IELTS Reading: Strategies for Summary Completion

It’s good to be familiar with  the different types of questions for the Reading module. Then make sure you’ve read about general reading strategies. Once you’ve practiced the general strategies, you can try specific strategies for the different question types.

Here are some tips on Summary Completion, where you must fill in the gaps/blanks with key vocabulary words in a short summary of the reading passage.  Keep in mind:

  • The summary may be of the whole passage or just part of the passage.
  • There are two versions – one where a list of word choices are given (with always more choices than there are answers) and one where you must find the correct words in the reading passage itself.

Here’s how to approach the task:

1. Make sure you understand the instructions and the example if given.

2. Read through the summary quickly for a general understanding.

3. Read it again carefully looking at the words before and after each gap. Think about the general meaning of the word and the kind of word that would go in the gap (i.e. part of speech – noun, adjective, verb, adverb). If you have a list of words to choose from – even better – narrow your choices down.

For example:  Complete the summary below. Use ONE word from the passage.

Some plastics behave in a similar way to (1) ________ in that they melt under heat and can be moulded into new forms.  Bakelite was unique because it was the first material to be both entirely (2) _________ in origin, and thermosetting. There were several reasons for the research into plastics in the nineteenth century, among them the great advances that had been made in the field of (3) _______ and the search for alternatives to natural resources like ivory.

Notice that for (1) a noun would fit because it is comparing plastic to something else.  For (2) an adjective would fit best because it’s describing why Bakelite is unique – therefore it’s a quality/characteristic. In (3) you have the words “field of” preceding the blank, which would fit a noun – particularly an area of study or research.

4. If you don’t have a list of words to choose from or have to choose between 2 or 3 possible answers from a list, then look at the key words in the sentence (you would have underlined these as a general strategy, right?) and then SCAN for those target words or similar expressions to those target words (key words in the summary sentences may not be the exact words in the reading passage). This is where vocabulary is important and in being able to identify synonyms. Read carefully and you’ll find your answer there.

Other tips:

  • Since the ideas from the passage are rewritten into a summary, the answers usually come in passage order.
  • Finding the part of the passage that contains the idea and then working out what the missing words are also  makes it easier to find other information.
  • Pay attention to the grammar of the sentence and make sure it is correct when your answer is added. * Very important!
  • There may be two gaps in a sentence and this may be worth one or two marks. The word “both” in the sentence or summary signals that two answers may be required.

I'm an English teacher specializing in IELTS preparation - especially writing and reading. If you have any questions, please ask! You can also sign up for weekly tips and lessons for IELTS and English!

Posted in IELTS Reading, Reading, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,
One comment on “IELTS Reading: Strategies for Summary Completion
  1. Pearl says:

    Although I didn’t include the corresponding reading passage here, you can see it in Cambridge IELTS 5, Test 2, Passage 1 (See my bookstore). And if you’re curious what the answers are: 1)candlewax 2)synthetic 3)chemistry.

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