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!

TASK 1 ACADEMIC: TASK 1 WRITING STRUCTURE

We have talked a lot about the big picture in Task 1 IETLS Writing and we will continue to look at some other examples but today I want to look at the ESSAY STRUCTURE as a reminder to those who may have forgotten.

Although there are three main types of question in Task 1 Writing, the structure of the response is the same in each case:
1. Introduction
2. Overview
3. Details

THE INTRODUCTION
You must write a sentence that simply says what the data is about. In doing this you must not use long phrases from the question. Look at the following examples:

“The graph illustrates information which compares the methods of travel in a Chinese city between 2000 and 2010.”

“The graph compares the proportion of expenditure on a number of household items over the period which occurred between 1995 and 2015.”

You will notice that both these sentences contain relative clause structures. This is not an accident.

THE OVERVIEW
All Task 1 questions must have an overview statement that sets out the key features, the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the information – THE BIG PICTURE.

Here is what the PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS say about this issue:

BAND 6 (Task Achievement): “presents an overview with information appropriately selected”
BAND 5 (Task Achievement): “no clear overview”

Can you see the penalty if you don’t have an overview statement of the big picture in your essay?

We have looked at many ways to do this over the past month for the mathematics questions and also briefly looked at process and maps, which we will do more on in the future. While in graph type Task 1 questions you would look for trends in the data or magnitude differences (or both), in a process you look for the main stages in the process and in a map for the most significant types of changes that have occurred. For example:

GRAPH TASK

“Overall, consumption of fruit and ice-cream increased significantly over the period shown while the intake of sugar underwent a substantial decline. In addition, the data also shows that the amount of pasta consumed remained relatively steady.”

NOTE: All the highlighted words here are very important – do you know why? (We will come back to this tomorrow).

PROCESS TASK

“In brief, pencils are made from graphite and wood in a three step process which produces the leads and the wooden pencil cases first before they are glued together into complete pencils.”

“In brief, the manufacture of cement is a three step process while the production of concrete involves a single step.”

Again, notice that these sentences are NOT SIMPLE SENTENCES but involve various subordinate structures. (Relative clauses, subordinate clauses, participle phrases – conditional sentences are also subordinate structures although there are none here.)

MAP TASK

“In brief, significant tourist developments occurred at Laguna beach over the period from 1950 to 1990.”

“In brief, the school underwent an expansion in the teaching and outdoor sporting facilities over the period which occurred between 2000 and 2005.”

THE DETAILS
In the details section you must describe the big picture in detail, in the same order that it has been presented in the overview statement, making sure not to leave out any important information such as important data or parts of the diagram in a process or map question. Leaving out key, big picture, information could lead to the award of Band 4, according to the Public Band Descriptors.

To avoid this happening you must go through the data or diagram very logically making sure you have covered all the most important aspects of the data.

In mathematics questions we generally do not put data in the overview because we want it to be a very simple overall picture of what is shown in the data.

BUT …. In the details section, DATA MUST BE GIVEN. Here is what the PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS say about this issue:

BAND 5 (Task Achievement): “there may be no data to support the description”

GRAPH TASK

“In detail, sales of cars, which stood at 100 units per month in 2000, soared by the end of the decade in 2010, when they hit their highest point at 800 units per month. …..”

PROCESS TASK

“In detail, clay, water and ground graphite, which are placed in a mixing container, produce graphite dough, when the mixture is stirred for 20 minutes. …..”

MAP TASK

“In detail, the small huts on the southern end of the beach were transformed into luxury villas sometime between 1950 and 1970 while the sand dunes to the east of the huts were developed into landscaped gardens. …..”

GRAMMAR
Good use of grammar is essential, which means a mixture of various forms of subordinate and complex structures. In the case of process questions, it also means using present passive and for map questions it could involve past passive. The exact grammar needed really depends on the question. For example, if one map was now and one map was in the future, the candidate would need to use future structures to describe the expected changes.

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: 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: THE BIG PICTURE

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.
exports01

THE BIG PICTURE
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.

IN BRIEF
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: 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

We have looked at some quite difficult questions over the past few days and here is one more although after yesterday , it may not look so difficult!

The table gives information about energy generation in a number of different countries:

electricity generation01

The problem again is the amount of data that is here. What is the BIG PICTURE?

  1. The first thing we should notice is that there is NO TREND in this data so we will look at the differences in magnitude.

Looking at the total energy production in the last column we see that we can group the data like this:

HIGHEST PRODUCTION: (around 500 KwH)
Germany
France

MEDIUM PRODUCTION: (around 300 KwH)
UK

LOWEST PRODUCTION: (around 150 KwH)
Spain
Norway

Note that the countries have been listed in order of magnitude within each of these groups.

2. We should also comment on the major sources of electricity with about equal amounts coming from Thermal and Nuclear with much lower levels from Hydro and very little from Geothermal.

The BIG PICTURE overview might look like this:

“Overall, Germany and France generated the highest amount of electricity while the UK generated a significantly lower amount and the smallest levels of electric were produced in Spain and Norway. The data also shows that the five nations produce about equal amounts of electricity from Thermal and Nuclear energy whereas a much lower proportion of is generated from Hydro with only a minor contribution from Geothermal.”

This is a quite an extensive overview that covers both major aspects shown by the data.

Note that the details about where each country got their energy would be covered in the ‘details’ part of the essay but that this should be mentioned because there are some very significant differences:

Germany (Thermal 60%; Nuclear 30%)
UK (Thermal 60%; Nuclear 25%)
Spain (Thermal 50%; Nuclear 25%)

France (Nuclear – around 75%)

Norway (Hydro about 99%)

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 Test 4, IELTS Practice Tests 2 Express Publishing)

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)

 

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: TOO MUCH DATA

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.

BUT

… 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: warapron@ielts-english.info

(Data source: http://monitor.icef.com/2014/04/spotlight-on-vietnam-quality-issues-demand-for-study-abroad-and-graduate-employability/ )

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: COMPLEX QUESTIONS

We have looked at a number of questions over the past few days where you have to group the data by size in order to give the big picture view of what is happening. Depending on the data that is given, this can be very simple or it can be a matter of judgement on how the grouping is done. As long as the grouping is done logically, it will not matter if people group the data in slightly different ways. We will look at an example like this a little later.

The problem that can occur with these questions is that you can be faced with a huge amount of data. If you are unlucky enough to face a question like this, keep in mind the nature of your job. You must give the BIG PICTURE VIEW. You must show clearly the key features of the data.

Here is an example that is not too difficult but that has the beginnings of one of these difficult questions with a large amount of data.

International Student Numbers Studying In Australian Universities

University……………………………………….. Total…….… Int………. Int %
Federation University Australia (VIC)……..…….12,941….…..6,332………..48.9
University of Adelaide (SA)………………..……26,383………6,935……..…26.3
RMIT University (VIC)……………………………57,433……..26,590……….46.3
University of New South Wales (NSW)…………52,326……..13,132..………25.1
University of New England (NSW)……………..20,912…….…1,079…………5.2
Australian National University (ACT)………..….20,934…..…..5,566……….26.6
University of Notre Dame Australia (WA)……….10,960……..….327……..…3.0

There are all sorts of things that could be discussed here. For example:

  • the universities with the highest total numbers
  • the universities with the highest numbers of foreign students
  • the percentage of foreign students at each of the universities

The problem is that you have only 20 minutes and 150 words to write your response. (Note that there is no penalty for writing more than 150 words but it is best to keep to no more than around 170 words maximum to give you time to write a good response and maybe a minute or two to read what you have written to check it for errors.) This means that you must choose only the most important aspects to write about.

There is another important point about choosing only the most important things to write about. If you read a response that talks about every possible feature of the data, not only will it be very long, it will also be very confusing and it will be hard to identify what are the most important features. This is the reason why the IELTS Public Band Descriptors say, at Band 4, for Task Achievement:

  • may confuse key features/bullet points with detail;

and at Band 5, also under Task Achievement:

  • there may be a tendency to focus on details

In this question, the data is looking at foreign students so it is the percentages studying in the different universities that is the most important aspect. The total numbers at the universities is a detail that is not important here, it is not wrong to mention it, but it is a detail. What matters most is the percentages of foreign students at these Australian universities.

Largest percentage of foreign students (around 48%)
Federation University Australia
RMIT University

Medium percentage of foreign students (around 25%)
Australian National University
University of Adelaide
University of New South Wales

Smallest percentage of foreign students (around 5%)
University of New England
University of Notre Dame Australia

Note that grouping data is critical if you want to achieve band 7. According to the IELTS WRITING PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS at Band 7 under Coherence and Cohesion :

– logically organises information and ideas;

What about the number of foreign students? If time permits, I will write about this as it does contain an interesting piece of information which is not revealed by the percentages of foreign students alone.

For example, Federation University Australia and RMIT University both have around 48% of foreign students in their student bodies but RMIT has 4 times more foreign students and I would want to mention this fact in the response as it adds a lot to fully understanding  the data.

In complex questions, candidates must make a judgement about what are the most important features and sometimes you must be ruthless in discarding some of the details that may look quite important – we will look at some real IELTS Writing Tasks where this occurs. In the question shown here, it is not so complex that we could not talk about the details of the foreign student numbers although the information about the biggest and smallest universities overall would most likely be left out as it is only a detail and does not add to information related to the foreign students.

Sometimes these judgements are not so simple and, in my opinion, are one of the more challenging aspects of writing Task 1 essays. Lots of practice with a huge range of questions can help candidates improve their skills 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

(Data source: http://www.australianuniversities.com.au/directory/international-student-numbers/ )

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: MAGNITUDE & DOUBLE GRAPH TASKS


Here is another example of a magnitude task. These should be getting easy now.

The pie chart shows U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from1990 to 2012.
magnitude03

Even though we know the years that this data apples to, there is no time scale in this data, so we cannot identify a trend. The procedure is therefore to group the data by magnitude:

High (22%)
Space cooling

Medium: (around 10-12%)
Other
Lighting
Electronics
Space heating/water heating/Refrigeration

Low: (around 5%)
wet cleaning
Cooking
Computers

So the BIG PICTURE would be:

Overall, the greatest single contribution to green house gases was caused by Space cooling while a much smaller amount of gases was created by Other, Lighting, Electronics, Space heating, Water heating and Refrigeration. The data also reveals that by far the smallest volume of gases was produced by wet cleaning, Cooking and Computers.

This is all quite simple now, BUT, there is some REALLY BAD NEWS!

It is not likely that you will get a single pie chart like this in the IELTS writing test. What is much more likely is that the pie chart in todays question will come with the pie chart in yesterday’s question and you will need to write about both these pie charts in a single question.

This is not so difficult. It is really just two quite simple questions combined into one.

In your introduction you just say what is shown in the first pie chart and then what is shown in the second.

For the overview, you identify the most important features of the first pie chart AND the most important features to the second, exactly the same as we have done yesterday and today. This combination is the overall statement of the BIG PICTURE.

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.c2es.org/technology/overview/electricity)

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: BIG PICTURE, NO TREND

Here is another example of a question with no trend. This graph shows the energy use of a number of household appliances/activities:

magnitude02

We see that the data here was put together in 2010 i.e. it covers a single year but there is no time scale at all. This means there are NO TRENDS in the data and we must group by size.

The simple rule to follow is to see what groups does the data fall into and we will usually look for high, medium and low but this is not guaranteed – it depends totally on the data. Here it is most logical to use 3 groups:

High: (3 times higher more than any other single item at 42%)
Space heating and cooling

Medium: (around 12%)
other
water heating
lighting

Low: (each around 5% or less)
Refrigeration
Electronics
Wet cleaning
Cooking
Computers

Remember that the best way to reduce the length of the response is to give average figures where the data allows us to do this instead of giving every figure separately.

A possible over statement might be:

“Overall, space heating and cooling is responsible for the highest amount of energy use while other appliances, water heating and lighting consume far lower levels of energy. In addition, the data also shows that all other areas of energy use shown each use a very low amount of energy.”

A very important note with this question is that this is real data, it has not been simplified for an examination which is why there are so many items in the pie charts. If you look at the Cambridge IELTS books at past exams, you will know that it is not normal to see so many items in a real test question. Nevertheless, even though the chart has many entries, it is not very difficult o describe it.

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://simsgreenenergy.com/services/)

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING: MAGNITUDE TASKS

While we have seen that there are any different types of questions where trends are important and these DO NOT always involve time, it also happens that there a huge range of questions where no trend occurs at all. This happens when we are given data at one particular time – it might be data for one year, one month or 1 hour but the key is that time does not progress in the data. In these cases, it is impossible to identify any trend at all.

The approach to these questions is to group data in terms of the magnitude of the data shown: for example, what is high, what is in the middle, what is low.

How many groups do you need? No rule exists to give you: it depends on the data. BUT, remember that the essay is only 150 words and you have only 20 minutes to write it. This means, just like in the trend questions, you have to decide what is really important and what is it reasonable to put together.

Here is an example which gives information about the amount of waste generated in six countries measured in kg per person:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 2.17.56 AM

This data can be put into 3 groups:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 2.25.12 AM

This grouping is really forced on us. We could put Germany in the middle group and just have two groups but the problem is that waste production in Germany is around 50% higher than it is in Belgium, in relative terms, which makes it a little difficult to put in the same group. In simple terms, 500 is much closer to 460 than it is to 600.

The way to reduce the amount of time in writing the essay is to give average values rather than every single number. This is another reason why Germany really has to be put in a group on its own.

Here is a possible overview for this data:

“Overall, waste production in Germany was greatest while that in Greece, Sweden and Belgium was significantly lower. In addition, waste generation in Slovenia and Estonia was the lowest of all countries shown.”

IN BRIEF

The only way to summarise this data is to group by the magnitude. How many groups you need will depend on the question but we want the numbers to be close enough together so that we can use average values, for example here we would use:

160213-03

One final point, I know some teachers tell their students to avoid putting units on the data by writing a sentence in the introduction that says how the data is measured. While this may be technically correct for the IELTS exam, no university department would allow a research report to be written without units on the data, it is not even allowed in Australian high school reports – take the time and PUT UNITS ON THE DATA, it can be done very quickly and the words count toward the total and it is how real reports are written all over the world.

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.zerowasteeurope.eu/2014/04/and-the-best-waste-performing-country-in-europe-is-estonia/ note that this website has some interesting things to say about the nature of these statistics which were provided by the Environmental Ministries of each nation.)

IELTS TASK 1 WRITING – TRAPS IN TRENDS

Be careful when you look at data to define the trend accurately. Two problems come up frequently in IELTS writing, in fact, these issues are common in all statistical analysis.

Don’t be fooled by strong tends into thinking that a trend that is not so clearly as strong does not exist.

Look at the graph here that shows gives information about the popularity of the consumption of organic foods (foods grown without chemicals and fertilizers). There are clearly very strong upward trends in Australia and the USA but the trend in the UK may not appear strong at all by comparison. This is where a little mathematics can be extremely valuable.

Many candidates would say that consumption in the UK stayed fairly constant, BUT DOES IT?

Consumption rose from 10 to around 22 i.e. it more than doubled! This is a very significant rise and it should be mentioned. It would wholly incorrect to say that consumption was fairly steady in the UK – consumption doubled.

Look at the increase that occurred in Australia: start = 45; end = 92; rise = just over 2 times

The rise in consumption in the USA was even more significant: start = 25, end = 73 rise = around 3 times

In fact, all three countries show very significant increases in the consumption of organic foods in this data.

Sure! organic food was much more popular in Australia than it was in the UK and this is an extremely important point to make in your essay, but don’t be fooled into thinking the trend in the consumption in the UK is unimportant just because the figures were lower than for consumption in the other nations.

Don’t get tricked by the fact that the absolute value might be low. When you are looking at trends, it is the change that is important. Absolute values may also be important, as we see in the example today and also yesterday, but this is in addition to the importance of the trend.

Here is a sample overview for this question:

“Overall, he consumption of organic foods in the three countries show a very significant increase although the level of consumption was highest in Australia, followed by that in the USA with consumption in the UK the lowest of all nations.”

In the example yesterday and also in this one, we see a very important type of IELTS Task 1 question: in these cases it is NOT ONLY THE TREND that is important BUT ALSO THE MAGNITUDE differences between the items shown in the data. Be careful to include both in questions like this if you want to achieve a good score.

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