Using the correct register in the IELTS test

‘Register’ is the level of language and sentence structure that you use in your IELTS writing. There is a significant difference here depending on whether you are preparing for the Academic Module or the General Training Module IELTS test – in the Academic Module, you need to write formally in Task 1 and Task 2, but in the General Test, there are occasions when you might need to write informally or semi formally.

Here are some example of register in the IELTS test:

FORMAL: Arguably, it could be stated that education is the key to a more productive economy.
SEMI FORMAL: Some people think that education is quite important to making the economy better.
INFORMAL: I think that going to school is the most important thing for getting the economy to work better.
Using the correct register in the IELTS test
Register in the IELTS test includes:

  • the vocabulary used
  • the structure of the sentence
  • whether pronouns are used (I, we, you are avoided in formal writing)
  • the grammar used (simple and direct sentences are informal; passive sentences, relative clauses and participle clauses are more formal)

PRACTICE: Identify whether the following passages are formal, semi-formal or informal

A.Hi there,
Haven’t really got much to say – haven’t done much since I spoke to you. I’ve been studying hard as my test is coming soon. I don’t think I’m going to do very well – I haven’t done any homework for weeks. By the way, I heard you got a 7.0 for speaking! Congrats! Anyway, keep in touch.
    Show answerThis text has an informal register – the subject is omitted from a number of sentences, contractions have been used (haven’t / don’t) vocabulary has been abbreviated (congrats!)

B. Nearly 100 kilometres south of Auckland, Hamilton Gardens is a popular day trip. There are six small gardens, each representing a different country and allowing an insight into their respective cultures and traditions. From the fantasy-inspired Chinese landscaping to the stark American modernist garden, there is a lot to see, and there are plans for additional gardens in the future. This is definitely a must-see  attraction!
    Show answerThis text has a semi-formal register – there is some higher level vocabulary and the sentence structure is not abbreviated, but there are also some simplified expressions like ‘there is a lot to see’, the final sentence is dogmatic (definitely a must-see attraction) and the writer has used an exclamation mark

C. Dear Sir,
I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms. Despite having made reservations at your hotel over three weeks ago, I was appalled to discover that due to an error on your part, my wife and I were left with no accommodation for the first two nights of our holiday. I am therefore requesting an immediate and full refund for those nights. In addition, I would like to point out that your catering was not of the standard claimed in your brochure.
    Show answerThis text has a formal register – although personal pronouns are used (I / we), the language and sentence structure is formal and academic. It is common practice for letters of complaint to be written in a formal register

D. Further to the e-mail sent 21st October, please find attached documentation regarding upcoming IELTS test dates. The next test is three weeks from today. Test bookings should be made as soon as possible as places are limited. Any additional questions should be addressed to the head office.
    Show answer This text has a formal register – personal pronouns have been avoided, the passive voice has been used and the vocabulary is formal 

E. Of all the new restaurants that have opened recently in the city, ‘The Loaded Dog’ on King St came out on top. Although their menu has little that is unique, I found the meals tasty and the service good, all at a reasonable price, making this a good choice for the family.
    Show answerThis text has a semi-formal register – personal pronouns, compound sentences but not complex sentences

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