A LITTLE BIT OF GRAMMAR IN TASK 1 WRITING

The key to a good result in the IELTS Writing Task 1 is:

Write a structure which has 3 parts: introduction, overview (key features) and details (data).
Write sentence structures that include subordinate clauses.
Connect the sentences logically.

Here is a very simple example graph (a real IELTS exam would have 2 or 3 more lines):
Consumption of Red Meat

When writing the sentences for the details part of the essay you should make sure you use this type of sentence design:

Connective + time + description + data

The order these can be rearranged to vary the sentence structures. Here is an example:

It can be seen in the graph that from 2002 to 2004 the consumption of red meat remained constant at 1500 g/week.

This follows the pattern: Connective + time + description + data

However, the sentence could have been written this way:

In detail, the consumption of red meat, which stood at 1500 g/week  in 2002, remained constant until the end of the period in 2004.

This follows the pattern: Connective + data + time + description +time

Candidates who fail to write the details section of the Task 1 without the ‘time’ and ‘data’ (or whatever the axes of the graph are labeled in) are destined to get Band 5 for Task achievement according to the Public Band Descriptors which say:

Band 5: “there may be no data to support the description”

Here are some very simple sentences that describe the graph above in the format required in the IELTS exam:

INTRODUCTION:

The graph gives information about the consumption of red meat between 2002 and 2010.

A better sentence would be this:

The graph gives information about the amount of red meat which as consumed over the period between 2002 and 2010.

(Why is this a better sentence?)

OVERVIEW:

Overall, the consumption of red meat tumbled over the period shown.

Here is a better sentence that says the same:

Overall, although consumption of red meat was relatively stable at both the start and end of the period, it tumbled dramatically between 2004 and 2008.

(Why is this a better sentence?)

DETAILS:

In detail, red meat consumption began at 1500 g/week in 2002. Consumption stayed constant at 1500 g/week until 2004. From 2004 to 2008, consumption of red meat went into free-fall, declining 60% to reach just 300 g/week. Consumption levelled out at 300 g/week for the remainder of the period.

(49 words)

While all of these sentences are grammatically correct there is NO LINKING between them, ALMOST NO COMPLEX STRUCTURES and NO EXAMPLES OF REFERENCE (where a word like “this” or “it” is used to refer to something talked about earlier).

Here is another attempt:

In detail, although red meat consumption, which began at 1500 g/week in 2002, stayed constant at this level until 2004, it plunged dramatically after this time, falling continuously over the next 4 years to 300 g/week by 2008. This represented a substantial decline of 60%, in relative terms. Consumption subsequently levelled out and remained constant at 300 g/week for the remainder of the period.

(64 words)

(Why is this better than the first attempt?)

SUBORDINATE CLAUSES

Notice the use of the subordinate clause structure with “although”:

In detail, although red meat consumption, which began at 1500 g/week in 2002, stayed constant at this level until 2004, it plunged dramatically after this time, falling continuously over the next 4 years to 300 g/week by 2008.

It is very important that candidates understand that subordinators like: “although”, “even though”, “while”, “whereas” and all other subordinators require two clauses. The sentence pattern is:

[subordinator] + clause , clause

e.g.

Although sales began at 200 cars per month in 2000, they soared spectacularly to over 1000 per month by 2010.

We could also write:

Sales began at 200 cars per month in 2000 although they soared spectacularly to over 1000 per month by 2010.

Here the pattern is:

clause + [subordinator] + clause

Candidates should note that linguistic research shows that this is a higher level sentence structure that is not used by lower level English learners!

IELTS WRITING AND SPEAKING: SUBORDINATION and IELTS GRAMMAR

In the IELTS Writing and Speaking tests the rules for grammar are almost identical. The IELTS Public Band Descriptors say this in relation to Grammar:

BAND 4: uses only a very limited range of structures with only rare use of subordinate clauses
BAND 5: attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
BAND 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
BAND 7: uses a variety of complex structures

Subordinate structures are just one kind of complex structure but you can see how important they are in the IELTS exam by the statement that appears at Band 4 level in the Public Band Descriptors:

BAND 4:  “only RARE USE of subordinate clauses”.

The implication here is that if you want to get higher than Band 4, your use of subordinate clauses must be more than rare.

So what are subordinate clauses? Today we will look at just one kind and in the next several posts we will deal with a number of additional kinds.

Do you need to know more than one kind of subordinate structure?

Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say:

 BAND 7: “uses a VARIETY of complex structures”.

It is clear therefore that if you want a higher band score you MUST know how to use a RANGE of subordinate structures.

Relative Clauses
I will not go over the grammar of these here but just show some examples of how they could be used in an IELTS exam.

Remember that relative clauses are ones that begin with: who, that, which, where, when, why.

SPEAKING TEST
How do you get to work/school?

“I use the bus which passes right near my home so it is very convenient”.

“My dad drives me to school, which takes about 30 minutes”.

Do you like travelling?

“I like travelling to places which are not crowded”.

“I like to see people who have different cultures and speak different languages”.

WRITING TEST
TASK 1 WRITING:

“This graph shows the method which is used to make pencils”.

“This flow chart shows the steps which must be followed to get a passport”.

“This graph illustrates the popularity of various foods which were consumed by people who lived in the UK in 2002″.

(There are 2 relative clauses here.)

“In detail, the consumption of fish, which began at 80 grams per week in 1990, grew steadily over the period to reach its highest value at the end of the period in 2010, when it hit 180 grams per week”.

(There are 2 relative clauses here.)

In Task 2 writing the opportunities to use subordinate structures are really unlimited:

“To begin with, computers, which have become much more affordable over recent years, give people the opportunity to communicate very easily and cheaply”.

I have deliberately used “which” in most of these examples (however, note the clauses beginning with “who” and “when”).

Check a grammar book for these two types of relative clauses and how they are used:
DEFINING CLAUSE

“I like food which is really spicy”.

(Defining clause because it tells you which kind of food I like – there are no commas in this clause).
NON-DEFINING or EXTRA INFORMATION CLAUSE

”Margarine, which was introduced in 1970, became the most popular spread by the end of the period”.

(Non-defining clause because it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and it is marked by a comma in front and at the end of the clause.)

Practice using all the different types of relative clause markers (who, that, which, where, when, …etc.) so that you can produce a variety of relative clause structures in the test.

We will look at another example of subordination next time.