Task 1 General Training or Academic – which is harder?

General Training Writing Task 1 (letter writing) can either be the easiest or the most difficult writing task for IELTS candidates depending on the question given and depending on the candidate’s background. Here’s why…

General Training Task 1 requires an unpredictable message structure, content and language style

This is because any type of writing situation found in a particular culture is made up of three aspects (whether a real situation or imagined situation such as for an exam): 1. writing purpose, 2. recipient and 3. format. These three aspects collectively determine the appropriate structure, content and language style of the message.

For example, when you write to your friend to tell him good news, then you would use more casual language, and you would announce the good news at the beginning of your message before the details.  If you write to tell him bad news, you would use less casual (more considerate) language and typically place the bad news towards the end (after some kind of neutral greeting and lead-in explanation). Although it is the same recipient in this case, the different purpose (good news vs bad news) greatly affects the structure, content and language style.

A successful letter does not always simply follow the content prompts in the order they are given in the question!

Moreover, being able to successfully write a letter for a particular situation in one culture does not necessarily mean you know how to write it in a different culture.

GT Task 1 questions cover a wide variety of situational contexts:

  1. purpose (varying): to give good news, give bad news, show gratitude, invite, request (a refund, advice, information, assistance, a reference letter, a job interview etc)
  2. recipient (varying): a restaurant, a retail store, an existing employer, a potential employer, the government, your colleague/friend/aquaintence/family member etc
  3. format (fixed): a letter of at least 150 words

Thus, a successful answer will vary widely in its appropriate structure, content and language style (according to its purpose and recipient).

Most candidates (even those at band 7+) need a generous sample of model answers covering a variety of situations, and multiple lessons or practice sessions with feedback.

Academic Task 1 requires a more predictable message structure, content and language style

Academic Task 1 questions cover a relatively limited number of situational contexts:

  1. purpose (relatively fixed): to summarise and compare numerical information (a line graph, table of figures, pie chart), compare a before and after map, or describe a diagrammed process
  2. recipient (fixed): non-specialised academic readership
  3. format (fixed): an IELTS “information transfer” passage of at least 150 words

The structure of your answer will hardly change (it needs an introduction, overview, and one or two ‘detail’ paragraphs). Note, you can write the overview at the end if appropriate.

The content is always provided to you in graphical form (you need to write no more and no less than the information provided). Your introduction is a paraphrase of the statement in the question. For example, “The two maps are of the town of Stokeford in the years 1930 and 2010.”.  Your overview is a non-numerical statement based on obvious features shown (“From the diagrams, it is clear that some features had been altered, added or removed since 1930, while others remained unchanged for the 80 years until 2010.”.

The language is relatively unvaried:

Graphs, tables, chartsrequire collocations such as “rose dramatically”, “fell sharply”, etc, and some nominalisations of these: “there was a dramatic rise/fall in” and some comparative/superlative words and expressions: “…was only slightly more popular than…”, “…had the highest…”.

Process diagrams – require present passive grammar (“…the beets are cut up into smaller peices called cossettes”) and sequencing words (“First,”; “Following this,”; “Finally,” etc).

Before and after maps – require past/future passive grammar (“… the farmland had been rezoned as residential and houses had been built along either side of the main road”) and comparative expressions (“… remained unchanged for the 80 years until 2010.”).

Candidates at band 6+ already know the basics. They normally need only learn the target vocab/grammar through lists and exercises, see one or two model answers for each question type, and of course receive feedback on their practice answers.

In summary, General Training Task 1 questions have a limitless number of situations, and therefore, the required structure, content and language style varies markedly from question to question compared to that of Academic Task 1.  Mastering GT Task 1 semi-formal letters can take longer, especially for anyone with little or no experience in formal business writing.

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