Top Tips for IELTS

Summary completion – reading tutorial

This is the next in my series of reading tutorials and looks at the summary completion question type in IELTS reading. First of all I talk you through the task and discuss the problems it presents and the reading skills you need to improve your band score. Then I suggest a procedure to deal with this type of question. There is a sample reading test for you to do at the end.

Format of the question

The format of the question is that you are asked to complete a summary of the reading passage  by selecting words from a box. You should note:

  1. there are more words in the box than questions
  2. the words on the box are not usually the same as in the reading passage
  3. the summary may relate to the whole passage or only a part of it
  4. the text of the summary will follow the order of the text of the passage

Key reading skills

Concentrate on understanding the meaning of the passage. Don’t try and match words in the summary and the passage.

The main skill here is the ability to read a text quickly and understand its general meaning. If you can do this, you should be able to predict many of the correct answers even before you analyse the text.

The vocabulary skill you need most is the ability to recognise “synonyms”or words that have a similar meaning. This is because the words from the summary may not exactly match the reading passage itself.

Another key skill is to think grammar. Each word you place in the summary must fit in grammatically. It helps to know whether you need a noun, adjective, verb or adverb.

Problems and common mistakes

Remember that the completed summary must make sense grammatically. Check the parts of speech and read through the completed summary at the end

The main difficulty this task presents is that it requires you to read all or a large part of the passage. One suggestion is to do it first even if it is not the first set of questions – that way you should get a better understanding of the passage as a whole.

Another problem is that there are a lot of  possible words to consider – normally they give twice as many words as there are spaces. It’s important to be methodical here and make sure you consider all the words before you put in your answer. it may take more time, but you’ll get more questions right that way.

A very common mistake is to fill in a word because you recognise it form the passage. Try not to do this, but rather think about meanings of words as you are almost always looking for a synonym.

Another common mistake is to choose a word that has the right general meaning but does not fit grammatically in the summary passage. One way to avoid this mistake is to read the summary sentence by sentence and not just look at the words either side of the gap.

Sample task – vocabulary and synonyms

Read this short passage and then decide which is the best word to complete the summary sentence:


Another possibility is that an asteroid or comet will crash into Earth, wiping out most if not all of mankind in seconds. In 1908, an asteroid just 60 metres in diameter exploded above Tunguska in Siberia, destroying 80 million trees. If that happened over an inhabited area, the death toll would be millions – and that was just a small hit, predicted to happen about one every 100 years. The asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs was more than 10kn across, and there are craters in Australia and Norway that suggest that similar-sized rocks have hit in the distant past.

Instructions: Click the answer button to see the correct answer.

  1. An asteroid strike was responsible for making the dinosaurs ______________.
    1. destroyed
    2. dead
    3. extinct

I’ve added my explanation as a comment

Sample task – grammar and word forms

To help you understand this task, look at this sample summary. What can you predict about each word?

An (1)___________ amount of young people are suffering from depression and other mental (2)__________. There is a (3)_________ with older generations who have been shown to be living longer. Research into this has been carried out by scientists in the United States. They have (4)___________ that there is almost certainly a connection between (5)___________ and mental health.

You’ll find my answers attached as a comment.

A suggested procedure

Don’t get stuck on any one question. If you can’t find the answer, move on and come back to it later.
  1. Read the instructions to the questions very carefully.
  2. Skim through the summary ignoring the blanks to understand its general meaning
  3. Identify which part of the passage the summary relates to. You don’t want to waste time looking at parts of the passage that are not included in the summary.To do this look at the first and last questions in the summary.
  4. Look at each gap in turn. If you can, try and predict the meaning of the word from your understanding of the text. Then see if any of the options match your prediction. Remember to look through all the words.
  5. Check with the passage. You can use your “key word” strategy to identify the correct part of the passage but remember you are looking for synonyms
  6. Check to see if your word is grammatical – think about nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs

Free practice test

If you are looking for some practice, have a go at this practice test.

coffee shops

You might also be interested in:

How to like it, share it and share it


Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

Home page

Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

Keep up with me on Facebook - all the updates and even more advice there


Or just get all my free lessons by email

Subscribe to DC IELTS by Email

15 Responses to Summary completion – reading tutorial

  1. Dominic Cole January 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    The answer is “extinct” even though it doesn’t appear in the original passage. It is correct because it summarises the meaning of the passage and is a close synonym of “killed off”.

    In the grammar task:

    1. Must start with a vowel sound because of “an” and is presumably an adjective coming before the noun amount.
    2.We need a noun that follows “mental”.
    3. Must be a noun following “a”
    4. This is surely a verb form between “have” and “that” – probably a past participle
    5. This is possibly an adjective such as “physical” to balance “mental” or it could be a noun such as “diet” to balance the word “health”.

    • Nazmul April 11, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      Best explanation.

    • navdeep kaur June 18, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

      1 increase 2illness 3 problem 4 observed 5 physical

  2. college loan January 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Useful blog website, keep me personally through searching it, I am seriously interested to find out another recommendation of it.

  3. administrative assistant January 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    It’s really a nice and helpful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. shaghayegh December 14, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Dear Dominic

    Your tips are great!!
    I did your free practice test after reading the tips. The result was very good!
    Thank you very much.


  5. dj April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    hi can u write the answers… i have done it… check them out. they are… unknown,disorders,problem,found,age….
    thanx… eagerly waiting…

  6. R.I July 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    dear , dominic, your tutorials are super excelent , and precise to the required quetions,, wow, wow, thanks a lot for all your information ,, thank you very very much,, keeep doing the good work,

  7. naveed November 5, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    What if the list of the words to pick from is not given, then you have to pick the words from the text or you can just think on your own and find suitable ones ?


  8. bilal November 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    i am not being able to open the practice test page.can you please look into this matter?
    kindly also suggest answers for the paragraph in the description.

    • Dominic Cole November 12, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

      Hi I’m busy fixing these right now. They should be up and running in the next 24 hours.

  9. Van Binh December 6, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    Hi DC!
    The practice test of coffee shops is no longer available. Can you check its exist?


  10. sarah April 9, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    i find it really useful thank u 🙂

  11. Anonymous December 4, 2016 at 10:53 am #

    thank u for your help

Leave a Reply