When preparing for the IELTS test many students try to find shortcuts to help them.
Many of these are a terrible way to learn English. You need to have a strong basis of General English before you even consider taking the IELTS test.
However, shortcuts, if used correctly, can help us create a structure to help us learn and improve our English skills.
A popular question I am asked by students all over the world is what grammar do I need to pass the IELTS test?
And the answer to that is — YOU NEED ALL ENGLISH GRAMMAR!
Please don’t think there is only a small amount of English grammar that you need in the IELTS test — or anywhere else come to that. But you can break English grammar down into sections to help you learn it and improve.
This is what I mean by shortcuts.
Yeah, sorry, you still have to study… No escape from that.
So I want to introduce a module on VERB TENSES. I will outline what the most popular and most used English verb tenses are and how to use them and explain why they are useful in the IELTS test.
Then you go away and practice, practice, practice.
Ready? Let’s go!
What are the Essential Verbs?
The most essential English verbs are:
- Simple Present
- Present Continuous
- Simple Past
- Past Continuous
- Simple Present Perfect
- Will & Going To — for future
If you know how to use all of these verb tenses, then you should be in very good shape for the IELTS test. You should be able to explain most things, tell stories, talk about your life and your dreams.
Please do not tell yourself that these are the only rules you need to know for English Verb Tenses. They are not. You should always strive to learn and improve your English.
You can do this by reading every day and having the right mental attitude.
But essentially, if you know how to use the verb tenses above then you should be able to talk about most topics in the IELTS test.
Let’s have a look at each of them in detail.
Simple Present, otherwise known as present simple or present indefinite, is used to express actions that are happening in the present or to describe regular actions. It is also used to talk about habits or things that are constant in our lives. It can also be used to talk about things happening in the very near future.
How to form the Simple Present
Using the verb to work, we would use the Simple Present like this:
- I work
- You work
- He/She/It works
- We work
- They work
To make a negative statement, you use it like this:
- I don’t work
- You don’t work
- He/She/It doesn’t work
- We don’t work
- They don’t work
To make a question, do this:
- Do you work?
- Does he work?
- Do they work?
How to Use the Simple Present
You can use the Simple Present to talk about a variety of things in the IELTS test. Let’s look at these things one by one.
Something that is true in the present
- I’m 18 years old
- I live in Tokyo
- I’m a student
Something that happens regularly in the present
- I play computer games at the weekend
We use Simple Present to talk about habits
- I have breakfast at 7:30am
- I drink tea in the evening
We use it for repeated actions
- I do my homework when I get home from school
- I take the subway to school in the morning
Facts that are always true and cannot change
- The moon revolves around the earth
- My father is Algerian
We use Simple Present to talk about the immediate future
- The train leaves at 5:30
- I start college in September
When you would use the Simple Present in the IELTS test
Mostly you would use this in Part 1 of the speaking test as you introduce yourself and talk about your life. You would also use it in Parts 2 and 3 as you introduce people or talk about other topics.
But in Part 1 you would use this most of the time.
I live in Sao Paulo, in Brazil. It is a nice city and very convenient. The weather is very warm here.
All my family are from Brazil but my grandfather is Italian.
I go to school here and my best subjects are maths and history. During lunch break, I play football with my friends. After school, I go home, eat dinner with my family and do my homework.
I go to bed at around 9:30pm.
At the weekend, I visit my friend and we hang out together.
Visit these sites for free exercises for you to try.
Now you try.
Make your own sentences using Simple Present. Try to make sentences for every kind of use for Simple Present.
Think about things you might say to introduce yourself.
The Present Continuous is used to describe events that are happening now. It can also be used to talk about things in the near future.
How to Form the Present Continuous
If we stay with our verb to work, you can see that it is used like this:
- I am working
- You are working
- He/She/It is working
- We are working
- They are working
To make a negative statement, you use it like this:
- I am not working
- He is not working
- We are not working
- They are not working
And to make a question:
- Am I working?
- Are you working?
- Is she working?
- Are we working?
- Are they working?
How to Use the Present Continuous
Present Continuous can be used to describe current states — things that are happening right now — and to talk about future events.
Events that are happening now
- I am eating lunch right now
- I am doing my homework
- I am listening to music
To talk about the immediate future
- I am going to school soon
- I am having dinner with my friend this evening
Verbs that Cannot Use Present Continuous
You cannot use the Present Continuous with stative verbs. These are verbs that describe a state of being or feeling. These are often only of that exact moment.
Stative verbs include:
You cannot use these verbs in Present Continuous tense.
We cannot say I am wanting, he is liking, she is understanding.
We can only use these verbs to describe a current state using Simple Present.
When you would use the Present Continuous in the IELTS test
You would use Present Continuous in Part 1 when introducing yourself and things you are doing right now.
- I am studying for my final exams
- I am taking extra classes for the IELTS test
You could also use it in Part 1 to talk about the future and your future plans.
- I am going to Australia in September to study
- I am moving into a new house in the Autumn
And you may have to use it in Parts 2 and 3. But as this is a present tense, it is more likely in Part 1.
Go to these links and you can practice by yourself.
- I am taking my exams soon
- I am moving to Canada in September
- My dad is helping me with going to Australia
- My mum is panicking because I am leaving home soon
- I am packing all my clothes to go to Canada
- I am studying hard for the IELTS test
Simple Past is used to describe completed events in the past.
We can only use it this way, so it is a very simple tense to understand how to use.
Just think of this; if the event is in the past and all finished and completed, then you use Simple Past.
How to form the Simple Past
With our verb to work:
- I worked
- You worked
- He/She/It worked
- We worked
- They worked
In the negative:
- I didn’t work
- She didn’t work
- We didn’t work
And for questions:
- Did I work?
- Did he work?
- Did they work?
How to Use the Simple Past
We can only use the Simple Past to talk about completed events that happened in the past. The variations of these past events could be the following:
An event that happened once in the past
- I was born in 1998
- I moved to Canada in 2019
- I met my girlfriend two years ago
To describe a regular habit in the past
- I cycled to school every morning
- I had tea with my grandfather every Sunday
- I studied hard every day at school
To talk about a series of events that all happened in the past
- We drove to the beach, changed into our swimming clothes and went into the sea
- I met my friend, we went to the cafe, and we studied for one hour
And to talk about extended periods of time in the past
- I studied English for ten years at school
- I lived in Germany for two years
When you would use the Simple Past in the IELTS test
You might have to use this in Part 1 and Part 3. Part 1 as you describe your life and Part 3 as you talk about a topic.
But there is a strong likelihood that you will use it in Part 2 of the speaking test. In Part 2, it is very common for the IELTS examiner to ask you to talk about a time in your past. This means telling a story, and this means using Simple Past.
Try some exercises by yourself by checking these links below.
I was born in 1983 and grew up in Manila. It was hot every day, and I hated walking to school in the heat. I classroom did not have air-conditioning, but the teacher was kind to us. She let us get water from the machine to cool down.
My grandfather taught me to play chess. Every weekend I went to his house, and he taught me some new moves in chess. He was a great teacher and was always very patient.
My grandmother made some delicious snacks. I liked the snacks more than the chess!
Past Continuous, also known as the past progressive tense, is used to describe an action, event or state that was happening in the past. It is used to talk about a state of something happening before and after another past event.
This is where English students have difficulty as Past Continuous is often used with Past Simple.
- I was doing my exercises when the phone rang
- It was raining when my friend knocked on the door
It is very useful to use at the beginning of a story
- The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day
- I was playing my guitar and just relaxing….
- My dog was barking like crazy…
When you would use the Past Continuous in the IELTS test
As I said before, you would use the Past Continuous when you are telling a story of an event from your past. So are most likely to use it in Part 2.
You can try by yourself by taking a look at these exercises below.
The sun was shining, and I was at home listening to music when my friend called. He wanted to see the new Batman movie that was playing at our local cinema.
I was doing my homework one evening when my dad asked me if I needed any help. I told him I didn’t but he insisted on trying to help me.
Simple Present Perfect
Simple Present Perfect is used to describe the following:
- An action that started in the past and continued into the present
- An event or action that took place in a time period that is not finished yet
- A repeated action or event that took place between the past and the present
- An event that was finished very recently
- To describe an event where the time is not important
Look at these examples to give you a better idea;
- I have lived in Melbourne for the last two years
- I have taken two tests this week
- I have been to Tokyo with my family twice before
- I have just completed all my high school exams
- I have eaten sushi
How to Form the Simple Present Perfect
Using the verb to work, we would use the Simple Present Perfect like this:
- I have worked
- You have worked
- He/She/It has worked
- We have worked
- They have worked
- I have not worked
- You have not worked
- He has not worked
- They have not worked
- Have you worked?
- Has she worked?
- Have they worked?
When you would use the Simple Present Perfect in the IELTS test
You could use this in all three parts of the speaking test.
In Part 1 it could be used a lot as you introduce yourself:
I have two cousins but I have not seen them for a long time as they both live in Australia
I have recently finished all my exams so now I can relax a little
In Part 2 it could be used as part of a story:
I was in London for two years. I have not been back there since then but I miss it a lot.
I’ve eaten spicy food many times but the spiciest food I ever ate was in Thailand…
In Part 3 it could be used when talking about a topic:
There has been a lot of development in my city in the last two years…
I have seen many changes when it comes to education in my country…
Check the links below and try the exercises by yourself.
Can you try to use this verb tense in different ways?
It is used when talking about the past or to describe your experiences.
Think of the first time you did something and talk about that. Try to use Simple Past Perfect when talking about your life experiences.
- I have been to Tokyo…
- I have eaten Vietnamese noodles…
- I have ridden a horse….
Then tell the story of this experience.
Will & Going to — for future
You use Will and Going to when talking about events or things happening in the future.
How to form Will & Going to
Still using our verb to work, you can form it like this:
- I will work
- I am going to work
- You will work
- You are going to work
- He/She/It will work
- He/She/It is going to work
- We will work
- We are going to work
- They will work
- They are going to work
- I won’t work
- I am not going to work
- You won’t work
- You are not going to work
- He won’t work
- He is not going to work
- We won’t work
- We are not going to work
- Will I work?
- Am I going to work?
- Will you work?
- Are you going to work?
- Will she work?
- Is she going to work?
How to Use Will & Going to
You can use Will and Going to when talking about your future plans or for other future events. This can be useful in the IELTS test if the examiner asks you about predictions of things.
For events or actions where we have just decided.
- I’ll buy some milk in the shop.
- I’ll get a new computer tomorrow.
When we have a belief about an event in the future.
- I think it will rain later.
- Manchester will win this game.
- I will buy you a diamond ring on your birthday.
When you have made a plan for a future event.
- I am going to buy some shoes tomorrow (This means you have thought about buying shoes and made a plan to do so)
When you would use Will & Going to in the IELTS test
Obviously, you would use these terms when talking about any future events. In Part 1 the examiner might ask you what you plan to do in the immediate future and then you can tell him your plans accordingly.
- I am going to go to Canada.
- I’m going to start college in Australia.
Or if you have not given it much thought:
- I’m not sure, maybe I will go to university.
Try the following exercises below to help you improve.
Take some of the examples above and make your own sentences.
Think about your future and make sentences using Will and Going to.
This is not a foolproof method for using or learning English verb tenses for the IELTS test. But it will certainly tell you what verb tenses you should understand completely.
You need to use all of these verb tenses with ease and great fluency if you want to do reasonably well in the IELTS test. If you have any difficulty using any of these verb tenses, then I would suggest strongly that you take time to study them or attend some General English classes.
If these verb tenses present any problems for you, then you are not ready for the IELTS test.
But if you find that you can use all of these then you may be ready indeed.
It doesn’t take long to practice and improve this part of English grammar. Just use the links that I provide and do the exercises and you should improve in a short amount of time.
Good luck and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!