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Describing Map Essay


Before you start Writing task 1 map, learn these:

In IELTS writing task 1 exam there are two types of map questions:

  1. Two or more maps
  2. Single map

In Two maps question you are given two maps of the same place in different years (1960 – 2016). Here you need to show what had changed over the years:


  • Introduction – Here you should write what the map shows.
  • Overview – State what the change is ( is the area modernized and etc.)
  • Body – Start with the most obvious changes and write all of them.

Example report:

The maps below illustrate how Frenton changed from 1990 to 2012

Sample Answer:

The maps show the developments that have taken place in Frenton over a period of 22 years between 1990 and 2012.

It is clear that Frenton underwent a dramatic transformation over the period, becoming noticeably less green and more built up.

The only places that remained the same in Frenton over the period were the school and the library. The playing fields in the south of the town , for example, were replaced with flats. Secondly, the houses in the west of Frenton were also made larger and factories were constructed on the site. Furthermore, the café and the park east of High Street made way for a hotel and golf course , while the theatre and shops became a cinema and supermarket, respectively.

The bank, located west of High Street and north of the school , was converted into a restaurant and the trees in the southwest of the town were cut down to make way for a technopark. One further development was the expansion of the hospital, located west of the High Street.

(175 words)

Second kind of Writing task 1 map is Single Map questions. Here it asks you to describe two different locations on the map or compare them:

  • Introduction – Here you should state what the map shows
  • Overview – Give general information about two different locations given
  • Body – Compare two locations

Example report:

Below is a map of the city of Brandfield. City planners have decided to build a new shopping mall for the area, and two sites, S1 and S2 have been proposed.

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


Map of Brandfield with two proposed sites for a shopping mall

Sample Answer

The map illustrates plans for two possible sites for a shopping mall in the city of Brandfield. It can be seen that the two sites under consideration are in the north and the south east of the town.

The first possible site for the shopping mall, S1, is just north of the city centre, above the railway line, which runs from the south east of the city to the north west. If it is built here, it will be next to a large housing estate, thus providing easy access for those living on the estate and in the city centre. It will also be next to the river, which runs through the town.

The site in the south east, S2, is again just by the railway line and fairly close to the city centre, but it is near to an industrial estate rather than housing.

There is a main road that runs through the city and is close to both sites, thus providing good road access to either location. A large golf course and park in the west of the town prevents this area from being available as a site.

(190 words) 


This guide on IELTS Writing Task 1 maps questions will cover:

    • Different kinds of map question
    • Structure
    • Describing specific changes
    • Describing general changes
    • Describing locations
    • Sample answer

You will also be able to learn some new vocabulary that will help you deal with any Task 1 maps question.

In the IELTS writing test you might be asked to describe a map in task 1. This type of question is becoming increasingly popular- in fact it was on the exam last weekend here in Vietnam- and in my opinion, the easiest one to score high marks in, if you’re prepared.

Many students, books and teachers overlook this type of question and it is therefore a bit of a shock when one comes up. Therefore, if you are prepared you will probably do better than most of the other students.

Different Kinds of Map Question

There are three main types of map question:

  1. Describe one map in the present day.
  2. Describe two maps- one in the present and one in the future.
  3. Describe two maps- one in the past and one in the present.

The first kind is very rare, as it only requires you to use the present simple and it is impossible for any comparisons to be made.

The second kind does come up occasionally and would require you to use present and future tenses. This kind of question is normally about the future development of a town or city. It requires the same vocabulary as the other two.

The third is the most common and will be the main focus of this post.

You will normally be shown two maps, as above and asked to select and report the main features, and make comparisons where relevant. You will obviously be using both present and past tenses to describe the maps and how the town has developed.

Also, as this is a man-made process we will use the passive.


To describe two maps I advise my students to follow a four paragraph structure.

Paragraph 1- Paraphrase Sentence

Paraphrase question using synonyms.

Paragraph 2- Overview

Make two general statements about the map. You should describe the maps generally and write about the most noticeable differences between the two maps. You could ask yourself the following questions to identify general changes. Is the map more or less residential? Is there more or less countryside? Are there more or less trees? Were the changes dramatic or negligible? Were there any major improvements in infrastructure? How have the buildings and leisure facilities changed?

Paragraph 3- Main Body 1

Three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred.

Paragraph 4- Main Body 2

Further three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred.

You can group information together in paragraph 3 and 4 by time or location, depending on the question asked.

Look at the sample answer below to see how I have used this structure.

How to Describe Specific Changes

The ability to describe change is crucial to answering these questions. The various buildings and features will normally be labelled for you. What you need to work on is how to write about how they have changed from the past up until the present day.

Tip: You may be asked to describe your hometown in the speaking test. The vocabulary and grammar in this post should come in very useful.

Below I will list various buildings and features and verbs we could describe their change.

Buildings– demolished, knocked-down, flattened, replaced, renovated, built, constructed, reconstructed, developed, extended, expanded, relocated, converted and modernized.


The government demolished the industrial estate and developed a sports ground.

They removed the shops and replaced it with a skyscraper.

A port was constructed at the edge of the river.

The factory in the city centre was demolished and relocated to the north of the city.

The old warehouses were replaced with new hotels.

The factory was converted into apartments.

Trees and Forests- cleared, cut-down, chopped-down, removed, planted.


The forest was cut-down and replaced with a shopping centre.

The trees were cleared to make way for houses.

Roads, bridges and railways lines- constructed, built, extended, expanded and removed.

The main road was extended and a new bridge built over the river.

Leisure facilities- opened, set up, developed.


A skate park was set up next to the swimming pool.

A park was developed beside the forest.

How to Describe General Changes

As this is an IELTS writing task 1 question we must write an overview and this is where we talk generally about the main changes that have occurred between the two maps.

Below are some examples of general statements we could use to describe change in towns and cities.

  1. Over the period, the area witnessed dramatic changes.
  2. From 1995 to 2005, the city centre saw spectacular developments.
  3. The village changed considerable over the time period.
  4. During the 10 year period, the industrial area was totally transformed.
  5. Over the past 20 years, the residential area was totally reconstructed.
  6. Over the time period, the old docks were totally redeveloped.
  7. Between 1995 and 2005, the old houses were rebuilt.
  8. The central business district was completely modernised during the time period.

Pick two or three of the most noticeable differences in the map and write a general statement for each. This will be your overview paragraph.

The more specific changes should be included in your main body paragraphs.

How to Describe Locations

You will also be expected to describe where things are maps and describe where changes have occurred.

You can use ‘to the left’ and ‘to the right’, but a better way is to use ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’ and ‘west’. I normally advise my students to draw the symbols on the question paper if they are not already there.


The forest to the south of the river was cut down.

A golf course was constructed to the north of the airport.

The houses in the south-west of the town were demolished.

The green fields to the north-west of the city were redeveloped as a park.

The airport in the centre of the city was relocated to the north-east of the river.

The school to the south-east was knocked down and a new one built to the east of the forest.

Finally, you will also be expected to use prepositions of place, e.g. at/in/on/by/beside/to/off/from, to describe where things are.


Dramatic changes took place in the city centre.

To the south of the town, there is a golf course surrounded by trees.

A new school was built next to the swimming pool.

The old road running from north to south was replaced by a new motorway.

A marina was built on the banks of the river.

Sample Answer

Both maps display an island, before and after it was developed for tourism.

The island is approximately 250 metres long, has palm trees dotted around it, is surrounded by ocean and has a beach to the west. Over the period, the island was completely transformed with the addition of a hotel and a pier; however the eastern part of the island appears to have been left undeveloped.

The most noticeable additions are the hotel rooms. 6 buildings, surrounding some trees, have been built in the west of the island and 9 buildings have been constructed in the centre of the island.  Between the two accommodation areas, a reception building and a restaurant has been developed.

A pier has also been built on the south coast of the island, allowing yachts access to the resort. Apart from the trees, the beach remains the only natural feature to remain relatively untouched; however it does appear that it is now used for swimming.

(160 words)

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