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I find that one of hardest things for my students is how to analyse the chart efficiently.

It’s a skill that you have to practise a lot so that when you get to the actual test you don’t need to waste time studying the chart.

Be efficient

How long you spend looking at the chart depends on the question – some take longer than others, but regardless you need to be efficient.

That means knowing what you are looking for and identifying the main trends and key details as quickly as possible so you can start writing.

Look for the overall pattern (for charts and graphs).

The first thing I tell my students to do is take a step back and look at the overall pattern.

What I mean by this is don’t worry about the precise thing you’re measuring (people, cars, cats – who cares?), and ignore all the numbers and just look at the overall trends, by looking at the start and finish positions.

A lot of students worry too much about all the minor fluctuations (every up and down) of each line or column but you need to stay focussed on the overall changes to see if these smaller changes are important.

So overall, did each line go up or down? Are the blue ones more than the red ones? Did they increase more than the other?  

Not only will this help you to understand the chart, but you will need this summary for your overview, which is essential for any task 1 essay.

Practice Exercise

Let’s look at an example. For the chart below you should look for the following:

– Which line overall is the highest?

– What line had the highest increase?

– What did the other lines do? (increase a bit, decrease, stay the same)


So the ‘big picture’ for the chart below is that the top line (it’s health, but we don’t care) is overall the highest and it was the one that increased the most.

Most of the other lines increased a little bit (comparing the start and finish) but one line (the dotted line –  ‘other’) pretty much stayed the same overall (again comparing start and finish).

Writing your overview

So based on looking at the chart above, you can write the following overview:

“Overall, the spending on all kinds of research increased over the period.”

But this is a poor overview, so it would get a low score (most examiners will give it a 5, some will give it a 6 for Task Achievement).  This is because it doesn’t cover all the main points and there’s a mistake, as ‘other’ was unchanged.

For this chart, you should mention that health was the largest area of spending by far and that the other fields had comparatively small or no increases.

Therefore for a good Task Achievement score, you should write something like this:

“Health was the largest area of spending by far and grew significantly during the period while the others had comparatively small increases, except for ‘other’ which overall was unchanged.”

This overview will get you a band 7 and up.

There is no difference between a band 7, band 8 and band 9 overview. The difference in Task Achievement for the those scores is determined by how well you describe the detail, including making suitable comparisons.

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

Write an overview for the chart below. We’ll give you feedback on it!

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