1. Planning Your Answer
With all IELTS writing, you need to organise your ideas before you start writing.
For a chart such as this one, think about how to connect the data.
Often, IELTS academic writing task one questions contain lots of data.
Many students try to present every piece of information, like a big list, but this is a mistake. Do you know why?
If you do this, your writing will probably be too long and repetitive. You also won’t have much progression in your writing, which is needed for C&C scores of six or higher. You can see details of these in the IELTS Writing Band Descriptors.
So, you need to connect and group the data, but how?
There’s no general rule here, but here’s a good starting point: look for similarities and contrasts.
In this question, you should look for similarities and contrasts both within each chart, and between the two charts.
Think about it now. Look at the charts, and try to find similarities and contrasts in the data. You can see the full-sized chart on the webpage for this lesson. Don’t forget: if you’re watching on YouTube, there’s a link in the video description.
Pause the video, and do it now!
Ready? Here are some ideas.
In the first chart, the proportions for ‘living with flatmates’ and ‘living with parents’ are similar, and they’re much larger than the other two segments, which are similar to each other.
In the second chart, the proportions for ‘living with flatmates’ and ‘living alone’ are similar. ‘Living with a partner or spouse’ is much larger than all the other groups.
Between the two charts, the proportions for ‘living alone’ are very similar. The other segments are all quite different, especially ‘living with a partner or spouse’.
Did you get these ideas, or did you have different ideas for similarities and contrasts?
There’s more than one way to do this. But, you should think about this point before you start writing. Try to make connections in your head, and put the data you’re given into groups. This will help you to link the data when you write, which is necessary for higher scores.
What else should you do before you start writing?
One: for a chart, check whether it shows figures, or percentages, or a mix.
You need different language to talk about these things. If the chart shows figures, you’ll need to talk about numbers, figures, amounts, and so on. If the chart shows percentages, you’ll need to talk about percentages and proportions.
Here, these are pie charts, so you need to talk about percentages and proportions.
Two: check if the data relates to the past, the present, the future, or a combination.
Sometimes, we see IELTS students who don’t pay attention to this, and then they mix different verb tenses in their answer. This will hurt your score. Decide what verb tenses you need, and try to keep it in your head as you write.
Here, the charts are from 2015, so you’ll need past verb forms.
Three: ask yourself if the charts refer to a moment in time, or changes over time. You’ll need different language in each case.
Here, the charts refer to a moment in time. This means you’ll need to use the verb ‘be’ a lot. You won’t use verbs like ‘increase’ or ‘change’, like you would in some IELTS task one questions.
Make sure you organise your ideas clearly before you start writing. Time spent planning will increase your chances of writing a well-structured, complete task.
Now, you’re ready to write. How should you start?
2. Starting Your Answer
At the start of your answer, you should do two things.
One: write a short paragraph – one or two sentences – saying what the chart shows.
Two: write another short paragraph with an overview. This doesn’t have to be a separate paragraph; you can put it together with the first paragraph if you want. It doesn’t matter.
Let’s look at these one by one.
For the first paragraph, you just need to restate the information in the instructions, but you should use paraphrase or different structures to avoid too much repetition.
Look at the example from our model answer:
- The pie charts show how people in two different age groups chose to live in an unspecified country in 2015: alone, with parents, with a partner/spouse, or with flatmates.
Often, IELTS students have problems with this. This is because they try to follow the sentence structure in the task, and just change the words.
Paraphrase is useful, but you need to use other skills, too.
For example, you can use different references. The task refers to ‘two charts’ while our model answer refers to ‘pie charts’.
You can put ideas in a different order. The task says ‘living arrangements of two different age groups’, but in our model answer, we switch the order of these ideas, as well as changing the words.
Sometimes, paraphrase is enough. The task mentions ‘a certain country’. In our model answer, we paraphrase this to ‘an unspecified country’.
Finally, you can avoid repetition by using different levels of generality or specificity. The task refers to ‘living arrangements’; in our model answer, we list the four specific categories.
You don’t need to change everything from the task. It’s fine to copy and repeat small chunks of language. Also, there are some things you have to repeat. Here, there’s no way to change ‘in 2015’, so we kept it the same.
One final point: it’s fine to copy any text which appears on the chart itself. This means you can – and should – copy the categories, like ‘living alone’, ‘living with parents’ and so on.
That gives you your first paragraph. Next, you need to write the overview.
You can also put your overview paragraph at the end, if you want.
For your overview, think about this: imagine you want to tell someone about the chart, but you can only say one or two sentences. How would you do it?
Hopefully, this question is easier, because you planned your answer, and found connections between different data points, and looked for contrasts and similarities. You did that, didn’t you? You can use that here!
Your goal in the overview is to take the most important points from the chart, without going into detail.
If you want to try, then pause the video and write your own overview sentence. We’ll show you our example in a few seconds.
Did you do it? Here’s our model sentence:
- Overall, living arrangements were noticeably different in the two age groups. People aged 25-34 mostly lived with parents or flatmates, while those aged 35-44 predominantly lived with their partner or spouse.
Our model overview is two sentences. An overview should be one or two sentences long. If your overview is longer, it’s probable that you’re either including too much detail, or separating ideas which should be combined into one sentence.
Don’t mention any specific numbers or statistics in the overview. Include big-picture details only.
Here, you can see two ideas. One was comparing the two charts, and highlighting that the trends are different in each one. The second idea highlights the most popular living arrangement in each group.
Like many things here, there isn’t just one way to write an overview. However, someone who reads your overview should have a general idea of what the charts will show.
Now, let’s see some skills you need to write the rest of your answer.
3. Varying Sentence Structure
After your overview, you’ll write one or more paragraphs, explaining the contents of the charts in more detail.
In this and the next three sections, you’ll see some common problems which IELTS students have, and how you can avoid them.
First, it’s easy for IELTS task one answers to become repetitive.
Look at a sentence:
- The percentage of 25-34-year-olds living alone was around 20%.
Looks fine, right? Let’s add another one.
- The percentage of 25-34-year-olds living alone was around 20%. The proportion of 25-34-year-olds living with their parents was approximately one third.
Hmm… Not sure this is going well. Let’s add one more.
- The percentage of 25-34-year-olds living alone was around 20%. The proportion of 25-34-year-olds living with their parents was approximately one third. The percentage living with flatmates was also about 30%.
Do you see the problem?
If you write like this, your writing becomes repetitive, and starts to feel like a list. Even if you change some words, like using ‘approximately’ instead of ‘about’, or ‘proportion’ instead of ‘percentage’, it won’t solve the problem.
So, what should you do?
There’s more than one idea here, but first, you need to try to use varied sentence structures.
Look at the first sentence you saw before.
- The percentage of 25-34-year-olds living alone was around 20%.
Here’s a challenge: how many ways can you think of to say the same idea, without changing the meaning, or losing any detail? Pause the video, and try to write this idea in at least three different ways. Do it now!
Could you do it? Here are some possibilities.
- Around 20% of 25-34-year-olds lived alone.
- Among 25-34-year-olds, around 20% of people lived alone.
- In the 25-34 age group, about 20% opted to live alone.
- Approximately one fifth of those aged 25-34 lived by themselves.
What about your ideas? Were they similar to these, or different?
So, what’s going on here?
First, you can simply change the order of the ideas, as in sentence one.
You can use an adverbial, like ‘among 25-34-year-olds’ in sentence two.
You can use different words to refer to the same thing. For example, instead of ’25-34-year-olds’, sentence three refers to ‘the 25-34 age group’. Instead of ‘around 20 per cent’, sentence four refers to ‘approximately one fifth’.
Sentences three and four also change the words ‘lived alone’, either by adding an idea – ‘opted to live alone’ in sentence three – or by paraphrasing – ‘lived by themselves’ in sentence four.
Be careful with this, because when you change the words, it’s easy to change the meaning. Make sure that your words have the same meaning as whatever you’re referring to.
Learning to vary your sentence structure is vital if you want to get higher scores for C&C and grammar. However, there are other key skills you need. Let’s look at another!
4. Combining Ideas
Look at two sentences.
- Roughly a third of 25-34-year-olds lived with their parents. A similar proportion (around 30%) lived with flatmates.
These sentences are fine, *but* if you write your whole answer like this, it will probably get overlong and repetitive. Also, to get higher IELTS writing grammar scores, you need to use a range of complex sentence structures.
So, you should try to combine ideas where you can. For example:
- Roughly a third of 25-34-year-olds either lived with parents, or with flatmates.
You can also combine contrasting ideas, using conjunctions like ‘while’, ‘whereas’, ‘although’ and so on.
Here’s a task for you. Look at the two charts, and find two contrasting data points. Write one sentence describing them both, linking the two ideas with a conjunction. Pause the video and try it now!
Did you do it? Let’s look at one example:
- Among 35-44-year-olds, almost half lived with their partner or spouse, while a much smaller proportion lived with their parents (around 10-15%).
Of course, there are many possibilities here.
But, you should be thinking about this all the way through your answer. Look through the model answer. Try to find where we’ve combined two or more ideas in one sentence.
Take note of different ways to combine similar or different ideas, and try to use them in your writing.
Let’s move on and look at one more key skill.
5. Precision of Language
Look at three sentences.
- The number of 35-44-year-olds living with their parents was quite high – around 50.
- The percentage of 35-44-year-olds living with flatmates decreased dramatically compared to the younger age group.
- Just over a quarter of 35-44-year-olds lived by themselves.
What do you think? Good sentences, or not?
All three sentences have problems. Can you find them? You’ll need to look at the charts, too. Pause the video and think about it if you want.
Any ideas? Let’s look together.
All three sentences have issues with precision of language. We see these problems often in our students’ IELTS writing.
The first sentence refers to ‘number’ and ‘around 50’. This is too loose. First, the pie charts don’t give you numbers, in the sense of quantities. It’s a percentage, so you should use the word ‘percentage’ or ‘proportion’. Secondly, what does ‘50’ mean? 50 what? If you mention a number, you should add the units, in this case, ‘per cent’.
- The percentage of 35-44-year-olds living with their parents was quite high – around 50%.
The second sentence has two problems. First, it doesn’t make sense to say that the percentage ‘decreased’. ‘Decrease’, ‘increase’ and similar verbs are used when things change over time, but these pie charts refer to one moment.
Secondly, ‘dramatically’ suggests a very large difference or change, but in this case, the difference between the two percentages is not that great. IELTS students often try to use words like this to increase their IELTS writing vocabulary score. However, it’s more important that your words fit the data accurately.
Here’s a better version of sentence two:
- The percentage of 35-44-year-olds living with flatmates was lower than the younger age group.
What about the third sentence?
Very simple: the information is incorrect. The pie chart shows that just under a quarter of this age group lived alone.
When you’re under time pressure, it’s easy to make mistakes like this. However, mistakes with the data will limit your TA score to six, so it’s important to make sure you get every detail accurate.
Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon! We hope you found this Oxford Online English IELTS preparation lesson useful!