This is Part 5 of our Overviews made easy! series. Today, we’re going to look at tables. If you haven’t read them already, make sure you check out the earlier posts in this series.
Remember that in Writing Task 1, the examiner will be looking very clearly for an overview. An overview is a one-sentence summary of the main trends or patterns in the graph. If you do not write an overview, you will hurt your writing score.
Some students find tables daunting because they contain a lot of text and numbers without visual clues such as those found on a line graph or pie chart. Students may worry about how to describe it all, which of course they shouldn’t, or about how to choose the main features to write about.
So – how do you select the key features which you must mention in your overview?
Well, a table represents two sets of data, presented in columns (vertical) and rows (horizontal).
Look at the table below (taken from www.ielts-exam.net)
If you follow the first column from top to bottom, you will see the various categories of leisure activities. If you follow the top row across from left to right, you will see the various age groups of people surveyed.
Before you start writing, you should spend some time considering the data first in the columns and then in the rows (or vice versa), making a note of the main trends or key features you see.
In the case above, reading down the columns you will find which leisure activity is most and least popular according to that specific age group. Reading across the rows, you will see the age groups who most and least prefer that specific activity.
As with the other data sources used in Writing Task 1, you can choose how to group your ideas together depending on the kind of information you are given. However, a simple way of structuring your paragraphs when describing a table is to write one paragraph for the main features in the columns and another for the information in the rows. This means that your overview should mention the key features of both.
For example, the key features in the table above:
When comparing activities –
the most popular activity = watching TV/videos
least popular activity = going to the cinema (although there are a couple of exceptions)
When comparing age groups –
the older age groups do less exercise and fewer group activities
the younger and middle age groups show a reverse pattern of social habits – younger people prefer to socialise in groups of four and more, middle age people prefer groups of four or less.
So, an example overview based on the table above could be:
The most popular activity overall is watching TV/videos and the least popular activity in general is going to the cinema, although there are a couple of exceptions with the elderly generation. The older age groups do less exercise and fewer group activities. The younger and middle age groups show a reverse pattern of social habits, with younger people choosing to socialise in groups of four and more while middle age people preferring groups of four or less.
To summarise, follow this procedure:
- Look at the columns and note the main features
- Look at the rows and note the main features
- Decide which features are key – eg. highest and lowest values/things that change a lot and those that stay the same, etc
- Decide how you will group your ideas together
- Write an introductory sentence paraphrasing the task
- Then write a couple of sentences mentioning the main trend or pattern or key feature of each group but don’t include details – this is your overview