How to describe a bar chart for IELTS

A horizontal or vertical chart could be on your IELTS academic task 1.   It's responsible for a third of your marks in the writing test so we recommend spending around 20 minutes, as this is a third of your time.  

There are a couple of different structures you can follow when describing an IELTS bar chart.

These are very important in academic writing. But today we will teach you a structure where you assign each sentence of your text to a topic – kind of the opposite of what you usually do when writing task 2.  

It may look a little confusing, but it works. Just follow our lead for IELTS task 1.  

1. How to choose information from the bar graph?

Assuming one sentence contains around 10 to 15 words. We can estimate that your description of the bar chart will be made out of 10 to 12 sentences, we can now assign each sentence for a specific task:

  • One sentence for introduction.
  • Two sentences with the superlative.
  • A sentence with a comparison. Make comparisons where relevant.
  • A sentence grouping two data points because they are similar.. ­
  • A sentence noting an exception. ­
  • A sentence describing some data in advanced manner.
  • A sentence describing the data in a normal fashion.
  • Two sentences for summary.

Note that these sentences don’t necessarily need to go in this particular order. You must write them in a way that makes your bar chart description flow naturally.

You may also have to repeat a few sentences with different data if you find your graphic contains more information.

The structure above is a rough guide to get you started, once you are comfortable with it you can start experimenting.

Just remember to get feedback while you are testing your ideas, otherwise it's quite difficult to improve.

2. A bar graph sample answer

Now that we have figured out what we want to write about in the description of the bar graph it’s time to put our data selection skills to use and make comparisons where relevant.

It is easy to get lost in all of the information provided by a bar chart as there can be so much data. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind what you are looking for when you are analyzing the chart.

Let’s begin with the analysis of this bar chart, and pick out the information that is relevant to our structure.

See the sample answer of a bar chart below:    

How to describe a bar chart academic task 1

 Sample Answer Bar Graph Essay:

The bar chart shows the caloric intake of UK males in three distinct age groups of 0-­24, 25­-49, and over 50 years old.

Dairy for the 0­-24 age group was the highest source of calories, whilst the other categories each represented about 20% each. In the next age group dairy fell to around a quarter, and meat became the main source of calories, reaching half of the total intake. Pulses and vegetables reached 10% and 15% respectively.

Pulses in the final age group increased sixfold to over 60%, whereas calories obtained from vegetables was 10%, half that of meat (20%), and even slightly less than dairy (15%). The 50+ group shows the most marked preference out of all the groups. It also confirms the gradual decline in vegetable consumption as males become older.

Overall it is clear that each age group has a clear favourite which varies depending on age. However, vegetables are consistently amongst the least popular, regardless of age.

Click here for more free IELTS bar chart sample essays, you can also find sample IELTS task 1 questions here.

3. Final tips on describing a bar graph

  • Avoid listing every single data point by grouping the data together.
  • Avoid mixing formats, for example don't mix decimals with estimations in the same sentence.
  • After you have successfully written out your description with all of the information you wanted to include, go over it and replace some simpler words into more academic ones – this will get you more marks. For example, change "big" to "most significant".
  • Check that the whole text is free of errors and mistakes.
  • Practise with different bar charts to improve.
  • Review the superlatives -these are essential if you want to effectively describe the chart.
  • The fastest way to improve is to get feedback on your work.

Bonus tip: Try copying out sample bar charts with pen and paper. You will start to understand what information to select.

Also, your confidence will improve when it comes to writing your next essay.

Video: How to describe a bar graph

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Audio tutorial: How to describe a bar chart for the IELTS exam

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Sample Bar Chart Questions and Model Answers

Take a look at these bar chart model answers to help you prepare