikes

These types of letters would include your viewpoints regarding a subject matter (i.e, writing about how much you enjoyed a film and asking for tickets to the next show).

Expressing Opinions (including complaints and viewpoints)

These letters would include writing about a bad experience or providing feedback on something (i.e, writing a letter to a manager of a restaurant regarding a bad experience and requesting a refund).

As such, it would be a good idea for candidates to practice writing these types of scenarios to prepare for the exam. The writing prompt will contain bullet points detailing points that must be expressed in the task, and it is important that test takers include all of this information in the letter. The description of the prompt, as well as the information included, will help test takers assess which type of letter they will need to write. An example prompt has been provided below:

You missed an international flight due to a problem at the airport.
Write a letter to the airline. In your letter:
  • Describe what happened that caused you to miss your flight
  • Explain how missing your flight impacted you
  • Clearly state what you would like the airline to do
Write at least 150 words. You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
Dear _____

[Practice and View Model Answer]

It’s important to note that the writing prompts will always include three main areas: background information (i.e, you are working for…), instruction words (i.e, write a letter…), and accompanying details. Additionally, the prompt may instruct you to begin your letter in a certain way. 

In the above example, test-takers are instructed to use the phrase “Dear ____”, rather than anything else. If the prompt does not tell you how to start your letter, use your best judgment based on your training and practice. Lastly, each writing prompt will list the appropriate amount of words for the letter, which should be around 150 words.

Quick Tip: Although you will not be penalized for writing more than 150 words, keep in mind that the average, acceptable answers are around this length. Additionally, if you are writing too many words in this section, it probably means you will have less time to effectively complete the second writing task, which carries more weight in marking than Task 1. 

If you find yourself often writing more than 150 words, you should practice strategies in writing more concisely. Why? Because these strategies will teach you how to write effectively and say what you want to say using fewer words. This will help you score higher and increase your time management.

How to Tackle the IELTS General Writing Task 1

There are four tips when tackling IELTS General Writing Task 1 letters.

1. Read and Understand the Question

 All questions for the Writing Task 1 letters contain three distinct sections, which will tell you everything you need to know about your letter. Let’s look at these in depth with an example: 

There is a problem with a major traffic light in your neighborhood.
Write a letter to your local congresswoman. In your letter
  • Introduce yourself
  • Explain what the problem is
  • Tell the congresswoman what you would like to be done
Write at least 150 words. You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
Dear congresswoman Hays,

Now, let’s break this question down into sections:

i. Background Information:  “There is a problem with a major traffic light in your neighborhood.”

This tells you that you will be writing about a problem. Letters that discuss problems aim to allow test-takers to express opinions, possibly express complaints, and perhaps express a need or want

ii. Instruction Words: “Write a letter to your local congresswoman.” – 

This is an important sentence, as it is an initial clue towards the style and tone of your letter. One can assume that an average citizen does not know his or her congresswoman, and so the letter would be written to a stranger. In that case, the letter should be formal in tone. Additionally, this piece of information will make it known whether or not you are writing to a man or a woman. In this case, the candidate can address the congresswoman as “Dear Congresswoman Hays” , but if information regarding gender is not made known, candidates can use “Dear Sir or Madam,”. 

iii. Accompanying Details: “Introduce yourself, Explain what the problem is, Tell the congresswoman what you would like to be done” 

These three details will help you set up your letter. Additionally, it is further proof that you must write a formal letter, because you are introducing yourself to a stranger.

Now that you’ve understood what the question is asking as well as which type of letter you will have to write, you are ready to map out your outline.

2. Plan your Outline

Do not skip this step. This should take only 2 or 3 minutes and will act as a reference for you going forward. There is one main, fool-proof way to outline this type of letter, and we suggest that you follow this without straying from the procedure. Keep in mind that some of these points below are only one sentence, and only points III, IV, and V are paragraphs. (We will go into further detail regarding how to plan your outline in the next section).

I. Greeting
II. Reason for Writing  
III. Paragraph 1 – First point with detail
IV. Paragraph 2 – Second point with detail
V. Paragraph 3 – Third point with detail
VI. Closing Sentence
VII. Farewell + Name

The next step is to set your tone. This is an extremely important step and can cause test-takers to lose a considerable amount of points in the Lexical Resource part of scoring.

3. Set Your Tone

In this step, make it clear to yourself whether you will need to use formal, semi-formal, or informal language. Here’s a helpful link to help you remember what is acceptable for each tone. how to set your tone.pdf

4. Start Writing

After planning your outline and understanding the tone, begin writing your letter. As a general rule regardless of the type of letter, you should fully write out numbers lower than 10 and skip a line after each part of your letter, for clarity.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each point of the outline in our letter example. 

Below, we will detail how each part of the letter should be written. Using this outline, it would be a good idea to make notes prior to writing your letter. As a reminder, the outline for this type of letter is as follows:

IELTS General Writing Task 1 Essay Structure

Greeting 

This will be the easiest part of the letter, since it will be provided for you in the writing prompt. If the prompt indicates: “Begin your letter as follows…”, use the greeting that has been provided for you. Be sure to add a comma after the greeting, and then skip a line to begin writing the reason.

Reason for Writing

This piece of information will be located in the prompt, in the background information section. A common way to start this sentence is: I am writing because_____. Write a minimum of 1 sentence.

Paragraph 1 – First point with detail 

Now, refer to the background information’s bullet points. In almost all cases, three bullet points will be provided, which are the three distinct paragraphs that you will use in your outline. Write a minimum of 2 or 3 sentences regarding the points.

Paragraph 2 – Second point with detail

Referring back to the bullet points, use the second bullet point’s information to write the second paragraph. Write a minimum of 2 or 3 sentences regarding the points.

Paragraph 3 – Third point with detail

Referring back to the bullet points, use the second bullet point’s information to write the second paragraph. Write a minimum of 2 or 3 sentences regarding the points.

Closing Sentence

This is the last sentence before you sign your name. It can vary depending on the situation, but it should be formal in nature. Use our table for ideas on common formal closing sentences. Write a minimum of 1 sentence.

Farewell + Name 

This is simply a formal farewell with a comma, and then your name. For the exam, you can use your own name or invent one.

IELTS General Writing Task 1 - A Band 9 Essay (Formal Letter)

Using this paragraph outline, let’s look at an example.

Last week, you lost your luggage while traveling on holiday. Luckily, you have travel insurance. Write a letter to the manager of your insurance company. In your letter:
  • Describe the characteristics of what you lost
  • Explain how you lost it
  • Tell the insurance company what you need from them
Write at least 150 words. You do NOT need to write any addresses.
Begin your letter as follows:
Dear Sir or Madam,

Band 9 Model Essay

Topic vocabulary are in blue
Advanced grammar structures are in green. 
Transition words are in red.

Greeting

Dear Sir or Madam, 

Reason for Writing

I am writing to file an insurance claim for luggage that was lost during my holiday last week. 

Paragraph 1

The luggage is a green, medium-sized Samsonite model. Since this holiday was the first time it had been used,  it should appear to be in good condition. Unfortunately, it does not have a luggage tag with my contact information.

Paragraph 2
While I am not completely sure how the luggage was lost, I imagine that the airline might have placed it on a different flight. In fact, I have been in contact with the airline and they are almost certain that this is the most probable scenario. 

Paragraph 3
Before I left, I had taken out travel insurance with your company. Based on the information in the contract, lost luggage is covered. Therefore, I have attached the insurance claim and I would appreciate it if your company could review the approximated value of the luggage and process the attached claim as soon as possible. 

Closing Sentence

Please let me know if you require any other information.

Fareware+Name

Yours faithfully,

Sarah Hutchinson

(Total Word Count:  176 words)

Scoring 
In short, this is a Band 9 essay. Let’s look at how it would rate in the scoring areas:

Task Achievement/Response  - The essay covers the three main points in the task – it explains why he/she is writing, a description of the lost items, how the item was lost, and information regarding what is needed. Additionally, the reasoning behind how the item was lost was included in a creative manner (i.e It was presumed to have been lost by the airline, which adds in an element of speculation).

Coherence and Cohesion – The essay was clearly organized, contained different paragraphs as per the outline, and contained spaces after each paragraph. Each idea flowed nicely after the other.

Lexical Resource: A table below will showcase the lexical resource. In general, the essay was full of useful travel vocabulary as well as handy paired words, such as the phrasal verb: “taken out”, and words such as “insurance claim” and “luggage tag”, and “airline”. This wide range of authentic vocabulary shows that the writer has a broad range of vocabulary. Transition words were used nicely and appropriately.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: A table below will showcase the grammatical structures. In general, the essay was full of advanced forms, ranging from the passive voice to past perfect. Additionally, these forms did not seem forced, but flowed very well with the tone and style of the letter.

Potential Areas for Improvement: Perhaps the candidate could have used more phrasal verbs, rather than relying on travel-specific vocabulary. The only authentic phrasal verb in the letter is “taken out”, and it would have been nicer to see more. Although the word count of 176 is appropriate, it is important not to be too wordy in this task.

Topic Vocabulary

Grammar Structures

Transition Words

file an insurance claim
luggage tag – specific vocabulary
different flight
took out travel insurance – phrasal verb
most probable
approximated value

luggage that was lost – passive voice
it had been used – past perfect
should appear – modal
I have been in contact – present perfect
would appreciate/could review – conditional 

might have placed it – modal perfect

Since
Unfortunately
While
In fact
Based on
Therefore

IELTS General Writing Task 1 - A Band 4 Essay (Formal Letter)

Using the same question prompt, let’s look at a low-scoring essay. This will give you a good idea of what not to do during the exam: 

Band 4 Model Essay

Dear Sir or Madam, 

Hello. I’m writing about an insurance claim about my luggage that was lost during a holiday that I had last week and I am in contact with the airline about why it was lost but we don’t know why yet.

The luggage is mediumed size, green, and it does not have a luggage tag on it.

I think the airline lost the bag. They also think this. We have been in contact to find out why it was lost and where the luggage is.

Please help me. I took out insurance before leaving so if you could please look at my claim that I attached to this letter that would be great. Please call me. It's very urgent.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Thanks,

Sarah Hutchinson
Word Count: 134

Scoring 
In short, this is a Band 4 essay. Let’s look at how it would rate in the scoring areas:

Task Achievement/Response  - The essay covers the three main points in the task, but not well. The description, for example, is only one sentence long. This could have been developed more, which would have also helped the word count reach the minimum 150 words. The response is not necessarily formal (uses of contractions, for example), although there are some points that are formal in tone (such as the greeting and some use of conditional language). The ending, most notably, seems aggressive and is not polite.

Coherence and Cohesion – The essay was separated into different paragraphs, but there are inadequate statements (such as the description) and it was a bit repetitive (the reason for writing, for example, is a long run-on sentence).

Lexical Resource: The word choice and vocabulary is weak and contains a few errors. “Mediumed size” for example, should be “Medium-sized”, and “its very urgent” should be “It’s very urgent”. There is nothing to suggest that the writer has an authentic grasp on the language, nor does the writer have a wide choice of vocabulary words.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy: Although there is some present perfect in the letter (We have been in contact), the writer does not show a strong grasp of advanced grammatical structures. Past tense is often used, and one can argue that it is used too often. For example, “I took out insurance before leaving” should contain the past perfect (Before I left, I had taken out travel insurance…). In short, there is much improvement to be made in terms of the formal tone and grammatical range.

Potential Areas for Improvement: The candidate should review formal tones, better ways to speak in the past (including past perfect and past perfect continuous), and conditional phrases.

To learn more about the strategies for writing formal/semi-formal/informal letters, sign up for a 7 day free trial to access our IELTS General Writing Task 1 lessons.







 
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