Map questions appear in the IELTS test about 15% of the time. Not often enough for them to appear on many candidates preparation list, but often enough that they should!
The most common type of Academic Task 1 map question involves comparing and contrasting two different maps. Take a look at the following question, which is followed by an analysis, description of how we decided to structure the essay, and then the model essay itself together with further explanatory notes.
The maps below show Greenfields Railway station and the surrounding area in 1990 and the present day.
Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.
You should write at least 150 words.
Greenfields Railway Station 1990
Greenfields Railway Station present day
The task is a typical one for maps, with two showing changes to a situation over time. We can see a number of additional features in the second map, however, so it is highly likely that we will need considerably more than the 150 minimum to cover the task adequately. All the features in both maps are clearly labelled and easy to understand. All of them must be mentioned to some degree.
In deciding on our summary/overview, we note that the two points most obvious are that the infrastructure outside the station has been significantly expanded, while the station hall is now easier to access, with a new entrance from the east, and has more facilities inside.
Following our recommended approach to map tasks showing changes over time, we adopt the format of describing in full what is seen in the first map, moving on to what is shown in the second. We could put the summary in the first or last part of the text, but decide here to make it part of the introduction. Two paragraphs would be adequate, but as in this case we are going to produce a word count near our recommended maximum, two body paragraphs assist the reader further to separate the map descriptions.
1st paragraph: a paraphrase of the task statement plus an overview of how the situation has changed overall from the past to the present.
2nd paragraph: a description of the situation in 1990.
3rd paragraph: a description of the situation today.
The Model Answer
The situation of Greenfields Railway station and the vicinity in 1990 and currently are shown in the two diagrams. In summary, access to the station has been improved with more facilities inside, while the infrastructure in the surrounding area has seen significant expansion.
The station is a terminus with four platforms to the north. In 1990, there was one entrance from West Road, a cafe in the north east corner, and the ticket office and waiting room on the south side of the station hall. Outside there was a flower garden to the south. To the east was the Railway Hotel with its car park just to the north. Southeast of the station and opposite the flower garden was a bus station.
Today, there is additional access from the new Greenfields Road to the east, while a rapid train link to the airport west of West Road is scheduled for completion in 2026. Inside , the ticket office and waiting room have been moved to the northern side. The cafe has gone but there is a coffee shop in the southeast corner, and two ATMs have been installed in the southwest corner. The Railway Hotel has been replaced by a large shopping centre, with a multi-level car park to the north. The bus station has been enlarged with more services.
We are able to cover the whole task completely within our recommended maximum of 220 words, though a few more would be quite alright. The language is all formal in tone, with several paraphrases to avoid repetition where possible. It is acceptable to refer to the maps in this instance as diagrams; ‘surrounding area’ changes to the vicinity; ‘fast’ (train) becomes rapid; and ‘multi-storey’ becomes multi-level .
In our careful analysis of the first map, we notice something which many exam candidates would not, namely that the station is a terminus where train services begin and end. This is not a key feature of the task which must be mentioned, but including it increases the chance that the examiner will rate our answer highly for Task Achievement.
All features have been covered adequately. We note that the station cafe has been removed and the hotel replaced by the shopping centre, but decide it is not necessary to say that the flower garden remains in the same place. Without explicit mention of this it is a fair assumption on the part of the reader that the feature remains unchanged.
We make full use of the compass in each map to site features precisely by compass points. This is preferable to terms such as left/right, above/below etc that many students will use in answering the task.
Several tenses are used in the text; present simple, past simple, and present perfect. Simple, compound and complex sentences are formed, and the examiner is likely to note even more variety in our grammar by our use of passive forms. This is particularly noticeable in the very first sentence, where its use avoids the need for the more usual active paraphrasing, such as The two maps illustrate/present/outline etc.
How to Continue Your IELTS Study
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