Much of the difficulty in academic IELTS part 1 is knowing how to organise your answer. This post shows you one way to do this when the diagram is a bar chart. I talk about paragraphs, but what you really need to understand is that this is a visual task. You need to be write so that someone else can “see” the diagram.
This post shows you one to organise your task 1 with a step-by-step guide and has the added bonus of an interactive quiz on comparison language.
The key skill – paragraphing
The key skill is to make sure that you write in organised paragraphs – just as you would in an essay. This is so important because it will not just improve your coherence and cohesion band scores, but it will also make the report easier to write. To do this, we need to identify key features that will make the topics of the paragraphs. When we have done that, we can look for the details that explain those features.
What are key features?
Normally, they are obvious. Never ignore the obvious. Look at the bar chart below and what do you see?
What you should see is this:
- 2 sets of lines (one red and one blue)
- some lines are longer than others
Those are your key features that you must highlight in your report as paragraph topics. Everything else is detail.
Tip: Think visually. Look for the obvious and ignore any writing when you first look at a chart. Close your eyes. What do you remember? It’s easy to be confused by detail.
What are supporting details?
Let’s now look at the complete chart.
We now see what the 2 key features that need to be reported are. Remember these will be the topics of our 2 content paragraphs :
- the distinction between men and women (the blue lines and the red lines)
- how certain purposes of travel are more common than others (how long the lines are)
Supporting detail: men and women
Looking at the blue and red lines this is what I see and needs to be included:
- little or no difference in “walking” “holidays” and “personal business”
- more men in “education”, “entertainment” and “commuting”
- more women in “school run”, “visiting friends” and “shopping”
- many more women in “school run” (5% difference)
- many more men in “commuting” (8% difference)
Supporting detail: purposes
This is fairly straightforward as all you need to do is arrange the different categories into an order showing the most common and least common purposes.
- commuting and shopping much the most common (around 20% average)
- visiting friends and school run both around 15% average
- personal business just under 10% average
- sport/entertainment around 7% average just more than education at 6%
- least common is walking and holidays at around 3% each
Note the % figures here are averages of the male/female numbers.
Tip: when you have many different categories, it is a good idea to group them together under a few headings
A possible answer
There are, of course, many possible answers to this task. Here is one solution.
This bar chart shows the different reasons for making journeys in the UK in 2006 and how males and females differed in this.
It is immediately apparent that the most common purposes for travelling were commuting and shopping, both being around 20 per cent of trips. The next most common reasons were visiting friends and doing the school run at 15%, closely followed by personal business at around 10%. Travelling for sport and entertainment (7%) was only just more common than journeys for educational purposes (6%). Finally, the fewest number of trips were travelling for holidays and walking, both of which accounted for around 3 per cent of all journeys.
Typically, there were few major differences between males and females. In holidays, personal business and walking both sexes took approximately the same amount of journeys, while slightly more men travelled for educational purposes and more women visited friends. Notably, almost twice as many men as women travelled for entertainment reasons and, likewise, around 7% more men commuted to work. The two areas in which women travelled significantly more than men were shopping and the school run.
Test your comparison vocabulary/grammar
In this form of writing comparisons are crucial. Indeed, they are perhaps the most important grammar item in academic task 1. So why not test yourself with this exercise? See if you can re-use the comparison language from my example.
Tip: try to vary the language you use to make comparisons. One way to do this is use adverbs such as “significantly”
Static or Dynamic?
Before writing an IELTS task 1 bar chart or line graph answer it is important that we analyse the question correctly. Taking a few minutes to do this will help us write a clear answer that fully responds to the question. Just what the examiner wants us to do.
The first thing we need to do is decide if the bar chart is static or dynamic. Static means that the data comes from one point in time. Dynamic means the data comes from more than one point in time.
Whether a chart is static or dynamic will affect the information we choose to include in our answer and the kind of language (tense, grammar etc.) we use.
If it is dynamic we will have to compare the different times and comment on the general trends over the time period.
If it is static we will have to compare the different variables, in this case countries, car price, GDP and time it takes for one person to buy a car.
Every IELTS academic task 1 question asks us to ‘select and report the main features’.
This means that we have to not only pick the most significant information from the graph and include it in our essay, but also decide which information is not important and should therefore not be included in our essay. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in task 1 is including all the information you see.
So which information should you choose?
You should look for:
- highest/lowest values
- biggest differences
- significant exceptions
- anything else that really stands out
There are 3 main features in this graph
1) It takes over 26 years for a Vietnamese person to buy a car.
2) Vietnam has the second highest average costs but the second lowest wages.
3) Cost of a car in Singapore is nearly 3 times the next most expensive.
I advise my students to follow a basic four paragraph structure for these kinds of questions.
Paraphrase the question using synonyms.
Provide an overview of the main features. No need to include any data in this paragraph, just tell the examiner what is happening in general terms. If you had to describe the main features in two sentences, what would you say?
This is where we get more specific and use data. Take 2 of the main features (from your overview) and describe them in detail using data from the chart.
Simply do the same thing as you did in paragraph 3, but with two other main features (from your overview).
The graph compares the GDP per capita, cost of a Toyota Camry and approximate length of time it takes for 1 citizen to purchase that mode of transport in eight Asian countries.
Despite having the second lowest average yearly income, it costs more to buy this car in Vietnam than in all but one other Asian nation. It also takes significantly longer for a standard person to buy an automobile in Vietnam than in any other state in Asia. On the other end of the scale, Singaporeans have to pay nearly three times more for their cars than the Vietnamese and it takes them the least amount of time to afford a motor vehicle.
It costs $49,944 to buy a Toyota Camry in Vietnam, but this dwarfs the average yearly income per person at just $1,910. It would therefore take a normal man or woman 26.1 years to save up for that particular car.
This is in contrast to Singapore where it costs $126,245 for that model of motorcar, however the average salary is much greater at $55,182. This means that it generally takes just over 2 years for a typical individual from Singapore to acquire this vehicle.
(200 words) Band 9.
It should be noted that this is not a real IELTS task 1 question. This is just a chart that I saw on the internet, but it allowed me to make a very important point- you don’t have to mention everything on the graph. I only talked about 2 out of the 8 countries and I still wrote 200 words and answer the question fully. The key is finding the most significant data and not talking about anything else. Don’t worry, you won’t lost marks for not talking about everything, quite the opposite.
This graph is also good for demonstrating how important it is to vary your vocabulary. There were four words that could have been overused in this essay- car, average, country and people. Instead of repeating them over and over again I used synonyms to show the examiner I have a wide vocabulary and gain extra marks. Here are the synonyms:
Car- Toyota Camry- automobile- vehicle- motor vehicle- motorcar
Average- approximate- normal- typical- standard
Country- countries- nation- state
People- citizen- man or woman- individual
Next time you see a chart or graph in a newspaper, in a text book or on the internet, think about what the main features are and what common words would you have to vary with synonyms.
I hope you have found these tips useful. If you have any questions, let me know below.
For more band 9 sample essays check out our task 1 sample essay page.
The best way to keep up to date with posts like this is to like us on Facebook.
Click here to return to the homepage, or click one of the links below to check out more great IELTS stuff.
Writing Task 1
Writing Task 2