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

There’s a lot of grammar you don’t have to worry about for IELTS.

Some things, however, are guaranteed to come up.

Past tense is one of these!

You are definitely going to use the past tense on the IELTS exam.

Today you’ll learn how to use the simple past tense on IELTS.

What is the simple past?

We use the simple past to describe past events that have finished.

How is it formed? 

  • For regular verbs, add -ed

Play becomes played and close becomes closed.

  • irregular verbs must be memorized

Go becomes went and write becomes wrote.

The good news is that verbs in simple past don’t have to match in number or gender in English like they do in many languages.

  • I wrote
  • You wrote
  • He wrote
  • She wrote
  • We wrote
  • They wrote

#1: Writing Task 1 General letter

  • Complaint/writing a formal letter to a business about a problem you want fixed
  • Writing an informal letter to a friend where one of the bullets is in the past

Match your verb tense to the bullet point.

If the question says, “Describe what happened,” you’ll answer in the past tense.

You have just spent a week traveling with a friend. After returning home, you realized you left your passport in her backpack. Write a letter to your friend. In your letter:

  • Thank your friend for the trip
  • Explain that you left your passport in her pack
  • Ask her to mail it to you

Describing the trip would be in past simple.

“It was so fun! I especially loved staying up late and hitting all the clubs.”

The 2nd bullet will be in past simple.

“When I got home, I realized I left my passport in your backpack! Remember I put it in there the day we chilled at the beach and I didn’t want to bring my bag.”

#2: Writing Task 1 Academic

If a chart, diagram or graph has dates in the past, you will use the past tense to describe that information.

For example, if a graph about survey respondents lists the dates 1992-2001.

The number of responses dwindled significantly from 300 in 1992 to 175 in 2001.

Match your tense to the dates provided.

If no date is given, use the present tense.

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#3: Writing Task 2

When providing examples that finished in the past, you will use the past tense.

Topic: big companies vs. small shops

Reason: more jobs created by bigger businesses

  • For example, a manufacturing company in Las Vegas created a staggering number of new jobs when it hired 200 workers last year.

#4: Speaking

  • Personal questions about your past
  • Comparing the past and present
  • Questions asking you to describe a past experience

We recently made a YouTube video about using present perfect to introduce the topic.

You then describe events in the past in past simple.

Match the tense for answer to tense in the question.

Did you have different hobbies when you were a child?

– Definitely! I loved playing with my friends at the park and coloring. As I grew up, my hobbies became more refined.

Practice Exercises

Answer these Speaking Part 3 questions using the simple past tense.

  • Have values changed since you were young?
  • Has technology changed how children are raised?
  • Are cities safer now than they were in the past?


You will need to use past simple on IELTS Speaking and Writing!

A lot of students make mistakes with this grammar tense.

Study regular and irregular verbs in the simple past tense so that you are ready!

In addition, make sure you are familiar with the exam and where you will need to use the past tense.

For all the strategies you need to ace the IELTS exam, sign up for the 3 Keys IELTS Success System!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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