The Complete Guide to IELTS Writing Task 1

The Academic IELTS Writing exam requires you to respond to two question prompts in one hour. If you’ve been studying for the IELTS already, you probably know that IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 and Task 2 are quite different. Task 2 is a standard five-paragraph essay in which you present your perspective on an issue. By contrast, IELTS Writing Task 1 on the Academic version of the exam involves writing a report based on information contained in one or two visuals (such as charts or graphs).

Task 2 is worth more points than IELTS Writing Task 1, and Task 2 requires more time to complete. Therefore, you may be tempted to brush aside IELTS Academic Task 1 as you study, choosing instead to focus much more attention on Task 2. I encourage you to avoid this approach! Yes, Task 2 is worth more points and you should absolutely prepare for it very thoroughly. However, also putting a lot of effort into preparing for IELTS Writing Task 1 can really pay off. Here’s why:

IELTS Writing Task 1 on the IELTS Academic Writing test is a very predictable exercise. Therefore, once you master the basic pattern of a good IELTS Writing Task 1 response, you can apply it every time. The IELTS Writing Task 1 can present you with any chart or graph and, with enough preparation under your belt, you can quickly analyze it and write your response without wasting precious minutes.

This post is all about the IELTS Academic Writing Task 1. If you’re looking for IELTS General Writing Task tips, click here!

Table of Contents

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 Basics
Learning to “Read” IELTS Writing Task 1 Questions on the Academic Test
Sample IELTS Writing Task 1 Question and Template
Boosting your Academic Task 1 Band Score
IELTS Practice & Additional Resources

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 Basics

You have 20 minutes to write at least 150 words for Writing Task 1. The assignment is a lot like a monthly report that an employee might submit to his or her supervisor at work: the boss only wants relevant facts and data based on the latest company numbers. This resembles what you’re supposed to do on Writing Task 1 very closely. You will be presented with one or two visuals, and your job is to write a brief report about what you see. That’s it.

An important scoring category for IELTS Writing Task 1 is “Task Achievement.” This is one of the four main categories the IELTS uses to evaluate your writing (keep reading to learn about the other categories at the bottom of this post). IELTS defines “Task Achievement” as a measurement of “how appropriately, accurately and relevantly the response fulfills the requirements set out in the task, using the minimum of 150 words” (Source: IELTS, Test format in detail). Basically, you’re supposed to follow every letter of the directions and the prompt in order to score well in this category. More importantly, it means you should NOT include things that do not belong or are not “appropriate” or “relevant” to IELTS Writing Task 1. So what SHOULD you include on Academic Task 1 to get a high band score?

A writing template can help you here. Below you will find an IELTS Writing Task 1 template, a sample response using the template, and some additional advice to help you answer Academic Task 1 questions thoroughly.

Please note: as you look through sample IELTS Writing Task 1 responses in other study materials, you will notice a variety of approaches to Academic Task 1 questions. That’s good! There are a number of good ways to answer IELTS Writing Task 1 questions well. I have found from working with students that the template below is a very straightforward way to organize IELTS Writing Task 1 responses. Following it ensures that all of the requirements for the task are met. If you take the time to learn this template well, you will gain confidence and speed as you write IELTS Writing Task 1 responses.

Ielts academic writing task 1

Before you Write: Learn to “Read” IELTS Writing Task 1 Questions on the Academic Test

Before we look at the template, let’s discuss the first things you should do when you come to an Academic Task 1 question. Remember: time is extremely limited! You only have 20 minutes to complete your response. Your strategic approach begins from the second you open your test booklet and “read” the question.

By “reading,” I don’t mean trying to understand all the words on the visuals. I mean taking a strategic approach to analyzing the content of your IELTS visuals so you can quickly decide which information to include in your response.

Keep in mind: IELTS visuals often look complicated when you first glance at them. In reality, you’re not being tested on your ability to analyze charts and graphs. You do not need to perform complicated calculations to score well on Academic Task 1. This question measures your English language skills. Specifically, it aims to see how well you can report about the information presented to you in diagrams, charts, graphs, etc. using appropriate and accurate language. That’s all. If you stay focused on the following areas as you practice “reading” IELTS questions, you will get better and better at gathering the information you need to write a great IELTS Writing Task 1 response.

How to “Read” IELTS Writing Task 1 Questions:

1. Read the summary and titles first.

IELTS Writing Task 1 instructions include a short summary sentence in the instructions. Also, the visuals usually have a title. Read these things first because they give you a good overview of what is contained in the visual(s). This summary information will be very useful to you in the first paragraph of your response where you need to “introduce the visuals” (see the template below for more details).

2. Take note of categories / units.

Next, take note of the types of information contained on the visual(s). To get a high band score, you must provide accurate descriptions of this information. You can’t do this if you don’t understand it. Ask yourself questions like these as you take in the data:

  • Do your visuals involve time? Is time presented in hours, days, weeks, months, etc?
  • Do your visuals show trends? In general, what are the trends? Increases, decreases, fluctuating, etc?
  • Do the visuals show a sequence of events? Steps in a process?
  • Do the visuals categorize different types of things?
  • Are numbers presented in hundreds, thousands, millions, percentages, decimals?
  • Etc.
3. Find an interesting “angle” on the data.

As you’ll read below, Paragraph’s 2 – 4 of the template involve reporting on the main features of the visual(s). You have to select which information to include and, importantly, which to leave out. This can be tough, but it becomes much easier if you can quickly find an “angle” on the data to help you filter out what you need and what you don’t.

For example, let’s imagine you’re looking at a chart that shows a list of 5 different TV shows. These shows are ranked by their popularity among 5 different age groups. Here are some possible “angles”:

  • Which shows are most popular/least popular among all age groups?
  • Which shows got more popular as viewer age increased/decreased?
  • Which shows were only popular in the middle-aged group?

The “angles” you take should be the things that seem most interesting or striking to you as you look at the visual(s). Another way to think about this–if you had to give a report at a meeting or in a college class, which information would interest the audience most? The answer to this question will provide the content for much of your IELTS Writing Task 1 response.

Ielts writing task 1

Sample IELTS Writing Task 1 Question and Template

Template Overview:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce the visuals (1-2 sentences).
  • Paragraph 2: Summarize the visuals.
  • Paragraphs 3 and (sometimes) 4: Use data/details to highlight a key feature of the visual(s).
  • Optional: Concluding sentence

We’re going to go through each part of the template one by one below. In order to provide a specific sample response, I’ve also included a sample IELTS Writing Task 1 question. It will be helpful to study this question carefully before you look at the detailed description of the template. In fact, why don’t you take a minute to “read” it following the advice described above!

ielts academic sample question

ielts academic sample question

The graphs above give information about computer ownership as a percentage of the population between 2002 and 2010, and by level of education for the years 2002 and 2010.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
Write at least 150 words.

(Source: IELTS, International English Language Testing System)

Paragraph 1: Introduce the Visuals (1 – 2 sentences)

Introducing the visuals is very straightforward, but it can present challenges because it tests your grammar and vocabulary. Basically, all you need to do in these introductory lines is explain, in very general terms, what the visuals contain. You should try to do this in one sentence if possible.
Fortunately, you can find this information easily because it’s provided for you very clearly in the question prompt. In our example, this is the sentence just below the second chart above (“The graphs above give information about….”) The titles of your visuals also provide useful information for Paragraph 1.
Paragraph 1 requires a lot of practice because your have to paraphrase the language from the prompt and the titles. That means you need to put this information in your own words. Do your best to avoid using the same vocabulary and sentence structure as the prompt. Failing to do this will definitely lower your score! The IELTS is testing your vocabulary and grammar here. Please note, however, that you don’t always have to paraphrase key terms. In our sample, the phrase “computer ownership” would be difficult to replace, for example. Everything else should be paraphrased!
Below is a sample Paragraph 1. Notice how the vocabulary and sentence structure differ from both the question prompt and the titles of the visuals.

The charts show rates of computer ownership from 2002 – 2010, including a more detailed look at ownership patterns by level of education.

Paragraph 2: Summarize the visuals (2 – 4 sentences)

In this paragraph, you will provide a summary of the visuals without going into too much detail. IELTS Writing Task 1 instructions tell you to, “summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features” of the visuals (Source: IELTS, Test format in detail). Paragraph 2 is your opportunity to do just that.
Avoiding details in this paragraph helps to focus your answer on the most important points contained in the visual(s). You don’t want your summary to get lost in numbers and figures. Save these details for your next paragraph(s). Instead, in Paragraph 2, you’ll need to provide an accurate overview, or summary, of the contents of the visuals. In the previous paragraph (Paragraph 1), you explained what the visuals are about — the topic. Now, in Paragraph 2, you need to describe the main information contained in the visuals. You should select the information that stands out to you most. It might be a general trend in the data, or a striking or interesting overall pattern. In Paragraph 2, you should report in very general terms, whatever seems most noteworthy in the visuals. Take a look at this sample below:

These data show a constant increase in the percentage of the population that owned computers during the eight-year timeframe. This rising trend occurred across all education levels. However, although having more education correlated directly with higher computer ownership percentages from 2002 – 2010, the ownership percentage increased most among those with the least education during those years.

Paragraphs 3 and (sometimes) 4: Use data/details to highlight a key feature of the visual(s)

Now that you’ve presented a summary of the main information in the visuals, you’re ready to go into details in Paragraph 3. This is where you report data related to the summary information you just provided in Paragraph 2. You should not attempt to describe ALL of the data you see in the visuals. This would probably be impossible within the time limit even if you tried. You have to make choices. Instead, you should report about data that relate directly to the main feature(s) — the key information — that you just presented in Paragraph 2.

In Paragraph 2 of the sample response, I focused on how 1) computer ownership rose steadily from 2002 – 2010 in general and across education levels, but that 2) those with the least education increased their computer ownership most over this period. Therefore, it would make sense to follow this paragraph with detailed information on these trends. As I described earlier in this post, these are the “angles” or perspectives I’ve taken on the graphs.

At this point, you have a second choice to make. Should you present all of the data in one paragraph (Paragraph 3), or should you separate it into two shorter paragraphs (Paragraphs 3 and 4)? It is not necessary to include a 4th paragraph in your response and it won’t always add to your score include one (unless you haven’t met your 150 word minimum!). However, many times having two shorter paragraphs can be best. This is especially true in cases where you need to present data/details about two distinct key features. In these cases, a 4th paragraph helps you to present different ideas clearly. For this reason, I chose to present the information in two shorter paragraphs in our sample response. The following are same paragraphs 3 and 4:

In 2002, slightly more than half the population owned computers. That number increased to roughly 75% over the next eight years. Postgraduates were always ahead of the general population. While roughly three-quarters of postgraduates owned computers in 2002, that rose to nearly 95% by 2010. By contrast, those who had not finished high school began with only a 15% computer ownership rate, which increased to about 45% after eight years.

Notably, the three groups at the lowest end of the education spectrum saw the most significant computer ownership gains over this period. Their rate rose approximately 30 percentage points. College graduates and postgraduates saw more modest gains with 20 point increases between 2002 and 2010.

Optional: Concluding Sentence

You may include a concluding sentence on IELTS Writing Task 1, but it is optional. It can be very helpful to include one if you’re struggling to reach your word count minimum of 150 words. Otherwise, a concluding sentence won’t help your score significantly. Review the following sample concluding sentence:

The first decade of the 21st century saw steady gains in computer ownership among a variety of education levels.

Ielts academic writing task 1

Beyond the Template: Boosting your Academic Task 1 Band Score

As you study for IELTS Writing Task 1, your goal should be to focus on making improvements that will have a significant impact on your score. To accomplish this, it helps to understand the four scoring categories for Academic Task 1 (listed below). Read on for more tips and resources that can help you maximize your score in each of the scoring categories.

IELTS Writing Task 1 Scoring Categories

Task Achievement

As already discussed, this is a measurement of how well you fulfilled the basic requirements of the task based on the instructions. Following the template above helps you most on this one.

Grammatical Range and Accuracy

This is a measurement of your ability to use a wide range of grammatical structures without making a lot of grammatical errors. If you have enough time (a few months or more) before you take the IELTS, consider taking an English class or investing in a good grammar book for self-study. I often recommend this grammar book to intermediate and advanced students. It offers clear grammar explanations and contains many practice exercises.

Here are some additional grammar tips to help you, even if your IELTS exam is coming up soon and you don’t have time to take a class or study a textbook!

Grammar Tip 1: Don’t use the same simple sentence structures over and over.

The next time you write a practice response, take a close look at your sentence structures. Do you use a variety of sentence patterns? English language learners often develop a habit of using forms of the “BE” verb (am, is, are, was, were) very frequently as the main verb of the sentence. Using “BE” verbs is not a problem (I have used many in this blog post!!), but using them too often makes your writing sound very basic. Importantly, using “BE” verbs repeatedly also limits your grammatical range. Choosing more descriptive verbs opens up many grammatical possibilities. For example, you can use adverbs and adverbial phrases to describe an action. By limiting yourself to forms of “BE” as the main verb, you will mainly rely on adjectives for description.

To work on this, go back through your practice essays and try to change every sentence that includes a “BE” verb as the main verb. Don’t worry about sentences with “BE” auxiliary verbs like this:

She is running.

“Running” is the main verb of this sentence and “is” is an auxiliary. There is no need to change this. You want to edit sentences that look like this:

Michael is a history professor at my college.

“Is” is the main verb of the sentence. When you revise these sentences, don’t change the meaning of the sentence too much. The sentence should still fit logically in your essay. This can be tough! Making these changes will force you to use different sentence patterns and, importantly, more descriptive verbs and adverbs when you write. Please note–you do not need to avoid all “BE” verbs when you write for the IELTS exam. This exercise simply helps you to develop your ability to use a variety of grammatical structures. Review the following examples:

Original sentence: Mary is an excellent teacher, so students always love taking her class.

Revised sentence: Mary teaches so well that students always love taking her class.

Grammar Tip 2: Use complex sentence structures

On the IELTS, you need to prove that you can write advanced sentences without mistakes. Therefore, you should include some complex sentence patterns in your writing. What is a complex sentence? Complex sentences include “subordinating conjunctions,” which introduce a variety of dependent clauses in English. Look over this review of dependent and independent clauses if you need to. Below are some examples of subordinating conjunctions:

Adverbial Subordinators (there are many!):

Even though

Adjective Clause Subordinators:


Noun Clause Subordinators:


A few complex sentence examples:

Even though it rained all weekend, we had a great time.
I like playing chess because it provides a mental challenge.

I threw the ball to my friend, who was not ready to catch it.
Unfortunately, I can’t find pen that you loaned me.

Noun clause:
I didn’t hear what you said.
Please show me how I can fill out this form correctly.

You don’t want to overuse these complex structures. It’s best to mix complex sentences with simpler ones for clarity. Also, don’t confuse the word “complex” with the word “long.” In general, you should try to avoid very long sentences to make your writing clear and easy to understand. Having some longer sentences won’t hurt you, but, again, aim for a mixture.

Grammar Tip 3: Check your verb tenses as you edit

Spend some time reviewing verb tenses as you study. If possible, find a teacher or a native English speaker to evaluate your writing to see if you make consistent mistakes. Tense errors are a common mistake in IELTS responses. Time is very limited, making it easy to use the wrong verb forms. Yet, these are mistakes that many students can easily edit on their own. If you notice that you forget to use past tenses when writing about the past, for example, it might not mean that you need to do a full review of past tense verbs. Instead, it might mean that you need to save a little time for yourself after writing to check your work.

When you practice writing for the IELTS, take as much time as you need to look for errors when you’re done writing. In fact, make sure you keep all your practice essays and pull them out again a week or two after you wrote them. Often, you’ll find new errors and think of better ways to express the ideas in your essays.

Lexical Resource

This is your ability to use a wide range of vocabulary correctly (without errors) and appropriately (in the proper context) in your written responses. It should go without saying that studying vocabulary regularly will help you improve most in this area. Magoosh has (free!) IELTS vocabulary flashcards to get you started. You should try to learn 15 – 20 new words each day! Beyond learning new words, however, there are a few additional steps you can take to improve your “Lexical Resource” score.

Practice Paraphrasing

As noted above, you must paraphrase the language from the question prompt and the visuals as much as possible in your Writing Task 1 responses. Taking large chunks of language directly from the question and visual will definitely lower your score. Whenever you practice a Writing Task 1 response, make sure to study any example essays included in your practice materials. Take note of how the author paraphrases the language in the question prompt and compare it to your own paraphrases. By doing this, you can learn a lot of helpful words and phrases.

Avoid Redundancy

A second tip to boost your Lexical Resource score is to focus on avoiding redundancy in your writing. Redundancy happens when you use the same words or phrases over and over again; however, there will be some key terms that you can’t avoid. For example, in our example response, it was difficult to avoid the phrases “computer ownership” and “education level.” Other words are much easier to replace with synonyms. For instance, in Academic Task 1 responses, you will often write about numbers that “increase” or “decrease.” There are many synonyms for these words:

Rise – Fall
Go up – Go down
Jump – Decline
Spike – Dip
Skyrocket – Plummet

If you notice that you’re using the same words again and again as you practice writing Academic Task 1 responses, work on building your knowledge of synonyms and paraphrases. A thesaurus is a handy tool. However, if at all possible, try to get feedback about the new words you use from a native English speaker. Often, the synonyms you find will have a slightly different meaning or use from the word you’re trying to replace. As a general rule, you should always choose a word that you know to be correct over one that you don’t know well.

Coherence and Cohesion

This a measurement of your ability to present ideas logically and clearly. In other words, the IELTS wants to see that your ideas make sense in the order you present them and that they work together in a logical way.

Transition words and phrases

One of the best things you can do to improve your “Coherence and Cohesion” score is to master useful transition words. Therefore, study a list of transition words likethis list to add to your repertoire. You should learn as many of these as possible to have a range of words and phrases from which to choose as you write. As noted in other places above, it hurts your score to use the same phrases over and over again. You need to avoid redundancy with transition words as well. Also, avoid using a transition word or phrase in every sentence. Only include them when it will help you to show the relationship between ideas more clearly.


Another aspect of your “Coherence and Cohesion” score relates to “referencing.” This is your ability to use various pronouns accurately and appropriately. For example:

I learned how to knit a sweater from my grandmother. It took a long time to learn.
“It” refers to “how to knit a sweater”

We had a great time on holiday in Hawaii. I want to go back there!
“There” refers to “Hawaii.”

Referencing helps you to avoid redundancy because you don’t mention the same nouns over and over again. Importantly, it also pulls your sentences together, linking ideas and concepts. Practice using pronouns as you write and make sure to look for pronoun errors as you edit your work!

The Template

A final important aspect of your “Coherence and Cohesion” score is the overall organization of your response. Your paragraphs should be organized logically, and your ideas should progress in a clear way from one sentence to the next. This involves using transition words (discussed above), but it also relates to what we covered in the middle of this post–the Writing Task 1 Template. Mastering this template is a great way to boost your Coherence and Cohesion band score!

Ielts writing task 1

IELTS Practice & Additional Resources

Now you’re ready to go and practice Writing Task 1 responses. You should practice regularly. Make every attempt to create real test conditions when you practice. In other words, find a time when you won’t be interrupted. Limit yourself very strictly to 20 minutes. Write your responses by hand.

Here are some additional resources to help you prepare:

Magoosh IELTS Prep
Best IELTS Books and Resources 2017
IELTS 1 Month Study Schedule

Good luck!

By the way, sign up for our 1 Week Free Trial to try out Magoosh IELTS Prep!

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