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IELTS academic writing part one questions usually take the form of a graph or a chart which you are asked to describe. However, occasionally the examiners like to vary things and surprise us with ‘before and after’ maps or pictures.

There is a map from a past paper which my students often attempt and I have also seen many examples of student answers on the internet. Some are exceptionally good but a common mistake is to make speculative statements. Basically you need imagine that you are to writing a description of what you can see for a person who is not able to see the maps. You should definitely not be suggesting where you think the island might be nor should not be describing the beaches as having golden sand because you cannot infer such details from the information you are given.

Here is my own sample answer:

The first map shows a relatively small island approximately 250 meters in length from west to east and, at its widest, about 100 meters from north to south. There is a beach at its western end and sparse clumps of trees in some parts. The majority of the island would appear to have no other features.

The second map shows significant development. The trees remain but buildings of various types have been constructed and a new pier built in the south. The map shows two sailing boats close to this pier.

The new buildings include a fairly substantial restaurant close to the northern coast and a slightly smaller reception block in the middle of the island.

Guest accommodation consists of two clusters of rudimentary single floor hut-like constructions, one in the west and the other near the middle. Footpaths link the living accommodation whereas vehicle tracks connect the pier to the reception building and restaurant.

Overall the changes are quite significant but the eastern end of the island beyond the trees remains untouched.