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Understanding IELTS letters questions

This is a quick lesson on task achievement and understanding IELTS letters questions. The idea is that there are certain points examiners will look for in your letters to see how well you have answered the question. These are:




To get these right you need to focus clearly on the question before you write.

How IELTS letter questions work

The questions look like this.

One of your colleagues is leaving for a new job, your manager has asked you to arrange a leaving party for him.

Write a letter to your manager and

 Suggest a suitable day and time for the party
Recommend a place
 Discuss about the food and entertainment options available

You should start your letter


The part in blue is an introductory statement that tells you what has happened and why you have decided to write a letter. Focusing on the spat is key to help you understand the purpose of the letter.

The part in red gives you the content of the letter – 3 points you must include

The part in green shows you how to start the letter and is a clue to how formal/informal it should be.

The 3 keys to task achievement in IELTS letters


This is more or less the same as for other parts of IELTS writing. There are certain points you need to cover in your answer. If you want to score well in task achievement it’s important to develop all the points.

Do not leave out any of the points
Develop all the points to score well

Identifying the content from the question

This is quite easy to see as the question sets out the points you need to cover in separate bullet points.


If you look at this example you’ll see highlighted in red the three items you need to cover in your letter. You need to mention and develop all these three points.

You are planning to visit another country to get work experience. You would like a friend who lives in that country to help you find a suitable placement.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:

explain you are looking for work experience

say what type of work you are looking for

ask  your friend to help find a position

One possible solution is to consider writing a separate paragraph for each point to make sure that you develop each point sufficiently.


Purpose is why you are writing the letter. Think about what has happened to make you write the letter, who you are writing to and what you hope to achieve.

Make the purpose of the letter as clear as possible – for band score 7+ it needs to be clear throughout

Identifying purpose from the question

This can sometime be harder to see and is easier to get wrong. The purpose of the letter is a combination of the reason why you are writing (often some event) and what you hope to achieve as a result of the letter. To find the purpose of the letter you need to look in two places

  1.  the introductory statement – where you are told what has happened
  2. the contents instructions – where you are told what to write

Look at the example below to see how this works.


In this example the purpose of the letter is to make a request to change course.You see this partly in the contents instructions but also in the introductory statement. The introductory statement will set out the reason why you are writing the letter. Here it is that you want to change course and you want to ask your tutor permission.

You are studying at university. You want to change the course you are on and ask your tutor if this possible.

Write a letter to your tutor. In your letter

ask permission to change course

explain why you want to change your course

say what new course you would like to study

Think about the person who you are writing to – if that isn’t clear in your letter then the purpose won’t be clear either
Use the first sentence of your letter to state clearly why you are writing. It can help to start “I am writing to..”
Use the final sentence of your letter to repeat the reason why you’re writing


This can be a tricky one to get right as it involves more use of language. The general idea is that the tone of the letter is a combination of how formal/informal your writing is and how friendly you are.

Keep your tone consistent to score well – for band score 7+ it needs to be consistent throughout

Identifying tone from the question

You find the tone of the letter by thinking about your relationship to the person you’re writing to. In general terms, the closer the relationship the less formal the letter. It looks something like this

a friend = less formal

someone you don’t know well = more formal

someone in a position of power = more formal

You should also note how you start the letter. The instructions tell you how to start

Dear Sir or Madam = more formal

Dear =  a more personal letter that may be less formal

Note that there are degrees of formality and informality.


In this example you are going to want a more formal tone. You are writing to someone you don’t know well and who is in a senior position. You should also note that the instructions tell you to start “Dear Sir or Madam”.

You have just returned from holiday. You are unhappy with the quality of the hotel you stayed in and want to complain to the travel agency that arranged the holiday.

Write a letter to the manager of the travel agency. In your letter

say where stayed 

state why the hotel was inadequate

say what you would like the travel agency to do 

Begin your letter 

Dear Sir of Madam

Remember to keep the tone of your letter consistent throughout
For less formal letters – remember to be chatty


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One Response to Understanding IELTS letters questions

  1. Mussa Hassan Hatem October 26, 2016 at 6:52 pm #


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