Top Tips for IELTS

Academic task 1 – bar charts explained

In academic task 1 it is important to learn how to read a chart and a graph. This is because the instructions always tell you to summarise and select and report on the main features of the graphic. Many candidates make the mistake here of including as much detail as possible in their report. This brief tutorial gives you a sample task 1 report and some tips on how to select the main features of a bar chart.

The task

The task in academic part 1 almost always contains these words:

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

This means that you cannot/should not try to report all the detail in the visual. If you do, it will be hard to write well in 150 words and more importantly you may be penalised on task response.

Some tips

Here are some general tips to help you select the main features on bar charts in brief.

  1. look at the top
  2. look at the bottom
  3. can you see an average?
  4. are there any exceptions?

An exercise

Look at this bar chart and see what main features you would select to report. There are at least 21 different features on the chart and you cannot report them all! Then watch the video below to see if you agree with me. My sample answer is further down the page.

Task 1 Life Expectancy

Some video advice

If you prefer try this quiz

<a href=”” mce_href=””>how_to_read_a_bar_chart</a>

A sample answer

Read through this sample answer to see how you can use the main features to help organise your writing. You should note that the report is organised into 2 main body paragraphs which relate to the 2 main points:

  1. difference due to geography
  2. difference due to gender

This is only possible because I spent time selecting the main features. The message is that if you spend time and plan properly in this way, your writing will improve.

Academic IELTS task 1 – Life expectancy chart


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33 Responses to Academic task 1 – bar charts explained

  1. spencer_dj December 26, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

    • Dominic Cole December 26, 2009 at 8:05 am #

      No problem. On Twitter I am teacherdominic.

  2. arman January 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Mr. dominic, how could you conclude that the greatest difference in united states is 5 years longer? instead it needed a little bit calculation to examine the gap, and so did the others, didnt it?

    secondly, who “people” in the beginning of the second paragraph refers to? male, female, or the total? bcz i saw 83 is refers to female..

    last, what is the function of ‘total’ in making the report? is it useful? bcz i found you ignored it in your writing.

    i ever met such ths kind of task, and i found it difficult for me to explore, so i do need your explanation. thx very much mr. Dominic

    • Dominic Cole January 13, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

      First of all thanks for the comment. I really enjoy getting comments and this is a particularly intelligent one.

      I use “people” to refer to both “males and females” and “males or females”. You make a good point that it is women who live to 83 and not men. Am I wrong to use the word “people”? I don’t believe so. In this second paragraph I am looking at the totals/average figures and I leave the distinction between men and women to the next topic paragraph. I am looking for a way to organise the report and that is the way I chose.

      It’s certainly not the only way, but it is one logical approach and I like it because I am moving from the general to the more particular which is often a good idea.

      This bring me onto your second point about “total”. Do I mention the word? No. I use another word instead: “average”. There is in fact a good reason why I chose not to use “total” and I was planning a brief post on this anyway. Let me try and explain.

      “Male life expectancy” is a good phrase
      “Female life expectancy” is a good phrase
      “Total life expectancy” does not really work as a phrase.

      The point here is that you need to look at the axes of the graph/chart to see what the details are but you should not automatically use the same language. in the same way, the chart axis has “United States” but in the report you need to write “the United States”

      If you want to keep the word “total”, what you would need to say is something like “life expectancy in the total population”. That’s quite a long phrase and it is in my experience difficult language to create under pressure. I used “average” because it is straightforward language.

      How could I conclude the difference was 5 years? I didn’t. What I wrote was “about 5 years”. That much you can see. It’s a small but important distinction. Two points:

      1. Learn how to write about numbers see my post on this. The word “about” is a very useful word to learn.

      2. Yes, it does take time to work out the figures but you have time to do it. The writing part is 10 minutes only. The report is only 150 words long. You can write 150 words in 10 minutes if you know what you want to say.

      The mistake is to start writing after 2 minutes. If you do this, you get half way through and find out you don’t know what to say. You stop. You think. You get confused. You waste time. Your writing becomes a mess.

      It will take a little practice but try the “think then write approach”. Think carefully about what you want to say and then write. Start off doing it in 40 minutes if you like, then 35 minutes, then 30. You know you are ready for the exam when you can do it in 20 minutes.

  3. Theresa February 4, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    thank you very much, Mr Cole. i am preparing for the IELTS test and these videos do help me a lot~ ^ ^ i have gotten an conditional offer from Warwick and it needs 7.5 in IELTS. OMG i feel stressed a lot, but your help makes my goal of achieving 7.5 much easier~~ Many thanks ^ ^

    • Patrick February 5, 2011 at 10:43 am #


      I was just reading thorugh these comments when I saw yours.. 7.5?? I have also an offer from England and they want me to achieve 7.0, which is hard for me as well.. What are you going to study? Law or something? I assume you need stronger skills there than for Chemistry. 🙂 Anyway, good luck with your exam!

  4. Phil November 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    I must congratulate you on a great website.

    I enjoyed reading this Task 1 and great advice. I would also say that students often copy the Task 1 introduction and say: “The bar chart below”. No need to use the word, “below” as this is not true when you are writing your essay on the exam paper.

    Also, by using the idea of geography, it is possible to divide the items into developed/undeveloped countries, Asia/Europe/Western countries and so on. Doing this can help create good general statements. Keep up the good work.

  5. Hong November 18, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    ielts task 1 is so dificult, I cannot remember those phrases which are used to describe the data. Help me please!!!!!

    • Dominic Cole November 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

      I’ll see what i can do. I will post some exercises on task 1 for you next week. In truth, however, in task 1 there is not too much specialised language, it is more about describing what you see in an organised report. If I were you, I would concentrate on selecting the right information to write about and deciding how to organise it – and then the correct language will follow. I believe it can be a mistake to try and learn the “language” for task 1 – you end up not really answering the question.

  6. Hong November 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Thank you so much for your advice! Now I think I know what to do first with task 1. It’s not the language but the main features of the data.
    Now i have to do a homework on ielts task 1, about bar chart, but I don’t know what to to. It’s really much more dificult than line graph and even pie chart. Can you please show me the solution!

    • Dominic Cole November 18, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

      If you send me the bar chart (use the contact button on the bottom of the page), I will do my best to help you out – without doing your homework for you!

  7. Name November 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Hello Dominic,
    I found your blog yesterday and I am already thrilled. Thank you for advice about task 1 and how to work out the features.

  8. louiese January 2, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    I am a silent lurker here! I had been very frustrated a 3 months ago because I failed my exam.
    A general average of 6.5 was not bad but I was aiming for 7.

    So I needed to take the exam once again.
    I used all your tips especially in the writing task since I am not confident in this area at all.
    I also researched for words in describing bars and graphs (ex. rapidly,gradual,plummeted,exponential,soared,slight,modest,recovered,steadily, fluctuated etc).
    In the speaking part, I talked in front of the mirror everyday to slowly gain confidence because I felt so awkward talking in English.
    I prepared myself for a month by taking sample exams daily.

    I received the result 2 weeks ago and I am so happy because I scored 7 in listening, 7 in reading, 7.5 in writing and 7.5 in speaking.
    I can’t believe it!! It was the sweetest birthday, Christmas and new year’s gift for me!!

    Faith can move mountains.

    Thanks a lot Dominic!

    • Dominic Cole January 2, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      Great! I hate IELTS for what it does to people but I love it when it works out:-)

    • Cris May 5, 2011 at 2:24 am #

      Louiese, where could you find sample exams for one month?I have difficulties finding exept from the Ielts Official Material

  9. Renata January 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm #


    My question may sound silly, but i was trying to figure out how do you trasform the numbers into fractions and my answers were not quite great……

  10. geneve February 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm #


    I’m planning to take my ielts exam as soon as i am ready.I’ve been browsing in the internet about ielts practices to get some idea about it. My problem is that, i can do some writings by my own, but there’s no one to check it right. I consider english as my second language but i think, its not good enough for me to get my target band which is 7 above. i hope you can help me.thank you very much!

  11. Salem_UAE April 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    Thank you very much mr.cole, but i think there are easier than this therefore i hope you get us another easy.

  12. anwar 4m bangladesh.. April 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Wow!!!! Mr. DOMINIC COLE i like your website very much….Thank u very much for helping us…

  13. Lisa May 21, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    I am quite benefit from the task 2 writing part, thanks for that. But i has some trouble with task 1 , mainly is i always try to write every informations down which is worny i know that ,just afraid will lost point if i don’t do it. So what information extacly i should include in my essay for task 1 ? I was study the essay model from the example of examier what i found is the whole article is very clear and simple , what i should do to achieve it?
    I do have one more question if you don’t mind. When i took the exam last time i got the speaking part for 6,my aim is 7,i don’t really know what is missing in my speaking part ? What is the main difference bewteen band 6 and 7? What i should avoid or practice for in oder to achieve band 7?

  14. Olga September 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Dear Mr Cole,

    thanks a lot for your blog. It is really good.
    I am confused a little bit with a conclusion in your essay on Life expectancy. I thought it is important to highlight again the main features of the chart, while your conclusion, according to my understanding, is short and contains information, which is not specific enough.

    Thank you in advance

  15. mont November 1, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    first of all i’d like to say thank u for ur gr8 efforts.
    i’ve a little query related to this sample answer here,
    in your introductoin you paraphrased the question as follow:
    (This bar chart compares how long people can expect to live in seven different countries.)
    how about using a comma after the word live, to be (This bar chart compares how long people can expect to live, in seven different countries). does it make any change in the meaning of the sentence?

    thank you again and again

    • Dominic Cole December 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

      That wouldn’t really work for me. Commas tend to be fiddly and there are few “rules” about how to use them. Here, in my view, there is too strong a connection between “live” and “in 7 different countries” for you to want to split it with a comma.

  16. anju June 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    hi i want to improve my me

  17. Kumail August 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    Your website is just super!! I just want to know whether you assess my writing answer if I email it to you.

    Keep up with this great work!!!

    • Dominic Cole August 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

      Sorry. I don’t really have time for that service, but there are a number of teachers on the teachers’ page and in the next few hours I should be posting 2/3 more.

  18. Erika Vuttion September 26, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog
    and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the final phase 🙂 I handle such information a lot.
    I was looking for this particular information for a very lengthy time.

    Thank you and good luck.

  19. Lydia September 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Sorry. I made a mistake in the previous comment that actually I want to say I cannot do the exercises given by you.

  20. vijay March 28, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    hello DOMINIC COLE sir…..the average values u mentioned in the essay needs more time to calculate…do i need to put the exact calculated average values…do they check whether the written values are correctly caluculated??? help me sir..

    • Dominic Cole March 28, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Don’t spend hours calculating. You should be a little careful though that if you use approximate values, you use “approximate” language.

  21. akashni prasad February 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    i really found this lesson enriching…i got some very good ideas for my task.but what i was exactly looking for was WHAT ARE SOME APPROACHES THAT WE CAN USE TO IDENTIFY THE FEATURES OF BAR GRAPHS. i would be really grateful if you could post this…..please can you help me….

  22. Deep May 30, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    very helpful!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanku so much

  23. Zahra August 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    hiii thanks a pile Mr. Dominic u are great in training IELTS, really useful and helpful I am Zahra 28 from Iran

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