Ready, Set…Write! How to Conquer the IELTS Writing Task 1 in 5 Easy Steps

The first part of the IELTS Writing test may seem super challenging.

Maybe you’re getting nervous just thinking about it!

After all, you only have 20 minutes to do everything: understand the task, plan and write.

However, if you know how to use your time wisely and well, you’ll be just fine.

You’ll even have a chance to proofread your writing at the end.

Just like with the speaking part of the test, it’s all about preparation.

In this post, we’ll look at five steps you can take to walk yourself through this part of the exam.

In the Writing Task 1, you’ll need to work with information presented in a graph, a bar or pie chart, a table, a diagram of stages, a sequence of events or a picture of an object showing how it works.

You’ll need to write at least 150 words.

Let’s get started!

The IELTS Writing Task 1: A Strategic 5-step Walkthrough

1. Plan Fast and Well

You can’t afford to write a detailed plan, as you only have so much time. But guess what? If you study the diagram, table or chart you are given, you can actually use that as a plan!

For instance, in this example task on the IELTS website, you have a table that shows “the number of students living in the UK gaining English language teacher training qualifications in 2007/8 and 2008/9, and the proportion of male qualifiers.”

The table shows the number of male and female students for both years, along with the total number and the percentage of male students. It also shows how many students gained a TEFL qualification, and how many a UCLES CELTA or other degree.

You can’t write a paragraph for each row or column of this table. You would end up with at least six paragraphs, which is too much to write in 20 minutes. However, you can study the table a bit and think about how you could group information around two main paragraphs.

For example, you may want to focus on 2007/8 in the first paragraph and 2008/9 in the second paragraph. Then you could present the rest of the information as details in each of the paragraphs.

Since the task asks you to make comparisons where relevant, an even better approach would be to write one paragraph focusing on similarities between the two years and one on differences.

Alternatively, you could write the first paragraph on differences between the numbers of males and females in the two years and the second paragraph on differences between the qualifications obtained.

2. Write an Effective Introduction

Imagine that the reader doesn’t have the information summary (graph, chart, etc.) in front of them. This will help you keep the information you include relevant.

You could write a whole separate introductory paragraph, but make sure it’s not too long or you may not have time for the body of your writing.

You may also decide to join the introduction and the first paragraph, but only do this in Writing Task 1, the shorter of the two writing tasks.

Your introduction must have a topic sentence that maps out the rest of your writing, giving your reader a sense of direction. Here’s an example of a topic sentence you could use for the information given above:

The aim of this report is to summarize data on the qualifications obtained by English language teachers in 2007/2008 as opposed to 2008/2009 while also studying the differences in the numbers of male and female teachers in both years.

3. Express Each Main Idea in a Separate Paragraph

Each paragraph needs to have one main idea. The other ideas in the paragraph will be supporting ideas.

By writing a pretty general introduction, like in the example above, you can keep your options open about how to structure the body of the report.

For example, you may decide to go with similarities in the first paragraph and differences in the second paragraph:

In both 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 the total number of female students exceeds the number of male students by over 75%. Moreover, the TEFL certificate is the qualification preferred by both male and female students, with at least two-thirds choosing TEFL over Cambridge UCLES CELTA and other degrees.

There are also a number of differences between the two years. There is a 2% drop in the number of male students who qualified in 2008/2009 as opposed to 2007/2008, despite the total number of students being slightly higher in the second year. As for the certificates students chose to take, there is an increased preference for Cambridge UCLES CELTA and other degrees for female and male students combined in 2008/2009 as compared to the previous year.

Depending on how much time you have left and whether you managed to write at least 150 words, you may decide to write a separate concluding paragraph. You can also just use the last paragraph to serve as a conclusion.

It’s OK not to have a separate concluding paragraph, because in this part of the writing exam you are not summing up arguments or expressing personal opinions.

Keep in mind that the above example is just one way you could organize the information. Taking another look at the “model answer” provided on the IELTS page will let you compare two different ways you could write about this information.

4. Use Clear and Helpful Language

Expressing Percentages

One helpful way of presenting numbers is using percentages.

Have a look at some language for expressing percentages that you may want to include in your own writing:

  • The smallest/largest percentage of students is currently unemployed.
  • Out of a total of 11,000 employees, only 15% are qualified.
  • The number of female drivers rose/dropped to 40% last year.
  • Their profit decreased/increased by 12%.
  • 20% of the recruits were from rural areas.
  • The percentage doubled/tripled in the next year.
  • There were more children than adults (70% and 30% respectively).

Expressing Changes

You may want to use other words and phrases to express changes. Here are a couple of useful ways to build phrases about changes.

  • Verb + adverb

The number of female employees having formal qualifications…

…rose dramatically.

…increased suddenly.

…decreased sharply.

…dropped steeply.

…fluctuated slightly.

…fell steadily. 

  • Adjective + noun

There was a dramatic rise in the number of female employees having formal qualifications.

Depending on the situation, you could also say, There was a…    

…sudden increase

…sharp decrease

…steep drop

…slight fluctuation

…steady fall

Achieving a Formal Tone

It’s a good idea to try to achieve an impersonal, formal tone and avoid being too subjective and informal.

To do this, avoid using “I” as the subject of a sentence:

Personal, subjective: I can notice that…

Impersonal, objective: It can be noticed that…

Use the infinitive (“to…”) after phrases like “it is necessary” or “it is important”:

It is necessary to instruct all new recruits.

It is important to organize reports well.

Use the gerund form of a verb (the “-ing” form) after phrases like “…involves”:

This part of the training involves participants working in pairs.

5. Don’t Skip Proofreading

Proofreading can help you gain some extra points by minimizing the number of mistakes in your writing. However, remember that you don’t have the time to rewrite entire sentences. You can make small corrections only—keep this in mind as you write!

Set aside around five minutes for proofreading when you’re done writing. Your priority is to finish the writing task, though, so don’t sacrifice writing time for proofreading time.

A good rule is to never hand in your writing early. Use whatever time you have left for proofreading.

If possible, proofread once for grammar and vocabulary mistakes and then once again for spelling mistakes. You may not notice spelling mistakes if you focus on grammar and vocabulary and vice versa.

Remember that this is a language test, so the evaluators will focus a lot on your grammar, vocabulary and spelling, as well as on your ability to organize your writing.

At the end, there isn’t much you can do about organization, but you can correct some small grammar, spelling or vocabulary mistakes.

The IELTS Writing Task 1 may seem difficult at first, but once you practice writing effectively, along with planning and proofreading, you’ll know exactly what to do on the big day!

Maybe even more importantly, preparing for this part of the exam will help you learn to present statistics in a logical and coherent (clear and consistent) way.

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