Top tips for describing maps in IELTS Writing Part 1
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Top tips for describing maps in IELTS Writing Part 1

When I was younger, I used to have a recurring dream: I would show up for an exam and fail terribly because I had studied geography but instead it was a history exam. It was extremely stressful. I would imagine that this is a similar feeling to what some of my students experience when they've been studying hard to discuss developments (increases and decreases) in Part 1 of the Writing test and instead they are faced with something like this on exam day:   As I’ve mentioned in some of my other blogs, each type of writing task steers you in the direction of a certain set of language. If you can demonstrate a good command of that language, you should achieve a satisfactory mark for the task. So today, I want to talk you through the key language to consider if you get a map like the one above in the IELTS test. 1. Establish what tense you should use in your answer. Look at the dates given on the map. In our example above, both dates given are in the past. One is earlier than the other. This shows us that our main tense should be the past simple, potentially with the opportunity to show the examiner that you can also handle the past perfect, but that is optional for some bonus marks.  e.g. ‘There was a joint car park for staff and members of the public.’ Sometimes, maps are labelled something like ‘current layout’ and ‘planned changes’, which indicates that you should be using the present simple and future tenses.  e.g. ‘The main car park is currently located at the front. The plans indicate that it is going to be moved to the side of the building.’ Very occasionally, you get a comparison between a past year and the current year, in which case the best tense to use would be the present perfect; but as I said that is actually quite unusual. Having said that, we might assume that for example things haven’t changed much since 2010 and we could use the present perfect to show that the changes made in the past still affect the present. This would just be another way to impress the examiner.  e.g. ‘The car park has been moved to the side of the building.’ It’s even rarer to get one map with no date. In this case, you should use the present simple as we assume that the map depicts a permanent situation. Once you have established suitable tenses for describing the map, make sure you remember to proofread for tense accuracy at the end. 2. You will need a good grasp of active and passive forms to describe the changes that were made. e.g. ‘They built a new car park’ would not score you nearly as high as saying ‘a new car park was built’. In fact, I was trying to think of simple examples when I discussed tenses above, but I felt really unnatural and I had to use the passive form several times. 3. You will also need to be able to describe where things are located in relation to each other. e.g. ‘next to’ and ‘behind’ are accurate, but ‘adjacent’ and ‘to the rear of’, would probably score you higher marks. 4. Another type of language you should be able to demonstrate is the language of comparison. e.g. ‘the new car park arrangement provides considerably more parking space for staff and the public’. 5. Finally, whilst you are usually given key vocabulary in the task e.g. ‘roundabout’, you might want to study the vocabulary to do with construction and infrastructure (e.g. facilities, construct, demolish).  When we look back at the list of language items, we realise that, luckily, we don’t have to study a whole new set of language, as they are all vital in several other parts of the test. However, knowing what it is the examiner is looking for will make it much easier to stay in control of your answer and to do well in the test.  If you find this useful, look out for my upcoming blog on describing processes. Sophie 

Sophie Hodgson

27 October, 2020

Top tips for describing maps in IELTS Writing Part 1

Top tips for describing maps in IELTS Writing Part 1

When I was younger, I used to have a recurring dream: I would show up for an exam and fail terribly because I had studied geography but instead it was a history exam. It was extremely stressful.

I would imagine that this is a similar feeling to what some of my students experience when they've been studying hard to discuss developments (increases and decreases) in Part 1 of the Writing test and instead they are faced with something like this on exam day:

Map exercise IELTS Academic 13

 

As I’ve mentioned in some of my other blogs, each type of writing task steers you in the direction of a certain set of language. If you can demonstrate a good command of that language, you should achieve a satisfactory mark for the task. So today, I want to talk you through the key language to consider if you get a map like the one above in the IELTS test.

1. Establish what tense you should use in your answer. Look at the dates given on the map. In our example above, both dates given are in the past. One is earlier than the other. This shows us that our main tense should be the past simple, potentially with the opportunity to show the examiner that you can also handle the past perfect, but that is optional for some bonus marks. 

e.g. ‘There was a joint car park for staff and members of the public.’

Sometimes, maps are labelled something like ‘current layout’ and ‘planned changes’, which indicates that you should be using the present simple and future tenses. 

e.g. ‘The main car park is currently located at the front. The plans indicate that it is going to be moved to the side of the building.’

Very occasionally, you get a comparison between a past year and the current year, in which case the best tense to use would be the present perfect; but as I said that is actually quite unusual. Having said that, we might assume that for example things haven’t changed much since 2010 and we could use the present perfect to show that the changes made in the past still affect the present. This would just be another way to impress the examiner. 

e.g. ‘The car park has been moved to the side of the building.’

It’s even rarer to get one map with no date. In this case, you should use the present simple as we assume that the map depicts a permanent situation.

Once you have established suitable tenses for describing the map, make sure you remember to proofread for tense accuracy at the end.

2. You will need a good grasp of active and passive forms to describe the changes that were made. e.g. ‘They built a new car park’ would not score you nearly as high as saying ‘a new car park was built’. In fact, I was trying to think of simple examples when I discussed tenses above, but I felt really unnatural and I had to use the passive form several times.

3. You will also need to be able to describe where things are located in relation to each other. e.g. ‘next to’ and ‘behind’ are accurate, but ‘adjacent’ and ‘to the rear of’, would probably score you higher marks.

4. Another type of language you should be able to demonstrate is the language of comparison. e.g. ‘the new car park arrangement provides considerably more parking space for staff and the public’.

5. Finally, whilst you are usually given key vocabulary in the task e.g. ‘roundabout’, you might want to study the vocabulary to do with construction and infrastructure (e.g. facilities, construct, demolish). 

When we look back at the list of language items, we realise that, luckily, we don’t have to study a whole new set of language, as they are all vital in several other parts of the test. However, knowing what it is the examiner is looking for will make it much easier to stay in control of your answer and to do well in the test. 

If you find this useful, look out for my upcoming blog on describing processes.

Sophie 

Sophie Hodgson

Sophie has been supporting students on their IELTS journey since 2003 and feels privileged to have watched them succeed. While most people probably do not like taking tests, Sophie believes that preparing for the IELTS exam can be both interesting and fun. She loves language and structure and enjoys exploring both with her students to help them achieve their aims.

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