There’s a time and a place for everything

In the last 10 years there is an increase in aquaculture.

Context is important. Context is generally about time and place. If you want to contextualise time then you need to communicate meanings such as:

  • time around now
  • time up to and including now
  • past and finished time
  • past unfinished time
  • future time related to the present
  • etc.

Time context is achieved using carefully chosen verb tenses and time expressions. In the sentence above, “in the last 10 years” is a time expression that carries the meaning time up to and including now. In this case the correct tense is present perfect:

  • In the last 10 years there has been an increase in aquaculture.

Create time context using verb tenses and time expressions. Make sure your verb tenses and time expressions match!

It will likely blah!

Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it will likely to decline slightly.

Another collocation problem. Use one of the following instead and never mind why. Just do it.

  • Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it is likely to decline slightly.
  • Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it will most likely decline slightly.

And make sure you complete the structure with a verb:

  • / s.o. + is likely to + V1
  • / s.o. will most likely + V1

Research and Researches

Several researches have proven that nuclear energy is not as dangerous as people think.

Actually there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this. I just looks odd to a native speaker because research is nearly always uncountable:

  • Much research has proven that nuclear energy is not as dangerous as people think.

Investigate the differences between research and researches. Then try googling to see which form of the word is more common.

The tunnel passed by the sperm?!

The fallopian tube is a tunnel which will be passed by the sperm on its way to the egg.

This  might be possible if all the sperm does is pass by the entrance to the tunnel without actually entering it. But then it won’t be on its way to the egg, it will be on its way somewhere else!

If you want to say that the sperm enters the tunnel, travels along it and then meets the egg, you need to use a preposition that carries that meaning:

  • The fallopian tube is a tunnel which the sperm passes through on its way to the egg.

Compare these situations:


  • A > B: The sperm passes through the tunnel.
  • C > D: The tunnel is passed by the sperm.
  • D > E: The tunnel is passed by the sperm.

Indonesian flag Indonesians take care when you’re translating melalui, melintasi, menyebrangi, and melewati.

Age in Task 1 Writing

People in the 14-17 group of age were most affected by the changes.

I know, this seems to make sense, and your meaning is clear, but if you want a high score for vocabulary you need to use better collocation inside your noun phrases:

  • People in the 14-17 age group were most affected by the changes.

The following are all possible. Unfortunately you just have to memorise them. Try to use them as soon as possible in your writing practice and soon they will become automatic.

  • a person who is 49 years of age
  • a person who is 49 years old
  • a person who is 49
  • a 49 year-old person
  • a 49 year-old

More often in IELTS, ‘person’ is plural (= ‘people’), and so these noun phrases are also possible:

  • 49 year-olds
  • 49 year-old people
  • people in the 50-60 age group
  • people aged between 50 and 60
  • people aged 50-60
  • people (who are) 50-60 years old

Of course we could be more specific about ‘person’ or ‘people’:

  • A 49 year-old English teacher
  • English teachers in the 49-59 age group

In the second process(?!)

In the second process, the sperm enters the egg, and the zygote is formed.

It’s difficult to imagine more than one process here. I think you mean:

  • In the second stage of the process, the sperm enters the egg, and the zygote is formed.

In English a process can occasionally be broken down into sub-processes, but normally we talk about these as stages. Indonesians often make the same mistake with menu and items on a menu:

  • The second menu is ayam lalapan.
  • The second item on the menu is ayam lalapan.


Since the abolition of fuel subsidies, prices have been fluctuative.

Nice try! The IELTS examiner will understand that you are trying to make an adjective from the verb ‘fluctuate’ using ‘ive’. Normally this would be a good strategy, but there is no such word as ‘fluctuative’ and so this time you will receive a low score for vocabulary.

The safest approach is to use the verb form:

  • ..prices have fluctuated.

Alternatively, you can make an adjective phrase using the noun form and featuring some collocation:

  • ..prices have been subject to fluctuation.

Finally you might try some more fancy academic collocation:

  • ..prices have tended to fluctuate.

Now go ahead and remove fluctuative from your list of ‘ive’ adjectives!

Task 1 Past Perfect

Past perfect tense needs to be handled with care. It is most useful in the narrative genre and is seldom needed in Task 2 writing. However, Task 1 essays occasionally present an opportunity to use past perfect.

Let’s try an exercise! Follow my instructions carefully and attempt the tasks before reading my sample texts.

  1. Look at the following graph and attempt to describe it in two short paragraphs. The first paragraph will focus on general trends and will begin:

In general..

The second paragraph will describe details and will begin:

In detail..

When you’re happy with your writing, you can read my sample text.

  1. Finished writing? OK now take a look at my sample text and analysis.

Final task

  1. Take another look at your own text. Did you use my past perfect structure? If not, can you edit your text so as to include it in at least one sentence? Please share your writing in the comments section!

Against the misuse of ‘against’

Most Indonesian people against the removal of fuel subsidies.

In English, against is a preposition, and so this sentence does not contain a verb and is therefore not a sentence. To make it a sentence, you can do this..

  • Most Indonesian people are against the removal of fuel subsidies.
    (to be + against)

or (slightly more academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people oppose the removal of fuel subsidies.

or (also academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people object to the removal of fuel subsidies.

Hope that helps!