At first sight, IELTS Academic Task 1 looks easy.
Here’s a graph, or a table, or a map. Just write 150 words about it, yes? What can be so hard about that?
If this is what you have been thinking then you MUST read on, because, my friend, you are losing precious points here. It is NOT that simple. You must select the right information and leave out irrelevant stuff.
But knowing what to include and what NOT to include in an IELTS academic Task 1 report can be very difficult.
Which information is important? How do you know what to leave out?
To be on the safe side, maybe you should include everything, right?
This article will explain why and walk you step by step through the process. At the end you will know exactly what information to write in your report and what to leave out.
1. Why shouldn’t I include all the information in the graph?
It clearly tells you in the instructions for Task 1 questions about graphs, tables, charts and maps to summarise. You need to pick out only the important or interesting features. If you include everything, 2 things will happen.
First, you will lose marks in the Task Achievement category (on the criteria the examiner uses to mark your report).
Second, your report will be very confusing, and a confused examiner is not what you want! So keep the examiner happy and do not try to write about every single feature of the graph/table/chart. Be selective.
2. So what do I include? How do I know what the important information is?
Great! Good question. Let’s look at a graph and decide what the important information is.
The graph below shows the changes in the average number of times certain foods were eaten in a restaurant between 2002 and 2008. Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
Consumption of foods
Look at this graph. What do you notice? Look for patterns and contrasts.
- One line is falling and two lines go up.
- Although the green line started at the highest place, it finished at the lowest.
- The red and blue lines follow a similar path, BUT the red line goes down between 2006 and 2007 before rising again.
- The red line goes up again more steeply after 2007.
- There is a difference in the rate that the green line falls after 2006.
These are really the only interesting features in this graph and so these are the points that you want to make.
You do NOT need to say that between 2003 and 2004 the rate of the red line increased less rapidly, or that after 2004 the rate increased more quickly. The change is so small that it is not worth mentioning.
Notice also that in the instructions it says ‘make comparisons where relevant’. Do not think, ‘Well, I won’t do that because I don’t think it is relevant.’ It is ALWAYS relevant, and if you manage to include one or two great sentences with good language of comparison, your grammar mark will improve. So do it!
3. What about bar charts or tables?
The process is the same for all kinds of statistical information. Look for patterns and big differences. Ignore the minor differences except to make comparisons with big differences. Look at this table:
The amount of money in GBP (£) spent by students on different items per year between 1995 and 2015.
The trick with tables is to think of them like a graph. If there is a lot of information in the table, draw a rough sketch of this information as a graph and it will be easier to see what is happening with the numbers. You should be able to see patterns more clearly now.
- Accommodation and entertainment increased a lot.
- Accommodation increased steadily, but entertainment first increased steadily and then more rapidly from 2010.
- Food increased a bit.
- The amount spent on books increased and then decreased, finishing lower than it started.
- The amount for entertainment in 2015 is 10 times more than books. But in 1995 it was only 2 times more.
- The smallest change was in the proportion of money spent on food.
Do you need to mention every number in your report? NO! Only the interesting ones. So, you would compare the numbers at the start of the time period. You would include any important changes;
e.g. The amount spent on books increased from £300 in 1995 to £500 in 2005, but then dropped by about two thirds to £170 over the next 10 years.
Say where the figures ended. Make some comparisons e.g. with the amount spent on books and entertainment.
A paragraph from this report might look something like this:
The biggest expense that students had over the 20-year period was on accommodation. This started at £2000 in 1995 and increased steadily to £5400 by 2015, more than double the amount at the start of the period. Similarly, entertainment showed a huge rise. The amount students spent on having fun was more than 3 times higher in 2015 than 1995, rising from £530 to £1700.
Let’s look at a bar chart.
The chart shows the consumption of 3 foods in units per year in six countries. Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
Think about patterns and groups.
- You can see that 3 countries show high fat and sugar while the other 3 show high fruit and vegetables. These countries can be grouped together. You could say western countries and eastern or Asian countries.
- The amount of sugar consumed in the western countries is similar but it varies quite a bit in the Asian countries (from about 1.8 units to almost 4).
- There is a similar pattern with fat.
- Japan has the lowest consumption of fat and sugar overall and the highest consumption of fruit and vegetables.
So what would you write in each paragraph about this chart? You should always make a little plan of your paragraphs before you start writing. Mine would look something like this:
Para 1 – introduce the chart and give overview of trends – Eastern countries have high consumption of fruit and vegetables, western countries, fat and sugar.
Para 2 – Fat. – USA has highest fat (just under 8) UK and Aus are the same (about 6.8). Fat much lower in Asian counties – varies from 1.5 Japan to 3.5 China.
Sugar – shows similar patterns to fat. UK USA and Aus – all about 8. In eastern countries nearly the same as fat – about 0.5 units lower.
Para 3 – In contrast, the numbers for fruit and veg show a reversal. Japan has the highest (just under 8), India 7 and China 6.5.
In the western countries the amounts are much lower. Aus and USA consume equal amounts (just over 3) and the UK is slightly higher (4).
If you think you don’t have time to make a plan, THINK AGAIN. You can’t afford not to make a plan. It will save you time, make sure you include all the relevant information, and give a good structure to your report.
Now, looking at this information you might be feeling that you can draw some conclusions from this information. It seems that the eastern countries have a much healthier diet than the western ones.
Please DO NOT do this. You are not asked for your opinion or to draw any conclusions from the information. You just need to report the facts.
Also, a small conclusion is OK. Finish your report by briefly summarising again the trends.
4. What about maps?
You are probably thinking that maps are a little bit different as they do not have numbers on them (usually). But the process is the same. You need to summarise what you can see and make comparisons, so
- find things that have changed – compare the information.
- try to group the information logically – does one change affect or go with another change? How will you group the information into 2-3 paragraphs?
- use map directions, i.e. north, south, northwest etc. in your report.
Let’s sum up
Once you have learnt the ‘formula’ for Academic IELTS Task 1 reports, the structure is quite simple. Here is an 8-point checklist to help you remember what to do:
1. Introduce the graph/chart/table/map.
2. Give an overview of general trends – no details.
3. Find patterns and contrasts.
4. Compare the information at the start of the time period and then give details of patterns and make comparisons. Be sure to give details of where the graphs/information ends at the end of the period.
5. Give details of contrasts.
6. Leave out minor details.
7. Check your report for errors.
8. Feel happy!
Obviously you need a lot of practice before you get it right, but once you have mastered what to include and know what to leave out, you will have more time to focus on your grammar and vocabulary to make sure you receive a high mark for those as well.
Then you can start your plan for Task 2!