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

Writing Task 1 is the hardest part of the IELTS exam for many students.

Today we share two of the most common mistakes made by students.

One is made on the general exam and one on the academic exam.

No matter which IELTS exam you’re taking, you need today’s tips!

We’ll share strategies to make sure you don’t make these mistakes on test day!

General Task 1 letters

One of the most difficult things about general Task 1 is getting the tone correct.

Many students don’t even realize they need to think about the tone.

This is a huge pitfall for test takers.

Today we’ll share an example from a student in our 3 Keys IELTS course.

You’ll learn how this mistake affects the score.

We’ll also show you how to avoid this mistake.

Which tone is appropriate on Task 1?

The tone of Task 1 essays changes depending on who you are writing to.

  • Informal
  • Semiformal
  • Formal

Informal letters are to people you know well.

For example, a letter written to close friends and family.

Those you know but aren’t extremely close to would receive a semi-formal letter.

These are individuals such as neighbors or work colleagues.

Formal letters are for those you have not met.

For instance, you may need to write to a company to complain.

This scenario would necessitate a formal letter.

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How can you get the right tone?

The biggest challenge with tone is using appropriate vocabulary.

Some words are much more informal.

  • Slang
  • Phrasal verbs
  • Idioms

On the other hand, high-level, more impressive words are often more formal.

A mix of both informal and formal vocabulary hits a semi-formal tone.

Whenever we teach vocabulary on the IELTS Energy podcast, we share if words and phrases are formal or informal.

We always share where on IELTS they can be used.

Passive voice vs. active voice

Grammar can also affect the tone!

Using active voice is often much more formal.

In order to achieve a more formal tone, the passive voice is often required.

Consider these two informal statements from student essays:

Do you have rhinitis medicine in the campus clinic?

My doctor said regular rhinitis spray could alleviate symptoms when the season changes.

With active voice, these sentences are very conversational.

This Task 1 prompt required a formal essay because it was written to a college admissions office.

In order to make it more formal, the essays could be written as follows:

Please let me know if rhinitis medication is offered in the campus clinic. 

My doctor has informed me that regular…

Academic Task 1 mistake to avoid

See if you can spot the mistakes in these sentences:

Fresh coffee was the least percentage for both cities, with approximately 44% in Sydney and 43% in Melbourne. 

However, the least quantity of drinks was in Brisbane.

We often see students make mistakes with ‘less’ and ‘least.’

When describing numbers and percentages, you need ‘lowest,’ which is the superlative of ‘low.’

‘Least’ is the superlative of ‘less,’ which cannot be used to describe percentages.

Instead, it is used most often to describe adjectives and adverbs.

The correct way to write these sentences is as follows:

Fresh coffee showed the lowest percentage for both cities, with approximately 44% in Sydney and 43% in Melbourne. 

However, the lowest quantity of drinks was in Brisbane.

Pro tip: Don’t just use ‘lowest’ or ‘least’

A tip from our online IELTS course is to avoid using ‘least’ and ‘lowest’ alone.

First of all, this will keep you from confusing them.

Secondly, they are band 6 words at best!

It is vital that you learn higher level, more impressive vocabulary for comparing numbers

Band 9 vocabulary for Academic Task 1

A variety of words can be used instead of ‘less’ and ‘least.’

Two of those we teach in 3 Keys IELTS are:

  • meager
  • paltry

These are much higher scoring than ‘less’ or ‘least.’

  • most meager, least meager
  • most paltry, least paltry

Many more options are available to you.

  • least impressive
  • least marked

Here is an example sentence to show you how to replace these words:

However, the most paltry quantity of drinks was in Brisbane.


When it comes to IELTS, you must control what you can.

You must know what the Examiner is looking for on Task 1.

For General Task 1, you must know how to get the right tone.

On Academic Task 1, it’s vital that you learn high-scoring vocabulary for comparing numbers.

These two tips will help you be better prepared on test day!

For all the strategies you need on test day, sign up for 3 Keys IELTS!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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