IELTS Writing Task 1 – Common mistakes to avoid

Over my 20 years of IELTS teaching experience, I’ve noticed some common mistakes IELTS candidates make in Writing Task 1. Read this article carefully or watch the video below to be aware of what these mistakes are and avoid making the same mistakes when you take the IELTS test.

Mistake #1 – Not writing enough words.

The instructions clearly state “You should write at least 150 words”. You should aim for around this number. Writing too few words means you risk not reporting all the details. Going well over this number means you are reporting unnecessary detail and not summarising the important information. Although you do not need to count each word, you should learn to recognise how long 150 words looks in your handwriting when you are doing practice tests.

Mistake #2 – Misinterpreting the diagram.

Take a minute or two to study the diagram before you begin writing. Read the instructions and the heading as they give you an idea of what the diagram represents. For example, look at all the details in the graph or diagram or the key features on the vertical and horizontal axes and try to understand what they represent. A common mistake is to omit to report or to misreport the units or symbols of measurement as in leaving out the percentage symbol (%) or leaving out the unit such as the kilo or tonnes or even the unit for recording temperature such as Celsius or Fahrenheit. All of these details must be accurate in order for the answer to be marked correct.

Mistake #3 – Not including an “elephant” sentence.

After the introduction in Task 1, you should add an elephant or overview sentence. This is a one sentence summary of the main features of the diagram. Without one you cannot get over a 5 for Task Achievement in the marking criteria. Some candidates add it at the end of their writing and that’s ok too but the main thing is to show the examiner that in this graph, I notice these major trends or changes.

Mistake #4 – Reporting the data mechanically.

The instructions clearly state “summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant“. Therefore, by simply writing down numbers or percentages without noting the similarities or differences means you fail to interpret the information. For example, University A may show a sharp upward trend in enrolments, while University B may have a minimal rise,  from 25 to 100 and 20 to 30 over a specific period. In this way we report not only the numbers of enrolments at each university but we also compare the speed of change in the enrolments.

Mistake #5 – Adding unnecessary detail.

Reporting all the information on the graph does not mean adding all the details for every minor or insignificant change. It is better to be selective and focus on the most important trends or changes. For example, if your line graph shows a series of minimal rises and falls in sales of cars over a 20-year period, you would not describe each rise and fall separately. But rather summarise the main trend by reporting a mild fluctuation in the sales of cars within a margin of the lowest and the highest figure. This shows that you recognise the main features of the trend and are not simply writing down figures.

Mistake #6 – Adding your own opinions or assumptions.

Remember that task 1 is an objective summary of a graphic piece of information. That means you should just describe the information you see on the diagram and not explain it or comment on it. Giving your opinion would distract from your writing response as this is not part of the task.

Mistake #7 – Repeating the same words and grammatical structures.

When reading your response, one of the things the examiner is looking for is a range of vocabulary and grammar. So you should learn a few synonyms to describe each trend such as an increase, a rise and a growth and avoid using the same word. You could also vary your sentence structure by using a noun phrase. For example, “There was a dramatic fall in share prices“. Or use a verb phrase as in “The share prices fell dramatically“.

Mistake #8 – Not checking your writing response

Leave at least 3 minutes at the end of your summary for proofreading. Check for:

  1. Spelling mistakes – words such as fluctuation, environment, increase are often misspelled
  2. Grammar mistakes like verb tenses. Some diagrams refer to a period in the past in which case you need to use the past simple. Some refer to an everyday situation, so you need to use the present. Finally, some even include predictions about the future so you should use the future simple. There are also diagrams which show past events up to the present and then make estimations about the future. In these cases you need to use both past and future tenses.
  3. You should also check that you have used a formal style of writing. Don’t use short forms such as e.g. or parentheses as these are informal language features.

By avoiding these common mistakes in IELTS Writing Task 1, you will achieve a higher band score. So use them as a checklist while you’re writing and for proofreading after you’ve finished writing. 

If you are taking the IELTS test soon and need to prepare for all modules of the test, check out my complete preparation course. It takes you through everything you need to know to answer each and every IELTS question and provides lots of practice material and quizzes.