Top Tips for IELTS

Multiple choice reading practice – inferring meaning

This lesson gives you a little practice in multiple choice reading and some advice on dealing with harder IELTS reading questions – those that ask you to identify the writer’s meaning, as opposed to finding some factual information. The simple message is to think of meaning – this applies both to when you are looking at the question and the text.

Understanding some different reading skills

A key to improving your IELTS reading is to see that IELTS reading is designed to test different reading skills.The main point is that it is not always a question of looking for factual information in the text, some questions ask you tointerpret meaning as well.The skills required are, to quote from the candidate booklet, :

  • reading for gist,
  • reading for main ideas,
  • reading for detail;
  • understanding inferences and implied meaning;
  • recognising a writer’s opinions, attitudes
    and purpose;
  • following the development of an argument

The ones I have highlighted are may cause particular problems because they involve interpreting the meaning of words and sometimes sentences or paragraphs. You are not looking for what is said, but what is meant.

Applying your skills – thinking about close reading

This is where you need to apply your close reading skills when you are looking for the answer. Remember the 3 core skills are:

  • skimming that tells you where in the text you should start looking
  • scanning that  identifies where the answer is
  • close reading that tells you what the answer is

The obvious trap is to rely too much on scanning/finding key words in deciding what the answer is in this type of question.

An example

To see how this works in practice, look at the example below. I have given you only a short text so you shouldn’t need to worry about scanning or skimming. You know where the answer is already. In some ways, the clue word is “suggests”, this should tell you that the answer is not explicitly stated in the text, but something you need to workout/infer.

I’d add that you need to be very careful of choosing an answer based on one word you see in the text.Typically in this typeof question,you need interpret whole sentences.

Question

The author suggests that studies into how older people suffer from depression

  1. show that there is a connection between illnesses and mental diseases
  2. may not be as reliable as they are normally thought to be
  3. are complicated by the comparison with younger people
  4. have been supported by Dr Reisz’s research into grief and depression

Text

Depression has generally not been considered to be a normal part of growing older and various studies seem to demonstrate that the majority of older people say that they are in fact happy with their lot.This is so even though they typically have more physical problems than people in younger age groups and most people would assume that there is a link between physical and mental illnesses. One complication to this analysis is that as we grow older we tend to be less willing to confess to feelings of depression. A further difficulty has been identified by Dr Reisz who suggests that the findings of these studies may not take into account how depression can be disguised as grief for the loss of a loved one – something that is a common occurrence as we age.

See the answer

Seeing the answer – inferring meaning

The correct answer is “2”.

To get this answer you need to understand that you are looking for the writer’s view and not what other people say. This means that you should not be looking for the answer in the first two sentences which are based on “general understanding”- the bit in blue.You need to understand how the words in red introduce the author’s view and that this is that the studies may be misleading. This is inferring meaning.

Depression has generally not been considered to be a normal part of growing older and various studies seem to demonstrate that the majority of older people say that they are in fact happy with their lot.This is so even though they typically have more physical problems than people in younger age groups and most people would assume that there is a link between physical and mental illnesses. One complication to this analysis is that as we grow older we tend to be less willing to confess to feelings of depression. A further difficulty has been identified by Dr Reisz who suggests that the findings of these studies may not take into account how depression can be disguised as grief for the loss of a loved one – something that is a common occurrence as we age.

Delete the wrong options – see some typical traps

One exam method is to work out what the wrong answers are and then select the one remaining alternative. This may take a little time, but you should always try and look at all 4 options anyway. The one you first choose may not be the best choice and you’ll only find that out if you look at the others.

See how this works here with the questions

The author suggests that studies into how older people suffer from depression

  1. show that there is a connection between illnesses and mental diseases
  2. may not be as reliable as they are normally thought to be
  3. are complicated by the comparison with younger people
  4. have been supported by Dr Reisz’s research into grief and depression

Option 1 This is wrong because “This is so, even though they typically have more physical problems than people in younger age groups, and most people would assume that there is a link between physical and mental illnesses”does not match the meaning in the question “The author suggests that studies into how older people suffer from depression”. In fact, the findings of the studies contradict what most people assume.

Note: go back and read the WHOLE question again – think about its meaning

Option 3 This is wrong because while some comparison is made with younger people, this does not “complicate” the studies. The “complication” in the text refers to our unwillingness to admit to depression as we get older.

Note: Don’t word match – think of meaning

Option 4 This is wrong because it is directly contradicted by the text. Dr Reisz (who does not exist!) has identified a difficulty with the research – that it may not take into account how depression may be disguised as grief.

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