What Tense to Use in IELTS Writing Task 1

It is essential to use the right tense in IELTS writing task 1, both academic and GT. This page will explain which tenses to use. The academic test will be explained first and lower down the page you will find grammar tips for GT letters.

Also find writing task 1 tips further down the page.

Academic Writing Task 1 Tenses to Use

For IELTS writing task 1, you may be given a map, a diagram, a bar chart, a line graph, a table or a pie chart in the academic test. The IELTS examiner will mark you on the following (each worth 25% of task 1)

  • Task Achievement: information, overview, accurate of data
  • Coherence & Cohesion: Paragraphing, Linking Words
  • Vocabulary: Collocations, Spelling and Accuracy
  • Grammar: Sentence structure, tenses, punctuation, grammar range and accuracy

So, you can see that using the right tense is important in IELTS writing task 1 because it falls into the marking criterion of Grammar.

Dates and Tenses

On your IELTS graph, chart, map, diagram or table, you might find dates. These will tell you what tense to use. See the list below:

  • No Dates = present tense
  • Dates in the Past = Past Tense
  • Dates in the Future = Future Forms
  • Dates spanning both Past and Future = both Past Tense and Future Forms

Using Passive Voice in IELTS Writing Task 1

There are students who seem to think they will get a high score if they use passive voice. This is not true. You can only use passive voice when it is appropriate and correct to do so. Most writing task 1 will not give you this opportunity. However, if you get a diagram, they are usually a combination of passive and active voice.

Mixing both Past Tense and Future Forms

Here is a sample sentence using both tenses:

In 2010, the number of sales stood at 2 million and is forecast to rise to a peak of 10 million by 2050.

You can see past simple “stood” and future forms of prediction “is forecast to”

IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 Tenses

The examiner will mark you using the same criteria as the AC test, but with one difference in Task Achievement. The IELTS examiner will mark you on the following (each worth 25% of task 1). See below:

    • Task Achievement: Purpose, tone and expanding points
    • Coherence & Cohesion: Paragraphing, Linking Words
    • Vocabulary: Collocations, Spelling and Accuracy
    • Grammar: Sentence structure, tenses, punctuation, grammar range and accuracy

For students taking the General Training test. You will use a range of tenses in your letter depending on the aims and purpose. Below are some sample sentences:

  • I am writing to …. (present continuous)
  • I visited your store … (past simple)
  • …the poor service I have received (present perfect)
  • I hope the problem will be resolved … (future form and future passive)
  • I had hoped that … (past perfect)

Tips for IELTS Writing Task 1

Academic writing task 1 tips, click below:

All Tips, Model Answers, Free Video Lessons & Practice for IELTS writing task 1

GT writing task 1 tips, click below:

Essential 10 tips

Differences between GT and Academic Writing Task 1

Main IELTS Pages

Develop your IELTS skills with tips, lessons, free videos and more. Click below to find the main pages for IELTS on my website:

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  1. Hi Liz,
    First and foremost, Thank you very much for the great work that you are doing, You are simply awesome! I am going to appear for IELTS – GT this month end, and I have few queries to you:

    1. While answering to Listening or Reading section, for sentence completion kind of questions, do we need to use Initial caps even if it is not a noun? I have this confusion. Do we lose mark for this?

    2. What does it mean, if the part of the answer is mentioned in the brackets? Eg. (a) Pilot study, though there instructed as ‘No more than 3 words’

    3. In some of the practice test answer keys, they have mentioned the answer both in singular and plural as ‘Instructor/Instructors’ – Is it correct or safe to mention like this? I am losing marks mostly in plural during my practice sessions

    4.In a scenario, the instruction clearly states as ‘One word only’ but the answer for a question is 2 years. Without specifying the word ‘years’ the sentence would not deliver a correct meaning in the listening test. What do I need to do on this scenario? Will bracketing work on this occasion?

    5.I am appearing through BC and my friend appeared through IDP in the early on this month. I happened to get his practice work book and it seems very tough when compared to BC workbook. I had a confidence while worked out with my BC practice tests whereas the same is lacking with IDP. Why there is a difference? B’coz I heard that the exam will be same irrespective of the centers, but this leaves a doubt in me.

    It would be of an immense help if you could kindly advise on the above questions. Thanks Liz.

    And one more request Liz, I would like my writing on task 1 to get evaluated by you, if your time permits, so that I could do some fine tuning on the same. If you are ok, kindly let me know your email to send the pic of my writings, since i have written in a paper.

    Thanks again LIZ 🙂

    • Hi, sounds like there is still a lot you are unsure about in IELTS. Always check my information page: http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-help-faq/. Here are some answers to your questions:
      1. Capital letters are not considered in listening or reading. That means you can use them, not use them, use them incorrectly, mix them up – nothing matters. Just ignore them. If you want to write all answers in capitals, do so.
      2. In answer keys there are can sometimes be more than one possible answer. For example, “a pilot” or “pilot”. When this is the case, the answer key is written as “(a) pilot” which shows the “a” is optional. You can’t write like this in your test. You must choose one answer and write it.
      3. You must write only one answer – singular or plural. This is a test, and it’s testing your understanding of plurals.
      4. IELTS never write “one word only”. Are you using real IELTS tests which are published by IELTS. If you are downloading for free from other websites, you are not using real tests. Be aware of fakes. Use the IELTS Cambridge test books from 1 to 11.
      5. BC do not write their tests. IDP do not write their test. The IELTS tests are written by a third party. Any difference between tests is random and not based on centers.
      Sorry I don’t offer marking at present. See my main writing task 1 page: http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-writing-task-1-lessons-and-tips/
      Good luck!

  2. Dear liz

    There is this book for writing task 1 that i’ve purchased and it has a sentence “The sewer line close to my home overflew resulting into streaming of sewer water on the road”
    I wanted to know if i can use “overflowed” instead of “overflew”
    Because the word “overflew” sounds wrong to me somehow.

    Please help

    • This sentence is grammatically incorrect with more than one mistake. I recommend you stop using that book.

  3. Hi Liz,

    Is it still true that the writing Task-1 for GT would have letter writing and not any graphs which we need to explain?


    • The Oficial IELTS Websites still make it clear that GT writing task 1 is a letter.

      • Thanks for the clarification, Liz.

        I have one more question on GT Reading.
        I am appearing for IELTS GT and have been going through Cambridge practice tests for IELTS. I find that the GT reading samples given in these books are easier and have moderate vocabulary in the reading passages when compared to the IDP sample tests, that I received on booking my test. The IDP reading samples are tough to interpret in the given time and have complex sentence structures. Would it be same in the actual test as well?


        • The tests are not written by IDP or BC. So, the test doesn’t vary – of course individual tests may slightly but that’s all.

  4. thank you very much. 7/10 it is useful .

  5. Katerina says:

    Hello Liz
    I’m an English teacher in Greece and I would like some information on how to help students with the IELTS exams. Any books to study, apart from your great tips?

    • On the whole, I learned my tips by doing test after test myself. I also spent a lot of time helping students and understanding how best to help them.

  6. Hello ,
    I have a question could you please tell me how important it is to paraphrase the writing task 2 in our introduction ( the first 2 lines of the essay) as i have seen on many blogs people just start will the topic such as , It is seen, It is true , or just the answer of what is asked and not paraphrase the question given .

  7. Hi Liz,

    just a quick question, in listening section if the answer is “internet users” will the Users of internet” be considered correct or not.

  8. Hi there Liz, I would just like to verify if it is
    possible to use past tense in writing task 1 even if there
    is no specific time indicated in the question? Thank you vry much

    • It is recommended to use the present tense when there are no dates given. However, if you decide to use the past in this case and you use it all the way through your task 1 report, then it wouldn’t be considered a big mistake and you could still do quite well.

  9. This is good tips I read. This is my first time to join to IELTS course as I am preparing for exams but it needs a time to prepare all vocabulary.

  10. sujit kumar biswas says:

    Dear great teacher liz
    Thank you for your valuable information
    “I had hoped that you would come in time”
    such a new sentence for me

    may you long live


  11. Thanks for all your free tips and lessons pertaining to IELTS. I really found them valuable when I took the test on the fourth of March 2017.

  12. suny patel from ahemedabad says:

    hello mam…if there is verb given in past tense in question ……then in which tense i shoud write?

  13. Thnks Liz
    All the information is very useful for me.

  14. Myat Min says:

    Dear Liz,

    I cannot find your lessons for Letter writing task on YouTube.

  15. Ravina Lalwala says:

    Thank you

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