A Template for Answering IELTS Task 1

Of the 2 questions in the IELTS writing exam, Task 1 requires the student to be less creative, even formulaic with their answer.

Approaching Task 1 with a definite methodology is going to save you time, create less stress and less anxiety - as well as improve your score!

formulaic: to have the quality of following a formula (eg: 2y + t = q)

A Task 1 answer should fall into two main parts:

    First Part: GENERAL
  • 1: An Introduction to the visual data
  • 2: A Summary of the principal information of the visual data
  • Second Part: SPECIFIC
  • There are two main possible styles here group by similarity or group by data set.
    • 3a: Detail each visual data set individually before a comparison with similarity and contrast.
    • 3b: Group data into collections that are basically similar and contrasting with other data groups that have different features


Exam Tip: Note a conclusion is NOT needed, especially given the time constraints. This is because you are not giving an opinion, or trying to find a compromise (as in Task 2) or even aiming to make a single main point.

(A conclusion is different than a summary and you could argue that Task 1 as a whole is basically a summary!)


Let’s go through each phase and offer some examples with exam questions.

[If you are interested in alternative phrases than the ones I use here (as examples) & I have a page of useful phrases for graphs here]

Phase 1: An Introduction to the Visual Data

If there is a single data source, or multiple sources which can be grouped, I recommend a simple opening sentence such as:

The [data type]
shows [description]
in [geographical area]
[preposition + time frame].

See examples for actual IELTS questions given below!

If there two multiple data sources which cannot be grouped, I would simply list each:

The [data type] shows [description]
while the [data type] presents [description]
in [geographical area]
[preposition + time frame].

I would be surprised if there are more than two multiple data sources which cannot be grouped, but if that were the case I would aim to use a generic description of all the data.

generic:generalized, opposite of specific

For example:

The three sets of data present information on the various aspects of technology use in Western Europe over the last twenty years.

Some Examples

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 11, Page 30
]


The six pie charts show the usage of water in percentages for six large areas around the world.

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
]


The table shows the change in number of visitors to Ashdown Museum while the pie charts present data on customer satisfaction to the museum before and after a redecoration.

Exam Tip: Ideally you should not use language given to you in the question in your answer. But do not overthink this, it is not punished it is just that you are not credited for it. Sometimes there is only one way to describe something properly, it is better to simply use what comes to you quickly and move on. However, do try and rephrase the titles at least a little!

overthink:to think too much about something, often where you start to waste your time/energy

EXAMPLE 3

[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 13, Page 94
]


The two maps show the changes to the university sports centre between its current status and the planned rebuild in the future.

EXAMPLE 4

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.]
[Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Sample Paper from Cambridge.org
]


The graph shows the numbers of men and women in either full time or part-time study at three separate points over 20 years.


Phase 2: A Summary of the Principal Information in the Data

The next step is to give a simplified overview of the data.

Here ideally you will not be using any data points but rather a kind of fuzzy, or out of focus, view of the the data sources.

fuzzy:(here) general (also: less clear, more vague, less concrete/focused)

Think about it as if you are asking yourself “What is the big thing to say here?”

Begin with a simple phrase like:

  • “We can see from the data that...”
  • “It is clear from the information that...”

So going back to the four examples:

EXAMPLE 1

We can see from the data that the six regions fall into 2 categories, either agricultural use is by far the biggest usage or it is a combination of farming and manufacturing that uses the vast majority.

Exam Tip: It is interesting to remember that irrespective of the question, you are required to write about the same number of words (175 is a good target) for an answer. This means that each question requires a different balance of content, for example, often when there are multiple data sources you will need to focus on clear structuring but less description, while with a single data source you will probably need less structuring and more description. Just bear that in mind and don’t be stressed by a wall of data!


EXAMPLE 2

We can see from the information that both the number of visitors and general level of satisfaction increased after the changes were made.

EXAMPLE 3

We can see from the information that the present sports centre will remain almost as it is but that the outside areas will be converted to indoors and more facilities will be added.

EXAMPLE 4

We can see from the data that full time students in general are far fewer than part time students but are increasing in number over the period, as are part time female students, while part time male student numbers have fluctuated.

[If you would like a more detailed approach to starting a Task 1 question I wrote a blog post about how to start a graph question here.]

Phase 3 Grouping Data for Describing Main Features and Making Comparisons

So now we come to the real meat and potatoes of the Task 1 answer.

meat and potatoes:common metaphor to mean (here) the core/central issue; also used for 'basic elements'

Again, we want to arrive with a clear objective and not waste time in deciding how to handle the data.

I want to focus here on, not what we actually say but, how we might group the data.

[If you would like more phrases on how to use connectors in IELTS Task 1 I wrote a blog post here.]

So, there are two possible approaches:

Option 1, go through data sets individually (eg each line, or each category, or each data source if there are multiple) and then aim to compare them in terms of similarity and contrast.

Option 2, group data into mini-groups that share characteristics, and then compare and contrast between the different groups.

There is no definite answer here. However, I would ‘aim’ to not describe more than 4 ‘things’. Probably less.

For example, if there are a lot of data sources (lines, pie charts, table numbers etc) you will need to simplify into easily identifiable groups. Clear organization is key here.

And if there are few data sources you have to remember that you will need to describe them more fully, so good description and comparison become key here.

The exercise I want to do here is to look again at the four sample papers, and chose the following three things…

    For Description of Main Data Points
  1. POSSIBLE grouping and shared feature of group
  2. For Comparison of Main Data Points, Trends and Groupings
  3. Similarities within the data
  4. Contrasts within the data

What I want you to focus on here is not the language but how you approach the choice of organizing the data description and comparisons. Remember:

  1. What GROUPS?
  2. What SIMILARITIES?
  3. What CONTRASTS?

So to force you to do this step properly... I will not be giving you language examples (actual answers) – just examples of what to look for BEFORE you write!

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 11, Page 30
]

  • 1 Possible grouping:
    As I mentioned in the general trends sentence in the introduction I think you can divide the information into those with a high agricultural use of water (South America, Africa, Central Asia and South East Asia) and lower agricultural use of water (North America and Europe)
    • I High Farming Water Usage
      • Shared Feature: Obviously the high water usage and similar levels in Industry and Domestic (except for South America – which you could group separately if you wish)
    • II Low Farming Water Usage
      • Shared Feature: A very comparable level of usage across all three categories.
  • 2 Similarities (ideas): I think the range of domestic usage of water is fairly similar (all within 7 to 19 %), or conversely Agricultural combined with Industrial consistently uses approximately 80 to 90% of water.
    • You could also mention how similar Africa, Central Asia and South East Asia are in general.
  • 3 Contrasts (ideas):
    • The basic contrast here is between the two separate groups (as per agricultural use of water).
    • Another contrast could be to highlight the anomaly of South America, it is the only one with high agricultural use of water that has a domestic usage of water higher than the low agricultural usage of water zones.

Exam Tip: Once you have grouped the data like this, then describe each grouping before describing at least one similarity and one contrast within the data. This will give you a great chance to show off some more complicated language.


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
]

  • 1 Possible grouping:
    I think the table has to be described separately (and quickly) because it is very different, and the pie charts can be nicely divided into the two main ideas of satisfaction because we can see that each group’s data goes in the same direction (positive satisfaction increases,while negative satisfaction decreases)
    • I The table
      • Shared Feature: It is a separate data source
    • II The positive ratings (Satisfied and Very Satisfied)
      • Shared Feature: A positive view of the museum
    • III The negative ratings (Dissatisfied and Very Dissatisfied)
      • Shared Feature: A negative view of the museum
  • 2 Similarities (ideas):
    • There is a sizable increase in numbers and satisfaction.
    • That within each category of each group the sub groups behave similarly (so for example within negative ratings both Dissatisfied and Very Dissatisfied both decrease, and similarly for an increase in positive ratings categories).
  • 3 Contrasts (ideas):
    • Well there is the contrast between negative ratings and positive ratings increasing and decreasing.

EXAMPLE 3

[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 13, Page 94
]

  • 1 Possible grouping:
    It would be possible to split into left and right wings, but I think by function allows ‘change’ ‘increase’ and ‘introduction’ descriptions.
    • I Central sports hall
      • Shared Feature: Stays the same
    • II The sporting facilities
      • Shared Feature: The change from outdoor courts to new facilities, increase in gym size.
    • III The amenities
      • Shared Feature: Increase in changing rooms and introduction of shop and cafe
  • 2 Similarities (ideas):
    • That the old sports centre structure is still present
    • The total area is very similar
  • 3 Contrasts (ideas):
    • Far more facilities and amenities, however the outdoor courts have disappeared

Exam Tip: Remember that you are probably fine with a single example of similarity and a single example of contrast – the key here is to show your capability with the language, not win an award for data analysis!


EXAMPLE 4

[These questions are copyrighted to Cambridge University Press and are being used for educational purposes.]
[Question taken from Cambridge IELTS Published material
IELTS Sample Paper from Cambridge.org
]

  • 1 Possible grouping:
    So with less information, this answer will need more detail so groups should be small. I would group by
    • I Full time for both (they are too similar to separate)
      • Shared Feature: both going up.
    • II Female part time,
      • Shared Feature: female subset.
    • III Male part time
      • Shared Feature: male subset
  • 2 Similarities (ideas):
    • Large recent increase in male full time and female part time
    • Male and female full time numbers are similar
  • 3 Contrasts (ideas):
    • Male numbers total is stable, female have increased greatly
    • Now more female students in both categories

Exam Tip: When you get to write your answer the similarities and contrasts do not necessarily have to come at the end after describing the data points. You can use the language of similarity and contrast to even introduce the groups. “While in contrast...” etc.

OK, great! Now that you have a template of how you are going to answer the question it’s time to actually do the writing…. Have a look at some of my other posts on how to approach the actual writing!

All the best,

Adam

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: Compare-2-Graphs-IELTS-Task-1

Check out: Describe-Graph-Trends-IELTS