The problem: unusual question types in the reading test
The IELTS Reading test includes unusual and difficult task types that are not typically found in other reading exams. These include Yes/No/Not Given, sentence completion and matching headings to paragraphs. Are you familiar with these question types? If not, you need to get to grips with them well in advance of your IELTS test day. In this post we’ll have a look at matching headings to paragraphs.
Read a typical paragraph from an IELTS Reading passage (This one comes from Road to IELTS, the British Council’s official IELTS preparation product), then choose the most suitable heading below.
Along with dodgy food, cramped seating and screaming infants, turbulence is one of the banes of modern air travel. Avoiding turbulence is a somewhat haphazard business. Pilots do their best to fly around storms and to steer clear of turbulent areas reported by aircraft further along the route. But a series of experiments that has just finished in Colorado could eliminate some of the guesswork, by enabling airlines’ existing radar systems to pick up signs of the most common kind of turbulence, called ‘convective turbulence’, with just a simple software upgrade.
- How convective turbulence could be identified
- A potentially dangerous phenomenon
- Current methods and new research
Note down your answer (a, b or c), and when you have done so, scroll down.
Have you chosen your answer? Okay, let’s look at the three options, one by one.
Option a: How convective turbulence could be identified
At first sight, this option is attractive. The words ‘convective turbulence’ appear in the paragraph, as does the word ‘could’. Moreover, the paragraph does identify a new method for identifying convective turbulence. However, this is only in the second half of the paragraph, and you need to make sure that the heading summarises the whole paragraph. So this option is not correct.
Option b: A potentially dangerous phenomenon
The key word in this heading is ‘potentially’, which means that the danger does not exist now. But convective turbulence is not a potential danger — it is a current danger. This option is therefore not correct either.
Option c: Current methods and new research
You will not find any of the words in this heading in the paragraph, but this does not mean it is incorrect. Examine the two topics in the heading. Does the paragraph cover ‘current methods’? Yes, it talks about how pilots report turbulence to each other. Does the paragraph cover ‘new research’? Yes, it talks about ‘a series of experiments in Colorado’. Note that ‘a series of experiments’ means the same as ‘research’. Option c is therefore the correct answer because it summarises the whole paragraph accurately.
What can you learn from this single example? Here are three lessons.
- The heading is really a summary, and it needs to summarise the whole paragraph, not just a part of it.
- Look at every word in the heading. If even one of them does not accurately reflect the meaning of the paragraph, then this heading is probably wrong.
- Watch out for distractors. This question is a good example of how the examiner can try and mislead you by including words or phrases from the passage in the wrong heading; and missing them out entirely from the correct option.
I hope this example has shown you just how tricky some of these unfamiliar IELTS question types can be. The most important thing you can do in preparing for IELTS is to make sure you thoroughly understand the task types.