How to paraphrase in academic task 1

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Paraphrasing is an essential skill for both academic task 1 and  task 2.

And, as you probably know, it’s also extremely useful for the IELTS reading and IELTS listening components of the IELTS exam.

In this tutorial you will learn: 

  • The essentials of paraphrasing
  • A structure for your academic task report
  • A complete list of phrases and terms to help you (over 14 terms)
  • Resources of high level graphic descriptions

Paraphrasing involves manipulating the words in a sentence or phrase so that they read differently but convey the same meaning. It is also called re-writing, and you should learn to do it before taking your IELTS test.

It can also help in listening and reading tests, though it’s mainly used in speaking and writing. Simply put, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your desired score if you know how to paraphrase.

Paraphrasing requires mental processes and can help you understand questions better; this is one reason why I encourage students to paraphrase test questions before answering them.

In task 1, the first sentence must always be a paraphrased version of the question / title. Paraphrasing (or re-writing) can be done in a number of ways, but the easiest is to replace words with their synonyms.

You can prove to the examiner that you have a broad vocabulary and that you can use it effectively by paraphrasing the sentence using a few simple synonyms. This will score you more points in the test.

This should be your initial paragraph and you should let your examiner know you’re starting a new one by skipping a line.

Example 1:

An example description of a question from an IELTS Task 1 is shown below:

The proportion of the population aged 50 and above in three different states in the USA between 1920 and 2020 is shown in the graphs below.

I can quickly craft a good description by paraphrasing this description:

The line graphs compare the percentage of individuals aged 50 and above, as measured over a century in three U.S. states.

Example 2:


Information about the per-capita percentage of car ownership between 2000 and 2005 in the USA is given in the chart below.

Summarize the information by making comparisons where necessary and picking out and reporting on the main features.

First sentence

The increase in car ownership between 2000 and 2005 in the USA is shown in the chart.

When should we paraphrase on IELTS?

You need to paraphrase a phrase, word or an idea in several ways in IELTS writing task 1 and 2.

For instance, if you use the word "school" in a paragraph, use words like "university", "academic institution" or "college" in the rest of the essay.

How does a re-written sentence fit into the remaining part of my essay?

The second paragraph of an essay with four paragraphs should be the overview:

  • Paragraph 1- Paraphrased sentence
  • Paragraph 2- Overview
  • Paragraph 3- Details
  • Paragraph 4- Details

Writing the overview before the details lets the examiner know that you understand the main features and helps you when you write out the details. That's why I tell my students to do it. You simply take the points you stated in your overview and back them up with data in the details paragraphs.

Is a conclusion necessary?

Not at all. Conclusions are just a summary of your opinions or ideas. Writing a conclusion is not mandatory, because this is not an opinion essay. Save your conclusions for task 2.

Here are some common words/phrases and their paraphrased versions:

  • chart = bar chart (click here to learn how to describe a bar chart)
  • graph = line graph
  • shows = illustrates (or 'compares' if the graph is comparing)
  • diagram = figure
  • people in the UK = British
  • people in Australia = Australians
  • information = data
  • from 1997 to 2000 = between 1997 and 2000
  • the number of = the figure for
  • from 1997 to 2000 = over a period of 3 years = over three years
  • the proportion of = the figure for
  • how to produce = the process of producing
  • proportion = percentage (segment and fraction are also useful terms for describing a pie chart)
  • in three countries = in the UK, Australia and New Zealand (i.e., name the countries)

Tips for answering a map question

Here are practical ways to help you get the first sentence in task 1 completed correctly and more quickly:

  • Look at the question and the title of the graph/chart. You'll get to know what you need to write.
  • Never copy all the words in the question -you can’t do this, because the examiner will not count those words when evaluating your work
  • Don't change all the words in the question. Instead, change some and keep others.
  • You can’t repeat whole sentences and long phrases, but you can borrow words. Also, remember that some common or technical words cannot be easily replaced.
  • Be sure to include the main ideas/points in the question, and write the main topic of the chart/graph.
  • With practice, one sentence or maybe two shorter ones will be enough – don’t write too much here.
  • Describe the topic in the first sentence – don’t try to write a summary of the entire chart's details.
  • Read a newspaper article and write a summary yourself. Show it to a friend. Here are some samples of academic task 1 essays. And here are some professional non-ielts sources written by experts: Economist Daily Chart , Guardian Data.
  • The phrase "figures for/the figure for" is a good one that most people don't use. For example, 'figures for unemployment in 5 countries are shown on the graph'.
  • You’ll be able to write the introduction for task 1 swiftly and start the test confidently if you practice this strategy.

Now that we understand the exam’s marking system, we can prevent common errors that reduce scores and give the examiners exactly what they want.


Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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More useful IELTS Academic Task 1 lessons: