What makes a great letter? (IELTS General Training Task 1)

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by David Cunningham

by David Cunningham

ILAC IELTS Teacher, IELTS Expert & Pathway Instructor


If you plan to immigrate, live and work in an English-speaking country like Canada, the UK, Australia or New Zealand, among others, you will need to show that you can communicate effectively in everyday English.  The IELTS General Training (or GT for short) will demonstrate just that. 

To master the General Training IELTS, and specifically, the IELTS GT Writing Task 1, you’ll need to understand the tasks, the tone and the language required to achieve the required score. 

General Training Writing Task 1

The General Writing test consists of two writing tasks of 150 words and 250 words. 

Task 1 – Candidates should take 20 minutes to respond to a situation by writing a letter, for example, requesting information or explaining a situation, and must write at least 150 words. 

Task 2 – Test takers write an essay in 40 minutes in response to a point of view, argument or problem. Candidates should write a minimum of 250 words. 

This article will discuss tips on how to achieve your score in Task 1.  Click here for more information about the overall IELTS format, including General Training Writing Task 2.

How is it scored?

All Writing Tasks on the IELTS are scored using 4 criteria: 

  1. Task achievement – Do you provide all the necessary information to respond to the prompt? 
  2. Coherence and Cohesion – How clear is your writing?  Is your response logically organized? 
  3. Lexical resource – Do you use a range of vocabulary in the appropriate style? 
  4. Grammatical range and accuracy – Do you use a variety of complex structures, free of errors? 

A Band 7 response should: 

  • cover all of the required points, while presenting a clear purpose 
  • sequence the information and ideas logically and use natural connections between paragraphs and ideas 
  • use a range of vocabulary that shows you understand collocations and precise word choice 
  • have a range of complex sentence structures, with few errors 

For a more detailed look at the requirements for IELTS writing, click here. 

Valuable Tips

Tip 1 – Understand the question

For Writing Task 1, you must write in response to the information given.  You can use your imagination to provide a realistic ‘background’ to your response.  However, it is important to remember you must address all the details in bullet points in the question.   

For example, take a look at this sample task: 

Task 1  – You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.  

You live in a room in college which you share with another student. However, there are many problems with this arrangement and you find it very difficult to work.  

Write a letter to the accommodation officer at the college. In the letter,  

  • describe the situation 
  • explain your problems and why it is difficult to work 
  • say what kind of accommodation you would prefer 

Write at least 150 words. 

How do I respond to this type of question? 

The first step is to read and understand the question. Ask yourself:

  • Who are you writing to? 
  • What is the problem?  Why are you writing to them? 
  • What kind of solution will you propose? 
Tip 2 – Organize your response

Break your response down into logical paragraphs.  For a sample question like this, use a typical letter format: 

  • Salutation (Dear Sir/Madam) 
  • Paragraph 1 – state why you are writing / give an overview of the situation 
  • Paragraph 2 – provide details about the situation and why you find it difficult to work (TIP: you might need to create some of the details yourself)  
  • Paragraph 3 – suggest a solution / what kind of accommodation would you prefer? 
  • Closing/Signing off (Thank you for your consideration.  Yours faithfully, …) 
Tip 3 – Decide on your tone

You might see three general task styles in the General Training Writing Task 1.  The following chart shows the three types of letters, examples of who you’d be writing to and some helpful language samples: 

3 Types of LettersExamplesTarget Language

Formal letters

    • Written to people we don’t know
  • writing a letter complaining about a service you received 
  • applying for, or resigning from, a job 
  • asking for help from a supervisor 
  • writing a letter to a local newspaper providing suggestions 
  • requesting information from a company/agency 

Dear Sir or Madam, 

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with the service I received.  

…Yours faithfully, 

Semi-formal letters

  • written to people we don’t know well, or with whom we have a professional or business relationship
  •  a letter/email to your teacher making a request 
  • a neighbour or landlord, complaining about a situation 
  • an email/message to your supervisor asking for help/ support 

Dear Mr. MacFarlane / Dear Kevin, 

I have recently become aware of a company-sponsored course on social media and I am writing to ask for your support. 

…Kind regards, 

Informal letters

  • written to people we know, such as a friend or family member
  • providing advice to a friend 
  • letting someone know about the details of a future visit 
  • asking about someone’s experience studying abroad 

Dear Darlene, 

I’m so excited to hear you’ll be moving to London and congratulations on your new job! 

…Best wishes, 

Tip 4 – Practice like you mean it!

Be sure to practice your writing daily.  Look at several of the example IELTS General Training Writing Tasks here to give you an idea of the types of tasks and also the various ways you can respond.  Read the sample answers and note the types of expressions used.  After looking at the sample answer, put it away and try a complete response on your own, then compare your answer with the original.  Was your grammar accurate?  Did you use some new vocabulary?  Do this daily while using a timer and you will notice a steady improvement.  


Yes, you CAN achieve mastery of the IELTS General Training Writing Task 1!  By knowing what types of questions to expect and responding with appropriate tone and language, you will soon achieve your dreams of passing the IELTS General Training test! 

Get more sample questions for Task 1 here.

You may also like this article: 5 Tips for Improving Your Writing Essays (IELTS General Training)

If you are located in Vancouver or Toronto, Canada, contact our program advisors at ILAC to talk about your English goals.

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