Essay Describe Bar Chart

Static or Dynamic?

Before writing an IELTS task 1 bar chart or line graph answer it is important that we analyse the question correctly. Taking a few minutes to do this will help us write a clear answer that fully responds to the question. Just what the examiner wants us to do.

The first thing we need to do is decide if the bar chart is static or dynamic. Static means that the data comes from one point in time. Dynamic means the data comes from more than one point in time.

Whether a chart is static or dynamic will affect the information we choose to include in our answer and the kind of language (tense, grammar etc.) we use.

If it is dynamic we will have to compare the different times and comment on the general trends over the time period.

If it is static we will have to compare the different variables, in this case countries, car price, GDP and time it takes for one person to buy a car.

Main Features

Every IELTS academic task 1 question asks us to ‘select and report the main features’.

This means that we have to not only pick the most significant information from the graph and include it in our essay, but also decide which information is not important and should therefore not be included in our essay. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in task 1 is including all the information you see.

So which information should you choose?

You should look for:

  • highest/lowest values
  • biggest differences
  • similarities
  • significant exceptions
  • anything else that really stands out

There are 3 main features in this graph

1) It takes over 26 years for a Vietnamese person to buy a car.

2) Vietnam has the second highest average costs but the second lowest wages.

3) Cost of a car in Singapore is nearly 3 times the next most expensive.


I advise my students to follow a basic four paragraph structure for these kinds of questions.

Paragraph 1 

Paraphrase the question using synonyms.

Paragraph 2 

Provide an overview of the main features. No need to include any data in this paragraph, just tell the examiner what is happening in general terms. If you had to describe the main features in two sentences, what would you say?

Paragraph 3

This is where we get more specific and use data. Take 2 of the main features (from your overview) and describe them in detail using data from the chart.

Paragraph 4 

Simply do the same thing as you did in paragraph 3, but with two other main features (from your overview).

Sample Answer 

The graph compares the GDP per capita, cost of a Toyota Camry and approximate length of time it takes for 1 citizen to purchase that mode of transport in eight Asian countries.

Despite having the second lowest average yearly income, it costs more to buy this car in Vietnam than in all but one other Asian nation. It also takes significantly longer for a standard person to buy an automobile in Vietnam than in any other state in Asia. On the other end of the scale, Singaporeans have to pay nearly three times more for their cars than the Vietnamese and it takes them the least amount of time to afford a motor vehicle.

It costs $49,944 to buy a Toyota Camry in Vietnam, but this dwarfs the average yearly income per person at just $1,910. It would therefore take a normal man or woman 26.1 years to save up for that particular car.

This is in contrast to Singapore where it costs $126,245 for that model of motorcar, however the average salary is much greater at $55,182. This means that it generally takes just over 2 years for a typical individual from Singapore to acquire this vehicle.

(200 words) Band 9.

It should be noted that this is not a real IELTS task 1 question. This is just a chart that I saw on the internet, but it allowed me to make a very important point- you don’t have to mention everything on the graph. I only talked about 2 out of the 8 countries and I still wrote 200 words and answer the question fully. The key is finding the most significant data and not talking about anything else. Don’t worry, you won’t lost marks for not talking about everything, quite the opposite.


This graph is also good for demonstrating how important it is to vary your vocabulary. There were four words that could have been overused in this essay- car, average, country and people. Instead of repeating them over and over again I used synonyms to show the examiner I have a wide vocabulary and gain extra marks. Here are the synonyms:

Car- Toyota Camry- automobile- vehicle- motor vehicle- motorcar

Average- approximate- normal- typical- standard

Country- countries- nation- state

People- citizen- man or woman- individual

Next Steps

Next time you see a chart or graph in a newspaper, in a text book or on the internet, think about what the main features are and what common words would you have to vary with synonyms.

I hope you have found these tips useful. If you have any questions, let me know below.

For more band 9 sample essays check out our task 1 sample essay page. 

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Writing Task 1

Writing Task 2






Yesterday, I had an IELTS preparation student say to me, “Teacher, I have no idea how to start or what to write for the IELTS Academic Task 1 essay that has a bar chart. Help!” Well, if you have ever felt the same, then you are in the right place. Here is your answer.

What is a Bar Chart?

A bar chart uses either horizontal or vertical bars to show comparisons among two or more categories. One axis of the chart shows the specific categories being compared, and the other axis represents a given value (usually a percentage or a dollar amount).


Example IELTS Academic Bar Chart

What to Look Out for in an IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Before you start writing, you should examine the bar chart:

  1. First and foremost, you should read the title.Often, I have students report on the essay in an inverted order because they didn’t read the bar chart title.

For example, a Task 1 essay that I often give students has the chart title “Expected City Visits by Country of Origin for 2018.” Yet I often get sample sentences back that read: “It is predicted that people from Paris will be the most likely to visit the United States in 2018.”The correct answer should be “It is predicted that Americans will choose Paris as their favorite city to visit in 2018.”

2. Next, it is also important to look at the time frame given in the chart. Are you looking at a specific year? Are there multiple years being compared?Are we talking about something in the future? This will determine if you need to use past tense language, the language of change, or future tense language when discussing your data.

3.Finally, decide what are you comparing.What titles are given to the Y and X axis? This important information will form the language that you will use in the essay and the corresponding synonyms you should also use. 

For example, the bar chart above compares the gross earnings of fiction books in five categories (Young Adults, Classics, Mystery, Romance and Sci-Fi and Fantasy) between 2006 and 2010.(Incidentally, this is exactly what you would say for your introduction!)

Include This Information when Describing the IELTS Academic Bar Chart

Not that you know what the chart is about, these are the vital elements to include in your essay:

  1. Start with an introduction. The introduction explains what the chart is about, and gives an overview of the main points.Make sure you include one!It can be short, but it must be there. If you’ve spent time examining the chart this should be easy to write.

2. Look for the key data and make sure that you are comparing and contrasting the data, NOT just listing the data from one section to the next. If you just write about what happened to X, what happened to Y, and what happened to Z, without showing any relationship between them, you will not get a high score.

To do this, you will need to look for similarities and differences when you first analyze the chart and you will need to decide what can logically be put together or not. Note: This means that you don’t have to tell me everything that you see in the bar chart, just the key points!

For example, for the above chart, you might say: “It is interesting to note that Romance novels earned the most income each year between 2006 and 2010 with sales ranging from $70,000 to $115,000. In contrast, Sci Fi and Fantasy novels were the poorest revenue generators of the five categories earning only $20,000 at its highest point in 2007 and a mere $10,000 at its lowest point in 2009.

3. Group the data together so that you have a well-organized and coherent answer. It is a good idea to divide your answer into two or three paragraphs so it is well organized. To do this, you should group similar things together into paragraphs or sections.

4. Use a wide variety sentence structures.Include complex sentences and simple sentences.

5. It is equally important to use appropriate transitions between describing each data point. 

6. Always provide a short summary conclusion of what you included in your essay. One line is enough here.

For example, it can be seen from the chart that overall, 2007 was the best year for book sales in all five categories.

7. Finally, make sure that you have written 150 words.

Sample IELTS Academic Bar Chart and Model Answer

This sample Task 1 essay with IELTS Academic bar chart from the British Council will give you a good chance to see these principles in action. For more examples and practice, check out our Magoosh IELTS prep.

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