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Past simple v Present perfect

This week we take a look at 2 verb tenses that are often confused and how they can be used correctly in the IELTS Speaking test.

Past simple vs. Present perfect

Many students use the wrong tense in the IELTS Speaking test because they don’t know the differences between them. They are quick and easy to learn but you HAVE to think before you speak and practise them so they become automatic.

The past simple

We use the past simple to talk about finished actions. That is why we add a time reference. Here are some examples:

I was born in 1984.
I saw a movie on Tuesday.
I went to school in Madrid for 4 years.

Notice the correct use of prepositions too!

Year + ‘in’
Day + ‘on’
Time period + ‘for’

You can also use ‘last’ with days / week / month / year

Last Tuesday, I finished my final exams.
Last year, I went on holiday to Peru.

Here is a sample IELTS Speaking test question and a sample past simple answer:

Q:Tell me about some interesting news you’ve heard recently.
A: Last year, my friend told me some good news. He won a competition and got a free holiday to Italy. He went in June for 2 weeks. On the last day, he sent me lots of photos.

iPass test tip: Listen to the verb tense used in the question. This is a big clue to which verb tense you should use in your answer!!

The present perfect

1) We use the present perfect to talk about actions that have not stopped. They started in the past and continue up to the present.
2) We also use it to talk about past actions which happened at some point in the past (not at a specific time).
3) Another use is for past actions that have a present result or relevance (the emphasis is on ‘now’).

Here are some examples:

I have lived here all my life. (continues up to the present)
I have been to London. (some time in the past)
I have passed the IELTS test. (I’m happy NOW)

You can use ‘for’ to describe the length of the action.
You can say ‘since’ to talk about when it started.

For example:

I’ve lived in Rome for 20 years.
I’ve lived in Rome since 1995.

Here is another IELTS Speaking test question:

Q: Tell me about a book you have enjoyed.
A: The best book I have read is the first Harry Potter book. I’ve had the book since I was 10 and I’ve read it 3 times! I’ve seen the film too but it’s not as good as the book.

For an even higher band score in IELTS, you should try and combine your verb tenses. Let’s look at that question again and see how you could answer it by combining the past simple and the present perfect.

Q: Tell me about a book you have enjoyed.
A: The best book I have ever read is the first Harry Potter book. My parents gave it to me as a birthday present when I was about 10 years old and since then  I’ve read it 3 times! I’ve seen the film too but it’s not as good as the book.


1) Use the past simple for finished actions when you know the start and finish time.
2) Use the present perfect for past actions which have a link to the present or when you don’t want to say the start and finish time.

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Hussein, Iraq

Hussein, Iraq

Today I received the result of my Ielts test and thankfully I passed it. I’ve got 7.5 listening, 7.5 reading, 7 writing and 7 speaking. I would like to thank the ipass team for their great efforts in helping me to get this score, especially in writing. Really, their advice and support helped me tremendously. I have studied many many sources, but actually they could solve all my weakness areas gradually and enthusiastically.

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