Model Writing Task 1: Underground Railway Systems

Apr 23, 2023 | IELTS Test

Below is a model answer to one of the most typical Academic Task 1 questions – a table. 

The most common type of Academic Task 1 question involves comparing and contrasting two different data sets. 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 Question

The table below shows information about underground railway networks in six large cities in 2019, with the year they were opened, the kilometres of route, and how many passengers used the system.

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

City Year opened Kilometres of network   Passengers 2019


  Berlin  1902 155 km 554
  New York 1904 399 km 1314
  London  1863 400 km 1384
  Tokyo 1927 304 km 3921
  Mexico City 1969 227 km 1655
  Rio de Janeiro 1979   58 km 230



This is quite a typical T1 Table task. There is nothing difficult to understand, though a first impression tells us that with as many as 18 ‘data points,’ or figures and dates, it is likely that a comprehensive report will require considerably more than the 150 word minimum. 

Should all the data points be reported? Given that there is otherwise no complexity in the table needing an expanded explanation, there is no reason why all should not be included, and the model answer below covers all of them more than adequately within the recommended 220-225 upper word limit. 

In thinking about how to word our summary, there is no stand out overview, but we can say that there is a ‘rough correlation’ or general trend.


There are a number of ways in which the text could be structured. After the introduction and the overview, the body of the text could simply begin with the top line (Berlin) and work downwards. We decide that as we are highlighting London in two aspects (the oldest and the most extensive network) we will begin there, and then move on to New York, which has virtually the same length of track, a point we highlight in the text. The other systems we then cover in descending order from Berlin. We thus arrive at the following structure:

1st paragraph: a paraphrase of the task plus an overview of what we see as most significant. 

2nd paragraph: a description of the four oldest and largest systems.

3rd paragraph: a description of the two newer systems. 

The report could just as easily have been written in two paragraphs, but as there is a considerable amount of information and a relatively high word count, we decide that a break with a third paragraph makes the text a little easier for the reader to manage.  

The model answer

City Year opened Kilometres of network


  Passengers 2019


  Berlin  1902 155 km 554
  New York 1904 399 km 1314
  London  1863 400 km 1384
  Tokyo 1927 304 km 3921
  Mexico City 1969 227 km 1655
  Rio de Janeiro 1979   58 km 230


The table presents details about underground railway systems in six large cities, in terms of age, total length of tracks and how many passengers were carried in 2019. There was a rough correlation of older networks having  longer networks and carrying more passengers. However,  Tokyo carried by far the largest number of passengers despite being relatively new.

The system in the UK’s capital opened in 1863, and in 2019 had 400 km of track, carrying 1384 million passengers. The New York system opened in 1904, with 399 km of rail lines in 2019, virtually the same as London, and an annual passenger count of 1314 million. Opening two years before New York, the Berlin system had 155 km of track and 554 million users. By far the highest number of passengers in 2019, though, almost three times that of London or New York, was the 3912 million people carried on the Tokyo network, which opened in 1927. This system extended over 304 km of track. 

Two newer systems were opened in Mexico City (1969) and Rio de Janeiro (1979). The former had 227 km of lines in 2019 and carried 1655 million passengers, the highest total after Tokyo. The system in the Brazilian metropolis, on the other hand, had the shortest track length, just 58 km, and transported the smallest number of passengers, 230 million. 

[225 words]


The phrase by far is an extremely useful one for any T1 where there is a very noticeable difference in the size of something which we want to emphasise.  

There is a range of sentence types, including complexity. The first three sentences of the second paragraph all report the data in ‘left to right’ format, i.e opening year, track length and passenger numbers. With Tokyo, however, we begin with the passenger total, as this has been highlighted in the summary. Note how we make an interesting approximate comparison here – almost three times that of the number in London or New York.  This further details the size of the difference we focused on with by far in the overview. 

Note also the two referencing terms we have used to avoid always just repeating the names of the cities: the UK’s capital and the Brazilian metropolis. As the city names have been mentioned in close proximity preceding these terms, it is perfectly clear to the reader what they refer to.  Further variety in terms is achieved with the use of network/system and rail lines to avoid over-repetition of track

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