How To Write an
IELTS Pie Chart Essay

Using this 5 steps process to plan and write IELTS pie chart essays will help you to achieve high marks in Task 1:

1)  Analyse the question

2)  Identify the main features

3)  Write an introduction

4)  Write an overview

5)  Write the details paragraphs


In this lesson, we’re going to work thorough each step as we answer a practice question and I want to start by highlighting the importance of steps 1 and 2. It is essential that you learn how to do this planning stage properly if you hope to write a high-scoring essay.


Before we begin, here’s a model essay structure that you can use as a guideline for all IELTS Academic Task 1 questions.

Ideally, your essay should have 4 paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 – Introduction

Paragraph 2 – Overview

Paragraph 3 – 1st main feature

Paragraph 4 – 2nd main feature


We now have everything we need to begin planning and writing our IELTS pie chart essay.

Here’s our practice question:

The chart below shows the reasons why people travel to work by bicycle or by car. 

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

Write at least 150 words.

Source: Official website IELTS Essentials



Step 1 – Analyse the question

The format of every Academic Task 1 question is the same. Here is our practice question again with the words that will be included in all questions highlighted .

The chart below shows the reasons why people travel to work by bicycle or by car.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.


Every question consists of:

  • Sentence 1 – A brief description of the graphic
  • Sentence 2 – The instructions
  • The graphic – chart, graph, table, etc.


Sentence 2 tells you what you have to do.

You must do 3 things:

1.     Select the main features.

2.     Write about the main features.

3.     Compare the main features.


All three tasks refer to the ‘main features’ of the graphic. You do not have to write about everything. Just pick out 2 or 3 key features and you’ll have plenty to write about.




Step 2 – Identify the Main Features

The graphic in IELTS pie chart questions should not be difficult to interpret. Each question has been created to test your language skills, not your mathematics ability.

Pie charts always show percentages or proportions. Apart from that, they are essentially the same as bar charts and line graphs in that they are a way of presenting data visually.

All you are looking for are the main features. These will usually be the easiest things to spot. There will be lots of information in the graphic to help you identify them.

Here are some useful questions to ask?


  • What are the units of measurements?
  • What are the time periods?
  • What can you learn from the title and any labels?
  • What is the most obvious trend?
  • Are there any notable similarities?


(I give more detail on how to use these questions, plus downloadable checklists for identifying the main features of all 7 different types of IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 questions, in the lesson on How To Understand & Analyse Task 1 Questions.)


Pie charts generally have titles and labels or sometimes a key instead of segment labels as in our practice question. The key explains what each segment of the pie chart represents.

So, what information is contained in the two pie charts?

Here's our IELTS pie chart again.


They show two different methods of travelling to work and illustrate the reason why people choose these types of transport.

What main features stand out?

There are 2 main features in these IELTS pie charts:


Main feature 1: The largest proportion of people who cycle do so for health and environmental reasons.

Main feature 2: The highest percentage of people who drive do so because it’s comfortable.


Another notable feature is that the only reason included in both pie charts – that the method is faster – shares almost the same proportion for both modes of transport.

We may not have space to cover this final feature but we’ll note it just in case we need it to make up the words.

The key features you select will be the starting point for your essay. You will then go on to add more detail. However, with just 20 minutes allowed for Task 1, and a requirement of only 150 words, you won't be able to include many details.


We’re now ready to begin writing our essay. Here’s a reminder of the 4 part structure we’re going to use.

Paragraph 1 – Introduction

Paragraph 2 – Overview

Paragraph 3 – 1st main feature

Paragraph 4 – 2nd main feature




Step 3 – Write an Introduction 


In the introduction, you should simply paraphrase the question, that is, say the same thing in a different way. You can do this by using synonyms and changing the sentence structure. For example:

Question:

The chart below shows the reasons why people travel to work by bicycle or by car.


Introduction (Paragraph 1): 

The two pie charts display the key reasons why people choose to either cycle or drive to work by percentage. 


This is all you need to do for the introduction.




Step 4 – Write an Overview (Paragraph 2)


In the second paragraph, you should report the main features you can see in the pie charts, giving only general information. The detail comes later in the essay. You should also make any clear comparisons you spot.

Here are the ones we picked out above. I’ve added the additional feature as it will fit well in the overview.


Main feature 1: The largest proportion of people who cycle do so for health and environmental reasons.

Main feature 2: The highest percentage of people who drive do so because it’s comfortable.

Main feature 3: For an almost equal proportion of people, their chosen method is the fastest.


Now form these ideas into two or three sentences with a total of around 40 words. State the information simply, using synonyms where possible. No elaborate vocabulary or grammar structures are required, just the appropriate words and correct verb tenses.

For example:

Overview (Paragraph 2): 

The largest proportion of people who cycle, have made this choice for health and environmental reasons whilst the prime advantage of driving to work is considered to be the comfort of travelling by car. Notably, for an almost equal proportion of people, their chosen method is the fastest.




Step 5 – Write the 1st Detail Paragraph


Paragraphs 3 and 4 of your IELTS pie chart essay are where you include more detailed information about the data in the graphic. In paragraph 3, you should give evidence to support your first key feature. Don’t forget to make comparisons where relevant.

Here is our first main feature again:

Main feature 1: The largest proportion of people who cycle do so for health and environmental reasons.


And this is an example of what you could write:

Paragraph 3:

Taken together, health and fitness and less pollution are reasons given by over half of all people who prefer travelling by bike. Each represents a 30% portion which is double the next most popular reason which is a lack of parking issues at 15%.




Step 6 – Write the 2nd Detail Paragraph


For the fourth and final paragraph, you do the same thing for your second key feature. 

I’ve added the third main feature again as it will round off the essay well. In an exam situation, I would include it if I had time.

Main feature 2: The highest percentage of people who drive do so because it’s comfortable.

Main feature 3: For an almost equal proportion of people, their chosen method is the fastest.


Here’s an example of what you could write:

Paragraph 4:

A different set of concerns has affected the decision of those who choose to commute by car. Comfort is by far the most significant factor at 40% of people, but distance to work is a more important concern for just over a fifth of drivers. For 14% of people, a faster journey time is the key factor compared to a figure of 12% of cyclists who find their means of transport quicker.


I just want to say a quick word about verb tense in this sample essay. Since there is no time frame given in the question, you could use either the present simple tense or the past simple tense. I've used the present simple tense. Whichever tense you choose, remember to be consistent throughout your whole essay.

Here are the four paragraphs brought together to create our finished essay.


Finished IELTS Pie Chart Essay


This sample IELTS pie chart essay is over the minimum word limit so you can see that you don’t have space to include very much detail at all. That’s why it is essential to select just a couple of main features to write about.

Now use what you’ve learnt in this lesson to practice answering other IELTS pie chart questions. Start slowly at first and keep practicing until you can plan and write a complete essay in around 20 minutes.


Want to watch and listen to this lesson on how to write an IELTS Pie Chart essay?

Click on this video.



IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 – All Lessons

IELTS Academic Writing –  A summary of the test including important facts, test format & assessment.

Academic Writing Task 1 – The format, the 7 question types & sample questions, assessment & marking criteria. All the key information you need to know.

Understanding Task 1 Questions – How to quickly and easily analyse and understand IELTS Writing Task 2 questions.

How To Plan a Task 1 Essay – Discover 3 reasons why you must plan, the 4 simple steps of essay planning and learn a simple 4 part essay structure.

Vocabulary for Task 1 Essays – Learn key vocabulary for a high-scoring essay. Word lists & a downloadable PDF.

Grammar for Task 1 Essays  – Essential grammar for Task 1 Academic essays including, verb tenses, key sentence structures, articles & prepositions.

The 7 Question Types:

Click the links below for a step-by-step lesson on each type of Task 1 question.

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