Test Tips for Academic Task 1 Writing  (Extended Version)

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Learning Test Tips from Video Lessons.

The writing task 1 tips (below) will provide you with a deeper understanding of what is required in order to write high band scoring answers. However, it is definitely better to learn writing tips in context. Therefore, if you want to learn faster, you should watch the video lessons that highlight important tips while the different task 1 writing techniques are being explained by the teacher. Note: these tips refer to the Official IELTS Marking Criteria used by examiners when they mark your test.

Essential Tips for Task 1 Academic Writing.

Extended Version. Click for Quick-View.


-  Write a minimum of 150 words.

It is requirement of the task to write at least 150 words. If you don't, your band score will go down for task achievement. Therefore, check whether you are writing 150 words or more. You can do this by counting an average line and multiply by the number of lines you write, but make sure you write the answer under timed test conditions.


-  Complete the task in no more than 20 minutes.  

Remember that task 1 is only worth 33% of the marks, so do not go over 20 minutes. You will need the other 40 minutes for planning, writing and checking task 2. Students who go over 20 minutes for task 1 usually fail to complete task 2 successfully.


-  Analyse the data in the chart and plan your answer.

If you do not plan your answer, it will not be organised, so you will probably lose marks for task achievement and coherence and cohesion. Don't think you will save time by not using time to plan - this is not the case. You should spend about 2 to 3 minutes analysing and planning your answer as this makes it much easier to write about chart data, maps or processes. Watch my free video lessons to see how I plan and write effective introduction and overview paragraphs. Planning will save you time and help you write an answer that will get a higher band score.


-  Identify important categories and units in the chart.

Although you may have heard that you must not write about every little detail in task 1 charts, some details are still very important. For example, 1) you must make sure you write accurately about the time  period(s) the data refers to; 2) you must identify how the data is measured; is it in millions? units? percentages? decimals? hundreds? thousands? and 3) you must correctly identify categories that are being compared and write about them accurately. For example, it would be wrong to write about "the number of people who speak Spanish living in the E.U." as "Spanish citizens" and it is wrong to write that 33% of Spanish speakers = 33,000 Spanish speakers. If your answer is factually incorrect, your band score for task achievement will be reduced.


-  Write in clear paragraphs.

I advise you to write an introduction, an overview and 2 short body paragraphs. This will help you to organise your answer better. You cannot write a single paragraph for task 1 because paragraphing is a requirement to get band 6 and above. Examiners will consider whether you are using paragraphs  'appropriately' or 'skillfully' to attract band scores of 8 or 9 respectively (coherence and cohesion).


-  Write an introduction explaining what, when, where, how much, and who.

There should be a logical and clear progression of information and ideas throughout your answer. These requirements are stated in the writing band descriptors for task achievement and coherence/cohesion. By paraphrasing key information in the introduction, you will begin your answer in a clear logical way. This is why it is better to plan and break up your answer into different paragraphs. I show you how to do this in my video lessons by separating the different parts of the answers into specific steps.


-  Write an overview of the chart (describe the general trend).

Providing 'a clear overview of main trends, differences or stages' is a requirement to attract bands 7 to 8 for task achievement. This why I recommend a separate paragraph for this part of your answer. To describe the general trend, you must write a statement about what has happened generally or overall in the overview. See my free video lessons to see how to do this for each task 1 chart.


-  Write 2 body paragraphs comparing main features.

You need to decide what you think are the main features (not minor details) of the information and present them 'clearly and appropriately' (band 8) and as a 'fully developed response' (band 9) for task achievement. This is reflected in my video lessons when I show you how to identify key features (step 3) and write about those key features in 2 body paragraphs (step 4).


-  A summary is not required.

I would not advise you to write a summary because the whole answer is a summary. As the instructions state "Summarise the information by selecting and reporting ... ", so to write a summary paragraph in a piece of writing that is already a summary is not really necessary. Sometimes, you might want to write a summary because you are under the word-count, but if you follow the steps in my video lessons (also explained in my free e-books), you will learn how to write and plan successful answers that are never under the word count and do not require a summary.


-  Do not write general background statements.

I would not advise you to write general statements about the topic that are not connected to the data trends. Not only does this waste time, but you get no credit for it. For example, let's suppose the task is comparing the price of smartphones in France in the 1990s. It would not be a good idea to start your writing with a statement like ...


"Sales of smartphones have exploded all over the world, and it is estimated

  that there are now more smartphones than people in the world, so it is not

  surprising that the price of smartphones rose in France in the 1990s..."


You might think that this is a well written sentence, but it does not answer the task. Task 1 questions typically require you to 'select and report the main features' of a pie chart, line graph, table or bar chart and 'make comparisons where relevant'. General statements, though they may be true, do not answer the question because they do not specifically describe and compare the data as presented in the chart(s). The ONLY general statement you will write is in the overview, but this is a description of the chart data (not an unrelated general statement). My videos lessons for task 1 show you how to stay on task by identifying very specific information to write about in your answer. Free videos are available for the introduction and overview paragraphs.


-  Do not express your opinion or infer anything.

Task 1 does not require you to give your opinion. You are only required to describe and compare data or describe stages in a process, compare maps or describe how something works. Giving your opinion is only required in task 2. Similarly, you should not infer anything into the data, so do not suggest data or stages that do not exist in the chart information. You will waste time and get no credit for doing this.


-  Do not predict future trends.

Do not try to predict a future trend (unless the question asks you to do this - which is very unlikely). Sometimes, I read student essays that try to make a prediction at the end of the answer because they think it will add to their answer. It will not. You will not get any extra marks for doing this because it does not answer any part of the question. In fact, you are more likely to get a band 6 for task achievement if you present information that is "irrelevant, inappropriate or inaccurate". 


-  Try to avoid writing about data changes as lists.

Another common error is to write about the data as a list of changes. This happens when  the writer mistakenly writes in detail about every change that occurred and describes the information in strict time order and without contrasting different data subjects. If you do this, your writing will appear very mechanical and will not satisfy the task requirements.

For example, look at these sentences from a chart that compares the average monthly sales of 3 different types of fruit at a fruit shop in London:


"In 1998, sales of apples increased dramatically to 4124, and in 1999 they

 rose further to 4520. Then from 2000 to 2002, sales of apples levelled off

 at about 4300. Finally, sales of apples rose slightly to finish at 4352 a month".


The problem with writing in a listing style is that although your writing might be accurate and use good vocabulary and grammar, you will get low scores for task achievement and coherence and cohesion because you do not address the task requirement to "make comparisons where relevant". Also, the writing will lack a range of "appropriate cohesive devices", variation of grammatical structures.and different vocabulary. Look at this alternative writing:


"In 1998, the average monthly purchases of apples at Fred's Fruit shop had increased dramatically to 4124, which was much higher than the previous year (3784), whereas customers were buying far fewer oranges. In fact, orange sales fell constantly and slumped to an all-time low by 2000 at just under two thousand (1983). By contrast, the most popular-selling fruit by 2000 was the pear. Despite being by far the least popular fruit in 1998 at less than three-thousand average monthly sales, by 2005, sales almost doubled to an average of just under six-thousand (5886) pears sold per calendar month at Fred Fruit shop".


To learn to write about task 1 data charts more effectively, you should watch my video lessons, which demonstrate a range of structures that will attract high band scores.


-  You must make comparisons in your answer.

The instructions for task 1 are usually the same for data charts, so you are almost certainly going to be asked to "make comparisons where relevant". This is a key requirement of task 1. If you do not make comparisons, you will get a low band score (band 5 or lower). Indeed, the whole point about data charts is to compare information, so it is difficult to think of how you could successfully write about the information in task 1 charts without making comparisons.


-  Use different sentence structures.

When the examiner reads your answer, s/he will consider whether you have written "a wide range of structures with accuracy and flexibility" in order to award a band 9 for the grammatical range of your answer. If there are occasional errors, the band goes down to 8, and when there are frequent errors in complex structures, the band may be reduced to 6 or even 5. The key is to write as many complex sentences as you can reasonably produce. I focus on highlighting complex structures in my video lessons. 


-  Be careful with punctuation and capital letters.

If you show the examiner that you have poor punctuation, grammar and capitalisation, you will be marked down to band 6 or below for grammatical accuracy. To get a band 7 or higher, you need to show your writing has "good control of grammar and punctuation". To avoid losing marks in your test, you should pay attention to this aspect of your writing when you check it after you finish writing. Also, while you are practicing, try to get your essays marked and corrected by an IELTS teacher to see if you are making errors you are not aware of. Quite often, students are surprised when a teacher points out a mistake in their writing, which they thought was acceptable, but was in fact an error.


-  Be careful with grammar tenses.

It is essential that you use the correct tense to get a high band score for grammatical range and accuracy. While you practice, get yourself into the habit of quickly reviewing sentences immediately after you have written them and remember to check whether you have used the correct tense. If the data is from a time in the past to another time in the past, then you can use both the past perfect (subject + had + verb 3) For example, "sales had risen dramatically" or the past simple (subject + verb 2) "sales fell dramatically". I notice when I mark student essays that few students use the past perfect. This is an area where you can show your answer has better grammatical range and accuracy by learning to use the past perfect. Similarly, check if the tense is in the present (present simple) or if it is in the future, you will probably use predictions about future data. This skill is featured in my task 1 videos about 'Population Growth in South America', which shows you how to predict future trends using a variety of writing structures and a wide range of vocabulary.


-  Use appropriate academic vocabulary.

You might be a confident and regular speaker of English, and you could be very comfortable reading English language newspapers and writing emails, but remember that IELTS is not general English. This is why you need to learn formal academic vocabulary to write successful answers for IELTS writing tests.


For example, compare these two sentences:

1) "Car sales increased to the highest point, went down very quickly, then went flat at... " 

2) "Car sales rose dramatically and peaked at an all-time high. By contrast, sales later 

     declined rapidly then leveled off and remained stable at ..."

Clearly, the second example uses superior academic vocabulary. To get bands 8 or 9, you need to use a wide range of academic vocabulary with 'rare errors' or 'slips', and you need to show 'flexibility and precision' of vocabulary usage and word collocation. Fortunately, the academic vocabulary you need for task 1 is much more limited than for task 2, so you are strongly advised to learn and practice it if you want to get a high band score. In my video lessons, I show you how to use a wide range of strong academic vocabulary to increase your band score.


-  Use effective transition signals and linking words.

Another way to increase your band score is to use effective transition words and linking words at the start of sentences and paragraphs. Also, to to connect ideas (especially contrasts) you should use effective subordinating and coordinating conjunctions, which will enable you to write a wider range of sentence structures. This will add to the 'logical organisation' or 'flow' of your writing, which attracts a higher mark for coherence and cohesion. Also, by using more academic words and a variety of structures, you will increase your score for vocabulary and grammatical range. See the vocabulary information in the sidebar and watch the video lessons to see how to use transition signals and other connecting words to make your answers more effective.


-  Use time references.

Most charts have a time-line, and it would be difficult to imagine writing an answer without making reference to the time when changes have occurred. For this reason, you should practice writing time expressions differently, which will increase your band score not only for vocabulary, but also for the other band descriptors. Accurate and varied time expressions will add to i) the 'logical organisation and progression' of the ideas you present (coherence and cohesion); ii) the fullness of the response (task achievement); and iii) to a wider range of vocabulary. Go to the vocabulary section in the sidebar to learn time references for task 1.


-  Use different parts of speech to describe changes and trends.

Most charts will require you to describe and compare data changes, so you should vary your expressions to show a wider range of vocabulary. For example, a slight rise = rose slightly; a gradual decline = declined gradually; fluctuated erratically = an erratic fluctuation ... and so on. Go to the vocabulary tab in the sidebar for more information.


-  Check your answer and correct any careless mistakes.

The more you practice, the more you will learn to manage time while you are writing practice tasks. When you practice, you need to reserve a minute or two for checking and correcting small errors. Everybody makes a few silly mistakes, which they can self-correct if they have the time to read their answer at the end of the test. Reducing the number of errors could increase your band score for grammar and/or vocabulary by making a few small corrections.

Click on the links (below) for other writing test tips.

Academic Writing Task 1 Tips  (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)

Writing Task 2 Tips (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)

General Training Writing Task 1 Tips  (Quick-view)  (Extended Version

Test Day Tips  (Quick-view)   (Extended Version)