This is the next in my series of IELTS reading tutorials where I look at the different types of questions you can expect to find in the exam. In this one, I talk you through the IELTS reading text completion task, showing you some of the problems it can cause and giving you strategies to deal with them.
Below is a complete reading passage with 6 sample text completion questions. You can either do it now or take the tutorial and come back to it.
The task is to complete a text with words from the passage. The text you need to complete can vary, sometimes it is a series of sentences, sometimes a table and sometimes a short summary.
- Typically, you will need to read 2/3 paragraphs to get all the answers. Sometimes you may need to read the whole passage
- The questions will follow the order of the passage.
- If there is one thing that makes this task tough, it’s that you need a little grammar to do it well!
Problem 1 – read the question
Be very careful to read the question carefully as the examiners use different words sometimes. Look at these examples:
- Complete the summary below. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.
- Complete the table below. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
- Answer the question below using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.
In each case you need to do something different.
- This a text completion task and you can use 1,2 or 3 words from the passage for your answer
- This is also a text completion task, but this time you can only use 1 0r 2 words from the passage
- This is not a text completion task. The words you use do not need to come from the passage
Tip: remember in this task you need to use words from the passage. You cannot change the form or order of those words. You must write them down as they appear in the passage.
Problem 2 – a test of grammar
The words you use to complete the text must fit grammatically. Look at this simple example:
Traditionally, it was always supposed that it was the Egyptians who first domesticated the cat. The primary evidence for this are the depictions of cats in paintings and statuary in Egypt from over 3,500 years ago and it is indeed the case that the ancient Egyptians had an extraordinarily close relationship with cats. One of the major deities in the New Kingdom, Bast, was a cat-goddess that symbolised fertility and motherhood and the Greek historian Herodotus tells how cats were often mummified and given a funeral, sometimes with the mummified remains of mice so that they could enjoy the afterlife
This traditional view has been overturned, however, by the discovery in 2004 of a grave in Cyprus that was 9,500 years old in which the remains of a cat were found next to a human. Clearly, the human association with cats predates the ancient Egyptians by many millennia. It is now thought that it was in the Fertile Crescent, modern-day Iraq, that humans first domesticated the cat. Agriculture was invented in this region and the likelihood is that cats were used to control the rodents and other vermin that fed on the crops and raided the grain stores.
The (1)________________ were the first people to have the cat as a pet. We know this from (2)______________________ created over millennia ago and it is thought that cats (3)_________________ so that they could enjoy eternal life. There is, however, some doubt about this (4)__________________ theory because the remains of a cat were found buried with human remains in (5)____________.
Even before you read, you should be able to predict
- must be a noun after “The”
- likely to be a noun after “from”
- must be a verb form
- must be an adjective between “this” and “theory”
- either a place or a time after “in”
Tip: Even if you can’t predict the correct word form before you read, you must check afterwards that what you have written is good grammar.
Problem 3 – recognise synonyms
Another major problem is that the words used in the text you have to complete will not exactly match the words from the passage. This means that you need to read for meaning and simply look for the same words in the passage. So there is no point looking for the word “pet” as the word in the passage is “domesticated”.
A suggested technique
- Read the instructions very carefully: check how many words you can use
- Read the summary/table/sentences to see what general information you are looking for. Ignore any specific words, think about meaning
- Skim the text quickly to find the paragraphs you need to read more carefully. It’s a good idea to concentrate the first and last question as they will tell you how much of the text you need to read.
- Look back at each question one by one and look for what specific information you need. If you can, try and decide if you are looking for nouns, prepositions, verbs or adjectives
- Find the sentence in the passage that you think most clearly matches the question
- Check carefully that what you have written fits grammatically and makes sense too.
- Spell the words correctly!
- patterns of flight
- hydrologic cycle
- observation network
- collected more quickly
- paintings and statuary
- were often mummified