This post will help you answer task 1 questions that feature more than one graph.
A common question on the IELTS academic task 1 paper asks you to write about two different graphs.
(Cambridge IELTS 8, page 30)
For example, in the question above we are asked to summarise both a pie chart and a table. You could also be given a line graph and a bar chart, a pie chart and a line graph or any other combination. Students normally score lower on these types of questions, not because they are more difficult, but because they are unfamiliar with this type of question.
This lesson will:
- discuss common problems
- suggest solutions to these problems
- give you a structure that can be used again and again for these questions
- analyse a sample answer
Writing too much- Because there is more than one data source, students tend to write about everything and this causes two problems. The first problem is you only have 20 minutes to answer task 1 questions and you therefore don’t have time to write about everything. The second problem is that the question asks you to ‘summarise‘ and ‘report the main features‘, therefore you have to pick only a few features and report them. In other words, if you write about everything, you have not answered the question properly.
Solution – Pick 2 of the most obvious features from each graph and limit yourself to writing about these things and these things only. Don’t worry about leaving information out; the examiner will be actually looking for your ability to leave insignificant information out because this shows that you are summarising and only reporting the main features. More on how to do this in the question analysis below.
Can’t find the main features – This is related to the first point. As stated above you will be looking for just 2 features in each graph. It is often very difficult for students to decide which features are the most significant.
Solution – The first important points should be very visual. By that I mean, you should be able to identify them without looking at the data; just by looking at the graphs. Also, look for extremes (highs and lows), major trends, major changes (from beginning to end) and any obvious comparisons that can be made between either the two graphs or within the same graph.
Remember that the most obvious things are the ‘main features’. The examiners are not trying to trick you and want you to tell them the very obvious things about the graph, so don’t get too clever and try to find something less obvious.
Not grouping information into paragraphs – It is very important that you organise your ideas into paragraphs. Paragraphs should be logical and have one main idea. Lots of students fail to do this because they get confused between the multiple pieces of data in the question and group data from different graphs into one paragraph. This is very difficult to read and understand and you will lose marks if you do this.
Solution – Don’t write about both graphs in one paragraph. Follow the structure I suggest below. Group ideas for each paragraph separately i.e. 1 paragraph for 1 graph.
Making comparisons – The question states ‘make comparisons where relevant‘. The keyword here is ‘relevant’ and this is what tricks many students. Sometimes there will be a relevant comparison to make, but in some questions there will not. Some students see two different graphs and they assume that there must be a comparison. They then spend too long looking for a comparison and then write about one even if they don’t find one.
Solution – If you don’t notice a very obvious comparison between the two sources of data, then stop looking for one and don’t write about one. It should also be noted that there may also be comparisons to be made between the data in the same graph.
This structure can be used for every question in which you are given two different graphs.
Sentence 1- Paraphrase question sentences.
There will normally be two question sentences and you should combine them into one sentence by using ‘and’ or ‘while’. This will allow you to produce a complex sentence and gain points for grammatical range and accuracy.
Sentence 2- Overview of two of the main features from graph number 1.
Sentence 3- Overview of two of the main features from graph number 2.
Sentence 4- Overview of any comparisons if necessary (optional).
Sentence 5- Details of first main feature of graph number 1,
Sentence 6- Details of second main feature of graph number 1.
Sentence 7- Details of first main feature of graph number 2.
Sentence 8- Details of second main feature of graph number 2.
Sentence 9- Details of any comparisons (if any).
So paragraph 2 should just be an overview of the main features and should not include any details. The details come in paragraphs 3 and 4.
Question – The pie chart below shows the main reasons why agricultural land become lesson productive. The table shows how these causes affected three regions of the world during the 1990s. (graphs in picture above).
The pie graph displays the principal causes why farming land deteriorates while the table illustrates how three regions of the planet were affected by these factors in the 1990s.
As you can see all I have done is change the words in the questions using synonyms and then connected them using the word ‘while’.
We can clearly see from the pie chart that there are three primary causes of farmland degradation, and over-grazing is the major one. The table shows that Europe had a far higher percentage of unproductive land compared to the other two regions in this time period.
For this paragraph I have picked out the main features from each graph and wrote them in a general way. Notice that I have not included any numbers. We will support our ideas with number in the next two paragraphs. Also, notice that I am using the present simple for the pie chart because there is no date and the past tense for the table because it was in the 1990s.
The pie chart represents four causes, with over-grazing representing the biggest proportion at just over a third. Widespread clearing of trees and the over-use of crops constitute nearly one third and just over a quarter respectively.
Here I have varied my language by using synonyms for the causes and proportions and fractions for the data.
The table shows that nearly one quarter of Europe’s entire surface had fallen victim to degeneration. Only a small proportion of North America’s total land became less productive at 5% and Oceania was marginally higher with a value of 13%.
I hope you found the post useful. If you have any questions please comment below or on the IELTS Advantage Facebook page.
For lots more sample answers and lessons go to our writing task 1 page.