Home » IELTS Reading: Keyword synonyms

IELTS Reading: Keyword synonyms

IELTS Reading: Keyword synonyms

The problem

Many candidates think IELTS Reading is one of the hardest modules in the IELTS test — the timing is so tight, and understanding the questions correctly while you are under pressure is no easy task. And on top of this, the examiner is constantly trying to confuse you!

To perform well in the IELTS Reading test you need to develop strategies. The most important technique for matching the information in the question to the answer in the text is to think of keyword synonyms.


Keywords are the focus words of the question. Let’s look at an example of a True/False/Not given question (you’ll see the relevant section of the IELTS Reading text later): 

An attachment to the use of the private car led to increased suburban development.

The keywords are: attachment, car, increased and suburban development. These are the words in the question that carry the meaning, and they are the words you need to look for in the text.

However, it is unlikely that you will find them. This is because to simply search for these words would make the task too easy. The examiner will therefore test your understanding by using synonyms. Synonyms are different words with the same meaning.


Think of a list of synonyms for these words. Note them on a piece of paper.

  1. attachment
  2. car
  3. increased
  4. suburban development

If you find it difficult, go to thesaurus.com and search for the words.

Solution and learning points

Here are some suggestions:

  1. attachment: liking, preference, affinity
  2. car: automobile, vehicle
  3. increased: greater, growing, enhanced
  4. suburban development: city growth, neighbourhood growth, expansion of cities

If we now turn to the relevant sentence in the text itself, you can see how the words in the question match the synonyms in the original passage.

The expansion of the outer city since the 1960s reflected a continued preference on the part of many people in the western world for private automobiles over public transit.

As you can see, three of the four of the keywords in the question are present in the text as synonyms — and the statement is True.

Obviously, we have looked at this statement in a lot of detail, but in the IELTS test itself you won’t have time to note down three or four synonyms for each keyword. So, what are your learning points?

  1. Be aware that you are unlikely to find identical words in the question and in the text.
  2. As you read the question, actively think of synonyms for the keywords. keep them in your mind.
  3. Also note that the information is in a different order in the question and in the text. The statement mentions the car first, whereas in the text it is at the end of the sentence. Expect this in the test itself.

Final note

Now you understand why IELTS Reading is often considered to be the most difficult part of the test! It’s not too difficult to understand the learning points above in theory; under the pressure of test conditions, it is much more challenging. So I would strongly advise you to take practice tests beforehand. Start by downloading an official British Council IELTS practice test from this page. First click into the Free Version of Road to IELTS, then go to the Reading, Practice Tests section and access your test. Why not try it now?


  1. Mbagwu Ifeoma Rubby. says:

    Thanks for this tip. Listening, Reading and writing has been my greatest challenge in IELTS. Can you send me more updates on this .

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