In this lesson I give you a quick outline on using tenses in task 1 writing. This is a common problem for many candidates who forget to use the correct tense.
In some ways, the advice is quite simple and can be summarised in these two tips:Look to see whether the chart/graph is about the past, present or future Check that you don’t change tense half way through the summary
Some basic examples of how to choose the correct tense
The golden rule is to look at the title of the chart/graph and the x/y axes to see what time is used there. You then use that time to choose the tense you write in:
if the time is 1999 then you choose the past
if the time is 2030 you choose a future
if there is no time you use the present simple
It really doesn’t make too much difference if you are looking at a pie chart or a bar graph here. The idea is the same.
Look at this pie chart. What time does it show? Which tense would you choose?
This should be easy. The time is 1999 and so you will use the past tense.
Look at this bar chart. What time does it show? What tense would you use?
This may be slightly more confusing. You can’t see any time. You should look though at the words in the title: “use most frequently” is a present tense and so the chart is about general present time and so you will want the present simple.
Look at this pie chart and do the same thing:
I hope you see that this pie chart refers to the future and so we’ll need a future tense to describe the information in it.
Some more complex examples – varying your tenses
Sometimes you get charts/graphs that allow you to use more than one tense.
Example 1 – charts with changes in time in the past – using different verb forms
Look at this bar graph. What are the times? Which tenses can you use?
You see here the years from 1999 to 2007. This means that you want the past. It is possible just to use the past simple:
The average price was £97,500 and then it rose to almost £130,000 and then it dropped slightly in 2006 and finally fell to around £110,000 in 2007.
Correct English, but boring. You want to try and vary your grammar to get a higher score. What you can do here is
After it had reached a peak of almost £130,000 in 2005, the average price dropped slightly in 2006 before finishing the period at £117,000 in 2007
The change in time (from 1999 to 2007) allows you to use the past perfect (had tense) too and you can also use a participle (-ing form) in the same way.
Example 2 – charts/graphs with the past and future – using two tenses
In this next example you should see that the you will need to use more than one tense just because the two charts relate to different times – the past and the future. [I should add that this is an unusual example]
Here the easy answer is that you use a future to describe the first chart and a past for the second one. The simple thing to do is use one paragraph for one chart and another for the other – being careful to get your tenses right each time.
But there is a more complex answer too. You need really to compare the changes in sources of power – from 2012 – 2030. To do this you may use one of the less usual tenses in English – the future perfect:
By 2030 the use of coal will have decreased by 10%.
The idea remains the same though – if there is something in the future you want to use a verb form that is also future..