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The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing is not an easy part of the exam. Describing a graph well in 20 minutes is not something most people can do straight away whether they are English speakers or not. The fact that it is in a foreign language for you as well doesn’t help. Practice is the magic word though. Even good English users need practice with IELTS practice tests and it could mean all the difference between pass and fail. There is limited practice available and it’s quite expensive. That’s why we would recommend you download our IELTS practice tests. You will get more practice for less money. Go to the Home Page to find more information about our IELTS practice tests.

The Task

Basically the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing is an information transfer task related to the factual content of an input text(s), graph(s), table(s) or diagram(s). It can be combinations of these inputs. Usually you will have to describe the information given in 1, 2 or 3 three inputs but sometimes you have will have to describe a process shown in a diagram.

Marking for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing

The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing will be marked in four areas. You will get a mark from 1 to 9 on Task Achievement, Coherence & Cohesion, Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Your final band for task 1 will be effectively an average of the four marks awarded in these areas. Task 1 writing is less important than task 2 and to calculate the final writing mark, more weight is assigned to the task 2 mark than to task 1’s mark. To get a good overall mark for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing though, both tasks have to be well answered so don’t hold back on task 1 or give yourself too little time to answer it properly.

Task Achievement This where you can really make a difference through careful preparation. This mark grades you on basically “have you answered the question”. It marks whether you have covered all requirements of the task suffiently and whether you presented, highlighted and illustrate the key points appropriately.

Coherence and Cohesion These two are interrelated which is why they are done together. Cohesion is how your writing fits together. Does your writing with its ideas and content flow logically? Coherence is how you are making yourself understood and whether the reader of your writing understands what you are saying. An example of bad coherence and cohesion would be as follows:

1 We went to the beach because it was raining.

Probably the writer of this sentence does not mean “because” as people don’t usually go to the beach when it is raining. The writer should have written:

2 We went to the beach although it was raining.

Sentence 1 has made a cohesion and coherence error (as well as a vocabulary one). “Because” does not join the ideas of the sentence together correctly and, as a result, the reader does not understand what the writer wants to say. This is an exaggerated example but it shows what I mean. Good cohesion and coherence is not noticeable as it allows the writing to be read easily. Good cohesion and coherence also includes good and appropriate paragraph usage.

Lexical Resource This area looks at the your choice of words. The marker will look at whether the right words are used and whether they are used at the right time in the right place and in the right way. To get a good mark here, the word choice should not only be accurate but wide ranging, natural and sophisticated.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy Here the examiner will mark your appropriate, flexible and accurate use of grammatical structures. Many people are worried about their grammar but, as you can see, grammar is only one section of four used to grade your writing. IELTS is much more interested in communication rather than grammatical accuracy. It is, of course, still part of the marking scheme and important as such.

Paragraphing for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing

This is a very easy thing to do but it can have an enormous effect on the intelligibility of your writing and, of course, good use of paragraphing is part of the marking under the section Coherence and Cohesion. Very often people use no paragraphing in The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing and the examiner is faced with a “sea” of writing with no breaks from start to finish. For me, the best writings are those where there are paragraphs separated by an empty line and also indented. In this way your ideas are separated clearly. It shows and gives organization to your writing and makes it more readable. For the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing, you should have a paragraph for your small introduction, a paragraph for each graph that you are describing and a paragraph for your ending. If there’s only one graph to be described, then you should split your writing into 2 or maybe 3 paragraphs for the one graph. Make sure you practise on relevant questions from IELTS practice tests, so that you experienced at dealing with this issue.

For a longer section on paragraphing and how useful it can be, see Academic Writing Task 2 Tutorial.

Scales for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing

What I mean by the scale is whether the graphs are marked in hundreds, thousands, millions, pounds, dollars (US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, etc.), kilograms, tons, metres, kilometres, percent and so on. It’s important for you to make clear what your numbers mean for an accurate report of the graph. Don’t just say that something costs 1000 for instance. Say it costs 1000 US dollars. You can either specify the scales at the start in your introduction so the reader knows it for the whole report or you can use the scale each time you quote a detail in the report.

Writing the Task for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing

The Introduction

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.

(This example gives an introduction to the Academic Writing Task 1 in Test 3 from

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

Verbs Nouns
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
Adjectives Adverbs
Dramatic dramatically
Sharp sharply
Huge hugely
Enormous enormously
Steep steeply
Substantial substantially
Considerable considerably
Significant significantly
Marked markedly
Moderate moderately
Slight slightly
Minimal minimally

Describing the Speed of a Change

Adjectives Adverbs
Rapid rapidly
Quick quickly
Swift swiftly
Sudden suddenly
Steady steadily
Gradual gradually
Slow slowly

The Ending for the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing

You do not need a long and analytical conclusion for The IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing, but I do feel that you need to write something to end the report for reasons of structure. All you need to do is to write:

This ends my report.

This is all you need to end your Task 1; I think it’s important to do this as it rounds off the report for the reader.

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.
  • As I just said, if you have finished the exam with time to spare, DON’T just sit there!! Check what you have done. If you have time after the check, check again. And so on….
  • 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.
  • If you want to improve, there’s no secret. Practice. Practice. Practice. You won’t get better sitting and doing nothing. Even good English users need practice with IELTS practice tests. It could make all the difference between your getting the band that you need, and getting half a band less than you need and having to do the exam again.

Finally, there are no correct answers or methods. Here I’ve given you some ideas to guide you and hopefully to help you but the questions can be answered well in different ways. Good luck with the IELTS Academic Task 1 Writing. I hope that this free tutorial has helped you! Below are links to the other free IELTS academic tutorials. We strongly recommend that you practice for the tests with good IELTS practice tests. Of course, we would like you to use ours as we believe ours are excellent and the cheapest on the market, but any good IELTS practice tests will do.


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This entry was posted on February 9, 2013 by in IELTS, Learning English.
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