Describing a table is almost certainly the most challenging IELTS writing task. In this post I look at what causes the difficulty and suggest a technique for dealing with it. You will find two exercises and a model report at the end of the post to help you write the report yourself.
A sample task
Let’s look at this sample task and do a little analysis.
The table below shows the in which sector of the economy different age groups were employed.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, making comparisons where relevant
The problem – too much information
There are 30 different pieces of data here. How on earth can you describe all of that? The solution is simple: don’t try to! Remember the task is to summarise and to select the main features of the table. This means leaving some items of information out.
A solution – divide and conquer
My solution is to divide and conquer by looking at the table in columns and rows. This way you can more easily identify the key details and comparisons. The key is to understand that you have two sets of data:
- the data from the rows (across)
- the data from the columns (down)
Rather than try and understand the table as a whole all at once, look at each row in turn and each column in turn and note the main features.
What are the main features?
Typically, the main features are
- high numbers
- low numbers
- the biggest contrasts
- the closest similarities
Looking at this column, we see that we need to include 23 and 3 as the highest and lowest numbers
Now looking at the rows in turn we note the numbers for manufacturing are much higher than catering and agriculture.
Then once you have gone through each row and column, you need to look for the obvious comparisons and contrasts.
Organising your report
This is the simple bit. The logical thing is almost always to write one paragraph for the rows (here the sectors of employment) and one for the columns (here the age groups).
Confused? Well, it does take a little practice. Here is my solution. The first exercise takes you through the table asking you questions about the key details in the columns and rows. The next exercise gets you to write the report yourself based on a model I wrote.
exercise 1 find the key details
exercise 2 write the report