The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
You don't need much here. You only have 150 words to fully answer the question and this is not much. So, you need 1 or 2 sentences describing the following:
• The type(s) of graph you are describing
• The titles of the graph(s)
• The date of the graph(s)
• The scale (see the paragraph above)
You might not have all this information but you should report what you do have. So, for example, your beginning could look like this:
In this report I am going to describe 2 graphs. The first one is a bar chart showing the relationship between age and crime and the second is a pie chart showing the types of reported crime in the UK in 2002.
Describing Graphs for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
What you need to do here is factually describe the graphs. You don't need to analyse the data, For example you don't need to give reasons for why figures are high or low. Sometimes, when there is more than 1 graph, there is a relationship between the two and you can bring in some comparison but more than this is not necessary. In the same way, no specialised knowledge of your own is needed or wanted nor your opinions.
Remember the function of many graphs is to describe a trend so be sure that you describe the trends. A trend is how values change generally over time and it is important to describe the changes along with some of the individual values. We will look at trends a bit later under line graphs.
One important issue with The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing is how much detail to include in your report. This depends really on how much detail there is in the question. If there is only 1 graph and it doesn't have much numerical data in it, then you will be expected to include all or nearly all of the numerical detail. If, however, you have 2 graphs, both of which are very complicated with lots of values, you will not be expected to include everything as you only have 150 words to do the job. What you will have to do is to include a selection of what you feel is the most important and significant detail that needs to be included to accurately describe the graph. With practice from good IELTS practice tests, you will improve at including all the necessary detail with the right amount of words.
You must always have some numerical detail though.
Now let's look individually at the types of graph that you are likely to meet in the exam and how to describe them.
Bar Charts for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
Hopefully you will have described the title of the bar chart in your introduction so you can go straight into the description. Basically, with a bar chart, you need to describe the bars and their values. When describing a bar chart you first have to decide in what order to describe the bars, highest value to lowest value or lowest value to highest value. It may be a mixture of this. If there are very many bars, you can sometimes group together for description 1 or 2 or 3 bars which have similar or the same values. If there are very many and you can't group them, then just describe the ones that are the most significant.
Pie Charts for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
Pie charts are relatively straightforward as they only usually have a few sections though this is not always the case. You need to describe the segments and their values. If there are very many then just describe the ones that are the most significant. The values are often expressed in percentages but not always so be careful what scale you are using.
Tables for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
These can sometimes be tricky as they provide a lot of information and it is often awkward and difficult to describe every piece of information. You have to decide and describe the values and sections that are the most significant.
Line Graphs for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
The function of a line graph is to describe a TREND pictorially. You therefore should try and describe the trend in it. If there are many lines in the graph(s), then just generally describe the trend. If there is only one or two, then use more detail. So, describe the movement of the line(s) of the graph giving numerical detail at the important points of the line.
To describe the movement, there is some language which will always be useful. Below is a list of language you can use. Check with your dictionary words that you don't understand and practice using the words/phrases so you use them in the right way. As you will see, there are a number of words which are similar in meaning. This means that you will be able to use a variety of vocabulary which gives a good impression to the examiner who will read and mark your writing. The words below are particularly useful for line graphs but they can also be used where appropriate to describe the other types of graph.
Expressing the Movement of a Line
Rise (to), a rise, Increase (to), an increase, Go up to
Grow (to), growth, Climb (to), a climb, Boom, a boom, Peak (at), (reach) a peak (at)
Fall (to), a fall (of), Decline (to), a decline (of), Decrease (to), a decrease (of), Dip (to), a dip (of), Drop (to), a drop (of), Go down (to)
Reduce (to), a reduction (of), A slump
Level out, a leveling out, No change, no change, Remain stable (at), Remain steady (at), Stay (at), Stay constant (at), Maintain the same level
Describing the Speed of a Change
Describing a Process for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
We have looked at the various types of graph that you might be asked to describe but you also might have to describe a diagram representing a process.
First of all, the introduction and the ending should be more or less the same.
Then, work out the various stages of the process. Take each one separately (it's only probably going to have a limited number of stages) and describe them fully. Fully is the important word as reaching the word limit has proved harder in this task. If you have this problem, don't be afraid to use your imagination to add to detail about the process.
Other Hints for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing
• DON'T copy any part of the question in your answer. This is not your own work and therefore will be disregarded by the examiner and deducted from the word count. You can use individual words but be careful of using long "chunks" of the question text.
• Don't repeat yourself or the same ideas. This gives a bad impression and the examiner realises that it isn't adding to the content of your report.
• If you are weak at English grammar, try to use short sentences. This allows you to control the grammar and the meaning of your writing much more easily and contributes to a better cohesion and coherence mark. It's much easier to make things clear in a foreign language if you keep your sentences short!
• Think about the tenses of your verbs. If you're writing about something that happened in the past, your verbs will need to be in the past tenses. If you're describing the future, you will need to use the future tenses. If it's a habitual action, you'll need the present simple tense and so on. If you have time, a quick check of your verbs at the end of the exam can help you find errors. For describing graphs you will probably need past tenses whereas, for describing a process, you will probably need the present simple. Think about the verbs while practising and then it will become easier when you do the exam.
• Don't be irrelevant. Although you can use your imagination to expand on your answer, if any part of your report is totally unrelated to the question and put in to just put up the word count, then the examiner will not take it into account and deduct it from the word count.