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How to Describe an IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Yesterday, I had an IELTS preparation student say to me, “Teacher, I have no idea how to start or what to write for the IELTS Academic Task 1 essay that has a bar chart. Help!” Well, if you have ever felt the same, then you are in the right place. Here is your answer.

What is a Bar Chart?

A bar chart uses either horizontal or vertical bars to show comparisons among two or more categories. One axis of the chart shows the specific categories being compared, and the other axis represents a given value (usually a percentage or a dollar amount).


IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Example IELTS Academic Bar Chart

What to Look Out for in an IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Before you start writing, you should examine the bar chart:

  1. First and foremost, you should read the title.  Often, I have students report on the essay in an inverted order because they didn’t read the bar chart title.

For example, a Task 1 essay that I often give students has the chart title “Expected City Visits by Country of Origin for 2018.” Yet I often get sample sentences back that read: “It is predicted that people from Paris will be the most likely to visit the United States in 2018.”  The correct answer should be “It is predicted that Americans will choose Paris as their favorite city to visit in 2018.”

2. Next, it is also important to look at the time frame given in the chart. Are you looking at a specific year? Are there multiple years being compared?  Are we talking about something in the future? This will determine if you need to use past tense language, the language of change, or future tense language when discussing your data.

3.Finally, decide what are you comparing.  What titles are given to the Y and X axis? This important information will form the language that you will use in the essay and the corresponding synonyms you should also use. 

For example, the bar chart above compares the gross earnings of fiction books in five categories (Young Adults, Classics, Mystery, Romance and Sci-Fi and Fantasy) between 2006 and 2010.  (Incidentally, this is exactly what you would say for your introduction!)

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Include This Information when Describing the IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Not that you know what the chart is about, these are the vital elements to include in your essay:

  1. Start with an introduction. The introduction explains what the chart is about, and gives an overview of the main points.  Make sure you include one!  It can be short, but it must be there. If you’ve spent time examining the chart this should be easy to write.

2. Look for the key data and make sure that you are comparing and contrasting the data, NOT just listing the data from one section to the next. If you just write about what happened to X, what happened to Y, and what happened to Z, without showing any relationship between them, you will not get a high score.

To do this, you will need to look for similarities and differences when you first analyze the chart and you will need to decide what can logically be put together or not. Note: This means that you don’t have to tell me everything that you see in the bar chart, just the key points!

For example, for the above chart, you might say: “It is interesting to note that Romance novels earned the most income each year between 2006 and 2010 with sales ranging from $70,000 to $115,000. In contrast, Sci Fi and Fantasy novels were the poorest revenue generators of the five categories earning only $20,000 at its highest point in 2007 and a mere $10,000 at its lowest point in 2009.

3. Group the data together so that you have a well-organized and coherent answer. It is a good idea to divide your answer into two or three paragraphs so it is well organized. To do this, you should group similar things together into paragraphs or sections.

4. Use a wide variety sentence structures.  Include complex sentences and simple sentences.

5. It is equally important to use appropriate transitions between describing each data point. 

6. Always provide a short summary conclusion of what you included in your essay. One line is enough here.

For example, it can be seen from the chart that overall, 2007 was the best year for book sales in all five categories.

7. Finally, make sure that you have written 150 words.

Sample IELTS Academic Bar Chart and Model Answer

This sample Task 1 essay with IELTS Academic bar chart from the British Council will give you a good chance to see these principles in action. For more examples and practice, check out our Magoosh IELTS prep.

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