IELTS Writing Task 1: describing numbers and percentages

IELTS Writing Task 1: describing percentages

Here are 3 useful techniques for describing percentages:

  1. English speakers usually put the percentage at the start of the sentence.
  2. Use while, whereas or compared to (after a comma) to add a comparison.
  3. Use “the figure for” to add another comparison in the next sentence.

Use these examples as models for your own sentences:

In 1999, 35% of British people went abroad for their holidays, while only 28% of Australians spent their holidays in a different country. The figure for the USA stood at 31%.

Around 40% of women in the UK had an undergraduate qualification in 1999, compared to 37% of men. The figures for the year 2000 rose slightly to 42% and 38% respectively.

It’s useful to think about how to start your sentences. For example, here are some sentences about the year 1970:

  1. 60 million tonnes of goods were transported by road.
  2. The amount of goods transported by road totalled 60 million tonnes.
  3. Road vehicles were used to transport 60 million tonnes of goods.

You should notice that it’s much easier to begin with the number (sentence 1). This is how I usually prefer to write sentences for task 1.
Number 2 is good, but you might find that you repeat “the amount of goods” too many times if you only use this type of sentence.

Number 3 is the most difficult. You can’t say “Road was used”, so you have to add the word “vehicles”. Most students make a mistake here.

IELTS Writing Task 1: comparing numbers

Can you work out what the missing words in the paragraph below are?

In 1970, around 5 million people travelled to work by car each day, _____ _____ about 4 million who used the bus _____ _____ 2 million who commuted by train. Over the next 30 years there was a significant increase in the number of car users, to almost 7 million, _____ a steady rise in rail passengers, to 3 million. _____ _____, the number of bus commuters decreased slightly.

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IELTS Writing Task 1: ages and age groups

It’s easy to make small mistakes when describing ages and age groups. Here are some examples that should help.

One person:

  • He is 10 years old.
  • He is a 10-year-old.
  • He is aged 10.

More than one person:

  • The children in the class are all 10 years old.
  • It is a class of 10-year-olds (or “10-year-old children”).
  • The children in the class are all aged 10.

Age groups with more than one person:

  • The chart shows the preferred hobbies of children (who are) between 10 and 12 years old.
  • The chart shows the preferred hobbies of 10- to 12-year-olds (or “10- to 12-year-old children”).
  • The chart shows the preferred hobbies of children aged 10 to 12.

If you miss the hyphens (-), it’s not a big problem. It won’t affect your score.

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IELTS Writing Task 1: bar charts with age groups

A few people have asked about the question on page 52 of Cambridge IELTS 5. It shows two bar charts with age groups. Click here to see the question.

As usual, I recommend writing 4 paragraphs:

  1. A quick introduction to say what the charts show.
  2. An overview of the main features - one sentence for each chart.
  3. Describe the first chart in detail.
  4. Describe the second chart in detail.

Here’s an example introduction and overview:

The first bar chart compares students of different ages in terms of why they are studying their chosen courses, and the second chart compares the same age groups in terms of the help they require at work.

It is clear that the proportion of people who study for career purposes is far higher among the younger age groups, and decreases steadily with age. The need for employer support also decreases with age, but only up to the point when employees enter their forties.

IELTS Writing Task 1: nouns and verbs

When describing changes I prefer to avoid words like soar, rocket and plummet because they are too “sensationalist” - they exaggerate too much, and are more journalistic than academic in style.

Instead, we can demonstrate good control of grammar by using words like increase, rise and fall as both nouns and verbs:

  • London saw a significant increase in the cost of homes. (noun)

  • The cost of homes in London increased significantly. (verb)

  • There was a rise in house prices between 1990 and 1995. (noun)

  • House prices rose between 1990 and 1995. (verb)

  • There was a 7% fall in the average house price in Tokyo. (noun)

  • The average Tokyo house price fell by 7%. (verb)

IELTS Vocabulary: soar, rocket, plummet

In Thursday’s lesson I suggested that you should avoid using words like soar, rocket and plummet when describing changes on a graph or chart. I explained that these words exaggerate too much, and that they are not ‘academic’.

But someone asked this sensible question:

How can we get a high score for lexical resource (vocabulary) if we only use common words like ‘increase’, ‘rise’ and ‘fall’?

The quick answer is that it’s better to use ‘less common vocabulary’ for other aspects of your description. If you analyse this band 9 essay, you’ll see that I used common words like rose, decreased, reaching and dropped to describe changes, but I managed to use ‘less common vocabulary’ for other aspects of my description e.g. global turnover, devices, namely, platform.

I’ll explain more about how to get a high vocabulary score tomorrow.

IELTS Writing Task 1: the most important skill

Probably the most important skill for writing task 1 is being able to describe numbers correctly. IELTS candidates make a lot of basic mistakes in this area.

Take the simple table below for example. It shows the percentages of people who used two different forms of communication in the year 2012.


Can you write one correct sentence to describe the numbers in the table? Here is the big mistake that examiners see all the time:

In 2012, text message was 95%, while email was only 52%. (don’t write this)

Can you see what the problem is here? Try translating the sentence into your language exactly as it is. Does it make sense?

IELTS Writing Task 1: where to put the figure

Let’s compare some sentences with figures in different positions.

  1. Figures at the beginning of sentences:
  • 10 million people voted in the election.
  • A quarter of the population voted.
  • 25% of people voted in the election.
  1. Figures at the end of sentences:
  • The number of people who voted in the election was 10 million.
  • The proportion of the population that voted was a quarter.
  • The figure for people who voted in the election was 25%.

For me, the sentences in the first group (with figures at the beginning) seem clearer and more natural. While it’s good to vary your sentence structure, it’s probably best to have the “figure at the beginning” structure as your first choice.

IELTS Writing Task 1: comparing numbers

Fill the gaps in the following text using the words below it. If you find any of the gaps difficult, miss them and come back to them after doing the easier ones.

Emigration from the UK

The number of people leaving the UK for 12 months or more ______ ______ record ______ in 2008, ______ an estimated 427,000 people emigrating. This ______ ______ from 341,000 in 2007.

There has been a large ______ ______ the number of people emigrating for work related reasons, particularly those with a definite job to go to. In 2008 an estimated 136,000 people emigrated from the UK to take up a definite job, ______ ______ 100,000 in 2007.

  • in
  • high
  • increase
  • up
  • reached
  • with (x2)
  • a
  • compared
  • was

Cụm ‘a record high’ nghe hay hơn hẳn ‘a high record’ ạ. Nếu dùng ‘a high record’ thì có phải + of gì đó không ạ?

@Duc_Giap_Nguyen trong trường hợp này thì 2 cái nghĩa khác nhau nha, không phải là cái nào sang hơn cái nào mà mình dùng đâu.
Record high tức là mức cao kỷ lục (so sánh cao nhất), còn high record là kỷ lục/số liệu ghi nhận ở mức cao, không mang tính so sánh

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IELTS Writing Task 1: notice real examples

I was reading The Economist yesterday, and I noticed these sentences:

America’s total student debt, at over $1.5trn, is larger than the national borrowing of most countries. It has quintupled in size since 2004, overtaking both borrowing on credit cards and car finance.

I’ve highlighted a few useful features in the two sentences:

  1. adding a statistic between two commas using “at”
  2. a comparative: larger than
  3. cohesion (referencing) using the pronoun “it”
  4. quintupled = increased fivefold
  5. overtaking: you may be able to use this word when describing a graph
  6. comparing and contrasting using “both… and…”

If you’re reading articles in English, look out for real examples of the types of description that you might use for an IELTS task.

Liệu có thể thay cụm ‘in size’ trong câu trên bằng ‘in amount’ hay ‘in figure(s)’ không ạ?

@Duc_Giap_Nguyen in amount thì ok, nhưng in figure không sai nhưng nghe hơi lạ, k phổ biến e nhé

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@AndyNova Thầy cho em hỏi thêm là trong cụm ‘the size of the bill’ thì thay size bằng amount liệu có hợp lý không ạ?

@Duc_Giap_Nguyen Bill nào em nhỉ, trong topic này k thấy có chữ bill

Bill có thể là hóa đơn hoặc là dự luật, và size hay amount thì thường có thể dùng tương đương nhau khi nói về những thứ chủ yếu là không đếm dc
ngoài ra amount nghĩa rộng hơn và bao trùm nghĩa của size
a quantity of something, especially the total of a thing or things in number, size, value, or extent.

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