IELTS Academic Writing Task 1: Analysing and Describing Maps 

 April 8, 2024

By  Jonathan

A less common but potential type of graphic representation in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 is the map. Maps usually depict changes in a town, city, or geographical area over time. The ability to accurately analyze and describe maps is a critical skill for excelling on this portion of the IELTS writing exam.

Understanding Maps in Task 1

  • Purpose: Maps in Task 1 generally illustrate urban development, land-use changes, or the addition of facilities to an existing location.
  • Time Frames: Typically, maps will compare the same place at two distinct points in time (past and present, or present and proposed future).
  • Focus: Changes and Additions Your task is to identify the key changes that have occurred and describe them effectively.

Strategies for Analysis and Description

  1. Orientation
    • Title & Labels: What location is depicted? What are the time frames being compared?
    • Compass Directions: Determine North, South, East, West if indicated. This helps when describing locations within the map.
    • Legend: If a legend is present, study what the different symbols or colors represent.
  2. Identifying Key Changes
    • Scan Both Versions: Look back and forth between the maps to spot major differences.
    • Types of Changes:
      • New Construction: (buildings, roads, bridges, etc.)
      • Demolitions: What existed previously but is now absent?
      • Changes in Land Use: (a forest converted to a residential area)
      • Additions to Existing Structures: (extensions, new features added)
  3. Structuring Your Writing
    • Introduction: Paraphrase the map title, indicating its focus on changes over time.
    • Overview (Optional): If a single, dominant change exists, summarize this briefly.
    • Body Paragraphs:¬†Organize your description logically. Options include:
      • By area of the map: Describe changes in the North, then the South, etc.
      • By type of change: One paragraph on new construction, one on demolitions, etc.
  4. Language of Location and Change
    • Prepositions: in the center of, to the east of, along the edge, next to, opposite
    • Verbs of Change: was replaced by, was constructed, was extended, was removed
    • Specificity: Name specific structures when possible (e.g., “the bridge,” “the shopping center”)

Example: Map Description

Prompt: “Maps of a town center in the past and present day.”

  • Strong Sentence: “The maps illustrate significant redevelopment of the town center, with the addition of numerous commercial buildings and transportation infrastructure.”
  • Weak Sentence: “The maps show how the town got bigger.”

Additional Tips

  • Don’t List Every Detail: Focus on the most significant changes for the level of detail expected in Task 1.
  • Proofread Carefully: Ensure your descriptions accurately match the placement of features on the map.
  • Manage Your Time: Map analysis can be time-consuming. Practice to become efficient while maintaining accuracy.

Common Map Scenarios

  • City Development: Expansion of residential areas, changes to commercial or industrial zones.
  • University Campuses: Addition of buildings, changes in layout, new facilities.
  • Tourist Sites: Addition of attractions, alterations to visitor centers or amenities.
  • Natural Areas: Impact of development, deforestation, creation of parks or reserves.

Practice Makes Perfect

  • Source Practice Maps: Find examples of maps with changes from reliable IELTS resources.
  • Timed Practice & Feedback: Write descriptions under timed conditions, getting feedback to improve your accuracy and language use.

Remember: Task 1 assesses your ability to understand complex visual information and communicate it clearly. While maps may seem intimidating, with dedicated practice you can develop the skills needed to tackle this task effectively and enhance your overall IELTS Academic Writing performance.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.