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Mastering Present Perfect and Past Simple for OET Writing

English tenses

In this quick  guide, we’ll explore present perfect and past simple and look at when to use each one. Knowing how to use them accurately will help you in your OET writing, and in communication more generally.

Present perfect: unfinished actions

Present perfect is your go-to choice for actions with a connection between past and  present. As you probably know, you form present perfect with have or has and the past participle form of the verb. For example:

The doctor has prescribed ramipril.

We often use present perfect to describe unfinished activities using for and since.  We use since in a sentence where we indicate when the action began. For example:

He has been in the hospital since August.

We use for in a sentence where we talk about the duration of the action. For example:

He has been in hospital for three weeks.

Past simple: finished actions

When there’s a clear time reference, or the action is completed, we use past simple. not present perfect. For example:

He has left hospital yesterday.
He left hospital yesterday.

He has been admitted to hospital last night.
He was admitted to hospital last night.

Which tense and why?

Look at these questions. Which tense (past simple or present perfect) is used and why? You’ll find the answers at the end of this article.

  1. Why did you decide to become a nurse?
  2. How long have you been a nurse?
  3. Where did you do your nursing training?
  4. Have you worked in your current job for long?

Find the mistakes

Look at these sentences. Find and correct the mistake in each one. Can you say why they are wrong? You’ll find the answers at the end of this article.

  1. He was diagnosed with angina for three years.
  2. She has undergone surgery yesterday.
  3. I’ve had diabetes since ten years.

Top tips

  • Study OET sample letters for examples of different tenses and how they are used.
  • Pay attention to time-referencing phrases like since, or on admission that show you which tense to use.
  • Practise writing example sentences in different contexts so you get used to using the tenses correctly.

Using present perfect and past simple correctly will improve the accuracy of your communication skills and help you excel in the OET writing test.

Have a look at our video where SLC’s OET Jo explains the differences between present perfect and past simple: 

Good luck on your journey to becoming a skilled healthcare communicator!

Answers

Which tense and why?

1. Why did you decide to become a nurse?

    • This question is in the past simple  because it is asking about a specific action in the past: the choice to become a nurse

2. How long have you been a nurse?

    • This question is in the present perfect  because it is asking about the duration from a past point in time (when you became a nurse) up to the present moment.

3. Where did you do your nursing training?

    • This question is in the past simple  because it is asking about a specific past action: where you completed your nursing training.

4. Have you worked in your current job for long?

    • This question is in the present perfect  because it asks about the duration from a past point in time (when you started your current job) up to the present moment.

Find the mistakes

1. He was diagnosed with angina for three years.

    • He was diagnosed with angina three years ago.
    • With past simple, we need a fixed time reference, we don’t use for or since.

2. She has undergone surgery yesterday.

    • She underwent surgery yesterday.
    • Here we have a fixed time reference (yesterday) so the verb needs to be present simple.

3. I’ve had diabetes since ten years.

    • I’ve had diabetes for ten years.
    • Here we are talking about duration (how long) so we use for, not since.

How many did you get correct?

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