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How to Describe a Map for IELTS Academic Task 1: A Step-by-Step Guide - IELTS Luminary

In the IELTS Academic Writing Task 1, describing a map is not just about noting what you see; it's about weaving a narrative that captures the ebb and flow of a landscape's story. As you stand at the threshold of this task, think of it as an opportunity to blend precision with storytelling—a skill that you can refine and perfect with the right guidance. This is where our comprehensive IELTS eBooks and personalized Essay Correction Service come into play, offering a treasure trove of strategies and insights to transform your writing from simple descriptions to compelling narratives.

How to Describe a Map for IELTS Academic Task 1: A Step-by-Step Guide - ielts luminary

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Let this guide be your companion, as it takes you through a real IELTS map description task. With each sentence crafted, you'll learn to infuse the rich knowledge from our eBooks and apply the nuanced feedback from our seasoned examiners. Together, they work seamlessly to ensure that every map you describe is not just a collection of changes but a journey through time and transformation, helping you achieve that band 9 score with clarity and confidence.

Key Strategies for a High Band Score in Academic Task 1

Navigating the terrain of IELTS Academic Writing Task 1's map questions can seem like a formidable journey. However, with the compass of well-honed strategies, you can chart a course to a high band score. Here is a deeper exploration into the key strategies that can bolster your map-description prowess:

Start with an Overview

Think of the overview as the compass that orientates your reader. It provides the examiner with a snapshot of the geographical narrative at play. Crafting an overview is like drawing a map; it should outline the significant changes without giving away every detail of the journey. For instance, if the provided maps depict an island before and after the development of tourist facilities, your overview should succinctly highlight this transformation. It's the teaser that sets the stage for the detailed script that is to follow.

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Detail the Changes

This is where the magnifying glass comes out, and you delve into the specifics. Each significant alteration to the landscape must be noted. These are not mere annotations on a map; they are the plot points of your story. Whether it’s the construction of new edifices that redefine the skyline, the weaving of pathways that connect previously isolated locales, or the gentle touch-ups to nature’s canvas, every detail contributes to the narrative. Your task is to identify these developments and describe them with precision and relevance, thus demonstrating your keen observational skills.

Use Descriptive Language

Descriptive language is the color with which you fill in your map. Adjectives and adverbs are not just decorative words; they serve as shades and tones that bring the picture to life. They transform a bland "new building" into "a sprawling, sun-drenched complex". Such language not only engages the reader but also showcases your lexical resource – an essential criterion in the IELTS scoring system. It’s about creating a vivid image in the mind’s eye of the examiner, one that goes beyond the black and white outlines of a typical map.

Comparative and Superlative Forms

These grammatical structures are the contour lines on your map; they show the rise and fall of the terrain. Comparative and superlative forms allow you to illustrate the extent of changes. They turn a simple observation into an insight, such as describing a road that was once the least used path and is now the most bustling thoroughfare. This linguistic tool helps articulate the scope and scale of development, providing a clear measure of comparison from the past to the present or projected future.

In the grand tapestry of IELTS map descriptions, these strategies are the threads that interweave to create a cohesive and compelling narrative. They are the difference between a map that merely informs and a description that tells a story, the difference between a satisfactory response and one that secures a high band score.

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Core Components of Academic Task 1 Assessment

Diving deeper into the core components of IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 for map descriptions, each element plays a specific role in crafting a response that meets the criteria for a high band score. Understanding these criteria in greater detail can provide a clearer roadmap for achieving success in the exam.

Task Achievement

This is the bedrock of your response. Task achievement measures how effectively you've fulfilled the requirements set out in the prompt. In the context of map descriptions, it's not just about recognizing changes; it's about the accuracy and completeness of your report. Have you identified all significant developments? Have you noted any features that have remained unchanged? It's also about depth—going beyond the surface to analyze and compare features methodically. Your response should demonstrate a clear understanding of the task at hand.


Imagine coherence as the glue that binds your descriptive narrative together. It's the structural integrity of your writing. Coherence ensures that your ideas are not just a collection of random observations but a well-organized cascade of thoughts, each flowing seamlessly into the next. Paragraphing is the framework of this structure, and cohesive devices such as conjunctions, pronouns, and transition words are the connectors that hold the framework together. The goal is to guide the reader through your description with ease, leaving no room for confusion or ambiguity.


The criterion of language is akin to the palette of a painter—the more colors you have and the more skillfully you use them, the more vibrant your painting becomes. In writing, this translates to the range and accuracy of vocabulary and expressions you employ. Descriptive language should be varied and precise, allowing you to depict the maps with richness and detail. Precision in language leads to clarity in communication, which is what the examiner is looking for.


Grammar in your writing is like the rules of physics in the universe; they govern how the elements of language interact with each other. A mix of complex and simple sentences can demonstrate your grammatical range. Accurate usage of these structures conveys clear and logical thought. Moreover, variety in sentence structures can engage the reader and show your language proficiency.

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Tenses are the timeline on which your descriptions are placed. Using the correct tense is crucial in map descriptions as it situates the features in time. Past tenses refer to the previous state of the map, present tenses to what is currently there, and future tenses to what is planned or projected. The appropriate use of tenses is not just a grammatical necessity but also a contextual one, as it aligns your descriptions with the temporal aspects of the maps.


Clauses are the building blocks of sentences, and using a variety of them can add complexity and subtlety to your writing. Main clauses make independent statements, while relative and conditional clauses add layers of meaning. For example, a relative clause can provide additional information without the need for a new sentence, contributing to the flow and coherence of your writing. Conditional clauses can introduce hypothetical scenarios, which can be particularly useful if the map includes projected developments.

Integrating these components skillfully in your response is essential for meeting the high standards set by the IELTS Academic Writing Task 1. By paying close attention to task achievement, coherence, language, grammar, tenses, and the use of various clauses, you can construct a well-rounded and compelling narrative that is likely to impress the examiners.


With these strategies and points of assessment in mind, let's now proceed to a detailed demonstration using the real exam map question provided.

How to Describe a Map for IELTS Academic Task 1

Question: The two maps below show an island before and after the construction of some tourist facilities. Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

island before and after construction ielts academic task 1 - ielts luminary

1. Paraphrasing the Question Statement

The IELTS map question presents two different periods of an area to examine the alterations made over time. Your initial paragraph should rephrase this prompt without altering its meaning. For instance:

"The maps illustrate the changes that have taken place on an island following the introduction of tourist facilities."

Using synonyms and restructured sentences here is crucial for demonstrating linguistic competence.

2. Providing an Overview

Your second paragraph should offer a snapshot of the main changes observed without going into detail. This sets the stage for your more detailed comparison later on. An effective overview might read:

"At a glance, the island has transformed from a barren landscape to a bustling tourist hub, with significant developments including accommodation, dining, and recreational areas."

Here, you encapsulate the essence of the transformation, engaging the reader with a clear and broad picture.

3. Comparing and Describing the Maps

The following two paragraphs are where the specifics come to life. Start with the 'before' state:

"Initially, the island was a blank canvas, save for a few palm trees dotted around and a vast beach on the western shore. It was an untouched natural haven, with no signs of human alteration."

Then, move on to the 'after' state:

"In contrast, the current map shows a marked development. A pier now juts into the sea, allowing tourist boats to dock. Paths crisscross the island, leading to various new structures, including a reception, restaurant, and multiple accommodations."

Here, you're painting a picture of the changes, making sure to describe both the additions and the alterations to the existing features. Click here for more band 9 sample answers to this map question.

Final Thoughts

Mastering the IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 map description is an attainable goal with the right approach and tools. By focusing on task achievement, coherence, language variety, grammatical accuracy, appropriate use of tenses, and sophisticated clause structures, you can greatly enhance the quality of your response. For those eager to elevate their skills further, our comprehensive eBooks provide a wealth of strategies and examples to guide you through. Additionally, our personalized Essay Correction Service offers tailored feedback, helping you refine your writing to meet the high standards of IELTS. Together, these resources can be invaluable allies on your journey to IELTS success.

Get your personalised IELTS Essay Feedback from a former examiner

Download IELTS eBooks, get everything you need to achieve a high band score



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