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IELTS Writing

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: how to describe a table

In the IELTS Academic Writing task, describing data from tables is a common challenge that requires a smart approach. This article explains how to describe tables well in the IELTS Academic Writing task.

And these are what we're going to discuss:

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

Writing strategies

A table is a type of visual information which allows to compare categories and groups. You need to identify and describe the key points. You can receive one or several tables or a combination of a table with other charts, graphs or diagrams.

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 or 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 tables and combinations of diagrams:

A small table (6-10 figures)
  • Describe all figures and compare them, 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 table (11+ figures)
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 tables
  • Decide how they relate to each other.
Usually several tables show similar things or even the same but in different years, places, age groups, etc, so you need to compare them.
  • Use comparative adjectives and grammatical structures
  • If they show changes over time, describe them (e.g. “there was a dramatic growth, ...increased significantly”)

A table or several tables and a pie diagram/line graph/bar chart
Decide how they relate to each other.
Be selective. If there are a lot of figures, 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”.

Sample task and an answer

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task. The table below shows the results of a 10-year study into why teenagers in the USA attend sporting events. Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
Write at least 150 words.
Reasons for attending the sports – American teenagers (all numbers below are percentages)
In this task you should:

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

Model answer
The table provides information about four main reasons why adolescents in the US have attended sports events over the past ten years.

The share of teens who have attended events out of a desire to see a particular sports star has remained relatively stable throughout the ten-year period, with the figure varying from 60% ten years ago to approximately 57% today.

On the other hand, a significant number of teenagers are coming to sports events with friends, with the fraction increasing considerably from 7% a decade ago to almost a quarter today. Regarding special occasions, the percentage fell dramatically from 30% ten years ago to 18% five years ago, dropping further to only 12% in recent times.

At the same time there has been a noticeable increase in the percentage of people attending sporting events for study, with the proportion rising from 3% ten years ago to just under 10% these days.

Overall, there has been a rise in people attending events to accompany friends and for study-related reasons, while fewer teenagers choose to attend a sporting event as a form of celebrating a special occasion.

Score: 9.0
Pay attention to the blue – topic-specific vocabulary, green – linkers, brown – grammatical structures.

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 5 paragraphs where the 1st paragraph is an introduction, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs are the main body with statistics and analysis and the 5th paragraph is a summary.

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

IELTS Academic exam tips

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

Paragraph 1. Introduction. (≈20 words)

  • Say what the table 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

Read more:

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