Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"
Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"

You have likely heard us say you shouldn’t worry so much about your grammar scores.

Many students think their main problem is grammar, and this is usually not the case.

It is vital that you also focus on raising your other scores.

However, there are some grammar rules that you do need to know for IELTS!

Today’s episode comes from 2 questions students submitted about grammar.

For all the strategies you need for IELTS, sign up for our IELTS course!

Question #1

I have a grammar question: I’ve been reading transcripts from the How to Save a Planet podcast when I came across this sentence:

It starts back before we even knew who would be president.

So my question is why the verb “Start” is conjugated in the present simple?

Because when I saw back before, I automatically thought it should be in the past.

Could you please shed some light on that, and what’s the rule ? Thank u guys so much for all the perfect lessons and tips.

Question #2

I have a question.

There are occasions that we use present tense to talk about the past for example we say:

“I heard you can’t come to my party” or when we change the tense to describe an exciting event.

Is it ok if we do this in speaking and general writing task 1 or is it considered grammatically wrong?

What is the historical present?

We do use the present tense sometimes when talking about the past.

It’s called the historical present.

It is grammatically accurate, but is only appropriate for informal speaking.

It shouldn’t be used for Writing.

When do we use historical present?

We use this in stories and jokes.

It describes a snapshot in time.

  • It all starts….
  • So I’m sitting at the bus stop and….

You can definitely use this on IELTS Speaking.

It is a native, natural way to recall stories from the past.

It’s an interesting way to begin Speaking Part 2 answers.

I’m eating lunch the other day with a friend, and someone near us starts choking!

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Would past simple also work?

Whenever you use the historical present, past simple would also be correct.

I ate lunch with a friend last week, and someone near us choked!

Past continuous would also work in this case.

I was eating lunch with a friend last week, when someone started choking!

Is this grammar necessary for IELTS?

This is one of the reasons we don’t recommend you focus on grammar.

You don’t need complex grammar forms.

Instead, a mix of sentences can get you the variety of grammar structures required.

  • Simple
  • Compound
  • Complex

You usually can’t choose which verb tense you want to use.

There is almost always one that is required depending on context.

This is one exception!

When recalling a story, you can choose past tense or historical present.

Should the historical present be used for IELTS essays?

This is used more informally when someone is speaking.

It is not appropriate for IELTS Writing.

It also would be complicated to use it, and you want to keep it simple!

Your grammar score isn’t improved by using fancy, impressive grammar forms.

As long as you have that variety of grammar structures, you can get 7+ on the grammar score.


The historical present is a grammatically accurate way to speak about the past.

It is a native, natural way to tell a story in an interesting way.

Notably, it should be reserved for the Speaking exam.

Today’s tips can help you know how to use it when answering Speaking questions.

It will be most useful for Speaking Part 1 and Part 2, when discussing people or events and telling a story.

For more strategies for every part of the exam, sign up for 3 Keys IELTS.

You can also take our free 2-minute quiz to find out what you would get on the exam today!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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