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IELTS Writing

IELTS Writing Task 1: How to describe a bar graph

Mastering the skill of describing bar graphs is crucial for success in the IELTS Writing exam. Bar graphs frequently appear in IELTS Writing Task 1, demanding candidates to interpret and articulate data concisely. In this article, we'll provide strategies and tips to help you tackle bar graphs confidently and effectively, ensuring you can present key trends and comparisons with clarity within the exam's time constraints.

And these are what we're going to discuss:

  • High scoring IELTS Writing strategies
  • Sample task and an answer
  • IELTS exam tips

IELTS Academic Writing strategies

A bar graph (chart) helps to compare the quantities of different categories shown in the forms of bars. The horizontal axis usually illustrates different categories, e.g. periods of time/cities/ages/genders, while the vertical axis illustrates quantities (e.g. numbers or percentages). A bar graph can show a clear trend or fluctuations. You can receive one or several bar graphs or a combination of a bar graph with other charts, diagrams or tables.

Before you start writing:

  1. Pay attention to whether you have percentages (5%%, 10%) or numbers (hundreds, thousands, etc.)
  2. Look at the time period. It can refer to the present, past, future, or all three. Your choice of tenses should depend on that.
  3. Select what you should highlight and compare and what you can skip.

Follow different writing strategies to describe different graphs and their combinations:
A small bar graph
  • Describe all key changes, otherwise you won’t get 150 words.
  • Use enough adjectives and adverbs to add details.
  • Use longer phrases, linkers and grammatical structures to make sure you have at least 150 words, for example use “...provides information about...” instead of “...illustrates...”.

A big bar graph
Be selective. Focus on the:
  • 3 biggest figures/changes.
  • 2-3 smallest figures/changes.
  • Similar figures/no changes.
The rest of the numbers you can summarise or list in 1-2 sentences using “respectively”.

Several bar graphs
  • Decide how they relate to each other.
  • Describe key differences, similarities and changes/trends over time.

A bar graph or several ones and a pie diagram/table/line chart
Decide how they relate to each other. Be selective. Focus on the:
  • 3 biggest figures/changes.
  • 2-3 smallest figures/changes.
  • Similar figures/no changes.
The rest of the numbers you can summarise or list in 1-2 sentences using “respectively”.
In this task you should:

  1. Summarise the information. That means describe the bar graph.
  2. Select and report the main features/trends and support them by data.
  3. Make comparisons where relevant.
  4. Write at least 150 words.

IELTS Academic exam sample answer

The bar graph provides information about how many men and women enrolled for full-time and part-time further education in the UK during three time periods: 1970 to 1971, 1980 to 1981, and 1990 to 1991.

Overall, it is apparent that in all three periods, more individuals of both genders studied part-time rather than full-time. The number of men in full-time education increased gradually from around 100 thousand in 1970-71 to approximately 250 thousand in 1990-91, whereas the number of men in part-time education remained roughly the same over the three decades fluctuating from 100 thousand in 1970-71 to about 90 thousand in 1990-91 .

Conversely, women demonstrated a significant increase in both part-time and full-time education. The number of female part-time students rose from around 750 thousand to roughly 1.1 million over the twenty-year period, while the number of full-time female students increased gradually from around 50 thousand to just over 250 thousand by 1991. This increase in full-time female students was similar to the trend observed among male students.

To summarise, while the number of women increased significantly in both full-time and part-time education, men appeared to be less inclined towards part-time education, which witnessed a slight decrease over time.

IELTS Academic band score: 9.0

Pay attention to the blue – topic-specific vocabulary, green – linkers, brown – grammatical structures.

IELTS exam tips

You should have at least 3 paragraphs in your response: an introduction, a body paragraph, and a summary. Instead of a summary you can have an overview in the second paragraph which goes after an introduction. The aim of a summary or an overview is the same – to highlight the main features and/or trends.

However, in the model answer there are 4 paragraphs where the 1st paragraph is an introduction, the 2nd paragraph is about male students, the 3rd paragraph is about female students, and the 4th paragraph is a summary.

The number of paragraphs depends on the task and your analysis.

Use this structure to get a high score for task achievement:

Paragraph 1. Introduction. (≈20 words)

  • Say what the bar graph shows
  • Paraphrase the task
  • Don’t add any statistics

Paragraph 2. Body paragraph.* (≈110 words)

  • Analyse the information given
  • Highlight the main features/trends
  • Make comparisons where relevant
  • Add exact percentages/numbers/years. Be as precise as possible.

Add words such as “about/approximately” or “just over (under)/almost/nearly” before the numbers if you don’t give precise figures.

* Add more paragraphs in the main body if necessary.

Paragraph 3. Summary. (≈20 words)

  • Shortly paraphrase key ideas from the body paragraph(s)
  • Don’t add any statistics

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