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Written by Angela Rutherford


In the first part of the IELTS Academic writing test, you write a report summarizing the information presented in a visual. Sometimes it is a chart or line graph with numbers and statistics and occasionally you will see something like the illustration of the two islands below. 

Two hand drawn islands - black on white

These types of plans or maps are all about changes. It might help compare these tasks to childhood “spot the difference” puzzles like this to help you understand how to get started.

Spot the Difference

Hand-drawn spot the difference with two almost identical pictures of tree houses. 

There are 8 differences between the tree house pictures. How many do you see in the island pictures?  

Before you begin to think that this is all fun and games, there is an important difference between the above examples. Whereas the changes in the treehouse pictures are hard to find, the changes in the IELTS maps usually indicate some kind of transformation over time. For example, look at how the island looks more developed for tourism in the second image. These changes and their effect are precisely the key features that you need to report on. 

In this blog, I am going to show you how simple it is to write about maps by giving you a question framework to analyse the maps with and then an easy format to report into. In the end, you might even be hoping to see this kind of question on your test. 

We will be working with this prompt and visual. 

Text box above two maps

PART ONE: the important information

PART TWO: the simple formula that you can use for this and any similar IELTS map task

text table - PART TWO:  the simple formula that you can use for this and any similar IELTS map task

Here is the final response in paragraph form**: 

The two maps show the changes to a university department between 2013 and now.  

In 2013, the university department was a rectangular-shaped building surrounded by parkland and entered directly from Main Street. The entrance led to a straight hallway that ended at the library. A washroom and two seminar rooms were on the left of the hallway and an office, and two other seminar rooms were on the right. 

Today, in 2023, we can see seven changes. The parkland has been replaced by a parking lot to the right of the now bigger building. The entrance from the top end of the parking lot leads to a longer U-shaped hallway. From the entrance, on the right of the hallway there are two new seminar rooms, and, on the left, there are two offices with a washroom between them. Around the corner and down the hall, the library has been moved to the location of the old washroom and is much smaller. Otherwise, this section of the building has not changed. 

Overall, although the library is smaller, facilities such as parking, more seminar rooms and office space have been added to improve the learning environment. 


To sum up, responding to maps can be very simple if you start by noting the changes that you can see and then organizing that information into the paragraph formula I have suggested. I hope this advice will allow you to have some fun with your exam. Good luck! 

**Grammar notes: When describing the map from the past, use past tense verbs and when describing the current map, use present tenses (present and present perfect passive voice (has/have + been + past participle). Here the passive voice is appropriate because the building is receiving the action (replaced/moved) not performing it.