During the IELTS Speaking exam you’ll almost certainly be asked questions that relate to your life experiences. You might be asked to talk about the past or about experiences you have had ‘so far’ in your life. To do this accurately, you’ll need to switch between the past and the present – and in this lesson we’ll revise how to do this using the past simple and present perfect tenses.
a) We use the past simple to talk about situations, events or actions that happened in the past and have no connection to the present. You might use it to answer a question about your past:
Examiner: Which sports did you do during your childhood?
Candidate: We played football a lot and I often went swimming with my friends.
Examiner: Have you always lived in Madrid?
Candidate: No. I was born in Barcelona and I spent most of my childhood there. We moved to Madrid when I was 10 years old.
b) We also use the past simple when we describe a sequence of events, such as when we’re telling a story or an anecdote. :
After I got home from work I changed into some clean clothes and then went shopping to get something for dinner.
c) If we want to connect the past with the present with the meaning of ‘up till now’ or ‘so far’ (in my life) we use the present perfect tense (have/has + past participle):
Examiner: Do you enjoy reading literature?
Candidate: Yes, my favourite author is Ruth Rendell. I think I’ve read most of her books.
Examiner: Where would you like to go for a holiday?
Candidate: Well, I haven’t been to America so that would be nice.
d) We often want to express how something that happened in the past has importance now. If this is the case and we don’t mention when this event happened, we often use the present perfect:
i) I’ve decided I want to get a job instead of going to university. (The speaker is not interested in explaining when they made the decision. The important thing is the effect on the person’s life now.)
ii) My friend has invited me to stay with him this summer. (Again, the focus here is on the result, not on when the invitation happened.)
e) There are a number of time adverbs that are often used with the present perfect tense because their meaning is ‘until now’. These words include ‘already’, ‘since’, ‘still’ and ‘yet’:
i) I’ve already taken the IELTS exam but I’m trying again to get a higher grade.
ii) It’s been 3 years since I came to this country.
iii) I’m looking at different options but I haven’t decided yet what university to go to.
iv) I still haven’t found a job but I hope to soon.
e) The past simple and the present perfect are often used together when we refer to our experience ’till now’ and then go on to refer to a specific event in the past:
Examiner: How long have you been in London?
Candidate: I’ve been here for about 6 months. I came here last September.
Examiner: Have you travelled abroad recently?
Candidate: I haven’t travelled much recently but I went to Germany last year on a business trip.
Over to you
a) Complete the following short introduction by supplying the verb in the correct tense, past simple or present perfect. The answers appear at the bottom of the page:
Examiner: What do you do? Candidate: I ……. (work) for IT Engineering since 2013. I …….. (start) in the sales department and then …….. (move) into business development in 2007. I …….. (always enjoy) working with people and during the past few months I …….. (attend) two courses in coding.
b) Now you try answering any of the following questions using a similar mixture of present perfect and past simple tenses in your reply.
i) What do you do?
ii) What sports do you play?
iii) Where do you live?
Candidate: I have worked for IT Engineering since 2013. I started in the sales department and then moved into business development in 2007. I have always enjoyed working with people and during the past few months I have attended two courses in coding.