IELTS English is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and we hear some very troubling information from some of our students related to how they have been told to look for key features. Students tell us that some teachers have told them all you have to do with key features is to look for the highest and lowest item.

As we have seen, this may be correct, SOMETIMES. Sometimes the only thing that can be identified is the difference in magnitude between certain quantities. BUT …. what about this example?

This graph shows the export earnings of one country from its three main exports in billions of US dollars.

Some candidates might be tempted to say that the most important information in this data is the fact that coal exports were much higher than food exports throughout the entire period and that food exports had the lowest value. This is true … BUT … is this really the most important thing the data is telling you.

Imagine you are the government of this very unfortunate country! What would worry about this information?

The MOST IMPORTANT aspect of this data IS NOT THE MAGNITUDES, although they should be mentioned in any answer, a government would be MOST WORRIED about the fact that export earnings from coal AND manufactured goods have plunged and NOTHING has made up for this and brought more income into the country because food exports have remained fairly flat over the time shown. It is the TRENDS NOT THE MAGNITUDES that are the most stunning aspect of this data.

If a candidate ignored this very important information about the trends and ONLY talked about the magnitudes of the items shown, they should not expect to get a high mark because they have actually missed a far more important aspect of what this data shows. This data actually shows a very seriously failing economy and while this interpretation is NOT relevant in an IELTS essay, a candidate MUST talk about the trends that are so clearly shown here and not just the magnitudes.

One way to write the big picture for this graph would be:

“Overall, although coal exports earned the most throughout the entire period, the export income from coal and manufactured goods declined spectacularly over the period shown. In addition, food export earnings, which were the lowest of the export items shown, remained relatively stable.” ”

It is surprisingly easy to miss something that is very important like this and we will look at another example tomorrow. In short, always look if there are significant trends AND significant magnitude differences shown in the data. If BOTH are present, talk about this in your essay.

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: