Academic Task 1. Part 4. Describing Maps & Processes


The 5-Step Approach for Describing Changes to Maps

Step 1. Read the Question and Brainstorm Different Vocabulary.

Make sure you fully understand the question and try to think of some different words from the words in the maps so that you can use a wider range of vocabulary in your answer. This will help you get a higher band score. This should take 1 to 2 minutes in the test.

Step 2. Write the introduction & overview paragraphs. 

In step 2, you should identify key information, then write the introduction and overview paragraphs. This should take 5 to 6 minutes in the test.

  • For the introduction, identify 1) what type of maps are they ? (Industrial, urban, rural, coastal, islands etc? 2) where are they?, and 3) when do they refer to? (the time period). Also remember to mention the unit of measurement  (for maps - mention the population).
  • For the overview, you need to identify what had happened generally from the earlier time period (in map 1) to the later time period (in map 2) as an overall description of the changes that took place in the geographical area covered by the maps. 

Step 3. Identify & Select Main Features.
Before you write your body paragraphs, identify main features. In other words, choose what you think are the most important things on the maps to write about in the body paragraphs.
  • Select 3 or 4 features from map 1 to write about in body paragraph 1
  • Select 5 or 6 changes that had taken place in map 2 to write about in paragraph 2.
With map questions that compare the development of an area over time, you will find that there is far more to write about for map 2 (body paragraph 2) because the area is usually more developed and you can also write about things that are not there anymore because they have been replaced by something else. Therefore, it is a good idea to match features that were present in map 1 with features in map 2 that have replaced things in map 1. Try not to take more than 2 or 3 minutes planning the body paragraphs as there is a need to be very strict with time on map questions since there is usually too much to write about. 
Remember ... Write about MAIN FEATURES ONLY - don't write about everything. 

Step 4. Write 2 body paragraphs.

Now write a detailed first body paragraph about the first 3 or 4 key features you identified as main features in step 3. It is important that you describe the first map clearly. Try to choose things in the first map that have changed in the second map so that you can write about the changes in the second body paragraph. Here are some key points to remember when writing the body paragraphs.

  • Refer to the location of map features with compass points (north, east south and west). You should also use more accurate compass points like "In the north-western area of the map..." or "In the south east, there were ..." etc. See my band 9 model answer. This will help you to avoid incorrect descriptions of locations, such as "On the right hand side; at the top of the map .."
  • Use contrasting signals to make comparisons, which is a task requirement. It is a good idea to start body paragraph with "By contrast, ..."  or "However, ..." etc
  • Use the past perfect tense in the 2nd body paragraph to show you can describe changes from one time in the past to another time in the past. For example; "By 2015, the scattered farms in the north-east had been demolished and made way for a newly constructed golf course ... "

Step 5. Read your answer and correct any obvious mistakes. 

  • Try to leave at least 2 minutes at the end of task 1 to quickly read and check for mistakes. By eliminating silly spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, you could increase your band score. I find it is easier to check sentences and paragraphs as soon as I have written them as this helps me to think about how to write the next logical sentence - giving the writing a better 'flow'.