How to Write a Description of a Picture in an Exam: Simple Tips

Photograph on Smartphone

Such kind of descriptive writing is rightfully considered one of the most effective language exercises. Along with upgrading students’ language skills and enriching their vocabulary, it also adds to the development of creative thinking significantly.

I know, I know, it looks like an abstract from a smart book for proficient English learners. It is not, if you’ve just been curious about it. I’ll tell you even more. Writing a description of a picture or photo is an integral part of any language test. So, it is not just another time-consuming home assignment, no. Even when you are expected to talk and not to write about the things or people (or any unidentifiable objects) in the picture, the tips I’m providing below will definitely make your speech smoother and more logical. And examiners like it.

Generally, there are two main types of such task.

You may be offered to describe a specially selected painting, poster, photograph, chart or graph, or even map. Everything depends on what exactly this task is intended to test and the level of the test itself.

For example, when passing IELTS, you may be required to write a 150-word report based on the data in the offered graph. And if you are writing HSK 5, the Chinese Proficiency Test, Level 5 (in total there are 6 levels), you are required to compose an 80-character story based on the offered picture of a happy family, road sign, just anything taken from our everyday life.

On the other hand, you may be asked to write or speak about a photograph which is very special to you or a photograph which you once took yourself. You will need to tell your reader or listener when it was takes, who took it (if it wasn’t you), what he or she can see in it, probably why it was taken, and what actually makes you think about it (that is why it is so memorable to you).

Now let’s move from the theory to more practical things! In this post we are going to focus on the written description. Simply put, it is a brief, 250-word essay about everything you can see in the picture. So, it’s time to make out how to set it all right!

Before You Write

Students in Exam

Experience shows that some preparation to writing or speaking can never harm your final result. In most cases, if the task is written, you are given 15-20 minutes to complete it. So, you can easily spend 2 or 3 of them on some meditation. What should you do?

  • Look at the assigned picture carefully and make sure you understand well what is depicted in it. If you are asked to remember a photo, make sure you can think of all the aspects I’ve mentioned above and describe some really remarkable details.
  • Do not waste your time on remembering the names of the things (or people) you do not know. It isn’t that necessary to mention them if they aren’t the main heroes of the story you are going to tell, right?
  • Make a brief outline of your ideas. Several words for each of them will be enough to continue writing.

When You Write

Given that the short essay that adds to your total test score can be considered a piece of academic writing, it should be composed according to all those well-known standards. I decided to list them here once again and clarify some essential features that might be somehow disregarded.

  • Divide your text in two or three paragraphs. It isn’t that convenient to follow someone’s thought when it is smeared over the test paper.
  • Make sure your essay is not longer than the test paper requires. The examiner will not read anything in the margins or on the other side of the sheet of paper, however brilliant that part may be.
  • Do not wander off the topic of the picture or the main plot of the story about your photo. Remember that you do not have time for philosophizing.
  • If you are describing a given picture, you can use the Present Simple Tense. But if your inspiration can give you an idea of what might have happened before the events you see in the picture, you are welcome to use Past Tenses either.
  • Pay attention to the adjectives, especially when you describe the photo. Your reader wants to see it, so give them this opportunity by making interesting comparisons, building associations, and focusing on essential details.

Here you can find more helpful tips on writing a successful description.

In the (Happy) End  

It is one of very few written tasks which let you add a pinch of something really personal. Your emotion or your opinion, a witty anecdote or a famous quotation will make your essay much more noticeable. Just make sure it fits the context. (Winking emoji.)

Good luck!

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