In this lesson I talk you through a sample pie chart answer in task 1. The main focus is to try and help you think about how you can organise your answer. One way – and perhaps the best way – to do this is to organise how you approach the question.
This can involve asking yourself a series of questions before you start writing. This may take time but it is time well spent. Most avoidable mistakes in task 1 come from people writing too soon. You just need to train yourself that you can ask and answer these questions in a time efficient way.
If you like the ideas and are looking for practice, then you’ll find my teacher version has a download with more charts to practise.
The charts below show the distribution of families with children by employment status in Canada in 1976 and 2014
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, making comparisons where relevant
What are the charts about?
Don’t forget to ask yourself this question. The first step should always be to read the title of the charts carefully. It is very easy to miss a key detail by reading too quickly. In this case, you need to see that the charts are not just about families in Canada but about income too.
This is information that you need to include in your introduction. You must include language that relates to both families/parents and work/income.
You should also see what time the charts relate to. This tells you which tenses to use – a very common mistake. Here you should note that we need past tenses.
What type of charts are they?
They’re pie charts of course but you don’t get any marks for that. What you need to consider is how the two charts relate to each other. You should see in this case:
- they contain the same headings – that helps you organise the information
- they are about different periods of time – this tells you that you need some “trend language”
What are the main points?
This is a really important question. This is a summary task and you need to identify the big points and not just describe everything. Here it should be quite easy to see. Just try looking at the changes in colour – think visually. Questions to ask yourself are:
- what has changed most?
- what is big?
- what is little?
Don’t worry if these questions seem simple. The main points are normally easy to see – simple things. You just have to identify them and make them clear.
What details do I need?
You do of course need some details too. The details you need include:
- supporting details for the main points
- enough details to summarise the whole chart – that means including all the information in the key below – i.e. you must mention all the categories
- some numbers but not all the numbers. It often works to look at the highest and lowest figures
Test yourself a little
Look at the charts and decide what you think are the key points and which details you need to include. If you click on the icons you’ll get my answers.
What language do I need?
This is also something to think about before you start.You want to think about two things:
- what type of language do I need to summarise the chart? (e.g. numbers/comparison/change etc)
- how can I vary my language?
Candidates often forget to vary their language and repeat words and phrases too much. This is easy to do as you are writing about the same things and you can get stuck on one word if you don’t concentrate. Another point to note is that you shouldn’t copy words from the question/charts too much.
Here you should see that you want:
family and work words: some to think about parent – mother – father – earn – work – single mother – couple – breadwinner
number/percentage words: pie charts are all about percentages but you don’t want to repeat that word all the time. Think about proportion – majority – figure
change/trend words: ask yourself how much things have changed by. Is the change major/minor/significant/dramatic?
How can I organise my answer?
You need to write in paragraphs in task 1 – they’re marks for this. So before you start writing your should decide how many paragraphs you are going to write and what each one is about.
There’s no need to be fancy here. Simple is often the best solution. You just want to be clear in what you do so the examiner can see the organisation. Ideas include:
- If they’re two charts, very often the simplest solution is to write one paragraph about each chart
- You should start with the main points and add details later
- You should typically move from big to small and early to late – be logical
Don’t forget to include some form of summary statement. This can come either right at the beginning or right at the end.
Here I do the simple thing and use one paragraph per chart. When I get to the second chart though, I don’t just describe it I also talk about what has changed.
I also group the smaller items together: this helps me avoid repetition and focus on the main points.
Sample answer and notes
These charts show how there was a significant change in the working status of parents in Canada between 1976 and 2014. It is clear that there was a major shift from fathers being the sole breadwinner to more dual income families and single mothers.
In 1976 a huge majority of families were financially supported either by the father or by both parents: 51% and 33% respectively. None of the other categories of couples with no income, single fathers, single mothers and couples where the mother was the only earner accounted for more than 8%.
This situation was quite different in 2014. By that time, dual income families had become easily the largest category at 55%. It is also striking how the father being the sole earner had fallen dramatically to only 17%. Equally notable is how the proportion of lone mothers had doubled to 16%. The figures for couples with no income, single fathers and the mother as the major breadwinner all rose but still only accounted for only 8% of the total.
Notes on organisation
These charts show how there was a significant change
This is a good start as it immediately identifies the key point – there was change. The “These charts show how” is a helpful model to borrow as if you use it you will be more able to change the wording of the title. You can keep some of the same words, you just need to use them differently.
It is clear that there was a major shift from fathers being the sole breadwinner to more dual income families and single mothers.
This is my summary statement. I prefer normally to put it right at the start. Note how I don’t use any numbers here – that’s a detail that comes later. Note also the word “shift” which is a useful variation of the word “change” I have already used.
In 1976 a huge majority of families were financially supported either by the father or by both parents: 51% and 33% respectively
I do what I think is the simple thing and make my first topic paragraph about the the first chart in 1976. I can then use my next paragraph to show what has changed. I start off with the big point and the big numbers. Again this is logical.
None of the other categories of couples with no income, single fathers, single mothers and couples where the mother was the only earner accounted for more than 8%.
This is a summary. I don’t include all the detail but I do name all the categories. I also group information together. This is a really useful skill to learn as it helps you avoid repetition. If you go through each category one by one. you will almost certainly repeat yourself too much.
This situation was quite different in 2014.
Don’t be afraid of the really short sentence from time to time. Here it works as it clearly shows the main point of the paragraph. It’s also a useful tip to start off paragraphs with slightly shorter sentences.
By that time, dual income families had become easily the largest category at 55%. It is also striking how the father being the sole earner had fallen dramatically to only 17%. Equally notable is how the proportion of lone mothers had doubled to 16%. The figures for couples with no income, single fathers and the the mother as the major breadwinner all rose but still only accounted for only 8% of the total.
Note how this is logical and organised. I start with the major changes and bigger numbers and work down to the smaller numbers.
Also note how I remember to link my writing together. The highlighted phrases “It is also striking how” and “Equally notable” are linking phrases. Always try to join your sentences – even in task 1!!!
Notes on language
This answer uses some useful words and phrases you can borrow.
Identifying main points
You don’t just want to identify the main points, you also want to show the examiner what they are. Here are some useful phrases for that:
- It is clear that
- It is also striking how
- Equally notable is
Dealing with numbers
Here are two very useful words/phrases for dealing with numbers:
- respectively – this is a neater way of saying “apples rose by 10% and oranges rose by 15% ” i.e. “the price of apples and oranges rose by 10 and 15% respectively.”
- accounted for – this is a more technical “was” as in “this only accounted for 8% of the total”
Get the tenses right
There are also marks for grammar. This means you want to use different structures and not just not make mistakes. Here we have two different times in the past and so you should at least think about using the past perfect as well as the past simple.
Why not improve your general language skills by reading a bit more about this topic. There’s something to learn from these resources:
Stay at home mothers fall to a record low – newspaper article with charts and lots of useful language for numbers.
A rise of stay at home mothers – a readable report from a research institute with lots more charts and graphs to practise your skills on
House husbands: Are you man enough? – A brief article on the rise of the house husband with lots of useful family and career vocabulary
Employment patterns of families with children – the source of the data in this lesson with more charts and graphs with useful language.