Lisa’s Study Corner – IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 – the 5 Ts

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The 5 Ts for writing an Academic IELTS Task 1

In Task 1 you have only 20 minutes to write 150 words. Below, I’ve outlined the way I teach students how to ensure they include everything necessary to get the best score for their ability level.

The Task:

You will be given a table, chart, map or diagram and will need to describe what you see (fact only; do not include your opinion). Mostly commonly the illustration will do one or a combination of the following:

  • compare quantities or amounts
  • show change over time
  • describe a process

One quick way to approach the task is to remember the 5 Ts: Time, Topic, Thesis, Trends, Totals.


Before you start writing you need to identify what time you are talking about and what your main tense will be. For example, if it’s a graph showing change over time, are both dates in the past (Past Simple) or are you comparing the past with the present (Present Perfect)? If it’s a process question, is it a natural process when you’ll mostly use active tenses or an industrial process when passive tenses are usually required?


Your reader needs to know what you are describing. This is the topic. Imagine that your reader can’t see your graph or diagram and describe what it shows. Usually you will be able to paraphrase (write in your own words) the question to do this. However, do not copy the wording of the question exactly because if you do this, it won’t be marked.


The next thing to consider is what the most important point the diagram illustrates is. If you were in the pub and you had to describe the main point/feature of the chart/graph/process what would it be? Did sales go up over time? Is one product, by far, the most popular? Do men earn way more than women despite their education background? Do not underestimate the importance of this step. You must describe the big picture as well as the details.


Now you need to describe the main trends. This does not mean describe everything you see. Your job it to group information together or compare information to make it meaningful. Consider the following examples, which is better?

  1. In 1980 men earned on average $200 per week. Then in 1990 they earned $250 per week and in 2000 this had grown to $300. Finally, by 2010 their weekly income had risen to $350 per week.
  2. On average, men’s weekly income increase by $50 over each 10 year period; from $200 per week in 1980 to $350 per week in 2010.

B.  is better because it groups the information and summarises the main trend.


The final thing you must remember is that it is essential to include data in your answer. Data could be total amounts, periods of time, dates, weights or a combination of the above. Without data, the information you provide is meaningless. If you say that sales rose you need to include when and how much. If you say that the caterpillar turns into a butterfly you need to say how many stages there are and how long each stage in the process takes. 

So to summarise this week’s tip – remember the 5 Ts when you write a Task 1 and get the tense (time) right, introduce the diagram effectively (topic), describe the main point (thesis) of the diagram, group and compare the key information (trends) and NEVER forget to include data (totals).

1 thought on “Lisa’s Study Corner – IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 – the 5 Ts

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