Multiple choice – reading tutorial and practice

This is one of my series of tutorials on how to approach the different types of reading questions in IELTS. The multiple choice question should be familiar to most candidates. That doesn’t make it easy though. In many ways the skills needed for this question are the same as for the True/False/Not Given type – only here you get 4 options and not 3. So, in a sense, it’s harder.

Practice test

To see if you need to read further why don’t you give this practice a go?

Do a practice test

The primary reading skill

As with the True/False question type, multiple choice questions require very close reading of one or two paragraphs of the text. Very frequently the difficult part is reading the question carefully too. At least 3 of the 4 possible answers may look ok until you read them closely.

The two types of question – fact and opinion

It’s very important to recognise that there are 2 types of question here those that:

  1. ask you for the writer’s opinion
  2. ask you to find factual information

Let me explain why this distinction matters with this easy example:

Different people read for different reasons. For example, the attraction of reading detective fiction can be in the intellectual challenge of finding out who did it, in an autobiography we can eavesdrop on the conversations of the great and good or we can laugh at folly in the celebrity magazine. For many children it is a magic gateway to some other world. Sadly, that is one of the greatest mistakes they can make.

According to the author, the attraction of reading for young people is:

  1. they find out about other countries
  2. different from other generations
  3. escaping into another world
  4. foolish

Without the words highlighted in red, the answer must be 3., with those words it becomes 4.

Tip: don’t stop reading too soon. An answer may seem right but if the next word is something like “but” the meaning changes completely

The traps and how to avoid them

It helps to know how the examiners try and trap you. The way they do this is fairly predictable. Let’s look at another example:

What were the findings of the research in Scotland:

  1. anti-smoking legislation was more effective in the USA
  2. advertising of tobacco products had less effect on old than on young people
  3. the legislation was unpopular with the print media
  4. almost a third of young people stopped smoking after the legislation

These conclusions are the result of extensive research carried out over the past 20 years around various countries into the effect of banning tobacco advertising. In Scotland it was found that the incidence of smoking fell by 30% in the 18-24 age group after legislation prohibiting the advertising of tobacco products in all print media was introduced. A separate piece of research in the United States of America found that when tobacco advertising was banned in 34 states, this reduced the level of smoking by 50%.

1. Factually true and in the text but doesn’t answer the question

Answer 1 above is wrong because it doesn’t answer the question. This was not the findings of the research in Scotland It’s easy to fall for this trap as the information is correct.

Tip: always go back and re-read the question before you answer

2. Probably true but you’re guessing information

Answer 2 is wrong because we don’t have the information in the text. We might be able to guess that this is true, but if it doesn’t say so in the text the answer is not correct.

Tip: always make sure you look at all answers, don’t guess too soon. You may find a better answer later

3. You’re word matching – read the context

This one contains most words from the text so there is an obvious temptation to say “yes”. There is in fact no evidence for this in the text at all. A very typical mistake is to match words in the question and text. You need to read the context for meaning to avoid this mistake.

Tip:always refocus on the exact wording of the question before giving the answer. Be suspicious of answers that contain almost the same language as the text

Suggested procedure

  1. Look at the questions first to see what topics you need to look for – be aware you may need to look for synonyms
  2. Skim the text to identify the correct paragraphs to read: the questions will go in order so question 5 will come between 4 and 6
  3. Read the paragraph carefully and then re-read the question
  4. Ask yourself if you are looking for fact or opinion
  5. Delete the answers you know to be incorrect
  6. underline the words in the text that give you the answer

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13 Responses to Multiple choice – reading tutorial and practice

  1. Jonny December 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Thanks for the tips. Please keep posting more practice like this.

  2. Elena January 9, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    Dominic, hi again.

    Recently I took IELTS Academic. Reading was disaster….I ask for your opinion.

    There were three texts. They were easy in terms of vocabulary and structure. But all three texts were very very very long. Even the worst thing was that each of those texts have multiple choice questions with four options and those options were looked like endless two sentence disasters, which required long time to get the meaning (each seperate words were simple). i spent too much time to understand each option and then to read in details the pahargrah that related to the question.

    Dominic, i really wondering how to improve the quick understanding of the text. Is that a problem of poor reading skills? What approach to choose?

    P.S. sorry if is too time consuming to answer.
    I appreciate.

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole June 26, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      Hi

      Sorry to say there is no short answer here. It is probably a combination of reading and vocab skills. One suggestion is just to practise reading hard texts as much as possible, so you get used to understanding them. Newspapers are good sources here: try reading some of the more complex columns regularly. Don’t try and understand everything and don’t use a dictionary, rather read them normally and see how much you do understand.

      Another tip is to practise reading for a long time. Often the problem can be “tiredness”. You can do one text, but can you do three? This is something that is rarely practised in the classroom context but does need thinking about.

  3. somi January 9, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    hi

    i really need help as i have an exam after 2 days . I read your strategies and learnt a lot thanks for such a great blog for the students like us .

    my prob is with understanding the question types though i read your lesson on essay types still i am unable to interpret what type of question it is pllllzzzzzz give me a more simple technique or any key words that convey wheather it is argumentative or opinion or discuss through which i can understand the type of question

    pllllllllz do reply me soon

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole January 9, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Hi there

      In truth, I’m not sure I really believe in making a black/white distinction between argument and opinion essays in IELTS. If you visit Writefix.com, you will find essays explained in this way. I’m just doubtful how useful that is in IELTS. I think there is a real danger that you produce a model essay that doesn’t address the question as it is asked.

      My advice is both simpler and more complex. Read the question, identify the task and make sure you answer the task. This means thinking about the exact nature of the task, identifying it in the intro, using the content paras to address it and then giving your answer in the conclusion.

      I shall have another look at the post you refer to and see if there is a way to clarify it. The idea behind it was to show you that there are a variety of different types of question and that you should make sure you answered that question. It helps to see patterns of questions but that is all. I shall try and post more on this later this week.

      Key point: read the question and answer it. That way you will always be right.

  4. somi January 9, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    plzzz do reply me as soon as u see my mesg

    • somi January 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      thank u sir waiting for u r clarification soon

  5. seema June 5, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I have same problem as Elena… how to improve reading???? I feel it to difficult..

  6. lana June 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    hi sir! i love your blog!! it is very usefull, i have problem that i cannot do reading, i tried do scanning and skimming as you adviced. but, the resul is not good( the same) are there other advices or skills which can help me to improve my reading?

    • Avatar of Dominic Cole
      Dominic Cole July 6, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      Boring advice – think about focussing on vocabulary. Unless you have strong vocabulary you will always have problems with the reading paper. This can mean just reading plenty so that you improve the range of vocabulary and it can also mean learning to predict the meaning of unknown words.

  7. Avijit December 29, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    This entire website is just fabulous, it helped me a lot achieving my goal, thanks to Dominic Cole Sir for his valuable effort creating this wonderful site.

  8. mojtaba April 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    Reading is always difficult. Is there a quick way to improve it?

  9. mojtaba April 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    thank u sir…nice

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