IELTS Writing Task 1 – Describing tables

When you are examining a table in the IELTS Writing Paper Task 1, look for patterns.  Find the highest and lowest values. Looks for any categories that change a lot and those that stay the same. It isn’t necessary to describe every little detail and you want to avoid a description that is just going through each part of the table one by one. Find the most important information about each category.

Have a look at this example task, then check out our advice on how to answer the question and finally our sample answer.


Do the following writing task.The table shows source of student income over a five-year period in the United States. Write a report for a college lecturer describing the information shown below.

You should write at least 150 words.

IELTS Writing Paper 1 Task 1

Advice on how to complete this task

Before you write

First, scan the data to find trends e.g. is there a rising/falling trend for each  source of income? Is it dramatic or gradual? Make some notes of the main points you want to include. Make sure you write something about all of the sources or you will lose marks on task achievement.

Writing Plan

The first sentence (or paragraph) should describe for the examiner what the table shows but you should not copy the sentence structure from the question e.g. use the keywords “students, America or US, source, income, years 2010, 2015” but write your own sentence.

It’s a good idea to write the main trends you see (see paragraph two of the sample answer). Don’t forget to include total income figures or you lose marks on task achievement.

Watch the video to see more about the main trends.

Next, you can write about each main trend and support it with some actual data from the table. In the sample answer, paragraph 3 talks about the rising trends and paragraph four about the declining trends.

If you time, you can conclude your answer with a summary/overview of the situation. Remember you only have around 20 minutes for the whole task so just make sure you mention each of the categories (in this case sources of income) and have highlighted the main trends.

Sample answer

The data shows the main sources of income for students in America from 2010-2015.A clear rising trend can be observed for students’ loans and student earnings over the 5 year period, whereas parental contribution and grant aid have both dropped. Student total income rose overall by over US$2000; from US$9,153 in 2010/11 to US$11,563 in 2014/15.

Student bank loans in 2010/11 comprised only 6% of total student income and student earnings were only 10% in 2010/11. By 2014/15, student loans had increased dramatically to 29% of total income and student earnings from jobs had similarly experienced a significant rise to 30% over the same period.

In contrast, in 2010/11, grants were the main source of student income (52%) and this drastically fell over the 5 year period to a mere 16% in 2015. Parental contribution suffered a less dramatic decline, but saw a reduction from 32% in 2010 to 25% in 2015.

In conclusion, the figures indicate that students have taken on more responsibility in paying for their education and the government and parents play less of a financially supportive role.

(181 words)

Answer Analysis

Watch this video to see what our IELTS examiners think of this answer. Look at what is good and what could be improved. If you understand how the examiners are thinking, you will be able to write a better answer to this task.

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