An IELTS natural cycle or process is not a common Task 1, but you need to prepare for it, and some background knowledge can really help.
- the water cycle
- the nitrogen cycle
- the carbon cycle
- the food chain
- the life-cycle of a butterfly
An IELTS natural 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.
Watch my video of how to describe a natural cycle on YouTube.
5 things to remember in an IELTS natural cycle
1. Use the Present Tense
Because the natural 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.
2. Use the Passive Tense
You need to use the Passive Tense for processes and cycles. So make sure you understand it and 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 natural 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
3. Use 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
e.g ‘Having been oxidised, the nitrogen is then released into the atmosphere’.
4. 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
5. Use 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.
IELTS natural cycle question
IELTS natural cycle model answer
The diagram shows where nitrogen originates and the degree to which it is concentrated in the groundwater of a city on the coast.
Overall, we can see that nitrogen enters the groundwater in a number of ways and is then taken towards the sea and released back into the atmosphere having been oxidised by lightning or fixed in the ground by vegetation and rainwater. The cycle is then repeated.
It is noticeable that there are many man-made sources of nitrogen. One of these is gardens, where fertilisers and household liquids seep into the ground, and the other is factories where nitrogen leaks from storage tanks and wastewater ponds.
Finally, the disposal of waste in landfills may lead to more nitrogen entering the water table. The nitrogen levels are highly concentrated around these three areas.
The groundwater flows toward the sea and is discharged into the ocean. Along the way, some nitrogen is taken up by particles in the soil and some is released near the coast through natural denitrification.
Levels tend to decrease near the saltwater interface and between the areas of high concentration of nitrogen which descend from industry and waste disposal.
- Learn more about how to describe a natural cycle.
- How to describe a Process in IELTS Writing Task 1.
- General advice for Academic IELTS Task 1.
- How to describe changes to a plan.
- How to make predictions in graphs.
- How to use the Past Perfect in dynamic graphs.
- 14 ways to improve your IELTS writing
- How to use ‘ing’ as a linking word in Task 1.