Today, I am going to talk to you briefly about location and IELTS maps. As you probably know, it is possible to be given a map to describe in IELTS writing task 1. Describing these can be really intimidating because they require totally different language from other sorts of data.

In this lesson, I will show you some useful language about describing places so that you can write an excellent description of a map for your next IELTS writing test.

Describing Locations –basic language

I assume that you already know the basic prepositions in English. By that, I mean the words that tell you how one thing is related to another. Here is an image that explains it pretty well:

prepositions of place

Beyond that, you will also need to know the cardinal directions:

cardinal directions for ielts

Of course, for IELTS you need to have a little more advanced knowledge than this, and that is why I am writing this article today.

How to Describe Positions and Relative Location

The purpose of describing a map for IELTS is to test whether the candidate is able to describe physical locations. You do not have to be a genius geographer, but you should be able to give a reasonable description of a place.

First of all, in most cases you should use cardinal directions to show the location of certain things on the map. Why? Because regular directions (left, right, forward, behind) are subjective. They change according to where you are.

Let’s see an example:

ielts map of sports centre

Recently, I marked an essay from one of my writing correction students. She wrote:

There is a café on the right of the main entrance.

This may seem reasonable, but actually it is not good writing and it is not strictly true.

If you imagine that you are walking into the building, then the café is on your right, but if you walk out of the building it is on your left! In other words, this changes according to your perspective.

 When looking at a map, then, you should say “east” or “west” rather than “left” or “right.”

In front of vs at the front of

Looking at the same map, one of my students also told me:

The reception is in front of the main building.

This was also incorrect. Why?

When a person is “in front of” a building, they are outside of it. When they are “at the front of” a building, they may be inside it.

For example, we might say:

  1. I am waiting for you in front of the train station.
  2. I’m in the Starbucks at the front of the train station.

In the first example, she is waiting outside the train station, but in the second she is inside the train station!

in front of vs at the front

To the east of vs In the east

Another issue is the subtle differences we encounter with cardinal directions. You can say “to the east of (something)” or “in the east” but these actually have different meanings.

Look at this image and decide which is the correct sentence:

university sports centre for ielts
  1. The dance studios are located to the east of the sports hall.
  2. The dance studios are located in the east of the sports hall.

Which one is correct?

The right answer is #1. We can only say “located in the east of the sports hall” if they are actually inside it. For example:

Other Common Errors

at the two sides of vs on either side of

Another of my students looked at this map and told me:

In 2007, there were outdoor courts at the two sides of the main building.

This is a problem because we would not say “at the two sides.” For one thing, this tells the reader that there are only two sides! Of course, no building has just two sides. However, we don’t say “at” for this position, either.

Instead, we would likely say:

  • In 2007, there were outdoor courts on either side of the main building.

The phrase “on either side of” means on two different sides. This is a much better expression and informs the reader of your meaning much more clearly.

Sample Band 9 Answer

I want to show you how to describe this map, so I will present my own sample band 9 answer:

There are two maps depicting a university sports centre before and after a period of redevelopment. There are some parts that will remain the same and others that will be completely altered, and the total area of the sports centre will be increased significantly.

At the centre of the sports centre is a 25-metre swimming pool, surrounded by a seating area and a changing room, with a reception desk between it and the entrance. These features have not changed between the first map and the second. However, the gym, which sits behind the swimming pool, has been substantially expanded, and in the second map it is approximately twice the size it originally was. To the east of the gym, two dance studios have been added in the second map, and to the west there is now a large leisure pool. At the front of the building, near the reception, there are two additional changing rooms, as well as a sports shop and café.