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If you are writing the academic version of the IELTS exam, you will have two different types of writing tasks. One will be a 250-word essay, and the other will be a 150-word description of information that appears in the form of a graph/table/chart/diagram. The information may be data, the stages of a process, how something works or you may have to describe an object or a plan for something like a building project.

Given that you only have about 20 minutes to complete this part of the exam, it’s a really good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of tasks that appear and learn how to tackle them. For a grander overview of task 1 formats, with advice on how to complete them correctly, please start with my previous blog, Three Easy Steps to Writing Task One IELTS reports.

When test-takers are presented with more than one graphic, they sometimes become confused and aren’t sure how to compare the information or organize their writing. This blog will give you some suggestions on how to make sure you are on the right track.

Let’s get started by examining two different samples of multiple graph tasks. As you look over these, ask yourself these two important questions:

  • What is each graphic or figure about? 

  • How do the figures relate to each other?

Note: similarities and difference might be apparent or you may see that the only relationship between the two is the same subject in a similar time period.

Example 1: 

Here you find a line graph about the amount of disposable income available to both young people and seniors in Canada between 2000 and 2010 in combination with a table showing data about the sales of products in four different years within the same period.

Graph of Disposable income by age

In this example above, the line graph shows how much extra spending money that seniors and young people had between 2000 and 2010 in Canada and in the chart below we can see how much the sales of some products went up or down or remained the same in four periods of time during that decade.

If you look carefully at the products in the chart, you can see that they could easily correspond to the two different age groups from the line graph (seniors would be more likely buying reading glasses and hearing aids, and young people would be purchasing running shoes and video games), so there is a strong relationship between the figures. How does this observation help you complete the task? If you see a strong relationship like this, you can organize your response accordingly. This means that you could highlight and compare the disposable income and spending of seniors in one paragraph and then do the same for young people in the next. What’s more, after comparing the data in both figures, it’s apparent that if disposable income is stable, so is the sale of products for that sector of the population (seniors have a relatively stable income and the sale of reading glasses doesn’t change much over the period ), and when income fluctuates for people, so do sales of products for that age group (video game sales go up and down in correspondence with the rise and fall of income available to young adults). Why is that important to see? If you have been preparing for this exam, you know that in addition to your description of the data, your response has to include a general observation about what can be taken away from the information. We call this an overview and it’s essential in your writing.

Example 2

Now, let’s look at how the second example is different.

The line graph above shows an estimate of how many people were online worldwide from 1995 to 2002 and the pie chart below illustrates the percentage of users in 6 different parts of the world in 2002.

What is the relationship between the two?

Both are about internet users worldwide and both have statistics for 2002. Otherwise, you would not be able to say there are similarities or differences. So, it would be appropriate to describe the line graph in one paragraph and the pie chart in another.

What about the overview?

You could simply state the general trends apparent in each graph: The number of people using the internet grew significantly between 1995 to 2002, and, in 2002, the majority of users were located in the USA and Canada with very few people online in the Middle East and Africa.

The take away from this is that when you are presented with more than one figure, start by asking yourself the two questions above. Once you see how the information relates, you are better able to select which data is important to highlight. Then organizing your paragraphs and writing an overview will be easier.