Here is another example where candidates can easily make errors although this one is presented in a way that the situation should be fairly clear.

This graph shows the distance covered in millions of passenger kilometres in one city in China.

It is quite difficult in this question to say too much about the magnitudes because most of them are changing all the time. It would be possible to average the values and make some general comment but this is perhaps more of a detail than a key feature EXCEPT for the position of walking as a means of transport. Very clearly, walking did not account for a high number of kilometres and it is the smallest by comparison to all other modes of transport and, finally, the distance covered by this method has not changed significantly over the period.

A large number of bars are given here, representing 6 different years. Hopefully, you can see that even though there is some irregularity present in all modes of transport, except for the train, the trends are still very clear.

Sometimes candidates concentrate too much on details and will talk about the increase in bus or bicycle travel between 1990 and 1995 BUT these points, while true, are an extremely minor detail in the use of each of these methods of travel.

The most important feature here is the very clear trends that are shown and not every little variation in the heights of the bars. The data shows very clear general trends in the distances traveled by each mode of transport.

One way to present the big picture view might be:

“Overall, the distance covered by train and car increased significantly over the period shown while that covered by bus and bicycle saw a large decline. In addition, the distance covered by walking remained fairly steady in comparison.”

When you look at the bar charts for bus, car and bicycle travel don’t get tricked into concentrating on the individual bars. Look for the BIG PICTURE. A lot of candidates would say that bicycle use fluctuated BUT this is NOT CORRECT. Although the distances covered by bicycle were a little erratic, there was a very clear downward trend and THAT IS THE BIG PICTURE.

Many candidates would use the word “popularity” in responding to this task HOWEVER a careful analysis shows that we don’t know how popular these modes of transport are with people in the city. Look at walking as an example. According to the graph, around 8 million kilometres are walked every year by people in this city. This could happen if very large numbers of people are walking short distances OR if a much smaller number of people are walking quite big distances. There is nothing in the data that tells us how many people walk, consequently, the POPULARITY of these modes of transport is unknown. In short, we really should avoid using this language if we want to be very precise in the response.

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