Top Tips for IELTS

A strategy for planning task 1

This lesson comes in three halves!! In the first half, I try and persuade you to spend time in planning task 1 answers. This is where many task 1 answers go wrong. I then talk you through one possible strategy for planning an answer. Then I show you a sample summary/report with my notes.

 The basics of planning task 1 summaries

In this section, I quickly talk you through some of the ideas for making a plan in task 1.

planning task 1

 Think before you write – at least 5 minutes!

One common problem in the writing paper is that candidates run out of time. The way to avoid this is think before you write. Why?

  •  if you know what you need to write – the writing part is easy and quick
  • people waste most time in the test by getting stuck about what to say next: that won’t happen to you if you think and make notes first
  • you need to write at leat 150 words – how long does it take you to write 150 words. 15 minutes is plenty of time, if you know what you want to write.

Does 5 minutes seem a long time to you? It shouldn’t: this is a thinking task – perhaps the most academic bit of all IELTS. It doesn’t pay to “think quickly”, rather you want to think clearly and that may take time.

Make some notes – organise them

This is just practical. In an exam you are under pressure. You may think that you will remember what to say, but you may not. You should also note that all the information is there in front of you. You could of course just make notes on the question paper.

I’d add that it should be easy to make notes. Don’t be scared. I’m not suggesting anything complex here – all the ideas are there in front of you.

Practise different ways of making notes – see what works for you personally

Be organised and have a strategy

One reason people don’t plan is that they don’t plan efficiently. What you want to do is make sure that you use your time well in the exam. This means knowing before the exam how you are going to plan. It really helps to have a strategy here – something you do every time. That way you will work efficiently and use your 5 minutes well.

Practise plannng before the exam. Make sure you have a routine that works for you

Match your plan to the task

Below I talk you through one possible planning strategy for task 1. You may not like it or you may have a different strategy. That’s fine – there is almost always more than one way to approach a task. All I would say though is that your plan should take match the task itself: that means it should be a plan for writing a summary not an essay.

Any plan must focus on selecting the main points and seeing the comparisons. Why? That is just what the task asks you to do.

A possible strategy

The main idea behind this strategy is that it focuses on what the question asks you to do – write a summary of the main points and make comparisons.  I have deliberately made this strategy a set of 5 headings. This will depend on you, but one minute per heading is not a bad idea.

1. Understanding the basics – look at the question and axes

Is it time based or “static”. This tells you what type of graph/chart you are looking at and what type of language you need. Think about:

  • time – this tells you what tense to use (past for past time etc)
  • the type of words you need – this includes both topic vocabulary from the question (eg transport) and perhaps number language

2. Try and see the big picture

This is where a lot of people go wrong. They see the detail, but they fail to see the main points. Sometimes these points are so obvious that you can forget them. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How many items are shown?
  • Is it time based or static?
  • Is there one common pattern?

 3. Find the main points to include

This is where I really do believe it can help to make some brief notes. You are not meant to include everything. Make a note of those points you do want to include. Quick notes. Ideas include:

  • is the pattern typically up/down in a time based graph?
  • look at the extremes – the biggest/smallest – the beginning the end
  • what changes?
  • what common patterns are there? Are two items similar?

Remember that you need to include all the topics included on the axes. For example, if there 6 countries shown, you must include some information about all 6 countries.

4. What comparisons do you see?

This I think is a necessary step just because the question asks you to make comparisons. Fail to do this and your summary is incomplete. Very bad for task response.

5. Organise the information

Tough. A summary is normally harder to organise than an essay – there are far fewer “rules”. I don’t suggest that you spend too much worrying about paragraph structure here. You do need to use paragraphs though. Questions to think about include:

  • how many paragraphs do I need? (I normally suggest no more than 2 content paragraphs)
  • if there is more one graph, is the sensible option to use one paragraph for each graph? (often yes, but not always)
  • how can I group information so I don’t repeat myself?
  • is there a logical order to describe the information (for example, it often works best to start with the biggest and then move in order to the smallest)

Practise your IELTS task 1 planning skills

Here is a possible task 1 question. You will find my answer to download below. This time I have also included my notes, just to let you see how I do it in practice. If you like, look at the graph and see what notes you can make in 5 minutes and then compare your notes with my version.

The task

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


Do you want to see my notes?

Not perfect. Not meant to be. Just helpful.

task 1 notes (4378)

Read my sample answer

This chart shows the amount of money British households spent each month on different items in a twenty year period from 1990 to 2010. We can see how the total amount spent rose in this period by approximately £300.

Rent was significantly the highest item of expenditure in all three years, accounting for well over a third of household expenses. The amount spent on rent rose steadily from around £425 in 1990 to exactly £600 twenty years later. Groceries were the next highest expense and it is notable how there was a comparatively small rise in expenditure in shopping during during this period. The amount spent each month on both transport and utility bills increased by approximately 50% to around £140 and  £220 respectively. Although it should be noted that transport spending increased more in 2000 and utility bills expenditure more in 2010. Entertainment was the only area where British households spent less over this period, with the average expenditure falling from £110 to £100 in 2010, by which time it had become the lowest item of expenditure.

In summary, we can say that British households spent more overall on these items in 2010 than 1990 and that the largest item of expenditure throughout this time was rent with the one major change being that less was spent on entertainment than utility bills by 2010.

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7 Responses to A strategy for planning task 1

  1. Qurban May 4, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    The bar graph indicates the average monthly expenditure by British households during (1990,2000 and 2010) on five categories .
    As illustrated it is clear that the spending of household growth year by year, With exception on entertainment. Overall, the highest level of expenditure depended on rent regarded by rose gradually. By contrast, the lowest amount of money spent on utility bills. Spending on rental in 2010 received at peak level on rental which was 600 pound. However, this pattern in 1990 was around 450 pound. Whereas, expenditure on utility bills quite different. Though, amount of money consumed in 1990 was 98 pound, but in 2010 compare with before 30 rose sharply almost double spending.
    In conclusion, the greatest spending of money dedicated for renting . in oppose the leatest consume devoted on utility bills. While, expenditure of groceries, transportation and entertainment positioned from higher to fewer respectively.

    thank you

    • Qurban May 4, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      30 years was a mistake it is 20 years

  2. Parisa June 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm #


  3. Vicky March 7, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    Very helpful

  4. Celseea December 12, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    the bar graph shows the number four dirnefeft varieties of chocolate bars that the woodward chocolate bars sold for the last yearthe first quarter noted to have sold a total of 110 chocolate bars while the fourth quarter to have sold 105 chocolate bars and the rest sold less than 100 chocolate bars. wachi bars single handedly had the highest sale of 55 millions as shown in the first quarter but the sales dropped dramatically by 35 million on the second quarter and continues to drop achieving a sales of 10 million on the fourth quarter. while woody bar on the first quarter had a sale of 10 million but the sales continue to soar high by ten 10 millions each quarters. wozzel and mozic bar sold not too high and neither not too low but the amount of their sales on the first quarter is equal on fourth quarter. as shown on the second quarter the sales of each chocolate bars are almost equal with the wachi bar had a sale of 22 million and the lowest is wuzzle bar with only 19 millions sales.

  5. biren patel September 9, 2016 at 6:35 am #

    the overview/summary should come after the Introduction.

    • Dominic Cole September 9, 2016 at 8:16 am #


      This is actually the lesson I am posting today. You’ll find there a complete guide to how to write the first sentence in task 1.

      I agree that the best way is to put the introductory statement first and then an overview summary. It is possible though to keep the summary until the end and use it like a conclusion.I think it’s less good but it may be easier to write that way for some people

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