Top Tips for IELTS

A bar chart – organising your answer

Much of the difficulty in academic IELTS part 1 is knowing how to organise your answer. This post shows you one way to do this when the diagram is a bar chart. I talk about paragraphs, but what you really need to understand is that this is a visual task. You need to be write so that  someone else can “see” the  diagram.

This post shows you one to organise your task 1 with a step-by-step guide and has the added bonus of an interactive quiz on comparison language.

The key skill – paragraphing

The key skill is to make sure that you write in organised paragraphs – just as you would in an essay. This is so important because it will not just improve your coherence and cohesion band scores, but it will also make the report easier to write. To do this, we need to identify key features that will make the topics of the paragraphs. When we have done that, we can look for the details that explain those features.

What are key features?

Normally, they are obvious. Never ignore the obvious. Look at the bar chart below and what do you see?

What you should see is this:

  1. 2 sets of lines (one red and one blue)
  2. some lines are longer than others

Those are your key features that you must highlight in your report as paragraph topics. Everything else is detail.

Tip: Think visually. Look for the obvious and ignore any writing when you first look at a chart. Close your eyes. What do you remember? It’s easy to be confused by detail.

What are supporting details?

Let’s now look at the complete chart.

Key features

We now see what the 2 key features that need to be reported are. Remember these will be the topics of our 2 content paragraphs :

  1. the distinction between men and women (the blue lines and the red lines)
  2. how certain purposes of travel are more common than others (how long the lines are)

Supporting detail: men and women

Looking at the blue and red lines this is what I see and needs to be included:

  1. little or no difference in “walking” “holidays” and “personal business”
  2. more men in “education”, “entertainment” and “commuting”
  3. more women in “school run”, “visiting friends” and “shopping”
  4. many more women in “school run” (5% difference)
  5. many more men in “commuting” (8% difference)

Supporting detail: purposes

This is fairly straightforward as all you need to do is arrange the different categories into an order showing the most common and least common purposes.

  1. commuting and shopping much the most common (around 20% average)
  2. visiting friends and school run both around 15% average
  3. personal business just under 10% average
  4. sport/entertainment around 7% average just more than education at 6%
  5. least common is walking and holidays at around 3% each

Note the % figures here are averages of the male/female numbers.

Tip: when you have many different categories, it is a good idea to group them together under a few headings

A possible answer

There are, of course, many possible answers to this task. Here is one solution.

This bar chart shows the different reasons for making journeys in the UK in 2006 and how males and females differed in this.

It is immediately apparent that the most common purposes for travelling were commuting and shopping, both being around 20 per cent of trips. The next most common reasons were visiting friends and doing the school run at 15%, closely followed by personal business at around 10%. Travelling for sport and entertainment (7%) was only just more common than journeys for educational purposes (6%). Finally, the fewest number of trips were travelling for holidays and walking, both of which accounted for around 3 per cent of all journeys.

Typically, there were few major differences between males and females. In holidays, personal business and walking both sexes took approximately the same amount of journeys, while slightly more men travelled for educational purposes and more women visited friends. Notably, almost twice as many men as women travelled for entertainment reasons and, likewise, around 7% more men commuted to work. The two areas in which women travelled significantly more than men were shopping and the school run.

Test your comparison vocabulary/grammar

In this form of writing comparisons are crucial. Indeed, they are perhaps the most important grammar item in academic task 1. So why not test yourself with this exercise? See if you can re-use the comparison language from my example.

comparison quiz

Tip: try to vary the language you use to make comparisons. One way to do this is use adverbs such as “significantly”

For free updates enter your email address: 

Delivered by FeedBurner 


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

Home page

Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

Keep up with me on Facebook - all the updates and even more advice there


Or just get all my free lessons by email

Subscribe to DC IELTS by Email


22 Responses to A bar chart – organising your answer

  1. Renata January 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm #


    i found the task really greatly done, however, i have a querie. For what i have been reading, you always say that we should not try to put all the data in our writing and here, you actualy did that…..

  2. Renata January 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    So in this model of answer there is no such a thing as a conclusion?

  3. Mari Boy Bruan February 24, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    Hi, just a question. I enrolled in a review center here in the Philippines, and they told us that we cannot use the word “how”in our introduction Because I noticed that you commonly used the word in your introduction

    By the way, an outstanding site for IELTS, I must say!
    And I regret that I only learned about this site just today 🙁

    • Dominic Cole June 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

      I am always suspicious of advice that says you should never do something but all teachers have their own preferences. The question you need to answer is “Does it work?”

  4. eleni June 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    i’m really greatfull i found this site, even 2 weeks before my examination.
    Is there sth about flow charts? I think it has completely different demands.
    I’m so worried about time management in writing. I’ll definitely try your tips.
    Thanks Dominic.

  5. AK September 9, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    I have a question maybe It seems stupid, :S

    how I can know that % figures are percentages or averages ?

    Thank u teacher, your lessons are helpful !

    • Dominic Cole September 9, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      % is simply the symbol for percentage.

      The general rule is you need to read the title for the chart/graph to understand what the figures relate to. If the title reads the “The average number of people who bought a television”, then you know that the figures relate to averages.

      I hope that this does not confuse you but it is possible that the numbers you see are percentages, but those percentages are average figures.

  6. AK September 10, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Thank you teacher It’s became clear to me now 😀

    I have another question , can we use the word ” proportion ” instead of ” percentage ” in this type to avoid repeating the word “percentage”.?

    I hope I do not annoy with my questions,

    • Dominic Cole September 11, 2011 at 8:31 am #

      Indeed yes. “Proportion” is a key task 1 word. Keep on asking questions.

  7. AK October 7, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I got the acceptance score 😀

    thank you teacher , really your website help me alot 😀

  8. Stefan October 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks for your help – I finally reached 7, it would not have been possible without your site.

  9. OK November 6, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    Hi there,

    Thank you for the wonderful website!

    The test at all isn’t too bad for me, but I just can’t seem to get this part right. No matter how many times I’ve tried to write a good essay on a graph/chart, I just couldn’t do it.

    I get stuck from the flow of information, I can see trends, but too many! If I try to start with one of them, then I find myself missing the others. Eventually, I’m left with a poor written piece of nothing 🙁

    The first essay is really holding me back on my study to the test. What can I do to improve? How can I be knocked out of the “information shock” I’m getting everytime I face the graphs/charts essay assignment?

    Please help,


    • Dominic Cole December 6, 2011 at 5:11 am #

      It’s not easy. I’m hoping to publish more on this soon. Hope that helps.

  10. dr zahoor November 16, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    sir you have simplyfied so much that every body is able to understand.thanks

  11. Yuliang Zhang June 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Sir, I really appreciate what you have done, this website is just fantastic for learning IELTS.

  12. saccyninza September 11, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    it’s a pleasure to get a guidance frm you…..this site is simply the best…
    the main thing is wen v study we neva feel of endurance…..great work !!!

    not comments at all only compliments

  13. Marianna January 4, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    The site is very helpfull!!But i can not view the pictures.Is there a temporary technical problem ?

    • Dominic Cole February 22, 2013 at 12:15 am #

      Yes, it was i apologise. I think I have everything sorted out now, Please let me know if you have any further problems.

  14. Do Hung March 21, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    I find this website exceptional great. There are many websites, books to teach IELTS out there but this site is very different. It teaches me to become a better IELTS scorer and all of what you teach are very practical. I hope I could get high scores next Saturday thank to your resources.

  15. Anonymous November 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    Thanks very much dominic

  16. kiran May 12, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    Good job

Leave a Reply