In Part 1 of the IELTS Writing test, you might be asked to describe a process. IELTS Task 1 process questions are not as common as charts or graphs, but they do come up occasionally. They are much easier to answer than the other Task 1 questions, but many people do not prepare for them at all. This is a big risk to take because it does not take long to familiarise yourself with these questions and learn how to answer them properly.
This post will show you:
- the different types of process question
- a 5 step plan for answering any process question
- how to write an introduction
- how to pick out the main features and write an overview
- how to write about each stage in detail
- how to sequence your language
Different Types of Process Question
There are generally two different types of process question: natural and man-made.
Natural processes include things like the life cycle of a butterfly or frog, pregnancy, the water cycle or how cows produce milk.
You might also be asked to describe a man-made process like how coffee, tea, beer or wine are made, how cement or bricks are produced or how an ATM or the internet works.
It does not matter if it is man-made or a natural process. The same skills and system we use to answer process questions are the same for both.
Writing Task 1 Process Questions: 5 Step Plan
To understand the task and quickly make a plan to answer process questions you should follow the 7 steps below:
- Understand the process. Find the start and the end of the process. Count how many stages there are and understand what each stage does and the relationship it has with the stage before and after it.
- Paraphrase the question.
- Describe what is happening generally in 2 sentences. This is your overview paragraph and I will show you how to write this in more detail below.
- Divide the process in two and write two separate paragraphs detailing each stage of the process.
- Check your work.
Understand the Process
One of the most challenging things about these questions is having to write about something you have never seen or heard of before.
Don’t worry, try to remember two things.
First, the examiner knows that you have probably never seen this process before and you have only 20 minutes to write about it. They do not expect a perfect answer. Just pick out the main features and report them accurately.
Second, you can quickly understand any process by asking yourself these questions:
- Where does the process start and where does it end?
- How many stages are there?
- Is it a man-made process or natural process?
- Is it a cyclical (in a circle) or linear (one start point and one end point) process?
- Are there any materials that need to be added to the process?
- What is produced?
- What does each stage of the process do?
- What are the relationships between each stage?
The processes you will be asked to write about in the IELTS test will not be very complicated and you should be able to easily answer all of the questions above. When you do this you will completely understand what is happening and you will be able to start writing your answer.
Paraphrase the Question
Every process question follows the same format. First, it tells you some general information about the process and then it instructs you to ‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features.’
For example, the question above states:
The diagram below shows the process of photosynthesis. (General information)
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features. (Instructions)
The first thing we need to do in every question is to paraphrase the general information. Paraphrasing is one of the most important IELTS skills to master. We paraphrase a sentence by rewriting it so that the words are different but the meaning stays the same. There are a few different ways we can do this but the easiest way is to use synonyms and change the word order of the sentence. Synonyms are different words that have the same meaning, for example, woman and female.
Let’s look at the questions above and paraphrase them.
Question 1: The diagram below shows the process of photosynthesis.
Paraphrased: The illustration demonstrates how plants produce energy from sunlight.
Question 2: The diagram below shows how electricity is produced in a nuclear power station.
Paraphrased: The illustration below shows the process of how nuclear power plants make electricity.
Every time you see an Academic Task 1 question rewrite the question and this should be your first paragraph. We can now move on and write our next paragraph; the overview.
Overview of Process
The overview is probably the most important paragraph in the whole essay. If you do not write an overview it is extremely difficult to get a high mark in IELTS Task 1, however, if you learn how to write a good one, you are far more likely to get the score you deserve.
Overviews for process questions can be done quite easily by asking yourself a few questions. The answers to these questions will allow you to form 2 overview sentences.
- Is it a man-made or natural process?
- How many stages are there?
- What is produced?
- Where does it start and where does it end?
- Is it cyclical or linear?
- Are any materials added?
You might not be able to answer all of these for each process question, but you will always be able to answer enough of them to be able to write a good overview.
Detail Each Stage of the Process
Now that we have paraphrased the question and provided an overview we need to tell the examiner about each stage in more detail.
- say what each stage does
- what it produces
- if any materials are added
- and/or discuss the relationship with the previous or subsequent stages.
Sequencing the Process
Try to sequence your language and make your details easier to read by using language like:
- First of all
- After that
- From this
- Following that
- Before that
- In turn
Make sure you know the meaning and grammar of the words and phrases above before you use them. Do not use them if you are not 100% sure about how they should be used in a sentence.
Check Your Essay
You should try to leave 3-4 minutes at the end to check and improve your work. Many students do not do this because they feel they do not have enough time, however, it is better to try and get everything done in 15 minutes and then check and refine your work, than do everything in 20 minutes.
Things that you should check are:
- Are there any spelling or punctuation mistakes?
- Are the verbs the correct tense?
- Does the process I describe make sense? Does it match the diagram?
- Is there any vocabulary repetition we could remove with synonyms?
- Do I have 4 clear paragraphs?
- Did I write over 150 words?
- Have I included things only obvious from the diagram?
- Have I included the main features in the overview?