If you are faced with a simple question where the data is not very complex, IELTS Task 1 Writing can be very simple. Unfortunately this is not always the case and sometimes candidates can be faced with very complex questions. Of course, this is also true in real life where data can look very complex at first.

The ‘trick’ and the task of candidates in an IELTS WRITING exam is to identify the KEY FEATURES of the data. Here is an example where there is more information than we really want to see in an IELTS TASK 1 WRITING:
foreign students01

1. The first thing we should notice is that there are years given in the table, which means we can look for trends. If we look at the three destination countries we see that student numbers increased in every country:

Australia: more than doubled from 10,000 to over 22,000
USA: increased by almost 4 times (from more than 4,000 to almost 16,000)
China: increased by a little more than 2 times (from about 6,000 to more than 13,000)

2. However there are other important details here that have nothing to do with the trends and that is the fact that Australia has more students than either the USA or China. (Student numbers in Australia in 2011-12 were about 30% higher than in the USA and a little over 50% higher than in China.)

3. If we now look at the percentage change in student numbers we see something extremely important: the numbers in Australia decreased in the last two years shown while in the USA and China the numbers continued to increase. Note that while the final year is not given for China the numbers were still going up year-on-year at least up until 2011 when the numbers in Australia had already started to fall.

So the big picture view might look like this:

“Overall, the number of Vietnamese students who studied in the three countries shown increased very significantly over the period shown although most students chose to study in Australia. In addition, the data also shows that the popularity of Australia over the last two years given decreased while the popularity of the USA and China continued to increase.”

This is a fairly simple summary of what is really quite complex data. When faced with an IELTS TASK 1 WRITING question, always look for the BIG PICTURE and you will find that it does’t matter if you get a hard question with a lot of data, you will still be able to identify the most important aspects of the information.


… as you can see in this example the big picture may involve BOTH trends AND the MAGNITUDE of the quantities shown and you must look carefully to see the you include all the most important aspects of the data.

Note also that sometimes it is simply not possible to talk about all the details shown and we will look at one of these examples next time.

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:

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