For IELTS writing, you will have to do two different tasks, called task 1 and task 2. For task 1, you are required to describe one of 7 different types of visual data:
- Line graph
- Bar chart
- Pie chart
- A combination of the above
- Process diagram
In this article, we will look at what you would be required to do for those different task 1 types.
Understanding IELTS Writing Task 1
First of all, before we look in detail at any of the above types of data, it is important that we understand what the purpose of IELTS writing task 1 is. I think people normally overlook this, which causes them to make a range of mistakes.
Basically, this part of the exam tests your ability to convey specific information based upon something that you can see. For that reason, you are given different types of visual data to describe.
You can see from the above selection that there are 7 different types of data. Line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, and tables are all relatively similar, requiring you to comprehend and then explain numbers and trends. However, process diagrams and maps are quite different, requiring you to sequence information or explain layouts and describe changes over time.
Importantly, you are not required to talk about your opinion or give any general knowledge. That is something you may have to do for task 2. This is important to know because understanding task 1 puts you in a good position to succeed at it.
Now, let’s look at the different IELTS writing task 1 types.
1. Line Graphs
Probably the most common type of IELTS writing task 1 data is a line graph. As a result, many textbooks, teachers, courses, and classes focus on teaching this above all else, and so most IELTS candidates feel more confident when presented with a line graph than any other kind of data.
However, you should not be complacent. It carries its own challenges and can be difficult to describe. The important thing is to identify the key idea, then recognise and compare (if appropriate) the most important parts.
Most notably, line graphs show changes over time. You can use language like “increase,” “decrease,” “rise, “fall,” and so on to show how values change as time progresses.
Here is a video about IELTS line graphs:
And here are some useful links:
2. Bar Charts
Perhaps the next most common type of IELTS writing task 1 question asks you to describe a bar chart. This is not the same as describing a line graph, yet many people make the mistake of tackling it in the same way.
Notably, bar charts quite often do not show changes over time and could indicate different values within one month or year. Thus, you must be careful to avoid using inappropriate language when describing these.
As with line graphs, you should look for the highest and lowest values, comparing big differences and focusing on the most significant parts rather than describing all data points.
3. Pie Charts
These are also quite common in IELTS writing task one. Sometimes you will be given two or more pie charts to compare and sometimes you will be given a pie chart and another kind of data, like a table. The important thing is to figure out what the pie chart reflects, what its values mean, and then convey this accurately to your reader.
Pie charts are often very simple to understand because of the easy way that they convey data. However, they also can be extremely challenging. I have seen some that are quite hard to understand and very hard to describe with any degree of accuracy.
Remember that pie charts are almost always presented as percentages. This is because the whole pie chart adds up to 100%. Approach these carefully by taking a reasonable amount of time to analyse the chart before describing it.
Tables often look simple but pose hidden challenges. For one thing, most IELTS task 1 tables contain far more information than other kinds of chart, so it is tempting to include more figures in your description. However, keep in mind that this is an English test so you should not cram your essay full of numbers.
As tables are also not a visual medium of conveying ideas, they can require you to think a lot more to draw comparisons. Whereas a bar chart will be easy in terms of finding the highest and lowest value, it is possible to overlook these in a table.
It is important to note that you will not always be given a line graph, bar chart, pie chart, or table. In fact, these could appear in any combination. The most common ones that I have seen are tables mixed with pie charts.
This sort of task can be daunting. Where do you begin in describing such mixed data? Well, it totally depends upon the information that you are given. There is no set formula and you will have to think carefully and make choices when it comes to grouping information and creating a task 1 structure.
Sometimes you will need to bring all the information together, but sometimes it is quite clear that the table, for example, should be described as one set of data and the pie chart for another. This will require careful consideration.
Here is an example:
6. Process Diagrams
The next type of task 1 question is a process diagram, which you may also see called a flow chart. I don’t call them “flow charts” because often that is an inaccurate description, although sometimes they are actually flow charts.
Anyway, this will basically be a visual depiction of some sort of process and you will need to describe it. This will be quite different from describing any kind of chart for a few reasons:
- You will not really select things because you will need to describe everything.
- Passive voice is important here to reflect the fact that we don’t know who or what is doing the actions.
- There is no set language here. The vocabulary will depend 100% on the images shown.
For these reasons and more, many IELTS candidates fear process diagrams, but honestly they are easier to do than line graphs and bar charts. The supposedly difficult vocabulary is almost always given to you in the images and you just have to turn it from a noun into a verb, then convert it into passive voice.
Finally, we come to perhaps the most feared part of IELTS writing task 1 – describing maps! Many people hate this because it requires perhaps the greatest flexibility in English skill. You cannot just say “X increases” or “There was a change in X.”
For maps, we need to have a pretty good vocabulary, as well as highly accurate verb tenses. This latter part is because IELTS maps typically come in pairs, with each map showing a different point in time. If you make a verb tense error, you will convey the wrong meaning.
However, with a little practice, it is actually not that difficult to prepare to describe maps. Fundamentally, there will be nothing outrageously difficult to do here and you just need to provide a coherent description that clearly gives an overview of each map with some important changes highlighted.
- How to Describe Maps
- Advice on Describing Locations
- Sample Answer #1
- Sample Answer #2
- A Very Difficult Map (video)
For IELTS writing task 1, there are 7 different types of question that you could be given. Whilst some are more common than others, you should be prepared to answer all of them because any of them could be given to you. Do not panic if you see a map or process diagram because, despite what some people say, they are not necessarily more difficult than the others.
Remember the purpose of this part of the test: to ensure that you can give clear descriptions of something that is presented in front of you. You are not being asked to do anything more than that, and it is important to keep that task at the forefront of your mind if you want to succeed.