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Writing Task 1: how to select main features and make comparisons?

Writing Task 1: how to select main features and make comparisons?

Posted by Grant Richardson, 16th August, 2018

For task 1 questions, IELTS candidates must:

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.

Here is an outline of the general steps you could use to do this for a graph, chart or table, followed by a sample question and answer:

Steps:

1. If there is one graph/table with only 2 or 3 data series (such as 2 or 3 countries or 2 or 3 modes of transport), then I would normally 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

2. Write the introduction and overview

  • The introduction is a simple paraphrase of the description in the question.
  • The overview is a one or two-sentence comment, without numbers, about the trends/patterns of the data

Note: you’ll score lower marks in Task Achievement for not reporting all the main features (band 4) than you will for not writing an overview (band 5). Therefore, if you worry you don’t have enough time to finish, then you should probably focus on covering the main features first and write your overview last.

3. 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).

4. In your second body paragraph, you would describe:

  • the trend for each series over the second period (again, highlighting any contrasting trends with comparison words).

Note: Task 1 answers do not require a conclusion (unlike Task 2 essays).

Example:

To demonstrate, I will use a sample answer I wrote last year with one of my students.

Cambridge IELTS 5 Test 1

(click image to enlarge)

Step 1 – divide the data into two groups

Because the graph has only 3 data series of similar (rising) trends I divided the graph’s whole period into two periods delimited by the 3 red arrows. This allows me to compare the three data series in both body paragraphs.

If there were enough data series, then I might use a different method to divide the data. For example, I would group similar trends into two different groups (e.g. upward trends versus downward trends) and report on each group in a separate body paragraph. This would give me enough data to compare in each body paragraph. Or, if there were two graphs/tables, then I would likely report on each graph/table in a separate paragraph.

Step 1 – introduction and overview

For the introduction, I simply paraphrase the question. For the overview, I write a summary of the data over the period (without numbers). I can put these two items into the opening paragraph. Throughout this example, I use orange text to highlight words that show comparisons.

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.

Step 3 – 1st body paragraph

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.

Step 4 – 2nd body paragraph

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, until slightly surpassing both Sweden and the USA, before decelerating to a similar rising rate to theirs for the remainder of the period.

(optional) Step 5 – coda (final sentence)

As stated in an earlier post, task 1 answers do not require a conclusion–only an overview, which either goes after your introduction or after your final body paragraph. However, if you’ve chosen to write your overview at the beginning after the introduction (I normally do this), and you have enough time, then you can end your answer with a coda. A coda is a final sentence on an interesting observation about a specific part (or parts) of the data (too specific to go in the overview). It can go at the end of the final body paragraph (if it relates to the data in that paragraph) or form its own one-sentence final paragraph. While not being a conclusion, an interesting observation can make Task 1 answers sound more complete… and likely score more marks in Task Achievement by making a noteworthy comparison.  I have observed that IELTS textbooks occasionally include codas in their Task 1 model answers, but they tend not to point this out to the student.

Here is my coda for this question (again, comparing words in are orange):

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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