We have talked many times in the past about different IELTS topics and why it is important to learn vocabulary this way. I even wrote a long post all about the different IELTS speaking topics that you may encounter. Today, however, we are going to look at a smaller sub-topic. This is something most people would not think about, but it is worth exploring so that you can be totally prepared. This is the topic of punctuality.

I will first talk about why punctuality may be mentioned in the test, then give you useful vocabulary about this topic, before finally presenting some questions related to punctuality along with a few sample answers.

punctuality and ielts

Why should I learn about punctuality?

First of all, punctuality is a very important topic for many native speakers of English. In places like the United Kingdom (where I come from), it is extremely rude to be late. As such, people must try their hardest to be on time for appointments, even if they are just casual.

some questions about punctuality

IELTS is a British test and so it often involves some elements of British culture. This is one such example. However, you don’t have to share British people’s passion for punctuality! It is ok to say things in the exam that are the opposite of the examiner’s beliefs. You could, for example, say, “Oh, I’m often late for things and it drives my friends crazy!” Just because your English examiner tries to be on time, doesn’t mean that they will deduct marks. 😅

(Note: You should also make sure that you are on time for your IELTS exam! Being late could prove disastrous, so make sure that you arrive a little early.)

Vocabulary for talking about punctuality

In order to talk about punctuality, you must be able to talk about time. This requires some good knowledge of prepositions because these can play a serious role in talking about time, as well as some casual language. Just take a look at this short conversation:

CAROL: So we’re all set for the cinema tonight?

DAN: Yeah, that’s good with me. We’ll meet about five to seven, yeah?

CAROL: Actually, do you mind if we meet at quarter to, instead?

DAN: Erm, ok… It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze for me, though. I finish work at half six and it will take at least fifteen minutes to get there.

CAROL: Sure. Well, my thought was just that if we say six-forty-five then everyone will definitely be there by seven. If we say five to, then some folk might be late and we’ll miss the start.

DAN: Good idea. I’ll send a message to the group chat.

CAROL: Alright, let’s just hope everyone’s on time!

Did you manage to understand all of that? This clearly a conversation between two friends and so the language is quite informal. That means there are some expressions of time that may be unfamiliar to you.

Let’s look at some of the language that appeared in that dialogue:

all setto be fully prepared for somethingAre you all set for your big move this weekend?
meet (at) aboutto meet someone at roughly that timeShould we meet (at) about six tonight?
five to*five minutes before an hourPlease be ready by five to eight. The bus will not wait.
quarter to*fifteen minutes before an hourI’ll see you at quarter to.
bit of a squeeze(British Eng.) tight for time – ie it might be impossible to do something within the allotted time limitI’ll try to get there by seven but it’s a bit of a squeeze. Maybe quarter past would be better.
half sixhalf past sixI have a meeting at half six but I don’t think it will last longer than twenty minutes.
might be latepossibly later than plannedI might be late tonight so don’t wait for me.
on timeto not be latePlease be on time tomorrow.

* For these phrases, the hour can be stated or implied. If it is obvious, you don’t need to say the hour again, so you can just say “Let’s meet at five to.” However, if you are unsure then you should always say the time clearly so that there is no misunderstanding.

More Vocabulary about Punctuality

run lateto be behind schedule“I’m really sorry but I’m running a bit late. Please tell them to hold the table.”
on the dotexactly at the right time“She said she’d be here at five and she arrived right at five on the dot.”
promptimmediate or quick“Be prompt, be proper, and be prepared.”
preciseexact“She’s a precise woman. She won’t tolerate fooling around.”
timelydoing things within a reasonable time frame“Please don’t dawdle. Get your things together in a timely fashion.”

On time vs In time

I mentioned above that prepositions can be important when it comes to talking about time in English. One common point of confusion is the phrases “on time” and “in time.”

on time vs in time

Is there a big difference between these two phrases? Not really, but there is a small difference and small differences are very important when talking about punctuality!

“On time” means to arrive at the agreed upon time. For example, I might agree to meet my friend at 8:30pm and I show up at 8:30pm. In this case, I am on time. My friend might say, “Thanks for getting here on time! I was worried you would be late.”

“In time” means before the agreed upon time. It may provide you sufficient time to do something before a certain time. For example: “I arrived in time to grab a coffee before the presentation began.” This means that the person did not just arrive “on time” for the presentation, but was early.

We often talk about doing something “just in time.” This means that you were almost late but not quite! For example, if I had handed in my essay at the last minute when I was a student, my professor might say, “David, you are just in time.”

Idioms About Time

Here are a few common idioms and sayings related to time and punctuality. Remember that these are generally too informal for IELTS writing but they are perfect for the speaking test.

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Punctual vs Punctuality

The difference between these two words is simple: “punctual” is an adjective and “punctuality” is a noun.

We can add the adjective before a noun in order to modify it:

  • a punctual man

This refers to a man who is usually on time.

Meanwhile, the word “punctuality” means “relating to being on time.” In this sense, we are asking whether someone is punctual or whether they are usually late. For example:

  • In Italy, people don’t think about punctuality very often. We don’t judge people who are late.

IELTS Speaking: General Questions about Punctuality

Ok, now let’s look at some questions related to punctuality from the IELTS speaking test. These are general questions because they come from part one, which is a short and simple interview between the examiner and the candidate.

Question related to punctuality might include:

  1. Do you think it is important for a person to be punctual?
  2. How do you feel when others are late?
  3. How do you remind yourself to be on time?
  4. Are you often late for appointments?
  5. Do you wear a watch?
  6. Are people as punctual as they were in the past?
  7. Do you feel guilty when you are late?
  8. Why are some people always late?
  9. What do you do when you are waiting for someone?
  10. In your country, do people get offended when others show up late?

Sample Answers

Here are a few sample answers to those questions:

Q: Do you feel guilty when you are late?

A: Yes, absolutely. I hate being late and do everything I can to avoid it. If I am late for some reason, I will apologise to the other person but I still feel bad about it.

Q: Why are some people always late?

A: I think that there are various reasons for this. One of them of course is just selfishness. If someone only thinks about himself, he will not care that others are waiting for him. However, some people just seem to struggle to get organised and they constantly find themselves running late.

Other parts of the IELTS exam

This article was specifically about IELTS speaking but I shall briefly note that issues relating to punctuality are frequently raised in the listening test. If you carefully read my conversation near the beginning of this article, you would realise that it is in an IELTS conversation style.

This means that people often talk about meeting each other or doing something at a certain time in part one of the IELTS listening test. Of course, it is not usually straightforward. People don’t just say, “What time should we meet?” “Oh, let’s meet at five o’clock.”

Instead, you need to listen carefully for changes in the arrangement. For example:

PETER: When are we supposed to meet for the match?

JIM: About quarter to three.

PETER: Oh wow, that’s cutting it a bit thin, isn’t it?

ROGER: No, the coach said twenty-five to.

JIM: Are you sure?

ROGER: Yeah, he had originally said quarter to three but then changed his mind.

In this sort of dialogue, you would need to focus on those times and decide whether the answer was 2:45 or 2:35. The wrong answer was said twice here but the right answer is pretty clear. This is exactly the sort of challenge you face in the listening test.