Top Tips for IELTS

Using tenses in task 1 writing

In this lesson I give you a quick outline on using tenses in task 1 writing. This is a common problem for many candidates who forget to use the correct tense.

In some ways, the advice is quite simple and can be summarised in these two tips:

Look to see whether the chart/graph is about the past, present or future Check that you don’t change tense half way through the summary

Some basic examples of how to choose the correct tense

The golden rule is to look at the title of the chart/graph and the x/y axes to see what time is used there. You then use that time to choose the tense you write in:

if the time is 1999 then you choose the past

if the time is 2030 you choose a future

if there is no time you use the present simple

It really doesn’t make too much difference if you are looking at a pie chart or a bar graph here. The idea is the same.

Example 1

Look at this pie chart. What time does it show? Which tense would you choose?


This should be easy. The time is 1999 and so you will use the past tense.

Example 2

Look at this bar chart. What time does it show? What tense would you use?


This may be slightly more confusing. You can’t see any time. You should look though at the words in the title: “use most frequently” is a present tense and so the chart is about general present time and so you will want the present simple.

Example 3

Look at this pie chart and do the same thing:

power-source pie chart

I hope you see that this pie chart refers to the future and so we’ll need a future tense to describe the information in it.

Some more complex examples – varying your tenses

Sometimes you get charts/graphs that allow you to use more than one tense.

Example 1 – charts with changes in time in the past – using different verb forms 

Look at this bar graph. What are the times? Which tenses can you use?

bar chart past tense

You see here the years from 1999 to 2007. This means that you want the past. It is possible just to use the past simple:

The average price was £97,500 and then it rose to almost £130,000 and then it dropped slightly in 2006 and finally fell to around £110,000 in 2007.

Correct English, but boring. You want to try and vary your grammar to get a higher score. What you can do here is

After it had reached a peak of almost £130,000 in 2005, the average price dropped slightly in 2006 before finishing the period at £117,000 in 2007

The change in time (from 1999 to 2007) allows you to use the past perfect (had tense) too and you can also use a participle (-ing form) in the same way.

Example 2 – charts/graphs with the past and future – using two tenses

In this next example you should see that the you will need to use more than one tense just because the two charts relate to different times – the past and the future. [I should add that this is an unusual example]

power-source pie chart power-sources-past

Here the easy answer is that you use a future to describe the first chart and a past for the second one. The simple thing to do is use one paragraph for one chart and another for the other – being careful to get your tenses right each time.

But there is a more complex answer too. You need really to compare the changes in sources of power – from 2012 – 2030. To do this you may use one of the less usual tenses in English – the future perfect:

By 2030 the use of coal will have decreased by 10%.

The idea remains the same though – if there is something in the future you want to use a verb form that is also future..



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31 Responses to Using tenses in task 1 writing

  1. Tapan June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    hello sir!!!!!!
    Can we use simple past tense for your given example in static bar chart?
    for example, among 10,000 students interviewed, more than 6000 students told that they watch TV for current affairs while only 500 had preferred magazines. Newspaper is chosen by more than 1750 students.
    something like this..

    • Dominic Cole June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      Intelligent question.

      Generally speaking, i would much prefer to keep everything here in the present as it is much clearer and, I suspect, easier to write. I suppose there is a way to use past tenses in the answer if you use a “reported speech” structure with a past reporting verb. If you do this, it’s important to make sure that it is clear that you are referring to “present habits”. A possible answer might look like:

      It is evident from the 10,000 students surveyed that the two most popular media for accessing the news are the television (around 6,000) and the internet (around 4,000). In contrast, far fewer students use other media, as just over 1,750 students said that they used newspapers and only 1,000 said they preferred radio and magazines.

      You should note from this that the main verbs (are and use) are still in the present tense and only the verbs that follow past reporting verbs are changed to a past. (I hope that this does not confuse you, but it is possible to keep “used” and “preferred” in the present tense.)

      Please also note how I have arranged the information starting with the greatest number and ending with the lowest. This is a really important IELTS tip: always try and find a logical way to arrange the info.

  2. jane July 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    do i need to write a conclusion for writing task 1?

    • Dominic Cole July 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

      Interesting question. My immediate answer is you don’t always have to – provided you write the rest of the report clearly enough. Sometimes you may want to because there is one overall trend/pattern you want to draw attention to. Sometimes there is no obvious conclusion and provided you have identified the main points in your topic paragraphs, there is no real need for a conclusion. If you are worried about it, do write a conclusion but don’t spend too long over it and make sure you don’t come to any conclusion that doesn’t refer directly to what you see in the graph.

  3. bilawal November 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    in writing task 1 which tense is more preferable
    simple past
    simple present
    plz guide me

  4. fera April 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    hello sir,, I want to ask something.
    if the data analysis is about past, present,and future (timeline), how we can write it? example, it is in 2000, 2012, and 2014. I still confuse to write.
    sorry, my english is not good but do you understand what i am talking about?:)

    • Dominic Cole July 26, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      This is a good question. It is fairly unusual to get that range of times in task 1 but it can happen. The simple answer is that you need to pay careful attention to what time the data refers to. If it’s a future event – use the future and so on. The principles remain the same.

  5. Sarathi PB April 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Please can you discuss the use of tense in ILETS?

  6. Mahmoud Sultan Nafa October 9, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I am really grateful to you for your great efforts.

  7. It’s actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Manpreet Nirman March 4, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    Hello sir,
    I need to know about the tense to be used in conclusion.
    Is it present or past?

    • Dominic Cole March 4, 2014 at 10:03 am #

      It all depends on the task. If the information you are writing about belongs to the past use a past tense, if it belongs to the present use the present.

  9. Anne September 3, 2014 at 6:18 am #


    Firstly, thanks for the article! It helped a lot, but I’m still confused about one thing:

    In many model answers I read they used the present perfect instead of simple past with words like drop, increase, fall, decrease etc.

    Example: Oil prices have fallen in 2010.

    Can You please explain why?
    Is it wrong to use the simple past here?


    • Dominic Cole November 13, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

      It should be a simple past in your example. When we have a fixed time in the past we use a past tense.

  10. Tram October 2, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    Hello Teacher, could you please fix the graph/charts links above?

  11. nungky October 11, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Ser … how to be good in writing ?

  12. MATTEO November 17, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    Exscuse me Sir,

    Is it appreciate to use the passive in the introduction for task one?
    For example:” As it’s shown in the graph the trend for hamburger consumption…”

    • Dominic Cole November 17, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

      I prefer not. It is possible however. It is simply much more natural to say “The graph shows”. It can be a mistake to use a passive form for its own sake. I would ignore any advice to use the passive in task 1 whenever you can.

  13. blessed23 March 2, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    Thank you so much for all your never ending help by continuing to update this website.

  14. Duy Hee June 22, 2015 at 3:49 am #

    From 1990 to 2030, i use the structure ” is expected to” to describe the data. am i correct?

    Please help me answer this confusing question.

    Thanks alot

    • Dominic Cole September 13, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

      Yes, “is expected to” could work here. Indeed when you have a chart/graph that is about the future then you should aim to vary your prediction language a little.

  15. sujan July 24, 2015 at 5:46 am #

    hello sir, i want to know that can we use active or passive voice in writing task 1?

    • Dominic Cole September 11, 2015 at 8:27 am #

      You may need to be able to use both. But be careful not to oversee the passive – we certainly don’t automatically use it in this type of writing. We tend to use it only when it is not important who does an action.

  16. Ruth October 20, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

    Thank you very much. Very useful tips on tenses.

  17. Ako October 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    Hello sir.
    I have a question. For example I have been given an line graph which is illustrating a trend from 1950 till 2050.
    Just I want to know my position as someone describing the graph.
    For example when the current time is 2015, i must use the time expressions based on the current year i live in?
    Like i shall describe it using past simple or perfect tense from 1950 until 2015?
    And after the current year shall i use future tense or expectation phrases from 2015 to 2050?
    I just want to know how can i certain my time position as a describer.

    • Dominic Cole September 18, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      You use the current year you live in

  18. sujan acharya November 5, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Hlo I am going to write model answer of that 1 st pie chart which provides information regarding to spare time activities.please cheak my answer wheather the tense and structure I have used is wrong or right..if there is any error …please play significant role to corret my answer…thaks in advance….

    Mu sample answer is
    The pie chart ellaborates information regarding to the preferances of teenagers on numerous spare time activities in the UK in 2009.

    It can be clearly seen from the pie chart , a massive 41 percent of younger students in the UK seem to have I terested in watching sport matches, which is followed by the proportion of teenagers who preferred computer games as a time off activities , with almost 23% in total.Eventually, least proportion of younger students in the uk used to waste the spare time on playing sport, reading magazines and listening to music, with approximately just lower than 15% for each acgivities.
    Thank you in adv

  19. Mig February 19, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    What about tasks 1 maps? Surely they passive is used or should be used here, as we don’t know who is doing the ” developing”, ” building” etc..
    The same goes for process writing.

  20. amrit June 28, 2016 at 5:42 am #

    hi sir,
    There is a bit of confuse in my mind that we have to give the introduction about the graph or not. please give me some tips that i can do better.

  21. Nurs July 15, 2016 at 6:37 am #

    Hi Sir! your information that given here is quite helpful, My question is, how to use the past or present perfect continues in the writinh task1, could you give any examples here in order to all students get rised their score. thank you beforehand!

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