IELTS Writing Tables

Tables are another common way of representing data for an IELTS academic writing task 1 question. Like a bar chart, they can either show changes over time or a situation at a fixed point.

Strategy

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

Step 1: Understand the Table

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.

If a table shows changes over time, it can be helpful to imagine the table as a line graph. You may even be able to draw a line across or down the table indicating where the numbers increase and decrease.

If the numbers represent a fixed time, it may be helpful to work out how they are ranked and how different columns are related to each other.

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

In your first sentence you need to paraphrase the description provided of the table. The description may look like this:

The table below gives information about changes in modes of travel in England between 1985 and 2000.

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

The figures provided compare the mean, annual distances travelled by different modes of transport in England over a 15 year period.

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

  • the table –> the figures
  • below –> provided (because it is not on the same paper as my answer)
  • gives information about –> compare
  • mean, annual distances travelled (taken from table heading)
  • modes of travel –> modes of transport (better collocation)
  • over a 15 year period
Overall Trend

Sometimes tables make writing an overall trend very easy as they include a total row or column. This easily allows us to compare the main thing being measured – in this case, the average distance travelled each year.

Average distance in miles travelled per person per year, by mode of travel
1985 2000
Walking
255
237
Bicycle
51
41
Car
3,199
4,806
Local bus
429
274
Long distance bus
54
124
Train
289
366
Taxi
13
42
Other
450
585
All modes
4,740
6,475

As you can see above, the overall trend is that the average distance travelled has increased by more than 1700 miles.

If we didn’t have this total column, we could still discuss an overall trend by looking at each row and seeing if the usage of each transport has increased or decreased. We could then comment that most forms of transport experienced increased usage in this period.

Step 3: Write the Body

In the body paragraph, you need to describe in more detail the information in the table. The following tips will help you to do this.

Divide the Table into Groups

Look at how you can split the data in the table into groups based on similar numbers or trends. In the above example we could divide the table in several ways.

I personally would discuss cars first, having the highest number. From here I would describe the decrease in “human-powered” transportation being walking and by bicycle. I would then mention the two buses, usingĀ while or a similar linker to contrast the difference. Finally I would talk about train, taxi and other which have all increased.

Use Numbers

You can use exact numbers from the table in your answer. However, it is beneficial to demonstrate to the examiner that you can refer to figures in different ways. For example, the total distance of car journeys in 2000 could be expressed as 4,806 miles, a little under 5000 miles or as about 75% of the total distance travelled by an individual.

Step 4: Write the Conclusion

As with other task 1 reports, we are looking for a key comparison in the conclusion. Since we have already compared the years 1985 and 2000, it makes sense to compare the different modes of transport. We could point out, for example, that travelling by car was by far the most used form of transport, with the next specified form being train which has less than 10% of the mileage.

As always, it is important to not state your opinion or draw any conclusions from this data. We shouldn’t, for example, discuss why the increase in car use may be bad for the environment.

Practice Questions

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

Acknowledgement

The table above is based on an IELTS question that appears in IELTS 6. The full book can be purchased here.

Categories: ExamsIELTS

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