This page is about IELTS Writing task 1 Academic. For IELTS Writing task 1 General click here.
In IELTS Writing Task 1 you have to describe a graph or a chart, a map/room layout or a process. Your written work has to be at least 150 words long. You have about 20 minutes to complete the task.
Usually the most challenging part for the majority of students, IELTS Writing lasts for one hour and consists of two sections. According to www.ielts.org data for 2013, 2014 and 2017 Writing remains the weakest aspect among test-takers.
IELTS Writing Task 1 Academic
This task is intended to check your ability to see main trends and provide a description of data you are given, to compare it with other information, to highlight changes or to describe a process. All in all there are five distinct types of tasks:
- Line graph requires to describe changes in the graph over a period of time
- Bar chart and pie chart tasks are about comparing numbers that you are given
- Process description involves describing the sequence of stages involved in a process
- Map and room layout description of features and objects’ relative position
Below is the task that we will use as the example of a line graph:
NB: The numbers I have used here are fictional and in no way reflect the actual salaries in their respective industries. Do your own research if you are interested in real salary figures.
We will be using this graph to go over the basics of Task One writing. Description of bar charts, pie charts and tables aren’t much different.
Graphs: Main Idea
First and foremost, you have to get the main idea of the graph.
Understand the key features of the graph. What does it show? What numbers are the biggest? Are there any trends?
You are encouraged to use your pen to circle and underline the main features of the graph.
Ideally you should be able to find one dominant and one or two supplementary trends, if there are any.
General tips on describing a graph
- Don’t give too much information
- Do not try to analyse or explain anything in the graph
- Don’t go from left to right, mentioning everything. Concentrate on main ideas instead
- Use the smallest/biggest figures (peaks and bottoms) — don’t mention everything in between
- Avoid mentioning minor or unimportant details
Study the graph above. Print it and don’t hesitate to make markings on it. Circle the important parts — how trends begin and end, sudden changes, low and high points, differences between trends and differences over periods of time.
The graph shows salary dynamics in various spheres over a period of 40 years
Here are the main ideas that we can point out:
- Salaries in IT and engineering have been increasing
- Salaries in IT have displayed most prominent rise over the whole period
- Despite fluctuation, salary in sports has been higher than the other two
- Salaries in sports witnessed a sharp decline in the year 2000
IELTS Writing Task 1 Vocabulary
As you are going to be describing certain changes and processes you will need to use vocabulary that denotes those changes. In order to avoid word repetition it is a good idea to memorise as many such words and phrases as you can.
|Verbs of movement, up (preposition) – usage|
Climbed (to) – neutral
Went up (by) – neutral
Increased (to/by/-fold1) – neutral
Rose (to/by) – neutral
Skyrocketed (to) – strong, inf.
Gained (no preposition) – neutral
Recovered (to) – after a previous fall
Shot up (no preposition) – strong, inf.
Surged (no preposition) – strong
|Verbs of movement, down (preposition) – usage|
Fell (by/to) – neutral
Dwindled (by/to) – neutral
Subside (to) – neutral
Declined (by/to) – neutral
Pitched (at) – neutral
Decreased (by/to) – neutral
Dropped (by/to) – strong
Sank (to) – strong
Plummeted (no preposition) – strong
Collapsed (no preposition) – strong
|No change in the graph|
Remained constant/unchanged/stable etc.
Leveled out (at)
Evened out (at)
|Tops and Bottoms|
Reached a peak (of)
Reached the bottom (at)
To experience (as in “to go through”)
To boast (about high figures)
|Synonyms for “number”|
High/low (to reach a new high/low)
|Examples: words and prepositions|
From 1990 to 2000
Over the next decade
Went up/down by a quarter
Reduced to 100,000
During the next twenty years
Over the whole period in the graph
|Adverbs and intensifiers|
1. Twofold – twice, threefold – three times and so on
Remember: reusing the same expressions over and over again will reduce your mark for lexical resource aspect.
Now we will use these words and expressions to describe our chart.
IELTS Chart Description Example
I want you to pay attention to the words in bold. They are examples of synonyms usage to get a higher vocabulary score (show-display-experience-present; numbers-figures-mark; industry-job-occupation). Underlined fragments are examples of words and phrases from the graph vocabulary table.
When writing your introductory paragraph, you may be tempted to simply copy the task description. Don’t – the copied part will not be counted towards your total number of words. Instead, paraphrase the task.
IT and engineering are grouped and described in the first body paragraph because they display similar dynamics. As it was said before, you only have to mention graph features that stand out the most – minimums and maximums, turning points, pattern deviations.
Paragraph two is dedicated to sports careers because the chart behaves in a different way and the salaries are considerably higher there despite of the end-graph plunge. Both the plunge and the fluctuation are worth noting in your writing, although this doesn’t mean that you have to put down the number for every fluctuation swing.
Conclusion can be a brief comparison, an overview of the salary dynamics. Again, it’s worth grouping industries with similar figures, as I did. Try to make your summary at least two sentences long, though it can be quite difficult to come up with a relevant follow-up sentence. If you find yourself at a loss for the second sentence, just paraphrase the introduction and add a generalising statement that refers to the graph.
IELTS Writing Task 1 Chart Comparison
This task focuses on juxtaposing, or comparing the chart data. The main difference between line graph and chart comparison is that there is no dynamics in the latter. Instead you match different numbers against each other. These number can represent many things — city population, prices, market shares.
Below is the task that we will use as an example (a bar chart):
In order to keep your work under 150 words, you have to group the data. The data presented in this chart can be grouped in two different ways:
- By country (UK and USA have pretty similar statistics, Germany and China are alike too)
- By platform (iOS, Android and Windows)
For this particular chart I would recommend the second option. The reason for this is that grouping by country would be difficult – the data in this graph is very diverse. Grouping by platform is easier as the trends are more obvious.
Grouping by platform will require 3 body paragraphs, one for each brand. The order of paragraphs should relate to the importance of its respective brand. As Android’s presence is the largest, it makes sense to dedicate Paragraph One to its data. Then come iOS and Windows in Paragraphs Two and Three respectively.
Choosing to have three body paragraphs means that our description has to be very brief. Make sure you read about keeping your narrative concise.
In this text I went slightly over the word limit. You are not penalized for that. However, keep in mind that more words mean more time spent on the text and more potential mistakes in it.
What you should be worried about is falling short of the 150 mark – texts that are seriously underlength (less than 145 words — a rough but sensible estimate, not the official figure) get reduced score. If you struggle to reach the 150 mark then you are doing something wrong, either missing a trend or not giving enough information about the graph. Usually keeping it under 150 is the real challenge that, however, can be made much easier by writing in a more concise manner.
IELTS Writing Task 1, Description of Process
In this type of task you have to describe a process that can be shown in the form of either flowchart or picture. This task focuses on your ability to group smaller stages and to describe their sequence, or how they go one after another.
We shall use the task below for illustration.
There are several challenges that set this type of IELTS Writing Task from others. As you will be describing processes — shown as a diagram or a flowchart — you will have to deal with the following difficulties:
- Grouping the process stages. It is necessary that you group your information – this will allow for easier paragraphing and make your text more readable. There should be at least two stages, three is the optimum figure. We will look into this in the example task below.
- Sequencing – tenses and vocabulary. Any process involves several things that happen one after another. To get more points for grammar and vocabulary, it is important to use various ways of expressing this order of actions. See article about tenses for more information.
- Description vocabulary. To describe a process you have to know what certain involved components are called and what they do. Again, look at the example task below for clarification.
Looking at the example task we can divide the process into three larger stages: preparation, processing and refining. If you want, you can combine two last stages into one.
Unlike other IELTS Writing Task 1 tasks, this one doesn’t require a separate paragraph for conclusion. Your writing ends with the last stage of the process description. Nevertheless, you are still required to write an introductory paragraph that briefly states the topic and purpose of your writing.
As you will be writing to your tutor, your style should be strictly formal. Do not use any contracted forms, informal expressions. Refer to the list of formal and informal language for further reference.
In this text I went with the three body paragraph structure because of three distinct stages that comprise the process.
Introduction clearly stated that by naming all three stages. It is good practice to make your reader aware of what the text is about before he continues to the body paragraphs.
Now look at the marked words. Underlined parts of text are verbs that describe transitions, or changes that take place during the course of the process. Do not resort to a couple of verbs like “it goes to” and “it moves”. In this particular text pay attention to the use of passive tense. Olives do not move by themselves, they are moved.
Words in bold are used for sequencing — order of things that take place in the picture. There aren’t that many synonyms for such words so whenever possible you should try to omit them, using the context as an indicator of what happens after what. Take a look at the first body paragraph. No sequence words were used there, but the order of stages is clear from context.
IELTS Writing Task 1: Don’ts
- Don’t try to analyze the figures in the graph. You are not required to share your vision on the trends and directions they take. Doing so won’t get you any points, but will eat up the word limit. All you have to do is describe what is going on in a clear, easy to understand manner. Your opinion can be voiced later in Writing Task 2.
- Don’t try writing a draft version of your essay first. You wont have time to write both the draft and fair copy. Instead, you simply go through your essay after you have finished writing it and correct all the mistakes or imperfections you find. You will not be penalized for self-correcting as long as it is easy to make out what you have written or corrected.
- Don’t write more than you should. As it was mentioned above, more writing means more mistakes that are likely to pop up. Unless you really have to, refrain from going over the set word limit of 150 words in Task 1 and 250 words in Task 2.
- Don’t waste your time counting your words. A better way to do that is to count how many words you have in one line and then multiply it by the number of lines. It will give you a rough, but reliable number.
- Don’t be biased towards info in the graph. That includes both personal attitude that was mentioned above and fair distribution of text space. Body paragraphs should be of fairly equal size. Do not let one body paragraph overpower the others in volume.
Extra writing tips
- Pay attention to prepositions. There is a difference between “decreased by 50” and “decreased to 50”. In the first one it went down by 50, so if it was 500 it became 450. In the second one it became 50 no matter how big the original number was.
- To avoid repeating more colloquial expressions refer to this list of synonyms for most overused words.
- If you write about something that has no relation to the topic it is possible that these words will not be counted towards your total number of words. Stay on topic!
- To have more idea about structuring your writing and other aspects of the written part of your English exam, see this article on essay writing.