Top Tips for IELTS

Academic task 1 – tables

Describing a table is almost certainly the most challenging IELTS writing task. In this post I look at what causes the difficulty and suggest a technique for dealing with it. You will find two exercises and a model report at the end of the post to help you write the report yourself.

A sample task

Let’s look at this sample task and do a little analysis.

The table below shows the in which sector of the economy different age groups were employed.

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

The problem – too much information

There are 30 different pieces of data here. How on earth can you describe all of that? The solution is simple: don’t try to! Remember the task is to summarise and to select the main features of the table. This means leaving some items of information out.

A solution – divide and conquer

My solution is to divide and conquer by looking at the table in columns and rows. This way you can more easily identify the key details and comparisons. The key  is to understand that you have two sets of data:

  1. the data from the rows (across)
  2. the data from the columns (down)

Rather than try and understand the table as a whole all at once, look at each row in turn and each column in turn and note the main features.

What are the main features?

Typically, the main features are

  1. high numbers
  2. low numbers
  3. the biggest contrasts
  4. the closest similarities

An example

Looking at this column, we see that we need to include 23 and 3 as the highest and lowest numbers

Now looking at the rows in turn we note the numbers for manufacturing are much higher than catering and agriculture.

Then once you have gone through each row and column, you need to look for the obvious comparisons and contrasts.

Organising your report

This is the simple bit. The logical thing is almost always to write one paragraph for the rows (here the sectors of employment) and one for the columns (here the age groups).

Some practice

Confused? Well, it does take a little practice. Here is my solution. The first exercise takes you through the table asking you questions about the key details in the columns and rows. The next exercise gets you to write the report yourself based on a model I wrote.

exercise 1 find the key details

exercise 2 write the report

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31 Responses to Academic task 1 – tables

  1. Renata December 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm #


    I couldn´t acess the link on exercise 2 write the report!!! Is there another link that can take me to the done report?


  2. Khae December 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    It’s very useful tip for me.Thanks a lot!

  3. vicky December 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    Hi Dominic, please i am requesting that you give an example on how to summarise and give comparisons on tables and pictures.

    thank you very much i appreciate you exercise, its really educative.


    • Dominic Cole December 14, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

      Hi there

      I should be posting on comparisons in the next week or so – for me it is an exceptionally important piece of language for IELTS generally. Can I ask what you mean by pictures? Is it the “process diagram” or do you mean charts and graphs?


  4. vicky December 15, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Hi dominic,

    Thank you very much for the ideas they have helped me alot. please i meant diagrams. I have seen a question where diagrams are given and asked to summarise and give comparisons, but i do not know how to deal with such questions.



  5. hong December 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm #


    You said that we should describe the data in 2 paras, each represented a row and a column. Should we always follow that format? Or there’s other way to describe a table?

    • Dominic Cole December 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

      Glad you asked. No – it’s not an “always” – the best advice is to treat each case on its own merits.

      My advice is that if you have a complex table like this one, your first idea should be to look at columns and rows as a logical way to organise you paras. If you have a better idea for a particular table, use it.

      The important point is that you do organise your report into clear paragraphs and the organisation is clear and logical. I shall try and post a new table exercise in the next few days showing you a different system.

  6. vicky December 22, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Dominic, i would like to know how you get the percentages to make a report on the tables?

    Merry xmas


  7. Dominic Cole December 23, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    Ah. I was wondering if anyone would notice.

    What I have done is to average the figures in each sector: ie add them up and divide by 3. One reason to do this is that it avoids repetition by giving too much individual detail. Is it important that the figures for employment were 12% 15% and 12% – or do we say more by writing “an average of around 13%” for example.

    It’s a good point and I should do a separate post on this sometime. Keep asking questions.

    Merry Xmas


  8. Anonymous December 23, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Dear Mr Cole,

    Can I asked in your report you mentioned , manufacturing was the most popular form of employment at an average of 18% , how do you obtain 18%?The actual figure is 12 , 15 and 23.

    Thank you .


  9. Anonymous December 24, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Hi Mr Cole,

    I read the above post how you obtain the average percentage.If I am not wrong , should manufacturing be 17% instead of 18%?

    By the way, having to calculate and divide will surely take time……and we are given 20 minutes for Task 1.I hope it leaves us enough time to complete the Task.

    Happy Christmas Mr Cole


    • Dominic Cole December 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm #

      Yes, you’re quite right – that was a bad mistake by me. I have now corrected it to “around 17%”.

      On the question of time, I would ask this: how long does it take you to write 150-175 words? For me, I think 12 minutes should be enough writing time – that’s about 13 words a minute or, put another way, a sentence a minute. My belief is that if you know what you want to write then you write more quickly and better. Really and truly the more time you can spend thinking before you write the better.

      I realise this is a very personal thing – how you plan – but I really do encourage you to spend as much time thinking and planning as you possibly can. I would add that in preparing for the exam, I really wouldn’t bother too much about how long it takes you to write a task 1 report until just before the exam itself. If you obsess about doing everything “in time”, you may get exam practice but it is unlikely you will learn the correct writing skills.

      Happy new year

  10. reese.q January 1, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Hi! I’d like to ask why you did not include the sector other in your interpretation? Wouldn’t it matter a lot if we miss that sector in the analysis and in final writing of task 1? And I’d like to ask also how did you arrive at the answer that 40-65 y.o. is the most employed age group when it seems to me that the answer should be 18-25 y.o. (I averaged the column for the 3 age groups and I got the ff.: 103 for 18-25 y.o; 100 for both 25-40 and 40-65 y.o…I might sound nitpicking but I understand it is necessary to give accurate interpretation because if not, that will cost me a lot of points. I’m quite anxious now because I’d be taking my exam this Jan….Hope for your reply.

    God bless! This is a wonderful site. Good job!

    • Dominic Cole January 1, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      Super intelligent comment. This is the danger of writing your own IELTS materials. I need to go back and review these figures – Im slightly embarrassed as I only added in the “other” category when I realised that the figures didn’t add up. As a reward/apology send me a couple of writing tasks and I’ll look over them for you. Though judging by the quality of your comment, I’d suggest that you are safe.

  11. Renata January 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm #


    i read the comments before but i noticed that you didi not answer some dobts that i still have such as : i would like to know how you found out that the 40-65 age group is the most employed and has a 9% rate of unemployment. If you don´t mind aswering, i would appreciate!

    • Dominic Cole July 27, 2011 at 9:00 am #

      The 9% figure is “other” at the bottom of the table.

  12. jess July 27, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Can you send me the answer for this report. I really want to know the correct answer. My test is in the succeeding month. So i request you to kindly send me the solved report as soon as possible.

    Your site is awesome. Its really helpful. Your tips are worth appreciating. Good job !

    • Dominic Cole July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am #


      You will find the model answer as exercise 2 at the bottom of the lesson. I will be posting more task 1 this week and next week.

  13. Amel August 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    I would like to underline something I have not seen in the blog yet. It is about the task 1.

    There are many examples about how to write charts, graphs and tables, which are vey helpful, but what about the diagrams? Sometimes is given, for example, to describe a circuit of electricity or to describe the levels of water from the ocean. In these cases, where we do not have any number to compare, only data, how should we make the statement? How should we write what is shown?


  14. Dominic Cole August 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Hi Amel

    I’m working on this right now. It’s a very godd point – diagrams should not be ignored. My one problem is how to produce my own diagrams to use as examples. Expect something in the next week or so.

  15. jess August 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    I’m too worried about how to describe the diagrams. Please provide some examples for diagrams.

  16. Kay August 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    wow~A wonderful website
    I will take the exam next month.
    I am really worried about it, expecially the writing part.
    (*^__^*) ……

  17. sakuntala October 31, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    I m too worry about not getting idea for how to describe the table chart graphs, etc.I wonder if u could help me

    • Dominic Cole December 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm #


      I am in the process of producing more materials on this. I hope they help.

  18. saccyninza September 11, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    its very complicated, though u made it some wat easy….

  19. Hamadilo November 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Merry I love you what your skype account?

  20. Beth January 31, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    Thank you Dominic for helping us get to know more about IELTS exam.

  21. nargiza April 10, 2017 at 4:42 am #

    HI, I do not understand comparisons between employments, I’m so confused((( do not see, why the most popular employment was manufacture and also there were minor variations between 4 jobs also not understandable, don’t understand att all, why it needs to complicate so….


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