Task 1 – TOOLS, part 1

Hey everyone!

This lesson is Part 1 in a 4-part series about how to write your IELTS Writing Task 1 (Academic) answer.

Here we will focus on which verb tenses to use in your answer. Don’t worry… we will also get lots of practice.

Let’s get to it!


What tenses should I use in Task 1?


Use PAST TENSES for most graphs, charts, and tables:


  • Usually you can stick to Past Simple (or Past Continuous), because usually you will be describing events and actions that are finished:

“The amount of people visiting the station peaked at 6:00, and then dropped dramatically until 12:00.”

“Road and rail transport both followed similar trajectories, but roads gained in popularity throughout the period and rail did not."

  • The most important thing here is just to keep your tense consistent:

BAD: “Road and rail transport both followed similar trajectories, but roads gain in popularity throughout the period.”

(This answer will lose marks because it mixed up its tenses and used Past Simple at the start, and Present Simple at the end.)


Use PRESENT SIMPLE for Diagrams and Maps:

IELTS Writing Task 1 MapIELTS Writing Task 1 Diagram

  • It is better to describe diagrams and maps with Present Simple, because you are not referring to specific finished events, but to facts.

“Next, the rotating cylinder heats the powder, which is then poured out, and ground down further. Finally, the resulting cement mixture is placed into bags.” 

“The reception area is circled by a track for vehicles, which also leads up to the restaurant.”

  • Notice that in these question types, you will use Passive Voice a lot (be + past participle). That’s because we don’t really know (or care) who is the performer of these actions… instead we are focusing on the process, and the objects being created or used.


 Use FUTURE for Projections:

IELTS Task 1 projection

  • Some graphs contain some kind of projection for the future, where they show what a trend or data is expected to be in 2050, for example. In this case, you should use future tenses:

“The amount of hydropower energy consumed will remain stable until the year 2030.”

  • Careful! This means you might have to mix your tenses, if it is appropriate:

“Consumption of hydropower energy fell slightly from 2005 to 2010, but will remain stable until the year 2030.”

  • Note that there are other expressions that you can use in English to indicate future, and these are excellent for describing projections:
  • “The amount of energy consumed is going to remain stable until 2030.”
  • “The amount of energy consumed is predicted to remain stable until 2030.”
  • “The amount of energy consumed is expected to remain stable until 2030.”


In the end, you will need to use your best judgment. Just try to keep your tenses consistent, unless you’re specifically describing something in a different time!

And remember, don’t try to be complicated or fancy; you don’t need to impress the examiner by trying to use fancy grammar. It’s better to be accurate than to risk making a mistake with a complicated tense.


Let’s Get Some Practice!


Let’s do some multiple-choice exercises to help you remember the information in this post. Check out the graphs below, and then say what tenses should be used for each.

Good job completing the practice! When you’re ready, check out Task 1 TOOLS Part 2 - Observing Specific Data!