After marking hundreds of Task 1 essays I noticed that most students make the same mistakes. Below are the 5 most common mistakes and how you can fix them and improve your writing.
Not Writing a Clear Overview
The overview is a short paragraph that tells the reader 2 or 3 of the most significant things about the chart, graph, table etc. It should contain no data and instead describe the main features in general terms.
If you look at the IELTS Marking Criteria for Task 1 it states that in order to get a Band 7 candidates must ‘present a clear overview of main trends, differences or stages.’ In other words, if you don’t write a clear overview you can’t get a Band 7 or above.
Writing About Everything
Every Academic Task 1 question states ‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features…’. ‘Summarise’ means that you only mention the main points, or as the question states ‘the main features.’
Lots of students try to write about every piece of information they see. This normally leads to a very disorganised essay and often means that you run out of time, or even worse, run over time and fail to complete Task 2.
Always keep in mind that the task is as much about what you do not write as you do write. This is often a case of prioritising. I tell my students when writing the overview that they can only tell the examiner 3 things and three things only about the graph and this prioritisation helps them write a more effective overview.
Over-complicating the Question
The examiners know that you have never seen the graph or chart before and that you only have 20 minutes to write about it, so they are not expecting miracles. To help you, the graphs are much simpler that you think. Look at the graph below and try to spot the three general trends. Try not to get caught up in the detail, just focus on what is happening generally from the start date to the end.
In general, one goes up, one goes down and one stays relatively stable. It is often that simple. If you reported those three main trends you would be correct, but many students (especially the higher level ones) think that this is too simple and try to find data that is not really there to find.
Not Organising Ideas Logically
The most logical way to organise a Task 1 essay is:
Paragraph 1- Introduction
Paragraph 2- Overview of main features
Paragraph 3- Details of main features 1
Paragraph 4- Details of main features 2
You could hand a Band 9 answer to a stranger and they would be able to read it once and then be able to roughly draw the graph or chart. Paragraphing and grouping ideas together logically help the reader understand everything more easily. See our lesson on Task 1 charts for more details about the structure above.
Describing Data Incorrectly
Describing general trends and changes in data requires very specific grammar structures and vocabulary.
The most common mistake is probably trying to use grammar or vocabulary you are not sure about. Remember that the grammar and meaning need to be correct, or you risk losing marks.
You should also avoid describing data too precisely. For example, if you look at the figure for ‘Car Theft’ in 2003, it would be better to say ‘approximately/around 2300’ or ‘just under 2500’ than ‘2300’ because we don’t know what the figures are exactly from just looking at the graph.