What is the PPF strategy?
Past-Present-Future is a strategy that has been discussed widely, but I am yet to see clear and detailed instructions on how exactly one must apply this strategy for a variety of part two topics. The only available resources are from the British Council (for use by teachers) and from a blogger (not the very best example of English language in use, of course).
Neither of these really give you a full and usable breakdown of what a PPF answer would look like.
Like with all strategies, PPF is just another way to fully develop your spoken task answer. You do not need to use strategies to do well on the IELTS speaking exam, but they don’t hurt to use, especially for those that struggle with producing language verbally in an impromptu manner. Not everyone has access and exposure to the English language on a regular basis, and as a result, they might not have the opportunities to practice speaking and refining their manner of speech. This is where strategies come in handy.
Great! So how do I use it?
I should start with a word of caution: if you’ve taken the IELTS before and received a speaking score less than band 6.5, I would not recommend this strategy as it can be fairly complex. This is because you need to be very comfortable switching tenses while speaking, and you can only do that if your understanding of the verb tenses is accurate.
Here is a sample cue card topic:
Describe a conversation you had which was important to you.
You should say
-when the conversation took place
-who you had the conversation with
-what the conversation was about
and explain why the conversation was important to you.
(© Thomson IELTS Practice Tests)
As you’re aware, you need to speak for two minutes (but it is always better to go slightly over than to go under).
If you divide your speech, you should be able to devote roughly (not exactly!) 30 seconds each to the past, present and future. An additional 15 seconds are required for an introduction and 15 seconds for a conclusion. This is my structure for a task two answer using the PPF strategy:
Introduction – 15′
P – 30′
P – 30′
F – 30′
Conclusion – 15′
If I break down the prompt and compress it into keywords and write a couple of notes, this is what I get:
(Remember that your notes are not used to award you a band score so they only need to make sense to you. These keywords will help you formulate sentences to form a coherent reply to the prompt.)
|Conv – imp. to me||<— General topic (Intro)|
|When||6 years, uni, confused||now||future|
|? about||studies / career|
|? important||choose a career, go the right way||happy, career, took advice||earlier success, didn’t waste time, visit in future|
Past – What activities happened in the past?
This covers what the conversation was about, when it happened, who you talked to, why it was important. Note the words in bold are all in the past tense!
Present – Does this affect me in any way today?
My notes: right choices, feel fulfilled, doing what they advised
Future – Will this conversation from the past have any bearing on my future?
My notes: earlier success, won’t waste time, happy w/ career, visit them
What will these notes look like as a full Band 9 response? (Audio and text)
Transcript: I suppose as adults we’ve all had important, life-changing conversations with the people in our lives who know us best. One conversation that I clearly remember having, which has had a profound impact on me to this day, takes me back to when I was still in university about 6 years ago and I remember that I was struggling to pick a major. When I was handing in my application for the final year of university, I was talking to my professor about my goals and she asked me what I did over the holidays, to which I said that I was working as an office manager and would continue doing so, because I had a lot of free time after my lessons at university ended in the morning, so naturally I figured that was the best use of my time. Well, she promptly said I was wasting my time when I could be using my English language skills to help people as a teacher. This was, frankly, an eye-opener for me as I never realised that I could actually do that, I reckon I didn’t think much of my skills and certainly did not think I could change people’s lives with them, but it became very clear to me that this was indeed my calling. To this day, I’m eternally grateful for having taken her advice as it has propelled me into a very satisfying career; it makes me happy to go to work and I never dread a single second of it. Because I was able to make this decision early in life, I know it’ll help me achieve professional success at a much younger age compared to my peers; I won’t have to spend my twenties wondering what I need to be doing. As a gesture of gratitude, I’ll be heading back to my alma mater for Christmas and will be sure to let my professor know just how much of an impact she’s had on my life!
Want more tips to do your best on the speaking exam? Read this: 3 things to AVOID on the IELTS Speaking exam