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Do you need to write an overview in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1?

What happens if you don’t write an overview?

A question I often get asked from IELTS candidates is whether it is necessary to write an overview in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: a summary of information shown in a graph, chart, table or diagram (or more than one of these).

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1
The chart above shows the different modes of transport used to travel to and from work in one European city in 1960, 1980 and 2000. (Source: the official IELTS website)

For those of you new to IELTS, an overview is a statement that summarises the main features shown, and it can come at the beginning of your summary after your introduction or at the end of your summary as a conclusion.

To answer the question of whether you need to write an overview, I’d like to show you what it says in the public version of the official IELTS descriptors for this writing task.

  • IELTS band score 7: “[Candidate] presents a clear overview of main trends, differences or stages”
  • IELTS band score 6: “[Candidate] presents an overview with information appropriately selected”

As you can see, you need to include an overview in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1. If you don’t include an overview, you won’t be able to get a band score 6.0 or above for the content of your writing.

Here’s a sample answer for the chart above with the overview after the introduction:

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 sample answer

The chart provides information about the percentage of commuters in a European city who used to commute by bus, car, bike or foot in 1960, 1980 and 2000.

Overall, it is obvious that the percentage who used the different modes of transport changed over the 40 years, with a significantly higher percentage using a car to commute in 2000 and a much lower percentage traveling to/from work by bike or foot than had previously been seen.

The percentage of commuters who used to drive to/from work increased from being the least common type of transport at around 7% in 1960 to being the most common means at over 35% in 2000. In contrast, the percentage who cycled and walked to/from work decreased from around 27% to 7% and 35% to 10% from 1960 to 2000 respectively.

The percentage who travelled by bus was at its highest in 1980 with over 25%. The figure in both the other years was below 20%.

Word count: 161

Here’s a sample answer for the same chart with the overview as a conclusion:

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 sample answer

The chart provides information about the percentage of commuters in a European city who used to commute by bus, car, bike or foot in 1960, 1980 and 2000.

The percentage of commuters who used to drive to/from work increased from being the least common type of transport at around 7% in 1960 to being the most common means at over 35% in 2000. In contrast, the percentage who cycled and walked to/from work decreased from around 27% to 7% and 35% to 10% from 1960 to 2000 respectively.

The percentage who travelled by bus was at its highest in 1980 with over 25%. The figure in both the other years was below 20%.

In conclusion, it is obvious that the percentage who used the different modes of transport changed over the 40 years, with a significantly higher percentage using a car to commute in 2000 and a much lower percentage traveling to/from work by bike or foot than had previously been seen.

Word count: 162

In conclusion…

  • you need to include an overview in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1
  • you can write an overview at the beginning of your summary after your introduction (like in the first sample answer)
  • you can write an overview at the end of your summary as a conclusion (like in the second sample answer)
  • if you don’t include an overview at all, you may not be able to get the IELTS band score you need

If you have any questions, let me know by posting a comment below.

Pete

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8 comments on “Do you need to write an overview in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1?

  1. Dear Pete, is it also possible when you put your overview at the end of the summary to start the paragraph with: overall?

    1. That’s a good question, Erik.

      I think it would be safer to use ‘in conclusion’ to introduce your overview if you put it at the end of your summary. The word ‘overall’ is more commonly used to introduce a general statement that is then explained in more detail (like in the first sample answer above).

      1. Dear Pete thanks for your quick answer. What is better in your opinion?
        I watched the tutorials of the road to IELTS preparation website, and they said you have to have approximantely 4 paragraphs, an introduction, 2 body paragraphs and 1 final paragraph with the main things. But on youtube and different IELTS sites, everyone is putting the overview as the second paragraph.
        And is it safe to begin your overview with in conclusion, because it isn’t a conclusion right?

        1. Hi Erik,

          I personally find it easier to include an overview after the introduction as it helps me to organise the information in the summary but it’s okay to end with the overview if you prefer.

          If you do end with the overview, you can start the paragraph with ‘in conclusion’ as the overview is a kind of conclusion when placed at the end.

          The official IELTS band score descriptors don’t state where the overview should be but they do say that the answer needs to be logically organised to get a band score 7 or above.

  2. Hi Pete,
    I am so confuse now about my writing task 1 in academics.
    I am attending an ielts preparation class right now and my teacher gave us an activity to do the WT1. I put my overview after my introduction but when she return my paper , she put a comment that it is incomplete . Then i ask her, she said that i have to put an conclusion. Then i said i already put my overview. She still insisting that i have to put a conclusion.
    I am confuse now, every ielts lesson online said that there’s no conclusion in ielts writing task 1.

    If u can please give me the outline of task 1, i will appreciate it. Thanks

    1. I can understand why you are confused, Rina.

      As you can see from the official IELTS band score descriptors and the two sample answers in my post above, it is okay to start your summary with an introduction and overview and then go on to explain the main features in more detail. (You could also check some of the sample answers and examiner’s comments in the Cambridge IELTS series of official tests, e.g. Cambridge IELTS 10).

      My advice would be to explain to your teacher why you are confused and show her my post above as she may not realise that you can include your overview after your introduction (or she may not have meant what you think she meant when you asked her about your writing).

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