A strategy for bar chart questions: How to score well on a bar chart question in writing task 1
A horizontal or vertical bar chart could appear on your IELTS academic task 1. You may also get a stacked bar chart question which includes a lot more data than a vertical bar chart. It accounts for a third of your marks in the writing test so we recommend spending around 20 minutes on it, as this is a third of your time. There are a couple of different structures you can follow when describing an IELTS bar chart. Essay structure, or how you organise your answer, is very important in academic writing. Today we will teach you a new method - 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 this method really works! Just follow our lead for IELTS task 1. Remember that bar chart and bar graph are synonyms and you can use the phrases interchangeably. Although each bar graph will be different, you are not required to be an expert on the information it shows, just to summarise the information, identify trends and make comparisons.
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 consist of about 10 to 12 sentences. Now we can assign each sentence with a specific task:
One sentence for the introduction.
Two sentences using superlatives.
A sentence with a comparison. Make comparisons where relevant.
A sentence grouping two data points to show similarity (for example, you might include a brief description showing a gradual decrease in two different areas).
A sentence noting an exception to an overall trend.
A sentence describing some data in an advanced manner, using complex sentence structure.
A sentence describing relevant data using simple structure.
Two sentences for summary and conclusion.
Note that this method is quite flexible and 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. Think about which sentences go together in each body paragraph as well as the introduction paragraph and conclusion.
You may also have to repeat a few sentences using different data if you find your graphic contains more information or find a way to mention different groups in one sentence.
The structure above is a rough guide to get you started. Once you have looked at the example and are comfortable with this structure, you can use this example as a model to describe different bar charts and answer as many bar graph questions as you can.
Just remember to get feedback while you are testing your ideas otherwise, it's quite difficult to improve.
2. A bar graph sample question and 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. The first thing you should do is identify key features. Once you have decided on the main points, make note of any secondary features that will support the main features.
Let's begin with the analysis of this bar chart, and pick out the information that is relevant to our structure.
See the model answer of a bar chart below:
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. The data is shown as percentages.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.
In this essay, the introduction paragraph restates the writing prompt. It is not the overview paragraph, which can be either the first or the last paragraph. In this case, the overview appears at the end in which the writer states the overall trends of the bar graph. While the horizontal axis contains information relating to the question keywords, it's important not to overlook the vertical axis and state clearly how the data is given (for example, is it as percentages, in kilos, or tonnes, or hours?) Make sure you have included this information in the first part of the essay.
You will also notice that the body paragraphs consist of a breakdown of the main features in order of age group to show and compare the difference in amounts of each food category consumed as people grew older, placing the final age group into its own body paragraph. This is because the data showed that there was a fairly significant upward trend in one food type (pulses) that the writer wanted to highlight.
And finally, as previously mentioned, the conclusion part of this essay includes the overview, which should consist of a sentence or two of general trends.
A note on structure
Notice how the sentence structures. How many complex sentences can you identify?
When preparing for your IELTS academic writing task, you will want to show some sophisticated writing. When you sit for your IELTS writing test, you might feel pressured for time and it may be a bit difficult to think of complex sentence structures while considering the main features.
Make sure you have mentioned all the categories in your answer - in this example, there are four categories. Make sure you have also included the correct values when you summarise the data, in this case percentages. It is often tempting to write too much for a task 1 essay but by following the method shown you will stay focused. Concentrate on the most important information. Compare the highest and lowest values, for example, rather than all the differences.
Write what comes naturally at first, even if you write in correct simple sentences. Allow yourself some time at the end to go back and adjust some of your structures to complex sentences. If you are aiming for a high score on the IELTS test, you should aim for structures that are complex and accurate.
As well as this, it is important to be sure of the tense you are using. This example requires the present tense but many bar charts illustrate data from the past. In that case, you need to write the introduction in the present tense (the bar chart illustrates...) and then switch to writing mostly in the past tense (the number of people choosing this option dropped after the first year).
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; instead use your own words to describe the key information from the chart/graph.
Avoid mixing formats: for example, don't mix decimals with estimations in the same sentence.
Check whether there is a date on the bar chart - you may need to use the past tense.
Make note of general trends, particularly upward or downward trends that can be highlighted in your own words.
After you have successfully written out your description with all of the information you want to include, go over it and replace some simpler words with more academic vocabulary – this will help you achieve a high score. For example, try replacing "big" with "most significant".
Check that your text is error-free. Review carefully to see if all your sentences are grammatically correct. Make sure that the data you have described is correct - that you have not made a mistake with a category or labels.
Review for the correct use of connectors and linking words.
Practise with different bar graphs/pie charts to improve especially with a range of values (percentages, kilos, miles, dollars). Review the superlatives - highest, lowest, most expensive, biggest difference - these are essential if you want to effectively describe bar charts. The fastest way to improve is to get feedback on your work. You can also check another model bar graph answer for comparison.
Don't forget to check your word count. Make sure your piece is another too brief nor too wordy and detailed.
Try copying out a sample bar graph with pen and paper. You will start to understand how to locate key points and choose the most relevant information.
Practice describing a bar chart out loud. It will help you remember vocabulary to describe data under pressure, decide point by point what to include in your answer and make sure you have mentioned every category at least once. Your confidence will improve when it comes to your next IELTS writing task.
Make sure you practice 'two type' questions - you might see an IELTS question with one bar chart or two. You might see one bar chart and a table, or other types of graphs such as line graphs. However the data is displayed, it's important to stay calm and focus on finding the major differences and similarities, compare categories and identify trends. Describing a table or line graph is very similar to describing bar charts and the more you practice the more confident you will feel.