Today, we are going to briefly look at a question from the IELTS general writing test. This is task 1, so it is a letter that you must write. It is about a cookery course, and I want to show you a few things:
- how to interpret the question properly
- how to answer it fully
- how to avoid common mistakes
For this, I will show you my own sample band 9 answer as well as some errors made by students of my writing correction service.
A Letter About a Short Cookery Course
Here is the question that we will study today:
You recently did a short cookery course. The cookery school has asked for your feedback on this course.
Write a letter to the course director at the cookery school. In your letter
– describe what you enjoyed about the course
– say how much cooking you have done since the course
– suggest another cookery course you’d like the school to offer
Sometimes questions seem easy but usually there are a few minor complexities that you need to address to fully understand it. You need to understand precisely what is being asked so that you can give an answer that will earn you a high score for Task Response.
Here, the key details are:
- you are giving feedback that has been requested
- you have finished the course (ie it is no longer on-going)
- clearly, you enjoyed at least some elements of the course
- you need to give a suggestion for a new course
As for the second bullet point, you need to talk about this but you have some freedom here. You could say that you have done lots of cooking or no cooking. It is your choice.
Common Mistakes for Task Response
For this question, I quite often see an error emerge with the final bullet point:
suggest another cookery course you’d like the school to offer
The problem is that people read it too quickly and misunderstand what is required. For example, one of my students recently wrote this:
If I had another opportunity to take a course from your school again, I would take the Asian cuisine course because I am obsessed with Chinese food. I have also heard that your school is renowned for Asian food since you have employed some famous Asian chefs recently.
Even though the language here is really good, the ideas completely contradict the question. In this case, my student has said she would like to do the Asian cuisine course, but the question asks for suggestions for a new course. In other words, you are asked to recommend a course that does not yet exist. This is very important.
Unfortunately, this sort of mistake is quite serious and this is a good reason why you should spend some time to properly understand the question.
More About IELTS Letters
The Importance of Verb Tense
English is a difficult language because we have many verb tenses with quite specific uses. Learners of English often struggle with these because they can seem needlessly confusing. However, you don’t need to know all of them perfectly in order to write a good answer to a question like this. You just need to know the basics.
In this case, the most important issue is the difference between past simple and present perfect. To be honest, the difference is really simple! However, most learners struggle with it because they have not been taught properly.
The main thing to consider is this:
- If the event/action finished in the past, it should be past simple.
- If the event/action could still be continued, it should be present perfect.
Common Mistakes in Verb Tense
Here, you can see some mistakes that I have corrected about past simple and present perfect:
|I am writing to provide the feedback that you have asked for…||I am writing to provide the feedback that you asked for…||The business is no longer asking for feedback. This happened once in the past.|
|I have learnt many useful cooking skills and have made some great friends.||I learned many useful cooking skills and made some great friends.||These things happened in the past. Because the course is finished, they cannot continue to happen.|
|I have made many delicious dishes||I made many delicious dishes||Again, this started and finished in the past.|
|After finishing the course, I have practiced cooking at home…||After finishing the course, I practiced cooking at home… OR Since finishing the course, I have practiced cooking at home||The word “after” conflicted with the verb tense. You could either change “after” or change the tense. Either is perfectly acceptable.|
Here are some more basic errors with past and present issues:
|Attending such a wonderful course is one of the best things I have done this year||Attending such a wonderful course was one of the best things I have done this year||The course is finished. It is part of the past now. However, we can still say “I have done” because this refers more broadly to doing good things and the year is not yet finished.|
|Although the course is very short…||Although the course was very short…||Yes, the course still exists, but for you it is now in the past. You no longer do the course.|
Sample Band 9 Answer
Here is my sample answer for this question:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to your request for feedback on the cookery course I recently attended. I am happy to give you some of my thoughts on the course.
First of all, I really enjoyed it. I had wanted to study French cooking techniques for several years and so I was really excited to see that this course became available. It certainly did not disappoint me, and I was delighted by the processes that I learned during that amazing week.
Since the course, I have been cooking and baking for my friends and family at every opportunity. They have been really impressed with my newfound skills, and I will continue to practice what I have learned.
As for suggestions, I do think that it would be worth adding some other sorts of cuisine to the courses on offer. I would love to learn how to cook Thai food, for example.
David S. Wills
Notes on the Answer
I made the purpose of the letter very clear in the first paragraph by stating what it was about. Then, I structured my answer logically by giving each paragraph a focus. In this case, each paragraph refers to one of the three bullet points. You don’t need to do this, but it can be quite a useful way of structuring your letter.
My use of verb tenses was quite careful so that I accurately reflected the issues of time. In particular, notice this part:
I had wanted to study French cooking techniques for several years
This is the past perfect tense. It shows that I wanted something before a specific point in the past. This is good language to show a careful control over your verbs. I have switched between past simple and present perfect, too, whenever necessary.