IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: COMPLEX QUESTIONS

We have looked at a number of questions over the past few days where you have to group the data by size in order to give the big picture view of what is happening. Depending on the data that is given, this can be very simple or it can be a matter of judgement on how the grouping is done. As long as the grouping is done logically, it will not matter if people group the data in slightly different ways. We will look at an example like this a little later.

The problem that can occur with these questions is that you can be faced with a huge amount of data. If you are unlucky enough to face a question like this, keep in mind the nature of your job. You must give the BIG PICTURE VIEW. You must show clearly the key features of the data.

Here is an example that is not too difficult but that has the beginnings of one of these difficult questions with a large amount of data.

International Student Numbers Studying In Australian Universities

University……………………………………….. Total…….… Int………. Int %
Federation University Australia (VIC)……..…….12,941….…..6,332………..48.9
University of Adelaide (SA)………………..……26,383………6,935……..…26.3
RMIT University (VIC)……………………………57,433……..26,590……….46.3
University of New South Wales (NSW)…………52,326……..13,132..………25.1
University of New England (NSW)……………..20,912…….…1,079…………5.2
Australian National University (ACT)………..….20,934…..…..5,566……….26.6
University of Notre Dame Australia (WA)……….10,960……..….327……..…3.0

There are all sorts of things that could be discussed here. For example:

  • the universities with the highest total numbers
  • the universities with the highest numbers of foreign students
  • the percentage of foreign students at each of the universities

The problem is that you have only 20 minutes and 150 words to write your response. (Note that there is no penalty for writing more than 150 words but it is best to keep to no more than around 170 words maximum to give you time to write a good response and maybe a minute or two to read what you have written to check it for errors.) This means that you must choose only the most important aspects to write about.

There is another important point about choosing only the most important things to write about. If you read a response that talks about every possible feature of the data, not only will it be very long, it will also be very confusing and it will be hard to identify what are the most important features. This is the reason why the IELTS Public Band Descriptors say, at Band 4, for Task Achievement:

  • may confuse key features/bullet points with detail;

and at Band 5, also under Task Achievement:

  • there may be a tendency to focus on details

In this question, the data is looking at foreign students so it is the percentages studying in the different universities that is the most important aspect. The total numbers at the universities is a detail that is not important here, it is not wrong to mention it, but it is a detail. What matters most is the percentages of foreign students at these Australian universities.

Largest percentage of foreign students (around 48%)
Federation University Australia
RMIT University

Medium percentage of foreign students (around 25%)
Australian National University
University of Adelaide
University of New South Wales

Smallest percentage of foreign students (around 5%)
University of New England
University of Notre Dame Australia

Note that grouping data is critical if you want to achieve band 7. According to the IELTS WRITING PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS at Band 7 under Coherence and Cohesion :

– logically organises information and ideas;

What about the number of foreign students? If time permits, I will write about this as it does contain an interesting piece of information which is not revealed by the percentages of foreign students alone.

For example, Federation University Australia and RMIT University both have around 48% of foreign students in their student bodies but RMIT has 4 times more foreign students and I would want to mention this fact in the response as it adds a lot to fully understanding  the data.

In complex questions, candidates must make a judgement about what are the most important features and sometimes you must be ruthless in discarding some of the details that may look quite important – we will look at some real IELTS Writing Tasks where this occurs. In the question shown here, it is not so complex that we could not talk about the details of the foreign student numbers although the information about the biggest and smallest universities overall would most likely be left out as it is only a detail and does not add to information related to the foreign students.

Sometimes these judgements are not so simple and, in my opinion, are one of the more challenging aspects of writing Task 1 essays. Lots of practice with a huge range of questions can help candidates improve their skills here.

Anyone located in Bangkok, Thailand who requires help with IELTS preparation, call Jum on the hotline at 09 3962 2496, send her a message on Line using her Line ID: jummanie or contact her via email: warapron@ielts-english.info

(Data source: http://www.australianuniversities.com.au/directory/international-student-numbers/ )