Perhaps the question type that gives most pain to most IELTS candidates is the True/False/Not given question type. Here are some pointers to help you improve your IELTS band score with a link to some specific practice on this type of question.
A practice reading exercise
Before you read on, you may wish to test yourself on this reading exercise which is designed to test your skill on this question type and gives you detailed feedback on your answers:
The question types
In fact there are two question types here:
- True/False/Not given: fact based
- Yes/No/Not given: opinion based
In each case you need to decide if the information in the text agrees with the information in the question. You should note that in the “Yes/No/Not given” questions, you are normally asked to look for the writer’s opinions rather than facts.
The key skill
The key skill here is to understand that you are interpreting the text and the question. This means that you need to read very closely and pay attention to what the writer means. Don’t think of it as a skimming question, rather a question where you need to read the text and the question closely and decide what the writer means.
A difficulty – Not Given
The “Not Given” variation is probably what makes this type of question so difficult. How can you deal with this problem? You need to understand that:
- “Not given” does not mean “Not mentioned”. Typically, you will the “NG”answers mentioned in the text – they simply don’t answer the question
- You cannot add information that is probably true: you can only use the information given in the text
“Water has recently been found on Mars” does not make “There is life on Mars” true. If there is no further information, the correct answer in “Not Given”.
An avoidable mistake – only focussing on key words
The typical mistake that is made here is: you see a word in the question and match it with some words in the text. People who make this mistake tend to underline key words in the question: Look at this example and think about your answer:
The writer claims that women on maternity leave often consider entering some form of further education because they are unsure of their career path.
It is a sad fact that many women who take maternity leave find themselves stepping off the career ladder, even though they fully intend to full-time work after their maternity leave is over. For some this is no hardship and for those who do wish to return to work there is no issue as they have legal protection. The problem category is those who are in two minds about what to do. These need to sit down and ask themselves some hard questions:
- Do I wish to return to full-time employment?
- What are about working from home?
- Would I benefit from doing a second degree?
If we underline or highlight these words, we are almost certain to get the wrong answer: “The writer claims that women on maternity leave often consider entering some form of further education because they are unsure of their career path“. If we do this, the answer is probably “Yes” as we can match it with “women on maternity leave“, “women in two minds about what to do” and “Would I benefit from doing a second degree?“.
Sorry. That’s wrong. There is nothing in the text to show that this is what the writer believes that these women often do. What he does is say that this something these women should or “need” to do. The only way to get that answer is to focus on the whole question.
Some practical tips
- Read the whole question. Do NOT focus on key words. Think about the meaning of the question.
- Be especially careful with words such as “often” and “some”. They can change the meaning of the question dramatically.
- Be careful with questions beginning “The writer says”: here you need to think about the writer’s opinions and not about facts.
- The questions will follow the order of the text: if you can’t find answer 12, you know it must be somewhere between 11 and 13.
- Do not spend too long on any one question. If the answer is “Not Given”, there may be nothing for you to find.
- One possibility is to mark all the “True” answers and all the “False” answers and then guess “Not Given” for the others.
A suggested procedure
Here is my suggested procedure:
- Read the instructions carefully and note whether you are being asked to look for facts or opinions.
- Look at all the questions and see what topics they ask about. You may note key words here, but only to identify the correct part of the text to read.
- Skim the text to identify which paragraphs you need to read more closely. Note that the questions will follow the order of the text and so the answer to question 10 will follow the answer to question 11
- Mark on the question paper which paragraphs relate to which question: eg, write 11 against paragraph E
- Refocus on the question and read the whole question: be careful with tricky words like “usually”
- Underline the words in the text that give you the answer. This helps you concentrate and also allows you to change your mind, if you find a better answer later.
A variation is to mark the “True” answers first as they tend to be the easiest and then go back to the “False” and “Not given” later.