Writing Task 1: Mastering an overview

Did you know that it’s impossible to score a band 6 or above in task response on your IELTS Writing Task 1 test if you don’t include an overview?

This is what it says in the Writing Task 1 assessment criteria for a Band 6:

· (Academic) presents an overview with information appropriately selected

In this post we’re going to show you what an overview is and how best to write one.

Before we go any further, take a look at the two diagrams below (A and B) and the following overviews (1 and 2). Match each overview with its corresponding diagram.

Hopefully you decided that Overview 1 matches with Diagram 2, the bar chart on oil production and usage, and Overview 2 matches with the pie charts. That’s the easy bit but how, exactly, should you write an overview?

Step 1: Decide what’s important

As you’ll see from the examples above, an overview is essentially one or two sentences, located directly after the introduction of your report, which picks out the most important information shown on the diagram(s). Essentially, we’re looking out for:

· The largest or smallest figures

· Any significant differences

· Any similarities

· Big or small increases or decreases in the case of dynamic charts (where data changes over time)

- Highest and lowest points – also in the case of dynamic charts.

Diagram A

Diagram B

In the exam, I strongly advise my students to spend a few minutes identifying this key information before starting to write. Take your pen or pencil out and actually make notes, circle or underline key figures on the question paper. Not only will this help you to write a good overview, but it will allow you to plan the structure of your report too.

Also remember that you don’t need to include any specific figures in your overview such as percentages. Your main body paragraphs are the place to include this level of detail.

Step 2: Use some signalling language

You’ll see from both of the examples presented earlier that they start with a phrase such as ‘Overall’ or ‘In summary’. This language makes it very clear to the examiner that this is your overview. Additional language such as ‘it can be seen that’ or ‘it’s clear to see that’ reinforces this and makes your report sound more formal.

Here are a few other ways you can start your overview:

· To summarise, the most marked change is…

· Overall, it is clear that…..

· In general, the majority/minority of….

· In summary, the most notable trend is…..

· It can clearly be seen that……

Step 3: Language for contrast and complex sentences

One good technique for writing an overview is to pick out two contrasting items of information and to use linking phrases to connect them. I did this in both overviews and the linking phrases are highlighted:

Alternative language for contrast can be seen in the paraphrased version of each overview below (highlighted):

Using linking phrases like this also helps us to build complex sentences, where two simple sentences are joined together. Being able to write accurate complex sentences will help to improve your grammar score in IELTS. Find out more about complex sentences: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zfxfwty).

We hope this post has helped to shed some light on writing a good overview for Writing Task 1. Why don’t you put this information to the test and practise writing your own overviews with some questions you’ve found yourself?

Laura Plotnek Jones is an experienced English language teacher, specialising in IELTS. She runs Home English - a private language school in Birmingham, The UK – where she helps to prepare 100s of students for the IELTS exam every year. As part of her work, she produces her own teaching materials to address her students’ areas of difficulty, particularly in writing. Laura holds the Diploma in English Language Teaching for Adults (DELTA) and is the National Coordinator for NATECLA (the National Association of Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults).

If you have any comments on or questions about this blog post, she’d love to hear from you!

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IELTS is jointly owned by IDP:IELTS Australia, the British Council, and Cambridge Assessment English.

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