IELTS Writing Bar Charts

Bar charts are commonly used in IELTS academic writing task 1 questions.

These may either show changes over time or show a snapshot of something at a given time.

Strategy

If you practise writing bar chart questions using the following strategy, you should have no problem writing a good response quickly in the IELTS exam.

Step 1: Understand the Bar Chart

The first thing you need to do is understand what is going on. It can be helpful to take a minute before you write anything and just try to understand the data.

In particular you need to know:

  • Does the graph show changes over time, or a fixed point in time?
  • What do the bars represent?
  • What is on the vertical axis? Does it start at zero or a different number? What unit relates to the numbers and are they in thousands or millions? Are they percentages?
  • What is on the horizontal axis?
  • What has the highest and lowest figures?

Step 2: Write the Introduction

The introduction for any academic task 1 can be made up of:

  • paraphrasing the description of the data;
  • an overall trend.
Paraphrasing

The first sentence of the introduction is a paraphrased version of the description of the chart provided. The description may look like this:

The chart below shows what UK graduate and postgraduate students who did not go into full-time work did after leaving college in 2008.

We need to take the ideas in this sentence and put it into our own words:

The bar chart provided illustrates the different options that UK students who did not enter full-time employment chose after completing a bachelors’ or higher degree in 2008.

Note the different ways I have used to paraphrase the original sentence:

  • the chart –> the bar chart (more specific)
  • below –> provided (because it is not on the same paper as my answer)
  • shows –> illustrates
  • what students did –> the different options students chose
  • go into full-time work –> enter full-time employment
  • graduate and postgraduate … after leaving college –> after completing a bachelors’ or higher degree
Overall Trend

The overall trend is a bit more tricky than paraphrasing. If the bar chart shows a change over time, we can find an overall trend in the same way as we did for a line graph.

In the below example we do not have a change over time. Instead we have two categories of students – graduates and postgraduates. We can therefore see if they follow the same trend or a different trend. In this case we can see that a similar proportion of both types of students do voluntary work or become unemployed. However, postgraduate students are more likely to enter part-time employment and less likely to continue studying further.

IELTS writing bar charts

Step 3: Write the Body

In the body paragraph, you need to give details about the data. This will depend on the exact bar chart that you get. However, the following tips should help.

Treat Changes Over Time as a Line Graph

If you have a changes over time bar chart, you can treat this as a line graph. In this case, separate the various lines into phases and describe these and talk about similar trends together.

Don't Write "The (colour) Bar"

As with line graphs, don’t write the red bar. Refer to what the bars represent and find different ways to do so in order to get a good mark for lexical resource.

Use (Approximate) Numbers

You should use numbers from the bar chart in your report. As with a line graph, you are unable to see the exact numbers and so you should approximate using words and phrases such as approximatelyjust overalmost, etc.

Group Like Data Together

If there is similar data, you can write about these points together. In the above example, there is a slight difference between the number of graduates and postgraduates who did voluntary work or became unemployed and this may be one way to group the data. Alternatively, you might group items which are within a similar range of each other.

Step 4: Write the Conclusion

In the conclusion we are looking for a key comparison. If the bar chart shows changes over time, we can deal with this in the same way as a line graph. In other words we can look at how the order of the different items has changed.

As this bar chart is a snapshot, we can compare the highest values with the others. It may be useful to group some of these items together. We could therefore write:

Overall, the majority of students (around 70%) who did not get a full-time job either continued their studies or found part-time work, while less than 30% remained unemployed or in a voluntary role.

Practice Questions

Click here for all IELTS writing task 1 practice questions and sample answers.

Acknowledgement

The bar chart above has been adapted from an IELTS question that appears in IELTS 10 Academic. The full book can be purchased here.

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