IELTS Writing Task 1 Tips

Summary: A big list of advice on how to prepare for, practice, take and get feedback on IELTS Academic Task 1 essays.

This article is a ranked list of the most important advice on preparing for, practising, getting feedback on and taking IELTS Academic Task 1, including advice on topics like map tasks, flowchart tasks, grammar, vocabulary, useful phrases, planning, paragraphing, editing, and dealing with numbers. If you find this useful, there are also similar lists of Task 1 teaching tips and Writing Task 2 tips. 

15 IELTS Writing Task 1 planning and paragraphing tips

  1. The first thing to do when you open the IELTS Writing paper and look at Task 1 is to underline important words in the task
  2. Although all Task 1 tasks say “select”, “summarise” and “compare”, you should always underline these three words to make sure that you do those things
  3. Make sure that you plan how you will split the information into (usually two) different body paragraphs before you start writing
  4. There are no extra marks for clever or original paragraphing, so you should split the information into (usually two) body paragraphs are quickly as possible
  5. The quickest way to split the information that you are given into (usually two) body paragraphs is usually to draw a line across the task page and make one side of the line body 1 and the other side body 2 (e.g. data up to 2002 body 1 and data after that body 2, or the table on the left body 1 and the pie chart on the right body 2)
  6. There is often a choice between a simple plan which will produce simple language unless you try hard to include precise comparisons etc, and a more complex plan which will be more difficult to write but will naturally produce more advanced language. As there are advantages and disadvantages to both, it doesn’t matter which you choose, as long as you choose quickly.
  7. Paragraphs must be divided by an indent or blank line, and a blank line is better because it is a clear transition and leaves space for adding extra language if you need to
  8. A sentence is not a paragraph, so all paragraphs need at least two sentences
  9. Don’t start new lines with each new sentence in a paragraph (because it’s an essay, not a poem or song)
  10. As long as each paragraph has at least two sentences, there is no need for the length of the body paragraphs to be similar
  11. Good paragraphs should have just one topic (however broad or narrow), should have clearly different topics to the other paragraphs, and should be readable on their own without the rest of the essay (so avoid starting with “However,…”)
  12. Changing topic phrases like “Turning (our attention) to…”, “Moving on to…” and “As for…” are useful both for starting body 2 (where they are much better than “Secondly,…”), and for other parts of the exam like Writing Task 2 and Speaking Part 2
  13. You should practise underlining key words in the question and then making a plan until you can do it in three minutes, maybe sometimes without writing the essays
  14. To make the second body paragraph readable on its own, any linking phrases should mention what they are referring to, e.g. “In contrast to Japan,…”, not just “In contrast,…”
  15. If you use an indent between paragraphs, there is no need for an indent at the beginning of the introduction, and you don’t need a blank line as well (although just a blank line with no indent is probably a better option)

 

IELTS Writing Task 1 first paragraph tips/ IELTS Writing Task 1 introduction tips

  1. The best structure for an introduction is three sentences, with the first sentence rephrasing the question, then a summary sentence, and a final sentence with an explanation of the topic of each body paragraph/ the organisation of the essay/ the structure of the essay such as “I will describe these two charts in that order”
  2. Although you will see many model answers without this, it’s best to always end the introduction with a sentence like “I will describe the past data then turn my attention to the future figures”, in order to force you to plan carefully, to show that you have done so, and to make the essay easier for the examiner to understand
  3. Avoid ending the introduction with very general, uninformative and obvious descriptions of what you will do in the body such as “I will describe this data below”
  4. Although many model answers have final summary paragraphs, these paragraphs often have only one sentence, usually add nothing for someone who has read the body, would almost always make more sense in the introduction before you go into detail, usually repeat words from the question or body, and are nothing like what would be at the end of descriptions of data in real academic papers with data in this position. It’s therefore always better to put a summary sentence in the introduction.
  5. If it is difficult to write a short (usually one-sentence) summary of the data, it makes more sense to write about whatever else stands out about it, which is usually the first thing that strikes you when you first look at it (and so should be quick and easy to choose)

 

15 IELTS Writing Task 1 time management tips

  1. Perfect timing for Writing Task 1 is three minutes to underline key words and plan, three minutes to write the introduction, ten minutes to write the body, then four minutes to edit everything you have written
  2. You should practise underlining key words in the question, making a plan, and writing the introduction within six or seven minutes (sometimes also useful practice without writing the body of the essay)
  3. It’s much better time management to write quickly and then go back over it to edit than it is to write slowly and carefully, so you should try not to stop and correct too much as you are writing
  4. To save wasting time counting every word, always do practice tasks on official answer sheets so that you know how many words you write per line and so can just count the number of lines and multiply to make sure you are well over 150 words
  5. If you are not sure if you have written the right number of words, estimate the number of words per line from the first couple of lines, count the number of lines, then make sure that the total is over about 158 words
  6. Although Writing Task 2 is twice as important as Writing Task 1, it’s not a good idea to start with Task 2, as you could easily use up the whole hour on that and so not reach the word limit on Task 1
  7. If it’s difficult for you to reach over 150 words in 20 minutes, try to analyse the question and plan much more quickly, always write basically the same kind of introduction, edit as messily as you like and so try to reduce eraser use to zero, and edit after you finish more than when you are writing
  8. There are no extra marks for neat editing or beautiful handwriting, so just try to write as quickly as you can
  9. If you are worried about how messy your writing can be, the general rule is that anything that the examiner can easily understand is fine (however ugly it looks)
  10. If you are having problems planning within three minutes, don’t think twice about which key words you underline, don’t analyse the data before you make a plan, and write a very short plan (e.g. “Body 1: men, Body 2: women”).
  11. If you are spending too long writing your introduction, don’t waste time on rephrasing (using the same word if nothing instantly comes to mind, then trying again when you edit), write whatever is most obvious about the data in your summary sentence, and always use more or less the same sentence to explain the organisation of the body
  12. There is no maximum word limit in IELTS Writing Task 1, but if you write over around 165 words then you will waste time that should be used on editing or on Task 2, and may describe too much data instead of selecting and summarising
  13. If you often run out of time in Task 2 without reaching 250 words, try to speed up Task 1 until you can completely finish (including a final edit) within 18 minutes
  14. In the unlikely event that you write an essay that doesn’t match what you described in your introduction, it’s obviously much quicker to change the intro to match the body than it would be to change the body
  15. There are no extra marks for the kind of clever calculations that are needed to write things like “There was then exactly a one third increase”, such calculations take up time, and simpler approximations like “over 30%” show more of a range of language.

 

IELTS Writing Task 1 task completion tips

  1. You must reach over 150 words in 20 minutes, as even 149 words will mean that you lose marks
  2. You shouldn’t speculate at all about the information in Task 1, so don’t write about reasons, consequences, etc.
  3. You shouldn’t use your own knowledge in Writing Task 1, so don’t give a background to the topic, don’t compare with the data that you know about your own country, etc
  4. Although the task says to compare “where relevant”, comparing and contrasting is actually relevant 99% of the time, so you should include phrases like “much higher”, “completely different” and “very similar” if at all possible
  5. Even if there is very little information on the task sheet, e.g. it’s a flowchart with few steps, make sure that you still select and summarise, not describe everything
  6. If you reach the end of the essay and are just a few words short of around 158 words, it’s usually best to add a few words to make longer (and more impressive) sentences as you edit
  7. If you reach the end of the essay and are over 10 words short of about 158 words, it’s best to add a sentence to somewhere in the text (not usually at the end of the text)
  8. If you need another sentence to reach the word limit and can’t think of anything else, a possibility is to add a sentence explaining the parts of the visuals to the introduction such as “The vertical axis represents… and the horizontal axis represents…”

 

20 IELTS Writing Task 1 language tips

Grammar in IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. Although in real life it is common to use present tenses to describe past and future data, to show your range of language you should use past tenses to describe past data and future forms for future data, leaving Present Simple for the rare case of trends which are repeated such as sleep patterns every day
  2. To avoid repeating “will” too much for future data (and to avoid things with different meanings like “going to” and “might”), use “It is predicted/ forecast/ expected/ projected/ estimated that…”
  3. It is very likely that you will need irregular verbs like “rise/ rose/ risen”, “fall/ fell/ fallen”, and even “weave/ wove/ woven”, so it’s worth memorising such forms
  4. Present Perfect sentences like “have rebounded” can only be used for data that starts in the past and goes up to the time of writing, so are very unlikely to be useful in IELTS Writing Task 1
  5. You should be careful not to overuse passive voice, as many possibilities like “was increased” are wrong as we don’t know or care who did it and some common verbs like “occur” never take the passive voice
  6. Although the examiner will be impressed by proper use of complex tenses such as “had already peaked” and “will be flattening out”, you should only use them when they are natural, as trying to force them into the essay is likely to lead to selecting unimportant data and/ or making mistakes with the grammar
  7. Grammar is generally much less important than other things such as typical phrases and spelling, but it might be worth studying prepositions, articles/ determiners and irregular verbs to prepare for this part of the test
  8. Students sometimes try to avoid “I” in Writing Task 1, but this is unlikely to be worthwhile as you have to use it anyway in Writing Task 2 to give your own opinions, use personal experience to support those opinions, etc

 

Functional language in IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. Much more than grammar and even vocabulary, the most useful language to learn for the exam is phrases for comparing and contrasting, starting paragraphs, approximating, etc
  2. A good way of communicating more and showing your range of language is to be more specific, e.g. writing “far more popular” instead of “more popular”, “rocket” instead of “climb”, and “bottom out” instead of “become flat”
  3. If possible, comparisons should include both similarities and differences, and general statements like “They are almost completely different” and more specific comparisons such as “At that point, the data in Sweden outstripped that of Denmark by…”
  4. To show your range of language and avoid having wasting time staring at the data, you will need language to estimate such as “most…”, “above…”, and “approximately…”

 

Numbers in IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. Small and simple figures like “twelve” and “a hundred” should be written as words, and large and complex numbers like “1,220,000” should be written as figures
  2. Especially with graphs and tables, try to include a mix of sentences with numbers (“rose by around a fifth”) and ones without numbers (“It then accelerated and reached a new high”)

 

Vocabulary in IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. Especially for line graphs, you will lots of language to describe trends that go up, go down, go in both directions, are small changes, are big changes, are straight lines, are not straight lines, etc
  2. There is no need to worry about British and American English in IELTS Writing Task 1, in fact using both can be quite useful to use both as a way of rephrasing vocabulary
  3. You should be careful with language that has positive or negative connotations, as writing “outstanding” or “improve” could seem like analysing/ speculating/ using your own knowledge, which you are not asked to do

 

Rephrasing in IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. You should memorise how to rephrase the most common things in Task 1 such as “bar graph” for “bar chart”, “chart” for “pie chart” and “process” for “flowchart”
  2. If you can’t think of a different word that you can use to avoid repeating vocabulary, try to use a different part of speech of the same word (“fluctuation” instead of “fluctuate”, etc), or just use the same word for now and see if anything else comes to mind while you do your final edit
  3. Less obvious things to rephrase to show your range of language include times on the graph (“in the early 90s”, etc), and places that are mentioned (“two Scandinavian countries”, etc).

 

IELTS Writing Task 1 process tasks tips

  1. Especially for process tasks/ flowchart tasks, it is worth studying lots of phrases for sequencing like “When that has finished,…” and “The following step is…”
  2. With process tasks/ flowchart tasks, try to include a mix of passive voice (“It is moved…”) and active voice (“The machine moves the raw materials…”)

 

IELTS Writing Task 1 map tasks tips

  1. For map tasks, you need phases to rephrase “It is…” for locations such as “It is located…” and “It was situated…”
  2. In map tasks, try to include a mix of positions on the map like “in the top left corner of the map” and positions with respect to other things like “Near that shopping centre, there is…”

 

Editing IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. If you have managed to leave enough time for a final edit (as you really should), as well as correcting errors such as spelling mistakes, you should try to avoid repetition, and to increase the level of your language by adding extra words to make more impressive and specific phrases like “increased exponentially"
  2. Write all corrections above the line, above the crossed-out word(s) if there was some wrong text, or above a little arrow symbol/ mountain symbol if it there were missing words
  3. If you want to change or add a large amount of text such as a whole sentence, cross out any original text, write the new text around the edge of your essay (i.e. at the top, bottom or side), draw a box around that new text, then draw an arrow from the box to the correct position in the essay (maximum two or three times per essay)
  4. When you are editing, missing words are at least as common as wrong words, and the most common missing words are articles/ determiners like “a” and “the”, so it’s worth keeping that in mind as you go through your essay
  5. Using an eraser really slows you down, so instead you should cross things off, add extra words above the line, etc.
  6. If you can’t stop yourself using an eraser too much, do some practise tasks in pen or with your eraser hidden from you

 

27 preparing for IELTS Writing Task 1 at home tips

Doing IELTS Writing Task 1 exam practice tips

  1. If you are doing the paper-based test, you should always write out your answers in full by hand in pencil
  2. To get used to finishing exactly on time and build up your handwriting muscles, you should do Task 1 and Task 2 without a break at least two or three times before your real test
  3. When you do practice tests at home, don’t look at the task before you start timing yourself, make sure you stop after exactly 20 minutes to check that you are well over the word limit, then do extra work on your essay with the help of your textbook, model answers, a dictionary etc to make sure you learn some useful new language

 

Studying for IELTS Writing Task 1 tips

  1. It’s much easier to improve your range of language than your accuracy, so you should spend at least as much time on learning new language as on trying to remember how to correct mistakes that you have made
  2. IELTS is a closed-book exam, so all useful language that you come across from the textbook, model answers, etc needs to be perfectly memorised so that you will be able to recall it in exam conditions (by using lists of words and phrases, flashcards, flashcard apps, etc)
  3. It’s worth starting a notebook (or similar electronic document) to collect and revise useful language for Task 1 on lists like “ways of rephrasing common words in the test”, “trends language – both up and down”, “comparing phrases – similarities” and “my problems with missing words”
  4. Ways of learning useful vocabulary for Task 1 with a list, flashcards or flashcard app include with opposites, synonyms, different parts of speech, descriptions, translations, and mistakes such as wrongly spelled words
  5. Ways of learning useful phrases for Task 1 such as “In complete contrast,…” with a list, flashcards or flashcard app include with phrases with the same meaning, gapped phrases, phrases with errors, mixed phrases, and definitions of the kind of phrase such as “strong contrasting phrase”
  6. If you have problems with spelling, you can memorise the right spelling of common words for Writing Task 1 by having a list or flashcards with the wrong spelling on one side and the right spelling on the other, gapped words on one side and the full spelling on the other, the pronunciation on one side and the spelling on the other, a gapped sentence on one side and the word in the gap on the other, etc
  7. Try to make a checklist of all the things that you should and shouldn’t do in Task 1, look at the list before you start timed practice, check things off when you finish, and change anything that you forgot about during timed practice (in red pen so you remember what you had to change)
  8. When you look at model answers, always examine it critically for good points and bad points first, then search for useful language which you should memorise
  9. When you look at model answers, remember that they are all either too perfect for you to be able to reproduce in the exam (because the writer is a native speaker and/ or spent well over 20 minutes on them) or are imperfect (because they are candidate answers, etc) and so shouldn’t be just copied
  10. Make sure that you don’t spend too much time on studying how to describe line graphs, as completely different tasks such as bar charts and pie charts are just as likely to come up
  11. Although the examiner will count every word that you write, you should avoid ever doing so, including when practising at home, because otherwise through habit you might also waste time doing so in the exam
  12. If you find books or websites which claim to include a list of the most common mistakes with IELTS Writing Task 1, only write down the ones which you think you could make, as the others might be specific to speakers of other languages, less common than they claim, etc
  13. Although you shouldn’t spend too much time on doing this in timed exams, it is worth practising rephrasing Task 1 questions as much as you can to write lots of examples of first sentences of introductions, maybe sometimes without writing the rest of the essay
  14. When you learn new words like “fluctuate”, try to also learn other parts of speech like “fluctuation”
  15. If you are preparing without a teacher, it is good practise to come back to an old attempt at timed practice and see how you can improve it by editing more carefully, adding more impressive language, etc.
  16. If are studying with a study group/ with friends (without a teacher), useful activities include trying to add good language from your partner’s essay to yours, taking turns writing paragraphs of an essay, planning together, and using a checklist to check other people’s essays
  17. If you have received too many corrections on your practice essay to be able to remember them all, concentrate on those which make your meanings unclear, which you’ve never heard of before, and which make impressive phrases once they are corrected
  18. If editing is a weak point, make a photocopy of your essay before you give it to someone else to be edited, then see if you can find all the same mistakes a couple of weeks later when you try to edit it again
  19. If you find that you use the same basic language all the time, you could try to describe the same data many different ways then write down which way is most likely to impress the examiner
  20. If you have a private teacher who doesn’t have much experience with teaching IELTS, make sure that they give you feedback on planning and paragraphing, more impressive language that you could have used, time management, etc, not just a list of mistakes that you made in your essay
  21. If you find yourself just using the same basic language every time that you write a Task 1 essay, try writing with a list of useful language to help, then later on see how much of that list of language you can remember by brainstorming into a blank page with the same categories (“linking expressions”, “ways of describing the kinds of charts”, “summarising phrases”, etc).
  22. Business newspapers like the Financial Times are good sources of trends language like “rocketed” and “dived”

 

Improving a low IELTS Writing Task 1 score tips

  1. If you have taken IELTS two or three times and your writing score is still very low, then you are probably not reaching the word limit, are not following the instructions (e.g. not comparing) and/ or are not paragraphing properly
  2. If you need a high IELTS score but your writing score is stuck at a medium level of around 5.5 or 6.0, it’s probably because the language you are using is too simple, so you should practise rephrasing more, using longer phrases, and using language with more precise meanings

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