IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: GROUPING DATA

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT GROUPING DATA
Here is the graph from yesterday’s question showing the percentage of people using various forms of transport in the past month (note: people often used more than one mode of transport)  but the overview has been written in a slightly different way.
trends02

“Overall, the proportion of people making a journey by car underwent a dramatic increase over the period shown while the percentage of people who travelled by bus and bicycle fell significantly. In addition, the popularity of travelling by train declined initially and then rose, although it did not reach the level it had at the start.”

I see many students say the data can be divided into a certain number of groups in the introduction and then just mechanically go through the data as it is presented without actually grouping it in the organisation of the essay.

Some teachers tell students to write a sentence like:

“It is immediately obvious that this data can be divided into three groups.”

But then they fail to teach their students to actually use this grouping in the organisation of the essay i.e. write about EVERYTHING THAT INCREASED, then write about EVERYTHING THAT DECREASED and finally write about EVERYTHING THAT STAYED STEADY (or dipped or peaked or whatever else the data shows).

If the candidate writes that: “the data can be divided into 3 groups” but then simply goes through the data in the order it is given, making no attempt to GROUP it, they should not expect a high score. It is NOT LOGICAL to write about something that increased, then something that decreased, then something else that increased, then something that stayed constant and finally something that decreased.

This is not useful and would very likely cause a lower band score. Look at what the IELTS Public Band Descriptors have to say about this:

BAND 7 (Coherence and cohesion): logically organises information and ideas
BAND 5 (Task Achievement): recounts detail mechanically

A logical approach would GROUP the data into what increased, what decreased and then what remained constant, for example, and deal with ALL items that belong to each group in the appropriate section.

DON’T JUST SAY THE DATA CAN BE GROUPED, structure your essay to clearly SHOW the grouping.

If you look back through every big picture description we have written over the last month, you will notice that we did this EVERY TIME. Personally, I would never waste my time to write that the data can be grouped into 3 groups (or whatever number is shown in the data) although it is not wrong to do it, instead, I would structure the essay to demonstrate that these groups exist in the way done in the overview given 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

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: THE BIG PICTURE – COMPLEX TRENDS

Over the past month we have covered many important aspects of Task 1 IELTS writing and today I want to discuss a complication that can occur with the trends that can occur.

Look at the graph shown here that covers the period from 1990 to 2010 and shows the percentage of people using various forms of transport in the past month (note: people often used more than one mode of transport). THIS IS NOT A REAL QUESTION! It has so many bars in order to show the trends very clearly.
trends01

As in an example we looked at recently, the trends have some variation but the general trends are very clear.

“The percentage of people who travelled by bus fell significantly over the period shown while the proportion of people making a journey by car increased very dramatically.”

This should be getting quite simple now. BUT … what about train travel?

Train travel decreased overall if you compare the percentage of people who travelled by train in 1990 to the proportion who travelled in 2010, but the story is actually more complicated than this and the size of the fall (around 40%, in relative terms, is too big to ignore). A more detailed response might say:

“In addition, the data also shows that the popularity of train travel fell in the first half of the period and then began to increase although it did not reach the same level that it had in 1990.”

The candidate must make the decision about whether the size of the dip is big enough to worry about and this will depend on the data given in the question.

Look at the more realistic example in the second bar graph which also shows the percentage of people using various forms of transport in the past month (note: people often used more than one mode of transport).
trends02

The trends for Bus and Car transport are very clear, the problem areas are the trends for train and bicycle use. The very big picture in both cases is that the proportion of people using these methods fell overall BUT the dip in train travel for 2000 is too significant to simply ignore. In the case of bicycle use the slight rise in the final year is not so significant and it could be ignored in giving a very brief picture of what happened.

IN BRIEF
One way to write the big picture view here might be:

“The percentage of people who travelled by bus and bicycle fell significantly over the period shown while the proportion of people making a journey by car increased very dramatically. In addition, the proportion of people travelling by train fell initially and then rose, although it did not reach the level it had at the start.”

IN SHORT
Candidates must look at the data when this sort of thing occurs and decide if the irregularity is big enough to talk about, as in the case of Train travel, or if it is small enough to ignore, as in the case of Bicycle travel.

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

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: TWO GRAPH TASKS

Here is another 2 data set question based on real data.

The first data set is a line graph showing how satisfied people are with life as they age.

life satisfaction01

The second data set is a bar chart showing happiness and GDP per person (this is not the income of each person but the overall wealth of the country averaged across the entire population)

life satisfaction04

THE BIG PICTURE
LINE GRAPH
The trends for men and women are quite similar except that teenage males are more satisfied than females although from the age of 20 onwards, the trends are almost identical with satisfaction falling steadily until mid-life and then rising substantially as people get older.

BAR GRAPH
The bar chart data is very interesting because even though a list of countries like this may not be expected to show a trend that can easily be described, the data allows us to identify wealthy and poor countries (the GDP figures) – in an IELTS exam candidates are not expected to know this. Once the rich and poor countries have been identified, I can also identify a general trend and that is that people tend to be happier in poor countries and less happy in rich ones. (Note that this is actually a real and quite general trend and it is seen in many more countries than listed here).

I have to say that this is a GENERAL TREND because it is not completely true. For example, Australia has a lower GDP than the USA but its people are not much happier and India has a much lower GDP than Mexico but its people are slightly LESS happy. Nevertheless, as can be seen from the heights of the bars in the bar chart shown here, it is generally true that as the GDP increases, people are less happy. Remember, this is the BIG PICTURE and I do not have to worry about very minor variations.

THE BIG PICTURE
Here is one way to write the big picture statement:

“Overall, while people become less satisfied until middle age, satisfaction then rises substantially as they age and with the exception of teenagers, the trend is almost the same for men and women. The data also shows that people tend to be happier in poorer countries and less happy as the wealth of the country increases.”

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: British Household Panel Survey (line graph) as quoted in http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/happiness_formula/4787558.stm
and IPSOS Nov 2011 survey/IMF (bar chart))

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: TWO GRAPH TASKS

We have mentioned two graph questions briefly before but today we will look at writing the “big picture” for one of these tasks.

This is an example from the “COMPLETE IELTS” series published by Cambridge University Press.

A table of data gives this information:

Internet use in Australia – 2008
Banking ………. 62%
Phone calls ……22%
Blogs ……..……10%
Good/services….57%
Bills ……………..63%

The bar graph shown here also shows the percentage of Internet use in Australia by age group.
twocharts01

The approach to this type of question is to check first how the data connects in the two data sets. Here there is no direct comparison that we can make because the data is different: the table shows Internet use and the bar chart shows who uses it.

1 TABLE
MAGNITUDES
Big differences in magnitudes are shown in the tale and that is how we will group this data.

The biggest areas of use shown in the table are:
Bills
Banking
Goods/Services

So we could sum this up by calling it “financial activities” because the three items all refer to some activity related to money.

2 BAR CHART
TRENDS and MAGNITUDE
The first thing we notice is that there are no years on the data so we cannot find a trend in years BUT the bar chart does have AGE GROUPS and can see that while Internet use is very high across all age groups, with the exception of the oldest group, a slight downward trend is indicated for people over 20-29.

Note that this trend is so slight, with the exception of the oldest group, that it would be perfectly acceptable to simply say:

“Internet use was very high across all age groups, except for the oldest group.”

THE INTRODUCTION
In the past few weeks, we have concentrated on the big picture, but in this example I will begin with the introduction because it shows how to deal with these two data set questions. The introduction simply has to say what is shown in the first data set and then what is shown in the second. Here is one way to it:

“The table gives information about Internet us in Australia while the bar chart indicates the percentages of people who use the internet by age group.”

THE BIG PICTURE
One way to write the big picture view might be:

“Overall, the Internet was used most for financial activities and while Internet use is very high with all age groups, it was less popular with older people.”

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

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: COMPARISON TASKS, BIG PICTURE

Here is another comparison question but in this case there are no huge differences between boys and girls so we look at a very simple way to group the data. This data also has an interesting addition:

1 The WORLD AVERAGE. When given information about averages or overall totals, candidates must be careful to take this information into account. These averages are almost always important.

2 It looks like there is more than one way to organise the data, but candidates must be very careful when this occurs to make sure you are targeted on the purpose of the data and don’t interpret the data in a way that hides its most significant feature.

This data compares the percentage of secondary age children in various regions who attended secondary school in 2005. (e.g. If a region has 100 secondary aged children but 45 of them work and 55 go to school, then 55% of secondary aged students go to school.)
School enrolment - secondary

DON”T MISS IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE BIG PICTURE
It might be tempting here to group this data by magnitude. It certainly looks like you could – what is high, what is in the middle, what is low.

The problem with this is that if you only group by magnitude, you lose a very significant aspect of the data and that is the regions in which the percentages of boys and girls attended secondary school AND when you think about it, this was the whole purpose of the data in the first place. So if a candidate did not raise this issue at all and just talked about the overall magnitudes of secondary school attendance, there is a very good chance they could face a problem that is raised in the PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS at BAND 4 level under TASK ACHIEVEMENT:

• may confuse key features with detail

The only way to be sure that the key features have been covered here would be to present the important information about the differences in male and female enrolments AND in the process of giving the details for this comment on the different magnitudes in enrolments.

KEY FEATURES
PROPORTIONS OF MALES AND FEMALES ABOUT EQUAL
Industrialised countries
East Asia and Pacific

PROPORTIONS OF MALES HIGHER THAN FEMALES 
Middle East and North Africa
World average
West and Central Africa

PROPORTIONS OF FEMALES HIGHER THAN MALES 
Latin America and Caribbean

Notice that the World average is included in one of these groups and can also be used to compare which regions are above and below this average. This gives an important benchmark for how a region is doing compared to the rest of the world and this is why average figures like this can never be ignored.

THE BIG PICTURE
The big picture for this data might look like this:

“Overall, approximately equal percentages of boys and girls attended secondary school in the Industrialised countries, where all school aged children went to school, and East Asia and the Pacific while a higher proportion of girls than boys went to school in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, the data also shows that a higher percentage of boys than girls were enrolled in high school in the Middle East and North Africa, the World average and West and Central Africa, which had the lowest level of school enrolments of all regions by far and was the only region below the world average.”

This is a very complete overview and it is targeted on the key feature of the comparison between enrolments of boys and girls although it also raises some of the other notable features.

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: based on http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/sowc07_table_5.xls )

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: COMPARISON TASKS

Here is a more common type of comparison task.

This graph shows the participation rates in sports in Canada in 2005.
Sport in Canada02

Notice that there are very big differences in the participation in some sports and very little difference in the participation in others. For example:

BOYS PARTICIPATE MUCH MORE THAN GIRLS IN:
Ice Hockey
Golf

GIRLS PARTICIPATE MUCH MORE THAN BOYS IN:
Swimming
Volleyball

BOYS AND GIRLS PARTICIPATE AT ABOUT THE SAME LEVEL IN:
Cycling
Tennis

IN BRIEF
Here is one approach to writing the ‘big picture’ statement:

“Overall, boys participate in Golf and Ice Hockey far more than girls while Swimming and Volleyball are far more popular with girls than boys. In addition, the data also shows that participation in both Cycling and Tennis is approximately equal.”

The way we have grouped the data is by realising that there are big differences between some participation rates for boys and girls and very little difference for others. Note that we DON’T just look for a BIG GAP, if we did that we would mix up the boys and girls, we look for a big gap where boys have the greatest participation and a big gap where girls have the greatest participation. Finally we look for sports where this gap is not significant between the boys and girls. This provides a very simple and logical way to group the data.

Note that the sports with almost equal participation really are very close together but even if there were a slightly greater difference, it would have still been put in the group that showed the difference was not very big. For example, the figures for soccer could have been used in this graph where the participation for boys and girls was:

boys …. 9%
girls …. 11%

Although the participation of girls is higher than boys, it is NOT very much higher so It would be put in the group of almost equal participation.

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: based on  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-595-m/2008060/t-c-g/c-g10-eng.htm )

IELTS WRITING TASK 1: COMPARISON TASKS

This bar chart shows the literacy rates of males and females in various countries around the world in 1990.
literacy rates01

  1. No years are shown on this data and no other variable, which could show a trend, is present. Consequently, the data must be grouped in other ways.
  2. What stands out is that BOYS HAVE A HIGHER LITERACY RATE THAN GIRLS IN EVERY COUNTRY. This is important because it actually stops us from using the normal strategy for this type of question which is to group the data by looking at where the number for boys is greater than girls, where the number for girls is greater than boys and where the numbers for boys and girls are about equal. This was the method we used yesterday.
  3. What is noticeable is that in some countries there is almost no gap, in others the gap is somewhat bigger and in some countries the gap is very big. The reason this method will work here is BECAUSE the boys literacy rate is ALWAYS higher than the girls.
  4. Notice that magnitude differences are also shown here with South Africa and Brazil having, in general, the highest average literacy rate followed by Turkey and Kenya with Pakistan and Mozambique clearly having the lowest overall average literacy rates.

GROUPING
Literacy rates about equal:
South Africa
Brazil

Medium gap between boys and girls:
Turkey
Kenya

Large gap between boys and girls:
Pakistan
Mozambique

IN BRIEF
One way to write the big picture view here would be:

“Overall, boys have a higher literacy rate than girls in every country shown although the rates are almost equal in South Africa and Brazil where the average rates are higher, in general, than other countries given. In addition, the literacy gap is significantly higher between boys and girls in Turkey and Kenya while Pakistan and Mozambique have the highest literacy rate gap of all countries and these two countries have the lowest overall literacy rates.”

This is a complex overview statement but it covers all the key features shown in this data.

Grouping data by the size of the gap only really works because the literacy rate for boys was higher than girls in every country shown. Grouping the data this way wouldn’t be successful if the literacy rate for girls was sometimes higher than that for boys.

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.unicef.org/sowc04/files/Table5.pdf)

NOTE:
This data source is very interesting and shows that girls have a significantly higher literacy rate than boys in only Jamaica and Lesotho.

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: COMPARISON TASKS

We will talk more about the big picture in magnitude and trend questions later but today I want to discuss the third major type of mathematics Task 1 – COMPARISON TASKS.

These tasks, often presented as bar graphs or a table, have the distinctive feature that they compare two things e.g. male and female performance in exams; participation by boys and girls in a range of sports, popularity of different kinds of foods with males and females; popularity of various websites with men and women, percentages of students attending primary school compared to the percentage going to secondary school to mention just a few possible examples.

In the case we will look at today, the graph shows the attitudes to the use of Information Technology (computers and the Internet) in education.

IT use in schools

1. GROUPING THE DATA
Notice that no years are available in this data and there is no other item in which we can find a trend. So the strategy here will be to look at where do a higher percentage of girls hold an opinion and then look at where do a higher percentage of boys hold an opinion and finally we will look where do about the same percentages of boys and girls hold an opinion.

GIRLS HIGHER THAN BOYS
Improves learning

BOYS HIGHER THAN GIRLS
Improves productivity
Attracts students

BOYS AND GIRLS ABOUT EQUAL
Easy library access
links socially

2 MAGNITUDE OF OPINION
Notice that some opinions are more popular than others. For example , boys and girls think that access to IT is easy in the library while only half this percentage think that IT is able to link people socially. This is a detail and would not be mentioned in the “OVERVIEW STATEMENT”, it would be mentioned in the “DETAILS” paragraph.

IN BRIEF

“Overall, a higher proportion of girls thought that IT access improved learning while a higher percentage of boys than girls believed that IT improved productivity and attracted students. In addition, the data also reveals that equal proportions of boys and girls believed there was easy access to IT in the library with an equal although much lower percentage who believed it aided social links.”

Another, very simple, way to report that there was no difference between boys and girls on the other issues would be:

“In addition, the data also reveals that in their views on other issues, gender differences were not apparent.”

In this case the information about the higher popularity of the view about the library and the much less popular view about IT assisting social links would be left to the “Details” part of the 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: warapron@ielts-english.info

(Data source: http://firstmonday.org/article/viewArticle/1023/944 )

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: Trends & Magnitudes

Tomorrow we will move on to discuss the third major type of mathematics questions – COMPARISON TASKS but today I want to look at a question which you should no longer find very difficult.

The graph shows the percentage of government spending on public schools in inner city areas as a proportion of the whole city education budget. (NOTE: this data is not real!)
public schools01

1 TRENDS
The first thing the candidate should notice here is that the data has years. This means you can find trends in the data. These trends exist even though the data is a little erratic. You must be very careful about this: do not ignore a trend just because the data jumps around a little.

INCREASE:
Australia
Canada

DECREASE:
New Zealand

NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE:
Norway

2 MAGNITUDES
The candidate should also notice that the proportion of spending in Australia was far higher throughout the entire period than spending in the other countries. Similarly, New Zealand spending was IN GENERAL lower than spending in other countries. This should be noted in the response.

IN BRIEF
A big picture view of this data might look like this:

“Overall, although the proportion of spending rose significantly in Australia and Canada, it fell in New Zealand and remained fairly steady in Norway. The data also shows that the highest level of spending occurred in Australia while the lowest, in general, was in New Zealand.”

The reason the words “in general” are added here is that if you look at the proportion of spending in the first two years, New Zealand spending is not actually the lowest (Canadian spending is lowest) but New Zealand spending is not much higher and it is significantly lower in all the following years.

This is a very complete response to the main features of the data and was not too difficult to do.

SUMMARY
The most important thing that candidates should realise when they look at an IELTS WRITING TASK 1 is that both TRENDS AND MAGNITUDES should be considered as possible summaries of the data. We have seen examples where sometimes ONLY THE TREND is important and we have seen other examples where ONLY THE MAGNITUDES are important but there are many, many questions where BOTH TRENDS AND MAGNITUDES are significant. Nevertheless, if you know this when you go into the exam, questions like this one should be fairly easy.

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

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: SIMPLIFYING COMPLEX DATA

Sometimes there is so much detail in the data that some of it MUST be ignored so that the response can be written in 150 words in no more than 20 minutes. HOWEVER, YOU MUST BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT THIS. You cannot ignore KEY FEATURES – what we are talking about here is ignoring some of the less important detail in order to give the most important information that is shown.

This is really not just an exam requirement. If you want people to understand the most important features of the data, the essay should not be full of a whole lot of less important detail. If you only write about the most important features, the essay will be very easy to follow.

Here is a quite difficult task, which is a real past IELTS exam question. (I must thank one of my past students, Kotchaphop Kornphetcharat, for this question as he sent it to me as part of his preparation for the IELTS Exam.)
prisoners01

  1. The first thing that the candidate should see in this question is that there are years in the data. This means you can look for trends.
  • Increase in prisoner numbers:
    Great Britain
    USA
  • Decrease in prisoner numbers:
    Canada
    New Zealand
    Australia

Note the the order of the countries listed here is not an accident, they are grouped in order of the magnitude of the number of prisoners, this creates a very logical structure to the response and is NOT just a mechanical listing of the countries in the order they are given in the data. Remember in the IELTS WRITING PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS under TASK RESPONSE, it says:

Band 5:  recounts detail mechanically

Our response is NOT mechanical because we have grouped the data into what went up and what went down as well as then grouping the data WITHIN those groups in order of magnitude.

The problem with this question is that when you look at the data for New Zealand and Australia, you see that it is really quite complex: in New Zealand the data fell sharply at first and then rose throughout the remainder of the period although overall prisoner numbers DID FALL over the whole period. Similarly, in Australia, it is even worse where numbers plunge at first then rise and then plunge again. Nevertheless, overall the prison population DID FALL in Australia despite the erratic trend.

I could write about all this detail but it would significantly increase the length of the essay and the time it would take to write it. These variations in numbers are details rather than key features and so I will ignore them when I write my response. I do, however, make a reference to this problem by saying “… although it was erratic in Australia and New Zealand.

“Overall the numbers of people who were sent to prison increased significantly in Great Britain and the USA over the period shown while imprisonment in Canada, New Zealand and Australia witnessed a decline although it was irregular in Australia and New Zealand.

Note that if I had the time, I would write about some of this detail but if I write all this detail in the ‘details’ part of the essay, my essay will end up being around 250 words in length!

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: Cambridge IELTS Book 2 Test 4)