IELTS Writing Task 1: How to Describe a Bar Chart

IELTS Academic Bar Chart - image by MagooshThe IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 essay has you write a 150-word report about a bar chart (also referred to as a bar graph), a process diagram, a table, or a pie chart. In each of these formats, you will need to use slightly different language to describe what you see.

If you’re not sure where to start, that’s ok! In this piece, we’ll provide an overview of how to describe a typical IELTS Writing Task 1 bar chart. We also suggest taking a look at resources in this piece on useful words for writing an IELTS Graph Essay


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What will you see in an IELTS Writing Task 1 bar diagram?

A bar chart uses either horizontal or vertical bars to show comparisons among two or more categories. The bar chart has two main features: an X-axis and a Y-axis. One axis of the chart shows the specific categories being compared, and the other axis of the graph shows a given value (usually a percentage or a dollar amount).

Example IELTS Writing Task 1 bar chart

Example IELTS Academic Bar Chart

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How to Write About an IELTS Writing Task 1 Bar Chart

To effectively write about an IELTS Writing Task 1 bar chart, follow these tips.

1. Start by Reading the Title

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, an IELTS Writing Task 1 bar chart that I 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 France will be the most likely to visit the United States in 2018.” The correct answer should be “It is predicted that Americans will choose France as their favorite city to visit in 2018.”

2. Look at the Time Frame

Look at the given period of time covered 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 your grammar and style to some extent. For example, whether you need to use past tense language, the language of change, or future tense language when discussing your data.

3. Decide What You Are 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 sentence is exactly what you would say for your introduction!)

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How to Describe an IELTS Writing Task 1 Bar Chart

Now that you know what the IELTS Writing Task 1 bar chart is about, these are the vital elements to include in your essay:

  • 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! Your introduction can be short, but it must be there. If you’ve spent time examining the chart this should be easy to write.
  • 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.
  • In the second paragraph and beyond, make sure that you show the connection between the pie charts and the graph or bar chart rather than just listing the data from each separately. Focus on similarities and differences (and highlight them using linking words!).

    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. This means that you don’t have to describe 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.

  • 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 ideas together into paragraphs or sections. Cohesion and coherence are key!
  • Use a wide variety of sentence structures. Include complex sentences and simple sentences.
  • 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.
  • Finally, make sure that your word count is 150.

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A Final Word on Describing IELTS Academic Bar Charts

Overall, describing a an IELTS academic bar chart is a pretty straightforward task on your exam. Remember that in order to write well about a bar chart, you’ll want to be very clear on the relationship being expressed in it, so be careful not to rush past this step.

That said, you won’t want to spend more than about 20 minutes on IELTS writing task 1, so save most of your time for essay writing.

We hope we answered all of your IELTS Writing Task 1 bar diagram and bar chart questions! For more advice, we recommend taking a look at this IELTS writing task 1 vocab guide.

Good luck on your IELTS writing test!

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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