IELTS Academic Reading Tips for Students- Matching headings to paragraphs task

Summary: Ideas for studying for question 3 of the IELTS Academic Reading Paper

Description of the task:

In this task type, which often appears in the exam, you are given a text with 5 to 7 paragraph headings missing. You must select the right paragraph headings from a list. Depending on the length and difficulty of the text and the number of paragraph headings, you will have between 5 and 8 minutes to do this task. There are always more paragraph headings than paragraphs, so you won't need to use all of the paragraph headings that are given. There will always also be some other different reading tasks for detailed understanding to do with the same text.

How to prepare for this task

As this task tests your ability to read a text quickly and get a general understanding of it, you will need to practice reading newspapers etc. quickly and naturally without a dictionary. Most native speakers do not read every newspaper article through to the end, as all the important and new information is usually given at the beginning of the article. Reading a newspaper or magazine this natural way can help with this IELTS task and save you time and effort too!

Every time you do this task in your textbook or as part of a real IELTS exam reading, make sure you time yourself and keep to the time limit. After you have finished all the tasks for the text you can then go back and read more slowly and use your dictionary if you like.

Planning all your writing in English (and even in your own language) carefully before you start writing and deciding a clear topic for each paragraph or section can also help you understand how texts are organised in this way.

How to do this task

  1. If you have several task to do including this one for the same reading text, it is usually best to do this one first (even if it is written after the other tasks) as it is fairly easy and will give you a good idea of where information is in the text so you can find things easily when you try the other tasks.
  2. Read through all the paragraph headings first. Don't worry if there are words in the paragraphs headings you don't understand- they might be in the paragraph headings you don't need, or you might find exactly the same word in the text and so be able to match them without understanding the word
  3. Start reading the first paragraph quickly. Don't stop for words and sentences you don't understand- again, they might not be necessary to do the task.
  4. You might find it useful to underline the most important information in the paragraph as you are reading, especially things that seem to match one of the paragraph headings. However, if you are a slow reader you might find this slows you down more.
  5. As soon as you have an answer you are sure about, stop reading that paragraph and write your answer on the question sheet. As the topic sentence of a paragraph is usually near the beginning of the paragraph you should almost never need to read the whole paragraph to understand its topic.
  6. Be careful not to match paragraph headings just because they have the same word as is written several times in a particular paragraph, as some of the paragraph headings you do not need might also use the same words as the text. You need to match the meaning of the paragraph to the meaning of the whole paragraph heading.
  7. If you have read the whole paragraph and are still not sure which heading matches it, write down any you think it might be with a question mark next to them (e.g. A? G?) and any you are sure it is not with a cross through them (e.g. B X C X) and move onto the next paragraph.
  8. When you have read through the whole text in this way you will probably have some paragraphs you are sure about the headings for and some you still have some doubts about. Don't spend more than a minute thinking about the ones you are not sure about now, as the more careful reading you do for the other tasks (e.g. True False questions) with this text might help you decide the answers for this task type too.
  9. After you have finished all the other tasks with this text, make a final decision for the heading of each paragraph and write it on your answer sheet. If there any you are still not sure about, you can write them with a question mark on your question sheet and circle it so you can come back and try again later if you have time.
  10. If you have time to come back and try this task again at the end of the test, check that the paragraph headings you haven't used really don't match any of the paragraphs. If you are absolutely sure that one of them actually does match better than the one you had decided before, change your answer on the answer sheet. If you have any doubts, it is usually best to leave your original answer as it is.

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Written by Alex Case for

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