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The Olympics medal table

This lesson looks at possibly the hardest of the academic task one diagrams – the table. I have taken the Olympics medal table – a difficult table to describe because it contains so much data. If you can accurately describe this table, then IELTS tasks should be easier. In many ways, the key is to allow yourself as much thinking time as possible – if you understand the table, then it is much easier to summarise it.

To help you along the way, I suggest a 3/4 step thinking process that should allow you to analyse the table and give you some tasks to test your skills, before showing you my sample answer with writing notes.

Test yourself before you start

You will find my sample answer below and my description of how I wrote it. A suggestion is that you try and describe the table yourself before looking at my version and to compare my answer with yours.

Understanding the problem – too much information

The problem is that this table gives you 50 pieces of data. You cannot include all this information – the idea is to select and summarise the main points and make relevant comparisons. This means that before you write you need to spend time analysing and understanding the data. This is normally harder in tables as they are the least visual of all the diagrams – you need to look at just numbers.

A possible solution

Numbers can be confusing. So here is a possible solution. It helped me write my answer and it is a model that could/should work for most tables. It means doing two things:

1. deciding how to organise your answer – find two main topic paragraphs – the key ideas

2. looking at the extremes and how you would group information together – the main points and the comparisons

Finding paragraph topics – the key ideas

You will almost always want to organise your report into two main topic paragraphs. This means that each paragraph should be about one idea. So, the very strong suggestion is that you spend time deciding what those topics should be. They are normally “big things”. If you don’t get them, it may be because you think they are too obvious.


Look at the medals table above and decide how you would organise the paragraphs. Think about how the table is organised. Your report wants to mirror the organisation of the table itself.

See my solution

You may have a different logical solution. If so, leave me a comment below. There is always/nearly always at least two different ways of approaching these tasks. My idea is this:

  1. the table is organised by number of gold medals won – that should make one paragraph – it’s the most accurate way of describing the table – from first to last
  2. the other paragraph relates to the total number of medals won – this gives different data – it’s a convenient way of looking at the bronzes and silvers – and, well, after gold medals, the total number of medals is the next most important item of information

Noting the extremes

Important information to be included almost always includes the ideas of “the most” and “the least” – the extremes. This helps organise your report and is a first step to making some comparisons.


Look at the table and answer these questions. In some ways, the key to doing this is to understand that you may be looking at more than country at once. Also. as you look at the total medal count, you may also want to make some comparison/contrast with the gold medal count.

  1. Which country or countries won the most gold medals?
  2. Which country or countries won the fewest gold medals?
  3. Which country or countries won the most medals overall?
  4. Which country or countries won the fewest?

See my solution

Here are my answers. As you work through this, you should see that I group countries together (to include as much info as possible) and I also begin to make some comparisons between the gold medal count and the total medal count:

  1. USA and China I would put together – they won a similar amount of gold medals. I’d also include GB and Russia together – maybe in another sentence. In comparison to the other countries, they are much closer to USA and Russia
  2. All of the other countries I would group together. Looked at overall, there is very little difference between 7 golds and 12 golds.
  3. USA is again clearly first. Here though I would emphasise the fact that Russia and China had very similar medal totals. It is also possible to make a contrast with GB here that won comparatively few total medals.
  4. This is the complex question. The countries I would emphasise are Hungary with the least at 17, but also South Korea which has a low medal total when compared to its gold medal count.

Grouping similar data together

The next step I consider is how to group countries together. This is necessary from two points of view:

  1. it helps make comparisons – part of the task
  2. it allows you to summarise more effectively – again part of the task


Look at the table above and decide:

  1. which countries you would group together when describing the gold medals
  2. which countries you would group together when describing the total medals

See my solution

Here is my answer. Much of this should already be obvious from the previous tasks:

Gold medals

  • USA and China
  • GB and Russia
  • The others (in order)

Total medals

  • USA
  • China and Russia (contrast to GB)
  • South Korea and Hungary (half of total medals gold)
  • Germany and Australia (only 20-25% gold)
  • France and Italy (almost equal spread of medals)

What are the details to include?

The key is that before you start to write, you should have some key points you want to emphasise. If you have worked your way through the tasks, you should have some idea about these. You will find my ideas below.

See my ideas

  • Order of gold medals and total medals are different – meaning one paragraph for each
  • USA and China top of both
  • Comparison between GB and Russia
  • Big gap between top 4 in gold medals and rest
  • Comparison between Australia/Germany and South Korea/Hungary in total medals

See my answer

This table shows the ten most successful countries in the 2012 Olympics, from it we can see the number of gold, silver and bronze medals each country won. The ranking of the nations is organised according to the number of gold medals and not the total number of medals won.

In terms of gold medals, the two most successful nations were the USA and China which won 46 and 38 golds respectively. After Great Britain and Russia in third and fourth place with 29 and 24 golds, there was a significant gap to the other nations (South Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and Australia), all of which won between 13 and 7 gold medals only.

When we look at the total medals won, the United States was still the most successful nation with over 100 medals and Hungary the least with only 17.  Russia with 82 medals overall, however, was only slightly behind China in second place, while Great Britain dropped to fourth place with 65 medals. Of the other nations, it is notable how almost half of South Korea’s and Hungary’s total medals were golds, whereas only between one quarter and one fifth of Germany’s and Australia’s medals were gold. France and Italy, in contrast, won an almost equal proportion of golds, silvers and bronzes.

Read my notes


“The ranking of the nations is organised according to the number of gold medals and not the total number of medals won.

I choose to start with this summary type statement as it introduces my two main idea/paragraphs – gold medal count and total medal count

there was a significant gap to the other nations (South Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and Australia), all of which won between 13 and 7 gold medals only.

There is too much detail to include everything. I put these countries in order to show the order they finished and group them together as there is a “significant gap” between the number of golds they won and those the other 4 countries won. It is not necessary to say exactly how many each country won

When we look at the total medals won, the United States is still the most successful nation with over 100 medals and Hungary the least with only 17.

I start the second para by giving the high figure and the low figure so the reader can picture the table.


These are excellent structures to allow you to combine information in one longer sentence and make a comparison/contrast at the same time.



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17 Responses to The Olympics medal table

  1. Faizan Bardai August 17, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    “In terms of gold medals, the two most successful nations were China and the USA which won 46 and 38 golds respectively.”

    -shouldn’t it be:

    “In terms of gold medals, the two most successful nations were USA and the China which won 46 and 38 golds respectively.”

    Because USA won 46 and China won 38 golds.

  2. elena August 17, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    Line 1. “the most ten successful” or “the ten most successful”?
    . From it …..

  3. Smitha August 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    When writing about gold medals, Germany and France won the same number of gold(11) as well as Italy and Hungary. They won 7 gold medals. In these cases the position was determined by the number of silver medals. Do you think this is a good point to include?

  4. emma August 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    “United States is still the most successful nation”
    “the two most successful nations were the USA and China”
    I am little confused about “is”and”were”.

  5. Danish August 25, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    i think your second para isnt impressive , in these games 1st , 2nd and 3rd positions are most importants , so second para should be dedicated to these 3 countries describing all of their meadals .
    Secondly i think the conclusion should be like this-

    ” Thus USA stole the show by securing the no. 1 spot while China and Great Britain were also spectacular.All other countries , although in bottom seven , showed a good game in terms of medals”

    please express your thoughts on it.

  6. meme August 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    wonderful essay

  7. mazen8212 March 20, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    great solution for my ugliest nightmare ” tables”.

    for me :

    para1- I wrote about USA and China numbers in more details.
    para 2- I wrote on the host nation ranking and its relation with Russian figures.
    para 3- I chose some interesting trends.
    but anyway i totally agree with what have wrote.
    thanks Dominic!

  8. Michael May 28, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    What about comparing USA and Australia interms of Gold medals won…
    And concluding that ranking is based on the number of gold medals won and not the total number of medals…

  9. mandy mate6 November 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Thank you very much for your useful instructions and model essay.

  10. Khurram December 2, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    273 words for this task, don’t you think that its too much. Well thanks for such a lovely explanation as tables are the most difficult part in this task one.

  11. vivek April 24, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    Did you note that you have written more than 250 words in the essay. How should one try to downsize it?

    • Dominic Cole April 24, 2014 at 8:14 am #

      Good comment. I’ll get this fixed – it is too long for a candidate model.

  12. Manoj September 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    That is in fact the problem with tables, even when you don’t wish to include everything and write more you end up doing that.

  13. Gaylene August 20, 2015 at 4:10 am #

    Very good lesson. I would, however, like to point out that the word “medals” is a countable noun, and therefore when discussing, one should use the word “number of medals, never “amount of medals”. People are always considered important enough to count, so we would say “the number of people”, not “amount of people.”
    Some non-countable nouns would include – sugar, rain, water, sand…The amount of rain we had this morning was impressive…but “The number of who attended the event was impressive.”

    According to this chart, medals not only can, but are – counted…hence, “the number of medals won by China was more than the number of medals won by Hungary.

    This also means that we would say “fewer people” or “fewer medals were won by Hungary than by China.” Less rain fell this afternoon than I had expected.

    Hope this helps!


  14. Yimo Che September 30, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    I would like to choose 2 topics:One is the deviation of common ranking,such as GBR, South Korea, and Hungary. The other is that the ranking critirion between Germany and France for those two countries won the same numbers of golden medals but were ranked differently.

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