How to plan for academic task 1

How to plan your academic IELTS task 1 writing

In this tutorial we are going to look at a strategy for planning your academic IELTS task 1 writing and the reason we're going to talk about this is because it's very easy with the task 1 to jump in and start writing your answer without really carefully taking on board all the data you have in front of you and how you are going to use the time you have.

Why a strategy is a good idea.

Remember it is suggested that you only allow about 20 minutes for task 1 in the IELTS exam so you need to write as efficiently and as accurately as you can so that your answer will have maximum impact and therefore the chance for the best result possible.

A lack of planning and absence of a really careful and sensible strategy for planning your academic IELTS task 1 writing can result in you missing key data, such as identifying whether a chart is dynamic – that is, if it changes over time, or if it is static- giving you a snapshot of a particular moment, or what unit of measurement the numbers are given in.

This tutorial offers you three great things

  • WHAT you should look for when you see the graph or pie chart or bar chart or table or even a mixture of those - increasingly popular in recent exams at the moment.
  • HOW the planning works in action using a line graph to work through this process, then use notes to answer the question really efficiently.
  • BUILDS confidence and the ability to meet the criteria listed in the IELTS band assessment scores. Finally we will look at a band 7 model answer for the question and work on how this could be upgraded to a band 8 or even band 9.

1. Why is planning so important – I don’t have time!

The recommended time for IELTS writing task 1 is 20 minutes and it can seem like a real challenge to ‘select, report and compare’ so much data in that short time. But by taking 3 -4 minutes to plan you are actually saving time! How?

  1. If you know what to write, then the actual writing is easy!
  2. If you plan first, you will not waste time deciding what to write next.
  3. When you plan you write a few notes, and these will be the guide to your actual answer.
  4. Remember: it does not take long to write 150 words when you know what to say!

2. Taking notes and organising them. 

In an exam you are under pressure and you may think that you will remember what to say but also, when you are stressed, you may not…so make notes on a piece of paper (you will be provided with this in the exam room) and then make sure you organise them so you can use them really efficiently.

If you follow the planning strategy here then you will be ready when you get into the exam to use this 3-4 minutes time in the best possible way. Learn and practice the strategy before you go into the exam.

3. Match your plan to the task by understanding the rubric.

For academic writing task 1 diagrams the rubric or question is always the same. You are always asked to ‘summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons were relevant’. Let’s look at this in more detail because this is the basis of the strategy.

A 5 point strategy in 5 minutes.

1. Time period and vocabulary.

  • LOOK: Is the diagram dynamic (time changing) or static (one point in time). This tells you the kind of language you need (rose dramatically, fell steeply) or facts. The time period also tells you the tense you are going to use. This is so important and an area where lots of students make mistakes.
  • What is the data referring to? Student courses, computer owners, travel destinations. Thinking about this activates your vocab.

2. Step back and see the big picture.

  • Although it seems obvious check how many items are shown. In your pie chart, how many sections or segments are there? On a bar chart, how many countries or subjects or different cars are referred to, in a line graph, how many lines are there?
  • Is there a common overall pattern throughout the time period or in the static snapshot?
  • Check the title again just to make sure you have understood the data given.

3. Decide the main points to include.

  • Extremes - Take a pencil and circle the biggest/ smallest, highest/ lowest points,
  • Patterns – quickly note down the pattern – is it up or down or totally crazy (rising trend, fluctuations, overall gradual decline).
  • Note changes over time – anything substantial or dramatic.
  • Differences and similarities - If there are two images, do they include the same info or different things.
  • Make notes – WRITE down these things, however messily, because this will take the pressure off you when you start to write, and you will be just so much faster!

4. Can you see any possible comparisons?

  • This is really important – it is a fundamental part of the question and a lot of students do forget to make even basic comparisons. This question is not about reporting every bit of information you can see – it is about ‘comparing where relevant’ so you will lose marks if you do not do this.

5. Get ready! Organise!

  • One sentence to paraphrase the information in the question.
  • An overall / overview which is one or two sentences to give the highlights without including too much technical data or numbers.
  • Two main paragraphs with the information you have selected in your planning, the highs and lows, the trends, any dramatic movements, differences and similarities and exciting comparisons using great language.

For more help with your IELTS Writing tasks, take a look at our resources:

Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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