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Thinking about graphs and charts in academic task 1

This is the first in a series of postings about how to approach academic task 1 in the writing paper. The starting point is to be aware of the different types of charts and graphs you may see. The key point is that each chart and graph will require a different form of language.

The chart types

There are 4 different chart type you may see in the exam:

  1. the bar chart/line graph
  2. the pie chart
  3. the table
  4. the process/diagram

Static and dynamic charts

You should note that there are 2 major types of chart and graph: the static chart and the dynamic chart. The static chart shows only one period of time or has no time element. In contrast, the dynamic chart shows two or more periods of time or a change over a period of time.

It is essential to note this as static charts and dynamic charts require different language. You cannot use the famous “trend language” in static charts where there is no change in time. Many candidates focus exclusively on this language. That is a big mistake.

A video tutorial

In this video, I talk through the different chart types and describe some of the typical problems they present.

Are you from China?

Here is a Chinese friendly/non-Youtube version of the video.

The key language

What language do you need for academic task 1? It will depend on the chart/graph you see. These are the main possibilities:

topic specific language: if the graph is about leisure activities, you will need leisure activity language; if it is about employment, you will need employment language, etc. You should note that to get a reasonable score, you will need to vary the language in the question and the chart: it is not sufficient to copy that language.

comparison language: typically, you will need to compare and contrast in tables, charts and graphs. You will need this language whether the chart/graph is static or has a time element. To get a good score, you will need more than one comparison structure: it is not sufficient to repeat the same comparing structure every time.

trend/change language: this language is only appropriate in charts/graphs where there is a change of time. If there is no time element, or if there is only one period of time then you do not need this language.

process language: if you see a diagram or process, then you will need the language to describe processes (first, then, next etc)

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7 Responses to Thinking about graphs and charts in academic task 1

  1. Tami December 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Thank you so much for including a non-Youtube link for this video! I am not in China, but in another country that blocks Youtube. I have been using your site everyday this last week, as I am tutoring someone to prep for this exam! Thank you so much for your amazing resources. You really deserve a lot of advertising income from it!

    • Dominic Cole December 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm #


      I must remember to convert my older videos onto a non-Youtube site. Must say I am considering advertising but the idealist in me wants to keep it commercial free! You might be interested to know that just about my next step will be to set up some form of teaching resources section: still in the planning phase but imminent I hope.

      Can I ask whether you can access my Vimeo videos? It’s slightly easier that way for me.

  2. BAD PAINTER September 27, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Thank you so much to prepare the video specially for the chinese student.

  3. Glenn February 8, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    Thank you so much!

  4. Claudia September 15, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    Hi, sir,

    This page shows “Error 404 – Page not found!”. It’s about how to write conclusions in writing task 1, and I really want to read this page. Is there anything wrong? If so, could you please fix it? Thank you so much.

    • Dominic Cole September 15, 2015 at 2:18 pm #


      I was working on it as you wrote. It’s now back up again. I hope it helps.


  1. Tweets that mention IELTS task 1 – thinking about graphs and charts | Dominic Cole's IELTS Blog -- - December 5, 2009

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Renshaw and Dominic Cole, Amanda Wilson. Amanda Wilson said: RT: @englishraven RT @teacherdominic: AC IELTS pt 1 writing: vid tutorial on types of charts & graphs; 1st of series […]

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