Thankfully, you don’t have to describe a cycle very often in IELTS Task 1, but it’s always good to be prepared, and some background knowledge can really help.
A cycle is different from a process, because there is no beginning and no end. The cycle repeats itself. So sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start! But because it’s a cycle, it doesn’t really matter where you start as long as you give an overview of the whole cycle (‘Overall…’) and enough detail about the main stages.
Things to remember when you describe a cycle
Using the Present Tense
Because the cycle happens all the time the only tense you usually need is the Present Simple e.g. the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Of course you’ll remember to use the 3rd person ‘s’ as in this example.
Notice that although we need to use the Passive frequently (see example below), there is often no need to use the Passive, as in the example of ‘The sun rises’. It rises by itself and does not require the Passive Tense. In my model you can see lots of examples e.g.
- nitrogen enters the groundwater
- liquids seep into the ground
- nitrogen leaks from storage tanks
- the groundwater flows toward the sea
N.B. Nitrogen is uncountable because it is a gas, and therefore singular. Nitrogen levels are countable and plural.
Using a variety of linking words
Try to avoid saying ‘and then’ or ‘after that’ too many times. Use other ways of showing sequences and linking e.g.
- by listing/ordering: ‘Firstly’ ‘Secondly’ ‘Finally’
- by using time expressions: ‘After some time’ ‘When’ ‘As soon as’ ‘Immediately afterwards’
- by saying what else happens: ‘At the same time’ ‘Meanwhile’ ‘Simultaneously’
- by using conditional expressions: ‘If’ ‘Unless’ ‘As long as’
- by using Present Participle **tricky**: ‘Having been oxidised, the nitrogen is then released into the atmosphere’
Using the Passive
There is no way of avoiding using the Passive with both processes and cycles. So you have to practise using the Passive and make sure that you can use it accurately.
Using the Passive also helps you avoid copying words from the Task. For example the Nitrogen Cycle is labelled with lots of nouns e.g. oxidisation which you can turn into passive verbs e.g. it is oxidised
There are many other examples of the Passive taken from my Nitrogen Cycle model:
- nitrogen is taken to the sea
- it is released back into the atmosphere
- the cycle is repeated
- some nitrogen is taken up by the soil
Paraphrase the introduction
Use the same principles that we’ve already discussed. So for example
nitrogen sources (noun form) = where nitrogen originates/comes from (verb form)
concentration levels (noun forms) = where nitrogen is concentrated (passive verb form)
groundwater – difficult to find a synonym. ‘The water table‘ shows you’ve tried!
a coastal city = a town/city near the coast/sea
Using plenty of your own words!
The diagram is usually labelled with a significant number of words that of course you will need to use in your description. There is no point trying to find synonyms for many of these words – you will just have to use them as they are, especially if you are not quite sure what they mean! But just try to make sure that you go well over the 150 word limit by using your own detailed explanations as much as possible.
Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand what’s going on in the diagram. I certainly don’t understand what’s going on in every stage of this Nitrogen Cycle. Ok, so I may not get Band 9, but I’m not a scientist, and my job is only to describe what I can see in the diagram. Don’t panic about being 100% accurate with your facts – keep in mind that they are testing your ability to use English flexibly enough to describe what you can see. It’s not a Biology Exam thank goodness.
For more general advice on Academic IELTS Writing Task 1 click here.