IELTS Writing Task 1: How to describe graphs and make comparisons

IELTS Writing Task 1: How to describe graphs and make comparisons

Posted by Grant Richardson, 8th November, 2015

For graphs or tables in writing task 1, candidates must carefully choose how to divide up the data in order to make comparisons most effectively.

If the graph/table has 2-4 data series (such as 2-4 countries or 2-4 modes of transport), you can simply divide the timeline into two periods.

  • Period 1: From the beginning of the timeline until
    – the present time (normally chosen if the timeline passes through the present time)
    – or, somewhere along the timeline where there is a noticeable change in one or more series plots (e.g. starts to rise/fall sharply)
    – or, the mid point of the timeline
  • Period 2: The rest of the timeline

In your first body paragraph, you would specify:

  • the values of all series at the beginning of the timeline (with some comparison words),
  • followed by a description of the trend for each series over the first period chosen (again, with comparison words and phrases).

In your second body paragraph, you would describe:

  • the trend for each series over the second period.

For example, for the following question, my chosen two periods are delimited by the 3 red arrows:

Cambridge IELTS 5 Test 1

Cambridge IELTS 5 test 1 task 1

The introduction includes a paraphrase of the question, and a summary of the data over the period (without numbers).

The line graph illustrates the ratios of the populations of Japan, Sweden and the USA aged at least 65, from 1940 to 2040. It shows that all three countries’ ratios will have risen over the period, and Japan will see the highest rise.

The first body paragraph (first detail paragraph) simply specifies the value of each series at the start of the timeline, and uses one or two comparing words.

In 1940, the USA had the highest proportion at 9%, ahead of Sweden at 7%. Japan had the lowest at 5%.

In the same paragraph, I then describe trends (what each series does) until the second time point (rises, falls, fluctuates, dips?), again, adding some comparing words.

The USA then saw a gradual increase to 15% by 1982, and remained fairly constant until the present day. Sweden witnessed a similar trend; though from 1995 it started rising to surpass the USA before reaching 20% at the present time. In contrast, Japan saw a gradual decline until 1960, then a trough at 3% until 1988, after which it rose steadily to 7% by the present time — still well below the USA and Sweden.

My second detail/body paragraph describes what happens to each of the series during the period from or about the present day until the end of the timeline shown in the graph. Again, I include comparative words where possible.

From about 2017, the USA expects to see an exponential growth to about 23% in 2040. Sweden’s ratio will decline gradually until 2025, before undergoing the same dramatic rise as the USA’s to reach 25%. Japan anticipates a rapid rise similar to the USA’s until the mid-2020s. However, its proportion is then projected to skyrocket over the subsequent 5 years, surpassing both Sweden and the USA, before following a similar rising trend to theirs to 27%.

As stated in an earlier post, task 1 answers do not require a summary or conclusion as your introduction should include a summary of the data. However, your answer will sound more complete and, therefore, likely gain more marks if it ends with an interesting observation or comparison about a specific part/parts of the data, which I call a coda.

By 2040, the differences in the three countries’ ratios are projected to be similar to what they were 100 years earlier, albeit in the reverse order, with Japan’s as the highest and the USA’s the lowest.



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