This lesson looks at possibly the hardest of the academic task one diagrams – the table. I have taken the Olympics medal table – a difficult table to describe because it contains so much data. If you can accurately describe this table, then IELTS tasks should be easier. In many ways, the key is to allow yourself as much thinking time as possible – if you understand the table, then it is much easier to summarise it.
To help you along the way, I suggest a 3/4 step thinking process that should allow you to analyse the table and give you some tasks to test your skills, before showing you my sample answer with writing notes.
Test yourself before you start
You will find my sample answer below and my description of how I wrote it. A suggestion is that you try and describe the table yourself before looking at my version and to compare my answer with yours.
Understanding the problem – too much information
The problem is that this table gives you 50 pieces of data. You cannot include all this information – the idea is to select and summarise the main points and make relevant comparisons. This means that before you write you need to spend time analysing and understanding the data. This is normally harder in tables as they are the least visual of all the diagrams – you need to look at just numbers.
A possible solution
Numbers can be confusing. So here is a possible solution. It helped me write my answer and it is a model that could/should work for most tables. It means doing two things:
1. deciding how to organise your answer – find two main topic paragraphs – the key ideas
2. looking at the extremes and how you would group information together – the main points and the comparisons
Finding paragraph topics – the key ideas
You will almost always want to organise your report into two main topic paragraphs. This means that each paragraph should be about one idea. So, the very strong suggestion is that you spend time deciding what those topics should be. They are normally “big things”. If you don’t get them, it may be because you think they are too obvious.
Look at the medals table above and decide how you would organise the paragraphs. Think about how the table is organised. Your report wants to mirror the organisation of the table itself.
You may have a different logical solution. If so, leave me a comment below. There is always/nearly always at least two different ways of approaching these tasks. My idea is this:
- the table is organised by number of gold medals won – that should make one paragraph – it’s the most accurate way of describing the table – from first to last
- the other paragraph relates to the total number of medals won – this gives different data – it’s a convenient way of looking at the bronzes and silvers – and, well, after gold medals, the total number of medals is the next most important item of information
Noting the extremes
Important information to be included almost always includes the ideas of “the most” and “the least” – the extremes. This helps organise your report and is a first step to making some comparisons.
Look at the table and answer these questions. In some ways, the key to doing this is to understand that you may be looking at more than country at once. Also. as you look at the total medal count, you may also want to make some comparison/contrast with the gold medal count.
- Which country or countries won the most gold medals?
- Which country or countries won the fewest gold medals?
- Which country or countries won the most medals overall?
- Which country or countries won the fewest?
Here are my answers. As you work through this, you should see that I group countries together (to include as much info as possible) and I also begin to make some comparisons between the gold medal count and the total medal count:
- USA and China I would put together – they won a similar amount of gold medals. I’d also include GB and Russia together – maybe in another sentence. In comparison to the other countries, they are much closer to USA and Russia
- All of the other countries I would group together. Looked at overall, there is very little difference between 7 golds and 12 golds.
- USA is again clearly first. Here though I would emphasise the fact that Russia and China had very similar medal totals. It is also possible to make a contrast with GB here that won comparatively few total medals.
- This is the complex question. The countries I would emphasise are Hungary with the least at 17, but also South Korea which has a low medal total when compared to its gold medal count.
Grouping similar data together
The next step I consider is how to group countries together. This is necessary from two points of view:
- it helps make comparisons – part of the task
- it allows you to summarise more effectively – again part of the task
Look at the table above and decide:
- which countries you would group together when describing the gold medals
- which countries you would group together when describing the total medals
Here is my answer. Much of this should already be obvious from the previous tasks:
- USA and China
- GB and Russia
- The others (in order)
- China and Russia (contrast to GB)
- South Korea and Hungary (half of total medals gold)
- Germany and Australia (only 20-25% gold)
- France and Italy (almost equal spread of medals)
What are the details to include?
The key is that before you start to write, you should have some key points you want to emphasise. If you have worked your way through the tasks, you should have some idea about these. You will find my ideas below.
- Order of gold medals and total medals are different – meaning one paragraph for each
- USA and China top of both
- Comparison between GB and Russia
- Big gap between top 4 in gold medals and rest
- Comparison between Australia/Germany and South Korea/Hungary in total medals
See my answer
This table shows the ten most successful countries in the 2012 Olympics, from it we can see the number of gold, silver and bronze medals each country won. The ranking of the nations is organised according to the number of gold medals and not the total number of medals won.
In terms of gold medals, the two most successful nations were the USA and China which won 46 and 38 golds respectively. After Great Britain and Russia in third and fourth place with 29 and 24 golds, there was a significant gap to the other nations (South Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and Australia), all of which won between 13 and 7 gold medals only.
When we look at the total medals won, the United States was still the most successful nation with over 100 medals and Hungary the least with only 17. Russia with 82 medals overall, however, was only slightly behind China in second place, while Great Britain dropped to fourth place with 65 medals. Of the other nations, it is notable how almost half of South Korea’s and Hungary’s total medals were golds, whereas only between one quarter and one fifth of Germany’s and Australia’s medals were gold. France and Italy, in contrast, won an almost equal proportion of golds, silvers and bronzes.
“The ranking of the nations is organised according to the number of gold medals and not the total number of medals won.”
I choose to start with this summary type statement as it introduces my two main idea/paragraphs – gold medal count and total medal count
there was a significant gap to the other nations (South Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and Australia), all of which won between 13 and 7 gold medals only.
There is too much detail to include everything. I put these countries in order to show the order they finished and group them together as there is a “significant gap” between the number of golds they won and those the other 4 countries won. It is not necessary to say exactly how many each country won
When we look at the total medals won, the United States is still the most successful nation with over 100 medals and Hungary the least with only 17.
I start the second para by giving the high figure and the low figure so the reader can picture the table.
These are excellent structures to allow you to combine information in one longer sentence and make a comparison/contrast at the same time.