Pie charts – different ways to describe percentages

One task that seems to concern IELTS candidates is the pie chart. I think I understand why and I hope I have a solution. In this post I talk you through a major difficulty and give you some language to deal with it. There’s also an exercise at the end to test you out.

The difficulty – I have nothing to say

Typically, the problem is that candidates find they have very little to say about a pie chart in comparison with a bar chart. Really this is just a problem of language. Very often, candidates spend a long time learning about the language of trends when they prepare for task 1 and that language very rarely applies to a pie chart. You need some different language.

The necessary language

The key point is that whatever the chart looks like the language you need is the same. Take a look at these 3 pie charts and ask yourself what language you need.

A chart with percentages

A chart without any numbers

A chart with numbers

The answer should be obvious. When you look at all three pie charts, you should see that you need exactly the same language:it’s the language of percentages. By definition the whole pie is 100% and each share of that pie is also a percentage. It should make little or no difference how the pie chart is labelled.

Tip: if you see a pie chart without % figures written in, don’t panic. Consider what the % must be.

Different ways to describe percentages

Another possible problem is that you find yourself repeating the word “percentage”. Here are some helpful variations for you. There are variations possible in almost every case: using a fraction or a synonym such as proportion.




  1. “percentage” is more correct than “percent” (“per cent” is the correct spelling, though no one I know uses it!)
  2. “amount” is correctly used only with uncountable nouns: the variation for countables in “number”

Some practice

This is an area that needs some practice to get right. So I suggest you make a start by having a go at these two quizzes:

using percentages: a quick quiz checking you can know this language of percentages. It should be quite easy, so I’ve made it more challenging by making it timed!

write a task 1: can you use the language for yourself by doing a practice task 1 from the pie chart above. Try and write a good paragraph of  between 60 – 75 words.

More task 1 help

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51 Responses to Pie charts – different ways to describe percentages

  1. ieltscandidate December 2, 2010 at 11:40 pm #

    Thank you for your tips. I like all your posts because they are really useful.
    I don’t want to be a stickler but I have noticed a small mistake in the gapfill exercise ( the proportion of population who had no internet access is 19 per cent instead of 12% )
    Although, the “language” is more important, the numbers are just for sample.
    Best regards

    • Dominic Cole December 3, 2010 at 12:28 am #

      Thanks for the correction. A little bit embarrassing – but I am working late at night! I’ll get it changed.


      • Anonymous December 4, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

        Hello how are you.I have ielts exam on 13 December but I don’t have idea about pie chart especially with 2 or figures.could you please suggest me something…
        Kind regards

      • raman kumar November 4, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

        hay i am raman recent i have done my 12th class and now i am taking my ielts classes or facing too much problem in writing task one how i can do easly any one here for my help i dire need to help plz

  2. krish January 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    thanks a lot for ur help:)

  3. AK June 21, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    thank youu very much teacher, but i want ask if there is some way to write the conclusion of the pie chart ? :S

    • dominic June 21, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

      Add a conclusion here and I will have a look at it for you.

  4. AK July 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    ” In conclusion we can note that the consumers in UK prefer a diffrent ways to access for the internet, and they are bigger than the people who cant use the internet by far. ”

    What do you think sir ?

    • Dominic Cole July 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

      Sir! A little less formal please.

      Content fine but some language points.

      1. Try to find a better word than “bigger”: there’s always a better option in academic writing.

      2. “a diffrent ways”!!!! I’m going to sound like a teacher here: did you check that sentence?

      3. It’s always “the UK”

      4. Not sure that ‘prefer” is used correctly here. I see why you used it but sometimes simple words are better.

      My version of your version might look like this:

      In conclusion, we can note that consumers in the UK chose to access the internet in a number of different ways and that a relatively small minority had no internet access at all.

  5. AK July 8, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Thank you for your feedback, I will try to avoid all my mistakes in the next time .

    hope for you all the best.

  6. KC July 12, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    It is all very helpful indeed. This website is simply amazing, thanks for helping.

    but im strugging to get 150 words for this pie chart practice question. What can I do to improve that?

    Thankyou for your attention teacher.

    • Dominic Cole July 12, 2011 at 10:11 am #


      In the test itself, you are in fact slightly unlikely only to get a pie chart. If you do, it is almost certain to be more complex than this one.Typically, if you do get a pie chart, you also get another chart too. So I suggest that you aim to write a good paragraph about this pie chart not the full 150 words. That was my mistake and I confused you. I will go back and re-write this post/lesson a little.

      Next week I will be posting lots more on task 1. In particular, I hope to look at the situation when you get 2 or 3 graphics and when you get a process diagram.

  7. KC July 12, 2011 at 11:17 am #


    My first attempt for the ielts exam is this saturday but I will definitely recommend your website to my friends, it is by far the best online teaching website I’ve ever seen. Thank you.

    • Dominic Cole July 12, 2011 at 11:53 am #

      Please do. The more the merrier as we say.

      • Dominic Cole July 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

        Oh just read your comment properly. Good luck Saturday. My best advice is to nothing the day before the test or if you do, try this:

        make a strategy for each paper – be clear about how to spend your time and your approach

        if you do a practice test: do an “open books” test where you see the answers: really helps you understand the format and you don’t get stressed by getting everything wrong!

        Let me know how it goes.

  8. alireza August 25, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    hello mr. cole first of I would like to thank you for your help and tip specialy for writing, I have one question today I have passed the ielts exam and in listenig part I had some mistake like I should have written Tuesday but I wrote tuseday .however I know that in cambridge’s exam low it doesn’t have any score but I would like to know does it affect on overal score? I mean Tuesday was the right answer and I figured it out but I spelled in a wrong way and what is killing that firstly I wrote Tuesday and then erased and wrote the wrong answer pleaseeee answer. I realy got dipress
    best regard

  9. Thi September 24, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Really really thx your IELTS Tips. Lots of thx!

  10. koko September 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    dear DOMINIC

    is it correct??? A insignificant amount or AN ….?

  11. Iranian Candidate October 18, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Dear Mr. Cole

    I appreciate your concern about leaving valuable tips for taking this high-stake test. Also it is kind of you to put all these information online for free. I am going to take the test On Nov 26 so I was wondering if you could reply my comments and give feedback on my performance. Thanks you in advance.


  12. negar October 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    thanks for your advises. please give more example and information for us

  13. Simar October 24, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    Thank you sir for your valuable advice but I want to ask you how can we write 150 words while explaining a pie chart ?

    • Dominic Cole December 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

      In the exam itself you are very unlikely to just get a pie chart to write about. If you do get one, you are almost certain to get another diagram as well.

  14. Hasib November 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm #


    • Anonymous February 4, 2015 at 6:33 am #


  15. Mae November 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi there Sir Dominic,

    ONE THING: You are heaven sent! 🙂

    I just found your blog the other day and I am glued. I will be taking the IELTS exam early next month.

    THANK YOU very much. You are doing a wonderful job!

    God bless you. More power!

  16. mara January 4, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    hello there!

    I just wanted to ask that in case we get a pie chart along with another chart, would that other chart be a pie chart as well or a different kind of graphs?
    and in case we had both, do we divide the 150 words in between?
    P.S: thanks for the amazing blog

    • Dominic Cole January 4, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      Good question. You can get any combination of charts and graphs – though I think it unlikely you would get 2 pie charts together. And no you are not necessarily going to go 75 words and 75 words – though you do need of course to cover both charts in your answer. It just depends. I realise that this is not very helpful of me but there are times when one chart/graph has significantly more information than the other. Or to put it another way, one chart explains a detail if the other chart. In that case, you are likely to write more about one than the other.

      Currently, i am focussing on essays, but I will try and post something more helpful on task 1 in the nearish future.

  17. nabeel March 10, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    tel me teacher , how can i define above pie chart ?? i don’t understand.. please give me the easy formula for define pie chart in own word ..


  18. huong March 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    thank you very much for your lesson! easy to understand and very useful!

  19. Trang Nguyen April 20, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    Amazing! Thanks alot! I will definitely recommend your blog to anyone who’s working on their IELTS Test Preparation 🙂

  20. Michaela April 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Hello, Mr. Cole!
    Your blog is wonderful and really helpful! Thank you!

    I have a question about whether it is appropriate to repeat the percetage by using the fraction. For example:

    The number of British without access to the Internet accounts for only 19%, or nearly a fifth of the population.

  21. preet August 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    hey Cole,
    I m an IELTS Trainer. i just want to know that can i use phrase like – lion’s share in it?????

    • Dominic Cole August 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Probably best not. You are aiming to use “formal language” in the IELTS writing and “lion’s share” is idiomatic and so less formal. This is not an absolute rule though – I’d say you need to make sure that overall the writing is formal and that any idiom’s are used sparingly.

  22. preet August 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    thanx alot Cole, one of my student asked me that, but i was not sure, now i can give him ans……..
    thanx to u

  23. Lala August 3, 2013 at 3:20 am #

    Your blog is excellently pragmatic! Thank you. God bless you 🙂

    • Lala August 3, 2013 at 3:33 am #

      Sorry, I meant to say web site, not a blog.

  24. darzkhi June 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    I THINK the image on the gap fill exercise pie chart is somewhat broken?

  25. just persian September 6, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    thank you very much for your hint
    please write more example mr. cole

  26. loraine January 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    hello Dominic!

    I tried to compose for the sample pie chart you’ve posted here. If you have time, can you check it for me? Can you give me a score for it?
    ( Just for me to know how I do). The picture has incomplete information but I will just assume that it’s in the UK and concerns the different ways
    of access to the internet.

    The pie chart illustrates the different ways of how British consumers access the internet. It is evident that the members of the population
    most commonly use cables while dial up connections, the least.

    Overall, the topmost proportion, which is almost half of the total population, uses cable for their internet connection. This has been followed
    by almost a quarter of the UK populace having their internet connections through mobile telephones. Among the various ways of access,
    19% of the population or about 30% less of the cable users utilizes dial up connection for their internet, which has been reflected as the
    figure with the smallest number of usage.

    Furthermore, it has also been noted that the exact total percentage of British internet users is 88% leaving a small fraction of the population
    that is about a tenth of them, showing non-usage of any access for the internet.

    I hope to hear from you. I am scheduled to have my exam on Feb. 7, 2014. Hope you could help me. Thank you so much!

  27. loraine January 22, 2015 at 5:02 pm #

    Feb. 7, 2015, rather. Got a little bit disoriented with the year. 🙂

  28. Deep May 30, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    i like quiz part….. nd video is very useful

  29. asmaa nofal September 12, 2015 at 3:18 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    please can i send you some of my works on essay and some on writing task 1 pie chart and others , really i need you to correct my answers and give me some advises.

    Thank you, i really appreciate if you can help me

  30. Wagner October 23, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    Thank you for the great resources.
    They are truly helpful.
    I still find it a little bit difficult,though, because I feel I’m not writing what I should or comparing it appropriately.
    Even though the sample answers are just a way of writing, I don’t think my comparisons were good.
    There is little time to write and check my work, even though I only spend 3 minutes analysing the chart.
    Do you have any suggestions?



  31. Su Su March 2, 2016 at 2:25 am #

    Thank you. It is really helpful <3

  32. Randal August 11, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Describing a pie chart, Can I use the words ”HIGHEST/GREATEST” proportion/percentage rather than ”LARGEST” proportion/percentage?

    Thank you

  33. Ruslan September 24, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    Dear Dominic,
    I wonder if I can paraphrase a pie chart as a circle graph, or it sounds strange, unnatural and artificial?

    • Dominic Cole September 28, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

      It would be odd. I’d stick with pie chart

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