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A lot of my students freak out when they see a table. All they can see are the numbers, which means they have to look hard to find the main trends. Even if they can identify (find) one main pattern, they often miss something important.

In this post I show you how to make notes on the table so you can recognise (see) and remember ALL the main trends and key similarities or differences. You can check out a sample answer (and much more) for this question here.

Here is a recent question from IELTS Cambridge 14.

As well as our Task 1 sample answers, check out our Task 2 sample essays here: IELTS Writing Task 2 Sample Answers.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel for some IELTS Speaking Sample Answers: HowtodoIELTS YouTube.


What kind of Table?

The first thing to remember is that there are two main kinds of chart – some focus on changes over a period of time (also known as ‘dynamic’), while some focus on one period of time (known as ‘static’).

You need to be able to recognise the two different types as they require different vocabulary and grammar. In a previous post I showed you how to analyse the first kind of table (over time), and in this post we will look at the second type (not over time).

Look at the table below, based on a real question from the IELTS Writing exam from Feb 2018. It focuses on the percentages of males and females that cycled in a particular town in 2012, organised into five different age groups. You can check out a sample answer (and much more) for this question here.

Firstly, you should notice the following things:

  • This chart is not over time  – just one year (2012).

  • The data is organised in two main ways – gender (males and females) and age (five groups).

  • The figures are proportions of the total number (the % of males or females), not the number of people (males/females).

Main Trends and Key Similarities / Differences (Gender)

Next pick up your pencil and make notes on all of the main trends and key differences and/or similarities. Remember that you need to look ACROSS (gender) and DOWN (age) the table.

Let’s look at gender (across) first – you should be looking for an overall pattern if possible. You can see that the proportion of females that cycled was higher than males. And in fact this pattern is not just overall, but for EVERY age group, without exception.

To help me remember this I drew a big arrow at the top from Female to Male and wrote above it Overall ‘gender trends’: Female bigger than Male for all groups!”

You should also look at the size of the differences. For example, you can see that the smallest gender gap was in the youngest group, whereas the next two groups had the biggest differences, and finally the gap for the two oldest groups was not so big.

I made a note of all these differences, drawing small arrows between each set of figures, and noting the size of the differences.

Main Trends and Key Similarities / Differences (Age)

Now, let’s turn our attention to analysing the pattern DOWN the table. You can see that for both Females and Males, as people got older there was a smaller proportion of people cycling, with the exception of the oldest group.

Again to help me remember this, I drew two big arrows going down the table for Female and Male, and I wrote below it “getting smaller”.

I also drew two small arrows pointing to the figures for the oldest groups and wrote ‘not follow trend’.

As the trend is the same for both Females and Males I wrote at the bottom “Same overall ‘age trends’ for Female and Male!”

So in the exam, your question paper should end up looking something like the one below. This might look like a mess but believe me, this will really help you to find all the important information needed to get a high score for your Task Achievement in IELTS Writing Task 1.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

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

Using my notes write some sentences to describe these trends and key differences.

Check your ideas with my model answer here.

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