Top Tips for IELTS

Identifying patterns in bar charts

This lesson looks in detail at one way to organise your answer when describing a chart or graph in part 1. The suggestion is that you should try and look for patterns in the data. When you write , you report those patterns and note any exceptions to them. This works on several levels:

  • your writing becomes more coherent – linking ideas together
  • you are more likely to identify the key points
  • the report becomes easier to write

To help you do this, you will find a bar chart with a sample answer below. I also show you one way how to identify patterns in bar charts.

Sample task

The bar chart below shows the different types of accommodation chosen by the British when they went on holiday in 2012.  Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant

holiday bar chart

Analysing the key details

Don’t look at the whole chart, look at the  x axis and the y axis separately

The first step is to analyse the chart – carefully. Don’t rush this stage.  One way to do this is by asking yourself some simple questions. Ask yourself which is the biggest/longest? Are there any patterns? As you do this I suggest that you

don’t worry about names of countries and types of accommodation. Think colours and lengths. Look don’t read.

look at each element one by one. It can be very confusing of you look at the chart as a whole.

look at the extremes (the biggest/the smallest) first – they are almost always important

look for patterns – these are also important. Note that a pattern can have exceptions.

note exceptions – these are also details you want to include.

Test yourself

Ask yourself if the lines look similar, different or the same

Try this brief quiz to analyse the y axis. As you go through the test, you should notice how I ask simple questions. What is the biggest? Are they the same, different or similar? Does any one bar look different from the rest? Remember that you are looking for patterns.

Reading a bar chart

Congratulations - you have completed Reading a bar chart. You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%. Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%
Your answers are highlighted below.
Shaded items are complete.


My conclusion from this is that we must state:

  • hotels were the most common form of accommodation at over 50%
  • self-catering was second most popular (just below 30%) but there is one major exception
  • caravan and camping holidays were typically least popular (around 10%) but again there was an exception
  • England, Scotland and Wales follow a broadly similar pattern (Scotland is only slightly different)
  • the popularity of caravanning in Northern Ireland needs to be highlighted

Organising the report – choose the simplest option

There is always more than one way to organise a report. In the exam you are under time pressure, so it makes sense to choose the simplest option. Here the 2 main choices you have are:

  • go through each type of accommodation (the y axis option)
  • go through the countries (the x axis option)

My choice would be to use the countries. There are only 4 of them and 3 of those are very similar and it seems natural and easy to group England, Scotland and Wales together. Northern Ireland is the odd one out.

A sample answer

This answer is not perfect. It is not meant to be. Rather you should note how it is logically organised, grouping similar information together. There is one paragraph for England, Scotland and Wales showing the main pattern. I start by noting the most evident feature of the chart. I also use England as a model and then compare the situation in Wales and Scotland. Then there is a separate paragraph for Northern Ireland, highlighting the key exception.

This bar chart shows illustrates the holiday accommodation chosen by people in the United Kingdom in 2010. Generally, it is possible to say that the English, Scottish, Northern and Welsh made very similar choices and that hotels were much the most popular form of accommodation.

In all four countries approximately half the people chose to stay in hotels. This figure was highest in England at around 55%, almost twice the number of people who cooked for themselves (27% of the sample) and far greater than the number who stayed in campsites (12%) and finally caravans (6%). A similar pattern was repeated for the Scots and the Welsh. In each case, around 50% of holidaymakers went to hotels with around 30% in self-catering apartments. The one difference being that caravan holidays at 12% were twice as popular as camping holidays in Scotland, while the opposite pattern could be seen in Wales.

The one country that shows a different pattern is Northern Ireland. It is notable how there just over 30% of the population chose caravan holidays in preference to self-catering accommodation and camping (both around 12%).

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31 Responses to Identifying patterns in bar charts

  1. Blixa May 8, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Dear Dominic:

    This explanation about how to find out key points it’s very useful, specially because you highlighted them in different colors!

    Thanks for this sample.

  2. Milo Vu June 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Hi Dominic. It is a basic question I would like to ask. Is the sample answer you provided a complete essay for task 1? (since there are only 3 paragraphs while normally an essay of 4 paragraphs would be more preferable to me)

    • Dominic Cole July 6, 2012 at 8:50 am #

      In task 1, there are probably more possible ways of answering the question than there are in task 2 (the essay). This is because you may get from one to three charts/graphs to describe. As such, I personally do not insist on the concept of 4 paragraphs.

  3. meme August 24, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    hi sir ,

    can we use we write

    For example :
    (>>>>>>>>>>>>>.the sentese <<<<<<<<< some coun-
    – tries

    just for keep organizing the essay ?

  4. Paul December 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Hi Dominic

    “The one difference being that caravan holidays at 12% were twice as popular than camping holidays in Scotland”

    Is it right: “was twice as popular as”? Also for part 1, is that we do not need the topic sentence for paragraphs and conclusion?

    Thank you!

  5. Irene September 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    The quiz you mentioned in the test yourself section, is there a missing link? I can’t seem to find the quiz, thanks!

  6. mann December 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    i am little confused. like england, wales, northern ireland and scotland are the part of UK. they might be not countries. so i use country word for england, wales, northern ireland and scotland is right.

    your material is really helpful to prepare for test.
    thank you for sharing this material.


  7. Buubee February 20, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    This is a really helpful guidance and it is easy to follow. Thank you so much Dominic.

  8. Evie February 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    thank you , i think this is very helpful

  9. jolly April 21, 2014 at 6:54 am #

    i cannot see the chart..been refreshing It;(

    • Dominic Cole April 21, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks for letting me know. I’ll get it fixed.

  10. Sevinj April 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Thank you for sharing, sir! I have a question: I have done the test (83%) I failed one question about the least popularity, the right answer for which was shown as ‘no pattern’. Now I am in hesitation. The lowest column of the bar chart is yellow (Scotland). First I ticked yellow. Why it is wrong? I could not understand it.

    • Dominic Cole April 22, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

      The idea is to look at the y axis for all 4 countries. That way you see a pattern.

      The yellow line (camping) is different for each country. In England and Wales for example it is more popular than caravanning, but in Scotland it is less popular.

  11. huy hoang May 14, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    thank you very much!!! this lesson is very helpful to me

  12. Thang June 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    The last sentence: Do we need a few more words here?
    “It is notable how there WAS just over 30% of the population WHO…”?

    Kind regards,

  13. aeysha July 5, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    sir it is difficult 4 myself to understand the bar nd table chart plz guide me

  14. Tram November 6, 2014 at 5:28 am #

    Hi Mr Cole, is it fine if I chose to do with description of each of 4 kinds of accommodation instead of your way to describe 4 kinds in each country?

    • Tram November 6, 2014 at 5:32 am #

      Oh, I saw your suggestion above that we could have 2 ways to do. Thank you.

    • Dominic Cole November 6, 2014 at 7:34 am #

      Yes, that could work too. There is almost always more than one way to do these things, you just need to choose one that is clear and logical.

  15. feather November 27, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Hello. I have a question. Since we have to write about 150 words, do we have to count the words or is there a general rule as to how we can determine the number of words? I’ve heard something on the lines of you write approximately 10 words per line, so you’d have to write about 15 lines. Is that how they count the words?

    • Dominic Cole December 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      They will count the words if you are close to the limit. My best suggestion is to aim for around 160/165 words. It is sensible to count the number of lines and words per line rather than waste time counting words.

  16. Ammar April 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi Dominic

    I have heard it from numerous sources that we should not use exact number for explaining a chart rather we should chose a general quantity like rather than saying 51% we should use half. What would you recommend as a better choice?

    • Dominic Cole September 5, 2016 at 11:28 am #

      You need to be flexible. Sometimes you use an exact number – normally when it is an important number – other times you use more approximate language

  17. anonymous May 11, 2015 at 4:34 am #

    Some mistake in last sentence of last 2nd paragraph needs to be evaluated.
    Also help me to score in IELTS.
    I gave IELTS 2 times my score is 6. I need atleast 7.
    Thanks for help.

  18. abeer elsayed October 12, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    il is very helpful and so exciting way of explanation.

  19. tasa November 9, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    Hello dcielts
    Thank you for the MOST helpful blog ever! definitely telling more friends about it.. 🙂

  20. Raj December 29, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    Awsome explanation,It is quite useful
    Thank you

  21. Raj December 29, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    So far I have browsed lot of stuff with respect to Ielts but No other site is as useful as Dominic
    Thanks a lot You have provided everything that a Learner is needed

  22. Anonymous January 24, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    it’s very useful. I am preparing for the test and this site is a big help. Thank you!!

  23. sankalpa July 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Hi Dominic
    Thanks heaps for your precious blogs . They are so clear , simple and well structured which have helped loads of IELTS candidates . Probably all aspirants go through your blogs at least once before giving Exam . Owing to its simplicity , efficacy and being free , YOUR BLOG IS ALMOST MUST SEE ITEM FOR US . While going through your blogs, I got to know numerous productive strategies .The only thing I do not understand is the purpose of writing the sample reports using different colors . Could you please make me clear the relationale?

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