It is important to use the past tense correctly to avoid unnecessary mistakes in the IELTS writing and speaking test. Read on to know how to use this tense correctly and how many types of past tenses are there.

Past tense is one of the three types of tenses; present, past and future. It refers to actions in the past and has further four types as follows:

Simple Past Tense Example:

She worked hard a lot to win the game.

What is Past Continuous Tense?

This tense is used when a continuing action of the past if talked about.

Past Continuous Tense Example:

She was working hard a lot to win the game.

What is Past Perfect Tense?

The use of past perfect tense is seen where an action which took place once or for many times before another point in the past is talked about.

Past Perfect Tense Example:

She had worked hard a lot to win the game.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Example:

She had been working hard a lot to win the game.

What is Past Indefinite Tense?

This tense is used when an action or habit of the past is referred to.

Past Indefinite Tense Example

She preferred red to black.

Three Forms of the Verb

You should also learn the three forms of verbs in order to correctly use the second form of the verb in the simple past tense and the third form of the verb in the past perfect tense.

For example, three forms of the verb for work are:

1st Form 2nd Form 3rd Form
Work Worked Worked

Using the past tense in the right form is essential to avoid mistakes in IELTS writing and speaking.

Past Tense in IELTS Academic Task 1

In IELTS academic, you should describe the bar graph in the past tense if the graph refers to past years such as the 1990s, 1980s etc.

  • In 2010, the percentage of students who qualified for the exam was 70%.
  • The average price increased to 50% by the year 2000.
  • The trend of online shopping was continuously increasing from 2012 to 2016.
  • Before it could reach the peak level of 25000, a sharp fall was observed after 2013.

Past Tense in IELTS Speaking Cue Card

We are generally asked for a cue card where the topic refers to the past and hence it would be good enough to speak in the past tense while describing that topic.

Also Read : 7 Tips To Master The IELTS Speaking Cue Card Questions 2020: A Guide to Better Band Score

Example: Describe a Historical Place you Visited Recently

Last month, I visited Agra city to see Taj Mahal along with my family and friends. It was so mesmerizing that I felt like being on top of the world watching that historical monument. In my childhood days, I had only heard long tales about its beauty but when I saw it with my own eyes, it was then only that I realized its importance.

Exercise 1: Describe the Following Table in Past Tense

Scores achieved by 3 teams in the quiz contest:

Year 2000 2005 2010
Team A 20% 40% 60%
Team B 50% 60% 10%
Team C 70% 30% 70%

Exercise 2: Describe the Following Topics in the Past Tense:

  • Describe a road accident you saw.
  • Describe a new activity you did in your childhood.
  • Describe the day you won a contest.

Exercise 3: Complete the Following Sentences Using Past Tense

  1. Last night, I ………….(play) guitar and …………..(enjoy) a lot.
  2. It ……………..(observe) from the report that investing in the new product …………..(lead to) reduced growth of the business.
  3. Hitler was not born a brutal tyrant, he…………………….(become) one. Hitler………….(dream) of a career as an artist.
  4. His father …………………..(reject) the idea but after he………………..(dead) in 1903 Hitler would try to make his dream a reality.
  5. World War Two was the most destructive global conflict in history. It …………..(begin) when Nazi Germany ……………….(unleash) ferocious attacks across Europe – but it ………………….(spread) to the Soviet Union, China, Japan and the United States.
  6. For decades, immigration …………………(change) the face of Britain, and now mainstream culture became increasingly fascinated by diversity.
  7. Dominic Sandbrook explains how the glossy pages of The Face …………………(champion) street fashion and club culture and ………………………….(become) a source of inspiration for many British youngsters.


  1. played, enjoyed
  2. was observed, led to
  3. became, dreamt
  4. had rejected, died
  5. began, unleashed, spread
  6. had been changing
  7. championed, became


Hopefully, this article on the use of the past tense will be helpful for you to understand how to avoid silly mistakes in the IELTS exam. Go through the exercise section and try to solve that alone first and then refer to the answer section to check your mistakes.

Remember to keep these above-mentioned things in regular practice as the practice is the only thing that will make you progress in your exam preparation.

Best of luck!

Also Read : Common Tense Errors in IELTS Speaking and Writing Test: Things You Should Avoid

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