Thoughts on Exam Writing Tasks: Letters and Emails

© Robert A. Buckmaster 2021

In this Thought we will look at how to answer letter and e-mail tasks in English language exams.


This acronym represents the points you should consider when planning to write a letter or email task. They stand for:

Let’s look at a task and see how this works.

The task below is taken from the new Optima high school examination being introduced in Latvia in 2021.

The whole task is:

We will now look at it in more detail.

From our analysis we find that:

  • The task is an email, not a letter.
  • It is a formal email.
  • You are a current student at a UK university.
  • You are applying for a job.
  • You want the job.
  • You should address the four bullet points, including the added information ‘say why you are writing‘.

Note that we should mention more than one subject as bullet three mentions ‘subjects’.

We also need to think about a question to ask (bullet 4).

You are also given the job advertisement, so you should look at this:

So, now we know we should meet the three criteria in the three bullet points in the advertisement.

And to complete the instructions we have:

A possible answer, which addresses all the required points, could be:

IELTS General Training Writing Task 1

This task is always a letter.

This is an official sample task taken from the IELTS website:

As above we should analyze this task, though the I is not necessary in our acronym.

All the circled information is important.

20 minutes, because the second task, the essay, is more important and you should spend 40 minutes on it.

You are student in shared accommodation and this is causing problems. This is key – because problems are mentioned, you should write about 2 or ideally more problems. If you only write about one problem, you have not fully addressed the bullet point.

This second bullet point also has two parts. Explain the problems and say why it makes it difficult to work. You need to do both these things in order to fully address the bullet point.

In the IELTS exam, if there is a plural (problems, reasons, and so on) then you need to respond in the plural: give at least two problems or reasons.

If a bullet point has two parts you need to answer both parts.

In this question you need to do 5 things to properly address the three bullet points:

  1. Describe the situation
  2. Explain problem 1
  3. Explain problem 2
  4. Say why these problems make it difficult to work.
  5. Suggest an alternative accommodation solution

You have to fully address the whole question if you want a good band score.