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June 01, 2012


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Hi Simon,
Your website is really good and useful for us.
My teacher often tell me that I should not repeat the words in the question. Is it the good way to do in IELTS. Thank you very much

Hi Thanguye,

Sometimes it's necessary to repeat the most important words e.g. for a writing task 1 graph about unemployment, you will definitely use the word 'unemployment' more than once. However, variety is also good, so you might sometimes write 'unemployed people' or 'people without a job'.

Don't worry too much about this. Students often make mistakes by using a bad alternative word - it's better to repeat a word than to make a mistake.

hi Simon, your website is always helpful and i've leaned a lot from it. Thank you for your hark work.

here i got a question for you about the tense in speaking.

Describe a tourist site in your country that you enjoyed visiting.
You should say
where you went
what it looked like
who you went with
and explain why you enjoyed it.

in this question, should i use present tense or past tense to describe the question "what it looked like".

i would use present tense because the place of my description still exist. but the question use past tense, so it makes me confused.

Hi Simon,

Thanks for today's lesson!
Your message is loud and clear!


Hi Nicholas,

Allow me to answer your question.

When describing something or somebody in the past, you need to use the Past Tense because you are describing what you saw at that moment in the past. For example: "When I visited Yosemite National Park last month, the weather was gorgeous and all the waterfalls were flowing at their peaks."

However, if you are describing something or somebody in general terms, you need to use the Present Tense. For example: "Yosemite National Park is famous for its waterfalls and it has very interesting geological features."

Hope this helps!

Good luck!


Here is a lesson on Verb Tenses that Simon posted a few weeks ago: http://ielts-simon.com/ielts-help-and-english-pr/2012/03/ielts-speaking-part-2-which-tense.html

I agree that using recited formulaic or mechanical phrases as sentence starters and gap-fillers suggests a student's level of English is low.

Nice post Simon.i always felt confident when I express opinions in my own way. Examiners easily found out if you using memorized sentences or being mechanical. So be confident and express your thoughts loud and clear.

Dear Simon,
You put it correctly when you said this formula is not a good idea but when i used to study IELTS i have been taught to use given formula.As I have observed it works differently I mean it depends on Examiners. Some of them put low score whereas others put higher score which always keep me confused whether to utilize it or not? What do you suggest in this case?

Thank you Martin

So, if i describe:

1. something in general terms = present tense.
2. something i saw in the past (even they still exist), i should use past tense.

am i correct?


Hi Simon!

Thanks for your insightful tips on formulaic language, I find it really useful.

However, I like to ask you a question regarding this, which I've always wanted to ask to an experienced IELTS examiner. Wouldn't it be ok to use some of the useful ready-made chunks to help produce more fluent speech since using them obviously gives the speaker a little bit more time to think about what to say next as long as not using them too much?
And I got to know from reading some literature on formulaic language that native speakers of English also do use lots of formulas to keep going in speaking?

I would really appreciate it if you could answer my question. :) I'm teaching IELTS in Korea and your blog has been a great help for my classes.



P.S. I did my MA in the University of Manchester, so when I discovered your website I was extremely happy. :)

Hi Jinsun,

I think the main problem with using "formula phrases" is that students tend to rely on rote memorisation without truly understanding the meaning or the context in which these phrases can be applied. This produces an unnatural, forced tone, which doesn't create a good impression for the examiner.

IELTS speaking topics are very simple - often simpler than the student expects. Candidates shouldn't need to "buffer" their speech with such phrases and instead should focus on delivering content.

Thank you for your advice, Simon

Hi Nicholas,

Yes, that is correct. When you are describing something that happened in the past, you use the past tense, regardless of whether it still exists.

Tense is one of the most difficult aspects of English. The only way to master it is with lots of practice!

Hi Jinsun,

Jean-Luc's advice is worth reading.

I mentioned in the lesson that there are a couple of advantages to using 'formula phrases'. However, the disadvantages outweigh those advantages.

It's true that native English speakers use set phrases in various situations, but those phrases are always secondary to the content of what we are saying. In a 2-minute talk, I'd limit the use of these phrases to an absolute minimum.

Here's some related advice:


Hi Simon,
I believe that these "formula phrases" are not really useful to get high bands in speaking test. Instead of using those "formula phrases" you can begin your short speech by using words from the questions themselves, is it fine to do that Simon?
What are other things to do?
Thank you Simon! God speed!^^

Hi Simon,
I have no idea how IELTS speaking test goes? I honest haven't taken this kind of examination yet. I heard one examinee who had taken the test before in speaking part and he said that he was given a set of questions written in paper wherein he has to answer after a couple of minute. I thought Simon in speaking test part, the examiner will say to you the questions even in part two?
I believe in this test, it will also measure your listening skill and comprehension.
Thank you!

Hi Simon!
Iam worried about my test this month.I try to practice a lot of topics thanks to ur lessons.Now,I got some problems with this topic:
describe a large organization you know (shop,factory or company).
Could you give me some ideas?

Hi Mieran,

If the topic is "describe a building" then one way to begin is "The building I'm going to describe is...".

Please check the "About the exam" link on the left side of this page for information on the exam format.


Dear Linda,

That, like most IELTS speaking topics, is very broad. I think it's better if you start by choosing an organization to talk about and briefly describing it here. Then we can chime in on your topic and add ideas.

Hi Linda,

Would you like to practise speaking part on skype? I am taking the exam on 30th June.

Simon, donĀ“t you think it would be a great idea to have a part on your web where people could find a partner to prepare speaking on skype?
It is only an idea and I think it would be very helpful.
Thank u.

I took Ielts exam on 28June. I got excited because examiner was really angry. I want to improve my speaking. Would you lite to talk with me via Skpye?

Hi, I am taking a ielts coaching in gray matters bathinda plz give me some rules about speaking

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