Top Tips for IELTS

IELTS letters tips

These IELTS letters tips to help you maximise your band score so that you impress the examiner. A summary of these tips would be that letter writing may have its own conventions but so does IELTS – so whatever else you do, make sure you answer the question and use good English.

1. Make sure you answer the whole question

This is probably the most common mistake. Each IELTS letter question contains 3 bullet points and you need to make sure that you address all 3 points in your answer. If you leave one of them out, you will be penalised on task response. A more detailed point is that you need to make sure that you include the appropriate amount of detail for each point – this may mean you need to write more about one topic and less about another.

If you like, go and visit my sample IELTS letter questions page and make sure you can identify the tasks in each letter.

2. Think about who you are writing to

Perhaps the one complex thing about letter writing is that you need to be aware of register. This means that you need to be able to write in a more formal style if the letter is to someone you don’t know and in a less formal style to a friend. Part of the problem here is that conventions differ in different countries and cultures. One sensible piece of advice is to aim for a relatively neutral style and don’t try to be too formal or too informal.

3. Think about the purpose(s) of the letter

Before you start writing, you should think about what the purpose of the letter is. IELTS letters tend to be quite predictable and generally fall into one or more of these functions:

  • complaint
  • request
  • explanation
  • apology
  • application
  • suggestion

This information helps you because you can then use the appropriate letter writing vocabulary for each of those functions.

4. Don’t forget to use varied grammar

A common problem with letters is that candidates use language that is too simple. Just as in essays, there is a band score for grammatical range and accuracy. This means that even if you are writing to a friend, you still need to use varied sentences. You cannot just use short and simple sentences.

5. Learn how to start a letter

When we write more formal letters, we tend to start with a sentence explaining exactly why we are writing. A common phrase here is “I am writing to….”. We start like that because the person doesn’t know us and needs to understand what the purpose of the letter is.

When we write to a friend, we normally start by talking a little about our relationship in a fairly general paragraph. A common phrase might be, “I was so pleased to hear from you again. It’s been ages since we’ve seen one another…”. It’s important not to forget to do this in IELTS letters as it shows the examiner you understand the type of letter you are writing.

6. Learn how to end a letter

There are also conventional ways to end letters. If you are unsure how to do this, the best advice is to think about what you expect to happen next. In a more formal letter where you have asked for some information, you might write:

“I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

By contrast, in a letter to a friend who is coming to visit you, you might try:

“I can’t wait to see you. And don’t forget to give my love to all your family.”

You can learn some set phrases to help you do this but as I say the best advice is just to think about what you expect to happen next.

7. Plan your letter

What? Plan a letter? Well you may not bother in life, but IELTS is a very peculiar form of life and you should definitely spend time thinking about and organising your letter. This means that you should think carefully about:

  • how many paragraphs you are going to use
  • what the main points to include are
  • what details you need to add
  • what vocabulary you need

8. Make sure you write at least 150 words

This should be self-explanatory. You will be penalised if you write less than 150 words and my general advice is that you should aim for about 175 words. I say this because the examiner may not count any words you have directly copied form the question.

9. Check your spelling and punctuation

Perhaps because letters are often less formal than essays, candidates frequently make more basic spelling and punctuation mistakes in letters. Don’t be one of those people: even if it is an informal letter make sure you use correct English. This means:

  • you may use short forms like “can’t” if it’s an informal letter
  • you shouldn’t use abbreviations like “cos”
  • be very careful with spelling of common words like “believe” and “sincerely”
  • write in sentences with full stops and capital letters

10. Practise using standard letter writing phrases

Letters have their own language to some extent. One way to improve your letter writing is to look at sample IELTS letters and find phrases which you can use in your own letters.

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33 Responses to IELTS letters tips

  1. Kasthuri June 10, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    This too was really helpful. Thank you very much. You are the BEST Sir ! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. CINDY November 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm #


    • Dominic Cole November 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

      Wow. A strange one. How on earth did you manage to do better in academic reading than general training reading?!?! I can’t help you there. The skills are the same but the GT passages should be quite a bit more straightforward.

      On the writing, the difference is in the letter format. I have known good candidates go wrong with that – largely because they don’t address all the parts of the question.

      • Piyu March 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

        Hello Mr.Cole,

        This is just a normal comment. you’re a native speaker so you may not find such a problem but here is my general comment as I am a non-native user of English.

        I tend to disagree with you on one point that General Training Reading tends to be little bit straightforward. I would rather say, it is trickier than Academic especially if you are looking for 7.0 Bands or more because in that case you need more than 34 correct answers. The problems lie with the scoring criteria. In fact, personally, I do both readings from all Cambridge books and I have found that I do much better at Academic. I get around 33-36 correct for Academic and when I try General Reading, I get same number of correct answers. However, the band score for the former is 8.0 and for the later, it is only 7.0.
        So that’s what makes General reading bit more difficult. Moreover, I have three friends, including my cousin, who appeared for both modules. The results were quite surprising. The speaking scores for two of them improved, however the readings scores decreased by 1.5 Bands for one candidate and for another by 0.5 bands.
        One candidate who had achieved 8.5 Bands in academic, scored only 7.0 in General module. In fact, none of those three got more bands in general reading as compared to academic.

        I agree with you that general reading is straight forward but that too, up to 7.0 – 7.5 bands. Then, it becomes quite difficult to score as one wrong answer means loss of 0.5 bands.

  3. alia January 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Dear Cole,,,

    Thank you so much for such a golden advice .

    once again many thanks


  4. Ibrahim Turay July 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    Hi Mr Dominic,
    Is the letter writing aspect meant for both general and academic IELTS candidates?
    with regards
    Ibrahim Turay.

    • Dominic Cole July 18, 2012 at 11:52 pm #


      The letter only appears in general training.

  5. Mohei August 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Good day,
    Dear Mr Dominic,

    First of all I want to thank you for this tips.
    I’m writing this comment to complaint about the page design, as I can not find a links to simples to explain the idea of each tip, or even practices.

    But anyhow thank you very much for this useful tips.
    Kind regards

    • Dominic Cole August 8, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

      Fair comment. I am in fact working on the site design at the moment and at some time the posts will all neatly link together – there are currently over 250 lessons so this will take some time though. The idea is for the site to become a complete online course and not just another blog. Can I suggest that you visit the front page and look through the reading/writing/listening pages there – you will find most of the important lessons catalogued there.

  6. Mohamed August 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Hi CINDY,

    I had a same experience. Unlike most people who think that GT is much more easier , especially

    in Reading I think differenly. I think that because the GT is much more tricky. You think that you

    understand the question well while answering wrongly. In scoring as you know there is not

    important you already know sophisticated/difficulty vaocabularies. What is important is the right answer.

    By contrast, in Academic IELTS you hardly find those questions focusing on tricking

    candidates. Instead, they want to focus on vocabularies.

    My suggestion is in GT we should not answer questions hastily . And always should know that in

    IELTS there is never very easy question.

  7. joanne October 27, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    I’m really thankful for all your valuable tips for IELTS preparation.

    One quick question, do we need to write in paragraph when writing a letter? Thanks.

  8. Rohit February 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    I would like to ask you about Tip no. 6.

    “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

    Sometimes, I have seen on internet that people have used comma after the above mentioned sentence like given below:

    I look forward to hearing from you soon,

    Yours faithfully,

    ………….. …………..

    Please let me know which is better and correct from IELTS point of view.



    • Dominic Cole February 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      It all depends whether it is in a complete sentence and what comes next. Send me some examples and i would be happy to comment

      • Rohit February 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

        Letter Writing Task:

        Recently stay in a hotel. The heating system in the room was not working.

        Write a letter to the manager of the hotel. In your letter:
        – give details of what went wrong
        – explain what you had to do to overcome the problem at the time
        – say what action you would like the manager to take


        Dear Sir,


        I am shocked by this terrible service. This is not what anyone expects for $600 a night! To compensate me for this inconvenience, I would like to ask a full refund of my money and offer me a free, more comfortable stay in one of your finer suites. If not, I am prepared to take my complaint to a higher authority.

        I look forward to hearing from you at the earliest,

        Yours faithfully,

        _______ _______

        • Dominic Cole February 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

          This is a great question – I now understand what you mean. I’ve just spent a fair while researching it. Like you, I have found examples with commas, full stops and no punctuation at all.

          My first instinct, and best answer, is that you need a full stop as what you are writing here is a complete sentence. A very strong argument for this is that you need a capital letter for “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” and this would be entirely inappropriate with a comma before it.

          I would add though that I have found what I would regard as “good” examples with commas. With regards to IELTS, I would say relax and that either variant would do. I say partly because letter writing conventions (and this is part of letter writing conventions) vary around the world and IELTS examiners are going to be relaxed about accepting different conventions because IELTS is such an I(international ELTS) exam. The one point you do need to get right is the level of formality of the way you end the letter: it would be a problem if you ended an informal letter to a friend with Yours faithfully, for example.

          • Rohit February 27, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

            Thanks Dominic!

            I have scored 6.0 in Writing when I have given my exam on Feb. 02, 2013 and now I am practicing a lot as I have to give the exam again and would like to score at least 7.0 in each.

            Also, my weakest part is Speaking in which I scored 5.5. Can you suggest anything how should I improve my speaking so that I can reach at least 7.0.

            Do you have any material to prepare for Speaking test?

            I have read your profile on this website and found that you are a freelance teacher. Do you give any online tuition service overseas so that I can prepare for the speaking part at least?

  9. Dominic Cole February 27, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    Hi Rohit

    There is quite a big step from 5.5 to 7.0 in speaking and, yes, I do think that you should approach a teacher. I will be teaching myself from June, but life in China doesn’t make that practical for me just yet.

    Friday/Saturday this week (depending on where you are in the world) I will be posting the details of Jan – a teacher based in Melbourne, Australia – and she does specialise in Skype and speaking. The time zone may not be great perhaps for you – but here’s hoping.

  10. Rohit February 28, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Thanks Dominic! I will contact Jan.

  11. saeed March 8, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    Where can i get general training’s reading and writing practices which actually appeared in exams?

    • Dominic Cole March 8, 2013 at 6:32 am #

      The only source for this are the Cambridge exam books 1-8. Be careful with internet sites that give you “recent questions”, they may be remembered well, they may not be.

  12. prashant pathak March 27, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    sir, i am lagging in listening section. I am not able to answer the multiple question as well as mapping. Besides this i use to listen a lot of stuff of English.

    • Dominic Cole March 28, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      Another listening coming today with a map.

  13. suresh June 1, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    Dear sir/mam

    i have scored 6 band in each module of academic test including 6.5 in reading. now, i want to appear in GT test and score at least 7 band in each of it band? please,would you kindly provide me some tips or the much used sentence for writing test.

  14. Fatima Hard June 24, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Sir. Thanks for your good advice. ๐Ÿ™‚ By the way, It says there in the writing “Do not write in bullets/note form”. Will I be marked down if I say, “The following are the reasons such as but not limited to: ” Thank you very much!

  15. Srushti May 27, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    You are going to have a family party in a private room of a hotel. Write a letter to the hotel manager and say

    – Why do you need to use this private room?
    – What do you need them to provide for the party?
    – Inquire about the price of the food you are ordering.

    Dear Manager,

    I am writing this letter to request information about a party room for a family function.

    We are planning to organize a party to celebrate my little one’s first birthday on 25th June. I would like you to make an arrangement of a party hall which contain enough seating capacity with dining hall. The hall must be beautifully decorated and contain rocking music system. It would be great if you could arrange indoor games and karaoke system for fun. We are vegetarian, so I would like to have healthy and testy foods which include all sorts of items like soups, salads, sweets etc. Please also arrange a delicious birthday cake of “Doraemon” comic shape.

    It would be very grateful if you provide cost of food per plate for 50 persons, not later than 18th June. Please also provide details of any discount offer if you have. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours Faithfully,


    Hello Sir,

    I have written above letter but still I feel the opening sentence is not proper, could you please help me to improve the opening sentence

    Thank You

  16. Basudha June 11, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Dear sir,
    you are doing very good job for us who are preparing the IELTS exam.Similarly i am also going to attend in GT.It is very helpful for me. Thank you very much.

  17. Zhunus August 10, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Hi there,

    I have been preparing IELTS for two month and need pass exam in September. I have problem with reading and listening parts. I am preparing the exam myself. I need to get 6 score. How i can improve my reading in short period of time. I can underatnd well when i read any text, but i have big problem when it comes to real test


  18. kalyani August 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks for the article. It is highly informative.

  19. Navi October 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I could not score well in listening as always i lost my concentration .

  20. astrid May 11, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    Hi Dominic!

    I’m not sure if you are still active in this website but I would like to know if it’s possible to check the link to the letter samples. Once you click on it, it gives an error. Thanks in advance for all the information you have shared with us. It has been very useful!

    • Dominic Cole September 13, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

      Back at work now. Should be fixed and thanks for letting me know. Do tell me when you find something else broken. I hate having a site where some things don’t work

  21. Anonymous September 23, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    Appreciate your great efforts for creating this website, it is very helpful and many thanks for your hardwork!

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