Better speaking grades? UMG! (Use More Grammar!)

Mar 21, 2017

Look at these transcripts from two different IELTS exams. Which candidate will get the better mark – candidate A or B? In both cases they are answering the same question: ‘Is your town or village a good place to live?’

Candidate A: Yes, I think so. We have some good facilities, a nice park and a football stadium. There are shops and schools. But there are too many cars on the roads.

Candidate B: Well, I have never lived in a different place so I’m used to my town – but yes, I like it. We have a good stadium, a park, a nice university as well as shops and schools. But if I could change one thing, I would: there is too much traffic.

That was an easy question, I think. Obviously candidate B will get a better mark for grammatical range, because the grammar is much more varied. The question was the same – and it is a question about the present. Candidate A answers well, but only uses the present (we have; there are). Candidate B on the other hand uses many more forms. You can see the present (I like it, I am used to it, there is too much), the present perfect (I have never lived) as well as a second conditional (I would change, if I could).

You can often add present perfect, conditional and even future sentences to questions about the present. How? The present is a result of the past, so you can use the present perfect:
I have never lived in a different place. The present could be different, so you can use a conditional: if I could change one thing, I would. The present could even change in the future, so you could use a future form. Candidate B could have said ‘Many people are coming to live in new houses in my village, so I think life will change.’

Let’s see how you can do the with two other typical questions.
Question: What special occasions do people celebrate in your country?
Simple answer: The special feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan. We call it Eid al-Fitr.
Present perfect: My favourite occasion has always been the special feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan. We call it Eid al-Fitr.
Future version: I’m looking forward to our next celebration of Eid-al- Fitr, which will be in six months.
Conditional version: If I could celebrate the feast with all of my family, I would really like to.

Question: Do you enjoy your work / study?
Simple answer: Yes, I do.
Present perfect: I’ve been doing it for two years, and I have never enjoyed anything as much.
Future version: But this time next year I hope I’ll be doing something different. I want to…
Conditional version: I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.

Next time you practice your IELTS speaking tasks, think about this!

About Author

Richard Brown

Richard Brown has been teaching English since finishing university in 1979.
Originally from London, he has taught in Sudan, Great Britain, Spain, France and Italy.
The author of several text books for students, he has been Director of Content at Guided e-Learning since the company was founded in 2007, and is in charge of the pedagogical design.

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