IELTS Reading: Strategies for matching heading to paragraph

shutterstock_108299510Make sure you’ve read the general approach to the reading test.

A few things to know about heading matching:

  • This task can be difficult and time-consuming.
  • There are always more headings than you need.
  • If it is used for a reading passage, it will usually be the first set of questions.
  • There is always an example given with a heading correctly matched to a paragraph.

Some people find that doing these questions last will give you the benefit of gaining a better understanding of the passage after answering the other shorter questions. Also, many of the other types of questions follow the order of the passage, whereas these are out of order. At the same time, if you do go through these questions first, it may also give you a better understanding so that you can answer the following questions faster. Try it out different ways when you do a practice and see which way works best for you.

For the task approach, here’s what you do:

  • Study the example answer carefully. This will help you see if you will need to look for the main idea in each section or scan for specific details.
  • Read through the list of headings, become familiar with them  and underline key words that either identify the main idea or target words that you will be scanning for in the passage.
  • Skim through the passage to get an overall idea of the content and organization. Underline key words or take notes to the side what the purpose of the paragraph is if it is quick to identify, i.e. cause, effect, reason, example, definition, instructions, background info, etc. Don’t worry if you can’t do that for all and don’t spend too much time trying to identify each paragraph.  If at this point any heading jumps out at you that matches a paragraph, note it to the side.
  • Next, try looking at the shortest paragraph(s) first. This way you can skim through it quicker, choose the heading and therefore reduce the number of choices you have to pick from for the other paragraphs.
  • You can then go to the first paragraph, skim through and see if there’s a match that stands out. Look at your headings – noting the key words underlined and choose the best one. Take notes and write your possible answer down. You may need to come back and check.
  • Continue with the same process through the rest of the paragraphs. Use the notes you’ve made next to the paragraphs to help you choose headings.
  • For those you weren’t completely confident about, check back and read more carefully around the key words you matched.
  • Please note that key words won’t match exactly between the headings and paragraphs – they will most likely be synonyms/similar expressions.

Some pitfalls (possible errors to watch out for!):

  • Just because a paragraph contains the key word(s) of  a heading, it doesn’t mean that is the correct heading! You still need to read carefully around the key words in the paragraph and see if it does indeed have the same main idea as the heading. If you’re still unsure, just write a note to the side and come back to it later after you’re sure about the other headings
  • Keep track of your notes and answers.  Students sometimes carelessly write down the wrong roman numeral on the answer sheet! Familiarize yourself with the roman numeral system (at least just up to 15, which is XV).
  • Don’t accidentally use the same heading twice. Again, keep clear notes of what answers you’re using for which paragraph.
  • Keep track of your time. You should allow 20 minutes *maximum per reading passage (as there are 3 of them to do within 60 mins.) If you find that you’re spending too much time here, move on to the other questions! Maybe after answering those, you’ll have a better understanding of the passage and you will be able to go back and finish the heading questions.

How to practice for this?

This tests your skimming skills in being able to read quickly and pick up on main ideas. Continue to read – read news articles, magazine and blog articles. Try to identify what the main ideas are – talk about the article to other people by just explaining the main ideas.

* Note:  Since the readings become progressively more difficult from passage 1 to 3, ideally allow the following times as best as you can:

  • about 17 mins for reading passage 1
  •  20 minutes for passage 2
  • 23 minutes for passage 3




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!

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One comment on “IELTS Reading: Strategies for matching heading to paragraph
  1. Alamin says:

    Thanks for giving us advice and tips.

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