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How to describe a flow chart in GMAT

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In this tutorial you will:

  • review how to write about a flow chart
  • learn how to divide the writing task into three main parts

This will help you to:

  • approach this type of task with confidence
  • obtain a high GMAT score in this exam task

The task 1 flow chart

An GMAT academic writing task 1 may ask you to summarise and report on a flow diagram describing a process.

Flow charts may not be as common in GMAT exams as pie charts or line graphs but that does not mean you won't have one when you take the test.

Let's look at the steps you should follow to make sure you get a high score in this test activity.

  • Look before you plan

A task 1 flow chart might look like this:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

The diagram below shows how bricks are manufactured.

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

Write at least 150 words.

I'm sure all of us have looked at a diagram of how to do something, from making a Lego model to setting up an electronic device. What we do is spend a while just looking at it, working out the steps and the connections between them. Here we should do the same. Ask yourself key questions:-

  • How many steps are there?
  • Are there points in the process when there are two things occurring simultaneously or where there are alternatives?
  • Are there any cause-effect relationships in the diagram?
  • Plan before you write

GMAT writing task 1 is assessed according to 4 criteria:

When you plan what to write and how to organise it, think about what the examiner is looking for. To score at least a 7.0 or higher in task achievement for the exam you must simply do what you are told and include in your summary all the main relevant details.

Describing a process may in fact be easier than seeing and describing the relevant information in pie charts or line graphs. You should also include what they call a "clear overview", a sentence which captures the main significance of the data presented.

So, the structure of the report could look like this:

  • Introduction: 2 sentences, the first to generally state what the process is and the second to point out some comment on the process, its relevance, complexity and so on.
  • Main body: a sequential description of the process itself. In our examples, how many stages did you count? Would we need one sentence for each stage or is it possible to combine some together in complex sentences?
  • A short conclusion of one or two sentences: We may decide in fact to include the "overview" here instead of at the beginning as some kind of concluding remark.
  • The writing process

Let's now think about the other three criteria. A report needs to make sense to the reader, the details placed in a logical sequence and appropriate links made to show relationships such as time, cause and consequence for example, as well as the effective division of the whole into paragraphs. In other words, coherence and cohesion.

In a description of a series of steps in a process, linking words - first, secondly, then, after that, the next ...., finally - to stress the sequential nature of the process as well as connectors such as - while, concurrently, at the same time - may also be useful if two process occur simultaneously.

There may also be choices, marked by - either ...or, alternatively, can ...also. Looking at our diagram, there are two occasions when there are choices.

For the GMAT writing tasks, candidates are always encouraged to show a wide range of vocabulary and wherever possible and appropriate to use less common items. It is also important not to simply repeat information already contained in the data given. In other words, the ability to use synonyms , to show lexical variety is one way to achieve a high score.

Take for example, synonyms for "show". How many can you think of? show, illustrate, depict, demonstrates come to mind. Our opening sentences for example could read: The diagram illustrates the main method by which bricks are made. What is striking about the process is its simplicity, depending as it does essentially on just three raw materials, namely, clay, sand and water.

So, we have illustrated instead of show, the process is striking, though it could have been remarkable or noticeable/noteworthy. We have also given some kind of overview.

Descriptions of processes are also characterised by the predominance of the passive voice in the present tense. What we often call "objective" scientific style writing is associated with this feature in English. In simple terms, we have no interest whatsoever in the people involved, just the process itself.

Look through the steps, how many verbs do we need for the description and how many be used in the passive. Variety is so important. Also try to use where appropriate verbs often used to describe processes in general, such as do - done; carry out - carried out. Spend time studying this grammatical feature as part of your GMAT preparation.

We could begin the main part:

First, the principal raw material out of which bricks are made, clay, is extracted from the earth using a mechanical digger. Large lumps of clay are then reduced in size by being placed on metal grids and passed over a series of rollers. After that, sand and water are added in order to help solidify the clay.

Notice also the level of sentence complexity. The examiner is looking for a mixture of grammatical structures and sentences which are error free.

And to finish the summary? One possibility is to put the "overview" sentence at the end rather than the beginning. If not, it is a good idea to sum up briefly. An example might be: This report on the manufacture of bricks on an industrial scale shows that it consists of eight main steps from extraction of the raw material to final delivery.

After writing

You only have 20 minutes to complete this task. We've mentioned looking and planning followed by writing. However, it is also very important that you spend some time after writing, checking things over. Here is a possible time frame:

  • 3-5 minutes: Reading question, looking and planning
  • 10-12 minutes: Writing
  • 3-5 minutes: Checking

Checking means looking out for any "silly" mistakes in spelling, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation. You would be surprised how many avoidable mistakes occur under exam pressure. Things like the concordance between singular or plural nouns and their corresponding verb forms, to take one example.

Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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