Here are some examiner-approved Task 1 tips for you.
At the school I work in they run an IELTS academic writing course. I love teaching this course because the students are really hardworking and I get to really help them with their IELTS writing tasks 1 and 2. What really surprises me every course is just how many simple mistakes students make when they start the course. The great thing about this is all of their mistakes can be easily fixed.
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With this in mind, I asked the students to write a list of Dos and Don’ts for IELTS writing task 1. This really helped them focus on their mistakes and consolidate what they had learned.
- Do find out what are your most common mistakes.
Checking your work at the end is really important, but many students complain that they don’t have time. You can make this process more efficient by checking your work when you practice and writing down your four or five common mistakes. After a while, you will get to know your more common mistakes and fix them quickly.
You could also use grammar checking software like Grammarly to help you spot mistakes.
- Do read the instructions carefully.
Seems like a very obvious one, but it is one of the most common mistakes students make in IELTS writing task 1.
Take one minute to read the question a few times and really understand what it is asking you to do. Practice will also help you familiarise yourself with the different types of task 1 question and save you time in the exam.
- Do paraphrase the question.
You will lose marks for copying the words in the answer and the examiner is looking to see if you can paraphrase the question. To paraphrase, simply use synonyms to change keywords.
Question: The graph below gives information about cinema attendance in the UK between 1998 and the present, with projections to 2018.
Paraphrased: The diagram shows data of movie-goers in the United Kingdom from 1998 until now, with forecasts up to 2018.
As you can see, the meaning has not changed but the words have. This should be the first paragraph in your essay.
- Do use signposting language.
These are words and phrases that tell the examiner what you are writing about. They are sometimes also called ‘discourse markers’.
Examples include ‘The graph/table/chart shows…’, ‘The most significant change is….’, ‘Another noticeable change/trend is….’, ‘Overall…’.
Remember that these should only be used appropriately.
- Do practice on IELTS answer sheets.
Many students worry about not writing at least 150 words in IELTS writing part 1. A clever way to always know how many words you have is to practice on the official exam answer sheets and then you will be able to judge how much space you normally use for 150 words.
A quick google search will help you find these.
- Do know how to describe change?
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You will pick up easy marks if you know how to accurately describe change. From very small to very large, here are some examples:
You will normally have to describe change in your task 1 essay and these more advanced words will help you gain some valuable marks for ‘lexical resource’.
- Do spend time organising and planning your answer.
This is one of the main differences between students who score well in IELTS writing and those who don’t. It is never a waste of time to plan your answer as this will help you score well by giving a clear and coherent answer.
Familiarise yourself with the different question types and then learn the different structures for each one. For example, a bar chart should look like this:
Paragraph 1- paraphrase question.
Paragraph 2- overview.
Paragraph 3- describe main feature in detail.
Paragraph 4- describe another main feature in detail.
When you have this structure in your head, you will be able to plan an effective answer quickly and easily.
- Practice writing overviews.
Your overview is probably the most important paragraph in the whole essay. Write a good one and you are well on your way to getting a good band score.
An overview is a summary of the main features shown in the diagram.
Part of this is identifying the main trends in the diagram. For bar and line charts ask yourself what is increasing, what is decreasing and what is fluctuating? For processes ask yourself how many main stages there are and what are the main changes and outcomes?
Remember that your overview should not include any numbers because you are just describing the most significant aspects in general terms, the detail comes in the next paragraphs.
- Do consider which tense you are going to use.
Many IELTS candidates lose easy marks by only writing in the present tense. Ask yourself if any of the data is about the past or the future and change your tenses accordingly.
- Support your descriptions with accurate data.
As stated before, you won’t use any numbers in the overview section but you will have to use data to describe the main features in subsequent paragraphs. Make sure you choose the correct data and that it is accurate.
- Don’t use the same words for percentages and numbers.
For percentages use words like large/small/higher/lower percentage of…
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For numbers use words like many/more/most/few and fewer.
- Don’t give your opinion or speculate.
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IELTS task 1 is not a discursive essay; discursive essays are for task 2. Only write exactly what you see and don’t try to give reasons for the data unless explicitly stated in the diagram. You will lose a lot of marks if you do this.
You should also not add any new information or draw any conclusions from the data presented.
For example, I had one student who was an engineer and was presented with a diagram of how a car engine works. He wrote a very detailed description of the process from his own knowledge. All of his information was correct but it was not shown in the diagram. He didn’t achieve the score he should have because he made this error.
Remember, give the IELTS examiners what they want and nothing else.
- Don’t use bullet points, notes or abbreviations.
Again, this might be fine in university essays but not in IELTS essays.
- Don’t write every number or process you see.
Many students do this and end up spending far too much time on task 1. Remember you will only be asked to write about the most significant features. For example, in a line graph or bar chart question you will only be expected to write about 2 or 3 things. Any more is a waste of time and you won’t get any extra marks for writing about anything else.
- Don’t copy words from the question or information from the diagram.
If you do this examiners will not mark these words and it is therefore like writing nothing at all.
To overcome this, familiarise yourself with the common vocabulary used in IELTS writing part 1 and learn synonyms for this information. Also, use synonyms when practicing writing.
See above for an example of how I used synonyms to paraphrase the question.
- Don’t overuse linking words or signposting language.
Above I advised you to use these words but one problem students have is learning lots of linking words and then overusing them to show the examiner how good they are. Unfortunately, for those students, you lose marks for overusing them.
If you use around 6 of these words and phrases you will do fine. More than 8 and it looks like you are trying to insert them in without thinking if you are using them appropriately or not.
- Don’t have messy handwriting.
IELTS examiners will try their best to understand what you have written but sometimes the writing is so untidy that it is impossible to read. If your writing is like this the examiner will not be able to give you a mark for the words they can’t read.
Many of us rely on computers these days and some students don’t realise how bad your handwriting is. Show some of your practice tests to a teacher or friend and ask their opinion. If they can’t read it then an examiner won’t be able to either.
- Don’t use informal language.
Remember this is an academic essay and you are expected to write in that style. Avoid phrasal verbs, slang and colloquial language.
- Don’t just focus on line and bar graphs.
These may have been popular in the past but it doesn’t mean IELTS will continue to use them that often. We are seeing many more maps, pie charts and process diagrams these days.
Many students overlook these kinds of questions and if you are well prepared for every type of question you will really stand out from the crowd.
- Don’t panic!
Many students open up the exam paper, see something they know nothing about and then panic.
For example, I was teaching a class and the process diagram was about the production of chocolate. ‘But, all I know about chocolate is how to eat it.’ cried most of my students. This is understandable but the IELTS writing tests are not knowledge tests, they are English tests. You are not expected to have knowledge of the diagram, just calmly write about what you see.
I hope you find these IELTS writing task 1 tips useful and please comment below if you have any more.