It’s no surprise that students struggle with pie charts. After all, it is much easier to see the overall trend in a line chart or a bar graph than in a pie chart.
In a pie chart you are looking at two or three specific time points so you have to look carefully to identify (find) the trends.
And the chart in the real exam is ALWAYS in black and white, which makes it more difficult to see the trends and make comparisons quickly.
First you need to know what you are looking at. For the chart below, taken from a previous IELTS exam (Cambridge 8), you are looking at the same kind of data (total school spending), divided into five fields in three different years.
Make Notes about Figures
In the charts below you can see I’ve followed the charts for each of the five fields from 1981 via
(through) 1991 to 2001, and drawn an arrow to show the overall trends and calculated the overall changes.
For example, Insurance went from 2% to 3% to 8% so that is a clear upward trend, so I made a note on the final pie chart of x4 (four times), and I drew a straight upward arrow to show a clear large increase.
In contrast, Teachers’ salaries initially went up from 40% to 50% before falling to 45%, so it was an overall increase of 5% (or about 10% of the original 40%).
So I made a note on the final pie chart of +10% and I drew a fluctuating arrow but with a clear increase overall.
Make Notes about Positions
Next, in the chart below you can see I noted all the positions in the first and last years so I can clearly see any changes overall.
For example, in 1999 Other workers’ salaries was the 2nd largest area of school spending, whereas in 2001 it had dropped to the 3rd largest area.
So I wrote 2 and 3 next to that part of the pie chart for 2001, and I drew with an arrow to show the direction of the change.
Select, Group and Compare
Now you can see the trends easily, all you need to do is recognise any general patterns and identify which are the most important trends.
For example, it is now clear that three areas experienced an upward trend, whereas two areas had a downward trend.
It is also clear that according to the three charts, Teachers’ salaries remained the largest area of spending throughout the twenty year period.
In contrast, the percentage of money spent on Furniture and equipment became the second largest area of spending, overtaking Other workers’ salaries.
For a band 7+ you should be making comparisons where possible.
So you could note that by the end of the period twice as much is spent on Teachers’ Salaries compared to Furniture and equipment.
Furthermore you could note that by 2001 three times as much is spent on Teachers’ Salaries compared to Other workers’ salaries.
Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.
Look again at the charts. What other trends can you see?