How to Compare 2 Graphs or Charts in IELTS Task 1

When you open the exam paper and see two different, (or multiple!), graphs or charts in Task 1 your heart can sink… How am I going to compare these two graphs? Don’t panic!

Your heart can sink: to feel defeated, discouraged, disappointed

The first thing to remember is when you answer any task 1 question is to follow the same procedure:

  • 1 Present: Here you need to say what graphs or charts are being described.
  • 2 Overview: Here you need to give a simple general impression of each graph.
  • 3 Summarize Individually: Next highlight the data in the graphs as best as possible.
  • 4 Tie The Graphs Together: Now show how the graphs have similarities and/or contrasting data.

I will explain below why I think the approach to 2+ separate graphs is different than a single graph, and how to structure you whole approach with P.O.S.T. [Present, Overview, Summarize, Tie].

EXAM TIP: Normally if the total amount of data increases (so more tables, more graphs etc) the individual data parts are simpler. So stay calm!


Lets have a look at each of these four phases with some possible answers while we go along.

Presenting 2 or More Graphs or Charts

I think we should aim for the opening sentence to include all graphs in a way that shows how they are dealing with some commonality.

This commonality could be a country, a year, an age group, an activity, etc – and then to specify how they are different.

Let’s use this question from the IELTS archive:

Question Example 1:

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.][Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 10, Page 77
]

My basic starting formula is as follows:

The [DATA type] shows (the change of X / the number of Y etc) in (Area Z) (preposition + time frame)

[For more information I wrote a blog post specifically about how to start a line graph here]

So here, as an initial phrase, I would draft:

draft: an unfinished, or rough, version

The first graph shows the destination of UK graduates in 2008, excluding full-time work. And the second graph shows the destination of UK postgraduates in 2008, excluding full-time work.

This is clearly not great because a lot of information is being copied from the question and lots of information is being duplicated.

But do write (or at least think) this initial draft before FIRSTLY removing duplicate phrases.

do write: 'do + infinitive' emphasises the action, (here) = make sure you write

If you are describing a single graph there will be few, if any, duplicate phrases, go straight to rewording.

EXAM TIP: Twenty minutes for Task 1, to write 175 words, is not the main problem here if you arrive with a template in mind, and certain semi-fixed phrases you can write without thinking. Prepare!

So what is duplicated here?

  • “graph shows”
  • “destination of” (this is copied from the question and ideally should be changed)
  • “in 2008”
  • “excluding full-time work” (again ideally we will rephrase)
  • “UK”

Now create a phrase using ONLY the duplicate content plus the differing features:

The graphs show the destination in 2008, excluding full time work, in the UK for / graduates and postgraduates.

Alternatively if you feel that “in the UK” is not technically true an alternative could be;

The graphs show the destination in 2008, excluding full time work, for UK graduates and (UK) postgraduates.

Fine, now ideally we want to rephrase any language that could be considered 'copied' from the question, namely:

  • Destination
  • Full-time work
  • graduates
  • postgraduates

I would not try and change the rather precise terms 'graduate' and 'postgraduate', but focus on the more descriptive and optional ‘destination’. I think ‘full-time work’ is another difficult to replace phrase – note how even the exam question has to re-use those 3 terms to ensure the meaning is not changed!

EXAM TIP: Do try and change the wording but DO NOT lose too much time here. Think about it for a moment or two and then move on. It is not that important!


EXAM TIP #2: This is valid for all kinds of exams, if you cannot think of an opening sentence or a title, or you are not happy with what you have initially written, make a note of it, leave a space for it and just start the main answer! Lots of people even write the whole introduction after they have written the answer!


Have you got a new phrase? The trick here is to not focus on the individual words but the idea being described (see the question at the top, they use “What they do after leaving college” structure).

the trick is:(here) the little thing to do here to succeed is...

What is another way to say that?

  • After finishing college
  • After completing their studies
  • After graduating

And for ‘do’, what about ‘activity’?

So I would write “the activity after completing their studies’. It is not perfect and I can change it later, but you get the idea! You may need to reword the sentence a little here too.

The graphs show the activity, excluding full time work, after completing their studies for UK graduates and postgraduates in 2008.

Or other variations, it is not vitally important in what order the phrases go.

The graphs show the activity, excluding full time work, for UK graduates and (UK) postgraduates after completing their studies in 2008.


The graphs show the activity for UK graduates and (UK) postgraduates, excluding full time work, after completing their studies in 2008.


Maybe the third combination is my favourite.

Giving An Overview of 2 or More Graphs or Charts


Giving an overview of 2 separate graphs can be more challenging than a single graph because the data types could be different or the units could be different (like in the above example).

I would not attempt to mix your summary of each graph into a clever phrase. Do that with your opening statement but not here. If you can, GREAT! - but don’t plan to!

clever: more than just intelligent, it includes some 'cunning'

Let’s look at our second question example: And then I will give an opening paragraph for both of them:

Question Example 2

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.][Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 11, Page 101
]

As you can the data is almost completely different here. So keep it simple. You can be clever in the Presenting but be concise in the Overview.

The key thing here is to communicate the main idea of the data.

Imagine you can see the data through ‘squinty’ eyes, what would be the key information here?

To squint: to half close your eyes, to either lose or gain focus of the object

EXAM TIP: A technique here is to imagine you are telling a person about a graph they cannot see. First you tell them what is in the graph (Presenting) then you tell the most basic of information (it is going down, half the pie chart, etc – Overview), then you give some of the most important features (Summarizing) and then here we need to make a connection between the multiple graphs (Tie Together).

So what can we say here? Well let’s go slow and steady.

“In the [data] we can see...”

So for the table:

“In the table we can see the increase in the number of people coming to the museum while...”

That was simple, remember that some data could be very simple in multiple data source questions.

EXAM TIP: Do not specify numbers or data points in the opening paragraph, wait until summarizing.

So for the pie charts, things look a little more complicated. Read the graph, legend or guide again… squint your eyes… what has noticeably changed?

Two areas are significantly different. “Very satisfied” has increased and “Dissatisfied” has decreased. So...

“...while in the pie chart it is clearly shown that less people are unhappy with the experience after the changes, and more people are very pleased.”

So in a way the Overview is giving the key take away from the graph.

the key take away :the most important lesson or piece of information

And the linking between the observations means that we have already answered the part of the question that says: “make comparisons where relevant”. But we come back to this later.


Sample paragraph for each question:

Question 1

The graphs show the activity for UK graduates and postgraduates, excluding full time work, after completing their studies in 2008. In the graph for graduates Further Study is the biggest single activity, while Voluntary Work is a very unpopular choice. In comparison, in the graph for postgraduates Voluntary Work is also the least chosen but Part-Time Work and Further Study are the most popular. [63 words]


EXAM TIP: I have used capital letters for the categories in the graphs and I have not rephrased the idea. I do this for stylistic reasons because I am naming the data, and, to make sure a reader reads it as a name (a noun) and not another part of speech.


Question 2

The data above regards Ashdown Museum in the year before and after renovation, it shows the changes in the number of people visiting and their level of satisfaction. In the table we can see the increase in the number of people coming to the museum while in the pie chart it is clearly shown that less people are unhappy with the experience after the changes, and more people are very pleased. [71 words]

Here is my logic for the opening sentence of Question 2

Step 1 Long draft." The table shows the number of visitors to Ashdown Museum in the year before and after refurbishment. The pie charts show the results of visitor satisfaction to Ashdown Museum in the year before and after refurbishment."

Step 2 Duplicate then Difference.

  • Duplicate: Ashdown Museum in the year and after refurbishment
  • Also we can group data sources (pie chart, table) as just ‘data’

The data above regards Ashdown Museum in the year before and after refurbishment, it shows the changes in number of visitors and visitor satisfaction.

Note how I am viewing the data as a whole. It is not important yet how the data is specifically formatted, it is important though what the data is about!

Step 3 Change Exam Question Wording

The following words are from the question

  • Ashdown Museum (very specific, we cannot change this)
  • Year before and after refurbishment
  • Number of visitors
  • Visitor satisfaction

For refurbishment we could use 'redecoration', 'redesign', 'improvements', 'renovation'. All are possible, even ‘visitor experience’. I think I would use the redecoration or renovation.

Now we need a word for 'visitor'. Hmm. 'Tourists' might not be right. What about people who enter? 'Entrants'. Hmm. We also use the word 'guests' sometimes (a bit euphemistically since they often pay). 'Members of public' is also possible. Difficult right… so why not turn a noun into a verb? 'Visitors' means 'people visiting'. That is fine!

Euphemism :a word that gives a milder, or nicer, impression than how reality might be.

So after just adjusting the language a little we get the final sentence:

The data above regards Ashdown Museum in the year before and after renovation, it shows the changes in the number of people visiting and their level of satisfaction.

Now let’s move on to summarizing the data.

Summarizing 2 Graphs or Charts Individually

You can by all means try to group the data as you would for a single data source. I think Question 1 here is a candidate for that, however, I think you should initially aim to stick to the plan and describe the data sources separately.

by all means :(here) 'if you want to'

This section is about being able to group and describe information in a meaningful way.

As I mentioned in one of the Exam Tips, when there are more data sources the data is invariably simpler. The trick is structuring the answer – hence I am writing this for you guys!!

EXAM TIP: For any Task 1 question I would aim to identify 4 groups of data, or data points or a mix of the two. Look for common trends, anomalies, high points, low points. Imagine you are describing the data to someone who cannot see it and needs to know the most important data. Not all the data, the most important data. 4 key ideas should be fine.

So we are looking for 4 ideas, but not for each data source. But in total.

Let’s look at the example questions:

Question Example 1 (Part 2)

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.][Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 10, Page 77
]

So we are going to summarize the first graph separately.

First sentence draft, you should introduce the main details or units of the graph in some way.

“In the graph for UK Graduates we can see there were approximately 65,000 students in total and there were 4 destinations listed, Part-Time Work, Voluntary Work, Further Study and Unemployment.”

Now I can see already how repetitive this may be, so ideally I will aim to only mention the ‘destinations’ when I use them.

Let’s start to group the data. Here, as often with multiple data sources, the data in each one is pretty simple.

Also the graphs are of equal importance (unlike Question 2) so I would aim to say two sentences about each graph (after a short introduction).

How would you group the data?

I think I would mention the two in the middle and then the two ‘extremes’.

In Question 1 there are few data points and we are lucky to be able to retell all of them.

So I could say something like:

There were four possible destinations for graduates, two of which Part-Time Work and Unemployment were around a quarter of the total each, 17,735 and 16,235 respectively. While Voluntary Work was about 5% of the total (3,500) and Further Study nearly half with 29,665. [43 words]

EXAM TIP What language is being shown here? Where is the value for me here to write this for the examiner? Well I am showing I am able to group data, I can give approximations (include fractions, percentages) and I can move between data (Two of which… While…). Practice writing these paragraphs and memorize phrases which allow you to group and describe data easily.

Now we move onto second graph, we can try and not repeat some language:

While in the graph for postgraduates there were the same four destinations but much lower numbers. Part-Time Work and Further Study accounted for about a third each (2,535 and 2,725 respectively), Unemployment was a destination for 20% (1,625) and again Voluntary Work was the least popular with just 345. [49 words]


EXAM TIP: I do not worry about word count in the opening paragraph. I aim to write the minimum words to do the specific function. When I come to Summarizing, the word count starts to take centre stage. And that is because there is always too much information!

to take centre* stage : to become the most important (*center AmE, centre BrE)

Let’s now move onto Question 2

Question Example 2 (Part 2)

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.] [Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 11, Page 101
]

Ok, first of all we need to identify our four groups of data. What would YOU pick?

I think…

  • 1 For the table
  • 2 What decreased in the pie charts (dissatisfied, very dissatisfied)
  • 3 What increased in the pie charts (very satisfied, satisfied)
  • 4 STOP!

So there is no need to make 4 groups of data. Everything important can be said in the first three.

This is important to note: the examiners take a long time to prepare these questions, the questions vary to stop people learning a template by heart. And here in this particular question, compared to example Question 1:

  • The introduction is slightly longer (Presentation Observation)
  • The data description is shorter (Summary)
  • The comparison will be slightly longer (Tie-Together)

So what is important to remember is that there are swings and roundabouts to each question, there are bits that are easier and bits that are more difficult. Don’t panic!

First the table, the problem here is that we don’t want to simply copy the data, so try and give some meaning to the data.

From the table we can see that visitor numbers increased by over 20% in the year after refurbishment. [18 words]

EXAM TIP: What is the difference between Data and Information? Data is just numbers, information is a way to understand the numbers, to make sense of the data. 20% is more informative than it ‘increased by 18,000’ which again is much better than ‘was at 74,000 but increased to 92,000’. So aim to make your summary informative.


EXAM TIP: Yes, bad news. Even if you hate maths, please try and learn percentages and easy fractions for Task 1. As well language of approximation (About, Around, Just over, Nearly etc)

Now onto the pie charts.

The pie charts show clearly that the level of dissatisfaction decreased over the period, Dissatisfied visitors more than halved (40% to 15%) and Very Dissatisfied dropped by exactly 50%. While on the other hand, general satisfaction increased, Satisfied visitors increased by a third to 40, and Very Satisfied by over 130% to 35. [53 words]

EXAM TIP: I used a number of ways to express changes in numbers. Make a list of your favourites and learn them!


Phase 4 Tie The Two Graphs Together

So now we need to make sure we answer more fully the final part of the question, “make comparisons where relevant”.

The trick here is to say something which either highlights some similarities and something which highlights some differences.

[I wrote another post on connectors for Ielts Task 1 if you are interested, here it is. It talks about the types of connecting language in detail, including comparison such as similarities and contrast.]

In general you are looking to write at least one of two sentences:

  • One sentence highlights a similarity but with a caveat
  • Or
  • One sentence highlights a contrast but with a caveat
caveat :(here) an observation that shows why a more general 'rule' is not completely valid.

In questions where there is more complexity in the data you may be able to write both of those sentences. This is probably less likely with multiple graph/chart/data questions.

But also remember that we have often already answered this a little in the opening statement about general trends.

For example in question 1 intro I say: “Voluntary Work is also the least chosen but Part-Time Work and Further Study are the most popular.”

But in Question 2 I have not said anything yet.

So Tie Together is a last check to see if I want to add anything else. Or if I want to highlight a particular similarity or difference.

For Question 1 I would add:

Comparing the two graphs the choice of destination as a percentage is in general very similar except for postgraduates who are much more likely to choose Part-Time Work. [ 28 words]

Final Complete Answer: Q1

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.] [Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 10, Page 77
]

The graphs show the activity for UK graduates and postgraduates, excluding full time work, after completing their studies in 2008. In the graph for graduates Further Study is the biggest single activity, while Voluntary Work is a very unpopular choice while in the graph for postgraduates Voluntary Work is also the least chosen but Part-Time Work and Further Study are the most popular.

There were four possible destinations for graduates, two of which Part-Time Work and Unemployment were around a quarter of the total each, 17,735 and 16,235 respectively. While Voluntary Work was about 5% of the total (3,500) and Further Study nearly half with 29,665.

While in the graph for postgraduates there were the same four destinations but much lower numbers. Part-Time Work and Further Study accounted for about a third each (2,535 and 2,725 respectively), Unemployment was a destination for 20% (1,625) and again Voluntary Work was the least popular with just 345.

Comparing the two graphs the choice of destination as a percentage is in general very similar except for postgraduates who are much more likely to choose Part-Time Work. [183 words]


Ok this is not perfect (I over use the word “while”, and the phrase “in the graph” - but perhaps if I have time at the end of the exam I can improve it.)

Moving on to Question 2

Up until now I have not been able to make any comparisons – this is because unlike Question 1 we were comparing apples and oranges. Although I was able to compare between the two pie charts and I took the opportunity with both hands!

to take an opportunity with both hands: to grab with glee/relish/joy an opportunity

So what is our short Tie Together sentence here? Well the idea is simple, the refurbishment increased both numbers and visitor satisfaction.

EXAM TIP: It is very tempting here to offer a reason for this, “This may be because of word of mouth from the more satisfied visitors...” DO NOT DO THIS. Task 1 must remain objective and descriptive. In Task 2 you can come up with as many ideas as you want!!

So combining the data sources we have a positive and a positive. So we could say;

From the data it is clear that not only have the number of visitors increased drastically but also the general level of satisfaction has increased from 35% to 75%.[29 words]

Be careful here of saying something that seems quite innocent like: From the data it is clear that the refurbishment has meant a dramatic increase… etc. Do not say this because you do not know. Perhaps there was a marketing campaign to increase numbers. Perhaps the museum has become free and so people are super satisfied. So be careful. Present the data and the relationship between the data ONLY about what you know (can see).

A possible more exciting way would be to say something like:

From the data it is clear that even though the number of visitors increased dramatically the general level of satisfaction also increased from 35% to 75%. [26 words]

Final Complete Answer: Q2

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.] [Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Exam Book 11, Page 101
]

The data above regards Ashdown Museum in the year before and after renovation, it shows the changes in the number of people visiting and their level of satisfaction. In the table we can see the increase in the number of people coming to the museum while in the pie chart it is clearly shown that less people are unhappy with the experience after the changes, and more people are very pleased.

From the table we can see that visitor numbers increased by over 20% in the year after refurbishment.

The pie charts show clearly that the level of dissatisfaction decreased over the period, Dissatisfied visitors more than halved (40% to 15%) and Very Dissatisfied dropped by exactly 50%. While on the other hand, general satisfaction increased, Satisfied visitors increased by a third to 40, and Very Satisfied by over 130% to 35.

From the data it is clear that even though the number of visitors increased dramatically the general level of satisfaction also increased from 35% to 75% overall. [169 Words]

Ok feedback, 169 words is about right, I would now feel comfortable if I was editing to add any words where I think I could be clearer.

For example in the opening sentence I could write “ it shows the changes in the number of people visiting and their level of satisfaction IN BOTH YEARS”.

But we can always improve what we write, so don’t panic, get Task 1 done and move onto Task 2 asap!! If there is time you can come back and touch things up!

touch things up :(here) to improve slightly in order to make it much more presentable

I hope this has been helpful,

all the best in your studies and in the exam

Adam Narbutt-Ryan

Here are some links that could be of interest!

Check out: Phrases-To-Describe-A-Graph

Check out: start-ielts-task-1-graph-question

Check out: Using-Connectors-IELTS-Task-1

Check out: Template-For-IELTS-Task-1-Writing

Check out: Describe-Graph-Trends-IELTS