A practice test
Before you read my tutorial, you may want to try this practice reading test. It’s a full-length IELTS reading passage about cats. And just to challenge you I have set a timer or 12 minutes which is the maximum time you should need for this type of exercise in the exam.
- The task is to match between 5 and 7 headings to paragraphs in the text.
- There are always more headings than paragraphs
- You may need to read the whole text or only a part of it
The reading skill – skimming
The main skill tested here is your ability to read quickly and get the main meaning of a paragraph. This means that:
- If you find a word you don’t understand: ignore it – you are looking for meanings of paragraphs not words
- Don’t simply match a word in the question with a word in the text – read the sentence/paragraph to see how it is being used
- Concentrate on the openings and closings of paragraphs – that is where the writer normally makes the main point
Some problems and their solutions
This can be one of the easier types of question but it is also easy to get them all wrong! Here are one or two difficulties:
- You may need to read the whole text or a large part of it anyway. Make this problem into a virtue. I suggest you do this task first – even if it is not the first set of questions. This allows you to understand what the text is about.
- You simply match words in the heading with words in the text. Remember there are too many headings and it may not be as simple as matching words. Think meaning, not words.
- Some of the headings seem quite similar. Make sure you spend time reading them all and try every heading with every paragraph. This may take time but you will avoid a lot of mistakes.
- You guess the meaning from the first few lines of the paragraph. The meaning you need is in the last few lines of the paragraph. Don’t stop reading too quickly and read the whole paragraph. The problem isn’t time, it’s making mistakes.
- You waste time because the first paragraph is the hardest to match. Easy. Write in 2/3 headings it could be and move on. When you come back after doing the other questions, it may seem obvious. Don’t guess immediately. Do the task twice.
- Look at the headings first. Don’t spend too much time on this, as at least some of them will be wrong.
- Look at the first paragraph. Try to ignore the detail and look for the main point. Does it match any of the headings? Try all the headings. If it could be heading a) or b) – write down a) or b). Don’t guess yet. Come back at the end.
- Make sure you underline the words in the text that best match the heading. If you do this, you can easily check your answer, if you want to use the same heading for another paragraph later on.
- Move onto the next paragraph and repeat the process. Don’t expect to complete all the paragraphs first time around.
- Go back at the end and make a decision about the paragraphs you didn’t do first time. Try and be as careful as possible. Don’t rush.
- If you are uncertain, it sometimes makes sense to use the same heading for 2 paragraphs. You will get one wrong and one right. If you guess, you may get two wrong (or two right!)
How to practise
This is a very simple practice suggestion. When you are reading texts (for IELTS and otherwise), when you get to the end of the paragraph try to summarise what that paragraph was about.