key trends academic task 1 ielts

To succeed in IELTS Academic writing task 1, you need to be able to accurately identify the key features of a given chart or graph. In this guide, we will first understand the definition of a key feature before looking at how to identify the main and key features and include them in your Academic IELTS writing task 1 report.

1. What is a key feature?

In the IELTS Academic exam, writing task 1 will ask you to summarise the given information by selecting and reporting the key features of a chart, graph, or process diagram. We will just be focusing on charts and graphs in this guide.

If we look at the marking criteria for IELTS writing task 1, candidates that are aiming to score a band score 7.0 or above in Task achievement must:

  • Present a clear overview of the main trends

We will go into more detail about the overview paragraph later in this guide. First, you need to decide what key features you want to include.

There are two main things you need to look out for when deciding what to include in your overview:

  1. The main key feature(s) that summarises the overall trend of the chart/graph
  2. Other key features that summarise key information.

A key feature has the following qualities:

  • They are general trends shown in the chart
  • They do not give specific details
  • They should not contain individual features or specific statistics
  • They should be sentences that summarise the general features of the chart/graph

Take a look at this example IELTS line graph:


Overall, what stands out from the graph is that there was an upward trend in the number of visitors to Cardiff, but the number of visitors to Dublin saw a significant decrease over the period. A further additional point is that Dublin had more visitors in 2010, but in 2020, Cardiff was much more popular than Dublin.

This example shows:

  1. The main key features = ‘an upward trend in the number of visitors to cardiff’ and a ‘significant decrease’ in the number of visitors to Dublin
  2. Other key features= ‘Cardiff was much more popular than Dublin’ in the given time period.

Notice the following about our example. We have…

  • Only included words and not statistics (the only numbers we’ve included are the given years)
  • Focused only on what is happening in general and does not go into detail about individual items
  • Described two key main features and one additional feature
  • have not just give the features in a list: full sentences are used
  • Used a linking phrase between features: ‘A further additional point is that…’

IELTS writing correction

2. How to find the key features

One major error test takers make is that they only look for the ‘highest’ and ‘lowest’ numbers. However, to find the key main feature you should be looking at the biggest increase or decrease.

The first thing you can do is ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which items increase?
  2. Which items decrease?
  3. Which items stay the same?

Test takers can sometimes find it difficult to visualise this information. Why not try drawing on the chart itself to help you answer these questions. We’ve chosen to add arrows to our example:


Now we’ve added our arrows, we can easily answer our key feature questions:

  1. Which items increase? Visitors to Cardiff
  2. Which items decrease? Visitors to Dublin
  3. Which items stay the same? No figures stay the same

When looking for additional key features, we first looked at the difference in visitor numbers in 2010, then at the end of the time period in 2020. We notice:

2010– There were more visitors to Dublin

2020– There were more visitors to Cardiff

We summarised this by saying: ‘A further additional point is that Dublin had more visitors in 2010, but in 2020, Cardiff was much more popular than Dublin.’

3. Including key features in your overview

Your overview paragraph is the most important part of your IELTS writing task 1 report. Without it, you will not be able to score above a band score of 5.0 in Task achievement.

Your overview paragraph usually comes directly after your introduction (we recommend following this structure) although you may see some examples where the overview is at the end of the report.

Your overview should contain the following information:

  • Start with the words ‘Overall…’, ‘In summary…’ or a similar cohesive device: Clearly signal to the examiner that this is your overview
  • Start by describing the main key features (one sentence that describes the main trend of all the items e.g. an increase/decrease)
  • Continue with 1-2 more general trends
  • Only include 2-3 trends overall
  • Do not go into detail or include and specific statistics
  • It is ok to refer to years and units (e.g. ‘2010’ or ‘millions of people’)

Remember, the aim of your overview paragraph is to perfectly summarise the information in the graph/ chart before you go into detail in the main body paragraphs.

An overview should be easy for the reader to understand without having to look at the chart.

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