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IELTS reading text completion questions

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.

Test yourself

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

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:

  1. Complete the summary below. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.
  2. Complete the table below. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
  3. Answer the question below using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.

In each case you need to do something different.

  1. This a text completion task and you can use 1,2 or 3 words from the passage for your answer
  2. This is also a text completion task, but this time you can only use 1 0r 2 words from the passage
  3. 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

  1. must be a noun after “The”
  2. likely to be a noun after “from”
  3. must be a verb form
  4. must be an adjective between “this” and “theory”
  5. 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

  1. Read the instructions very carefully: check how many words you can use
  2. Read the summary/table/sentences to see what general information you are looking for. Ignore any specific words, think about meaning
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. Find the sentence in the passage that you think most clearly matches the question
  6. Check carefully that what you have written fits grammatically and makes sense too.
  7. Spell the words correctly!


Read the answers

Weather text

  1. patterns of flight
  2. reliable
  3. hydrologic cycle
  4. observation network
  5. produced
  6. collected more quickly

Cat text

  1. Egyptians
  2. paintings and statuary
  3. were often mummified
  4. traditional
  5. Cyprus

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27 Responses to IELTS reading text completion questions

  1. lala diaz January 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    very helpful for IELTS test takers.

  2. m3oda June 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    thank you ,,, truly helpful

  3. kishore July 6, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    When I do this section in IELTS do the examiners look for the exact words or they would be looking for the meaning which suits the answer.

    For e.g,

    Please find the below question where in it says that


    Question:- What should you do if you want to have your apartment painted?

    Possible answers from my guessing are

    Answer1 :- Fill request form
    Answer2 :- Fill the form

    (Becuase the form is already available in the main lobby as per the passage.)

    Answer given in the book :- Get a form.

    I am really confused whether they would look for exact words including the prepositions and articles that needs to be used with the answers. Pls guide me.

    Thanks in advance


    • Dominic Cole July 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

      A really good question this. I’m glad you asked. I should write a post on it soon. It depends on different factors:

      1.Look at the wording of the question: does it say for example”Use no more 2/3 Words”
      2.Are you completing a sentence or filling out notes? If it is a sentence, then you may need the grammatical word. If you are completely notes, you don’t.
      3. In some cases, there is more than one answer possible. Look at this example from ESOL (the people who make the test):
      here you can write “food” or “food source”

      • kishore July 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

        Hi Dominic,

        Thanks for the immediate reply. I never expected the response to be so fast.

        By the way my prev question is not a fill in the blanks. Its a Q&A type where in I have to answer the question NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer. How should we assusme in this case.

        By the way there was another exaxmple where as in the passage it was given as “5000 word project”, but in the answer it was given as “5,000 word project” where in the “,” was missing and it is a fill in the blank with no more than 3 words from the passage.

  4. Dominic Cole July 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    You were in luck! I was on my email at the time.

    In that form of question, grammar is not normally at issue; so just choose the 3 words from the text that most appropriately answer the question. Do make sure though that you write down words that come directly from the text.

    No difference between 5000 and 5,000 – don’t sweat over that. But in principle you should answer using the same language as the text.

  5. Dominic Cole August 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Weather text:

    patterns of flight
    hydrologic cycle
    observation network
    collected more quickly

    Cat text

    paintings and statuary
    were often mummified

  6. bindu August 1, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    hi it is very good but can’t find answers of questions

  7. Rachit August 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Hi, I am having my exams on 13th this month. I was having trouble with my reading, but after visiting dcielts. My approach is totally changed. Thank you so much for helping, this is like “Bible” for IELTS preparation.

    Am Still having some difficulties in False & Not Given. I Some times can’t distinguish them.

    Thank you

    • Dominic Cole August 1, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

      A Bible!! True/False/NG can be tough. Part of the reason for this is that you have a one in three chance of guessing so they make it tougher than some of the other question types where it is harder to guess. Native speakers would find some of these questions hard too. There comes a point when you make an intelligent guess and move on. You are not expected to get everything right.

    • Eje Ndubuisi June 1, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Mr. Dominic,I don’t really know how to thank you for giving success in my IELTS Exam through your excellent teachings.I owe you a lot.May Nature crown all your efforts.

  8. mais December 26, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    on the weather text , why was the answer of the first question ( patterns of flight) i looked through the whole passage and couldn’t find the word flight , i’m a little confused
    can u please illustrate the answer ,
    i’m having by ielts test next week .

    • Dominic Cole January 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      No the answer is “patterns of events” which is in the text.

  9. Geetha May 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    For the Problem 2, answer for No:5, won’t the answer be “Cyprus” as given in the passage?

  10. massoud hosseini August 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Just want to appreciate your hard working in this magnificent site , believe or not after i found your site in Google i cant even move minute away from it such great instruction all over the pages and great choice of each practice .Take care and keep it up god bless you

  11. kudy March 11, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    Hi guys,

    could you post the answer of following please


    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)____________.

    • Dominic Cole March 11, 2014 at 6:44 am #


      The answers were already there in the comments but I’ve now added them in at the bottom of the lesson . Hope it is easier to find them now.

  12. Sameer June 23, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Could you please clarify whether should we use no more than 3 words exactly from the passage without worrying about grammar for the below instruction type? If yes, will answers in the passage be such that it will have grammar by itself?

    “Complete the summary below. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.”


  13. abbas October 31, 2014 at 7:43 am #


  14. Van Binh December 6, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    HI DC!

    The practice test is no longer available? Can you check help me?


  15. saikrishna May 7, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    The site link for taking the test does not seem to be exist.

    weather forecasts: text completion

    It says, 404 – page not found

    • Dominic Cole September 13, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

      Now fixed. Thanks for letting me know.

  16. moh May 11, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    Hi – I have a doubt in second gap- your answer was “paintings and statuary” – But my answer was “the depictions of cats” .
    Is it right ? if no why?

    • Dominic Cole September 13, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

      It wouldn’t work in terms of sense – depictions are not created


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