Do you want to find specific information about different IELTS lessons?

Question Mark by Horia Varlan via Flickr (creative commons)

Question Mark by Horia Varlan via Flickr (creative commons)

I’ve had a lot of emailed questions and comments from students  who want to find out more about a specific lesson that they have read. If  you  want to find out more about a specific topic, please use Search by Tags . You can do this 2 ways:

  1. At the bottom of each post, there is a section that says Posted in: followed by a  list of tags (topics) that you can click on. This will bring you to all the posts that have been tagged for that topic. For example, if you want to know more about how to write introductions, click on the introductions tag.
  2. On the right side of the page of each post, you’ll see a box that says “Search by Tags” under a box that says “Check my essay”. This Search by Tags box is filled with tags (topics) of different sizes – the bigger the size of the word, the more posts there are under this tag. Click on a tag to see all the posts related to that topic.

If there are topics not covered, feel free to email me or comment and I’ll try my best to write a post on it.

Good luck everyone!

(If you see at the bottom of this post, I’ve tagged everything.)

Practice your English through the news

Day Ninety Eight Dustin Diaz via Compfight

The more you listen to or read English news, this is what happens:

  • You start to recognize more vocabulary words and phrases and in different contexts (situations in how the word is used)
  • You start to recognize different sentence structures
  • You learn more about common topics that are useful for your exam. You learn about different viewpoints that you can use in writing your essays.

Here are some good general news websites:

Another useful tool is  Google Alerts. Set up alerts to specific topics or words/phrases that come up in the news or blogs and it will send you an email about it.

These are just a few news sites especially catered for English language learners. If you find some that are useful, please add them to the comments below and I’ll include them in the list.

So have a go and make it a habit to read and listen to news every day, even for 10 minutes a day. Take note of anything new that you’ve learned. This could be a vocabulary word, or an idea or viewpoint about a popular topic as you might be able to use that idea in your essay writing.

IELTS Reading – How to identify and match information to paragraphs

World Class Traffic JamCreative Commons License joiseyshowaa via Compfight

One type of question you’ll get in the IELTS Reading test is identifying information and matching information to the paragraphs that contain that information. This type of question checks your scanning skills and comprehension when you read more intensely to find the information.  Here is a sample passage (“The Motor Car”) and questions from

You will be using these reading strategies: SKIM for general understanding, SCAN for locating target words, and READING INTENSELY to get a precise understanding in order to choose the right answer.

Let’s go through the questions given in this sample reading (see the full passage here):

the motor car - questionsI’ve read through the questions (after clearly understanding the directions) and underlined key words to SCAN for in the reading passage.

Q #14 – I scan for words or phrases that indicate a comparison of the past and present. I look for words that refer to the past ( especially years, prepositions for time, etc.verbs in past tense). Here is what I find:

the motor car - 14

Now that I have located the key words “until a hundred years ago”, I read this paragraph more carefully to make sure that this is the correct paragraph that contains a comparison of  past and present transport methods. I see that it talks about travelling by horse in the past, then about motor vehicles we use now, and how we cannot revert to (go back to) using horse-drawn wagons. I can confidently choose Paragraph C for the answer to question 14.

#15 – I have underlined “driving habits” and “road problems”. These are the words I scan for, or any synonyms or phrases relating to habits with driving and problems. Here is what I find:

the motor car - 15

I straight away see “problem” (circled in yellow) and a couple of lines down “how they are driven” (also circled in yellow) which can refer to driving habits. After scanning, I read paragraph F carefully to make sure that it mentions how driving habits contribute to road problems. Look at what I underlined in the paragraph above. People’s driving habits, such as driving aggressively and buying larger cars than they need, cause high fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, which are part of causing the pollution problem. (Important vocabulary to know or be able to guess: exhaust emissions). Therefore, for question 15  I choose the answer Paragraph F.

#16 – Look above at the key words I underlined, which is merits. Other synonyms I think of are “benefits”, “advantages”, “pros”. So I look for these type of words or phrases with similar meaning. Here is what I find:

the motor car - 16


Although the beginning of the paragraph talks about the disadvantages of cars – it’s costly, I noticed the “Yet” which indicates that what is next will be the opposite of a disadvantage. I see the words “easily surpass trains” which shows something positive about cars in comparison to trains. I read more closely (the underlined part) and see that this paragraph mentions that the “merits” or positive aspects of cars is that they are flexible and convenient. Therefore I choose Paragraph E for question 16.

#17 – I underlined “prediction” and “future solutions”. So I’ll scan for words similar in meaning or future verb tenses, especially when it’s reflected in the writer’s point of view. Here is what I find:

the motor car - 17

What I’ve underlined in yellow are the words I scanned for:

  •  “likely scenario” is a phrase that reflects what one is guessing or expecting to happen.
  • “might be used to ensure that…” indicates probability of what will happen, hence it shows a prediction
  • “these are solutions”  - this shows that the previous statements were about solutions

Since I’ve found words and phrases linked to the key words I’m targeting, I now read more closely. The sentences underlined in green show details of the possible solutions the writer is predicting. Therefore, I choose paragraph H for question 17.

#18. I underlined “increasing use”. I SCAN for words or phrases that have similar meanings to this, or numbers, which are easy to scan for. Here is what I find:

the motor car - 18

This paragraph not only has numbers, but the phrases “the number is rising” and “is growing too” mean “increasing use of vehicle use. Reading more intensely, I find the numbers that show how much vehicle use has increased – underlined in green. Therefore, I choose Paragraph A for question 18.

#19. I underlined “impact” and “city development”. So I SCAN for words or phrases similar in meaning. Here is what I find:

the motor car - 19


This  one isn’t as straight-forward, but as you can see with the underlined parts, “cities are still designed…” , “land is assigned to car use…”  and “urban sprawl”, these phrases refer to how cities are developed and designed. “Effects” (also underlined in yellow) is similar to “impact”. Now I read more intensely and see that this paragraph, I can see that cars  have had an effect or impact on how cities develop or are designed. Therefore, I can choose Paragraph D for Question 19.

For strategies on other question types for IELTS Reading see:

Yes/No/Not Given or True/False/Not Given

Another post on Yes/No/Not Given or True/False/Not Given

Matching headings and paragraphs

Summary Completion

General Strategies for IELTS Reading



How to answer diagram label completion questions for the IELTS Reading Test

Dung Beetle Sculpture

e_monk via Compfight

One type of question that you might get on the IELTS Reading test is completing labels for a diagram. This tests how well you can follow a detailed description of a process or features/traits of something. You have to use words and phrases directly from the text to fill in the blanks of the diagram.

Some technical rules to remember:

  • You are given specific instructions on how  many words are allowed to use (ie. “No more than two words”). If you write more than the specified number of words, it will be marked wrong.
  • You may be given a set of possible words to choose from. Remember to write the words you choose exactly as they are given.
  • Spelling counts
  • Hyphenated words count as one word

Here’s your strategy:

  1. Make sure you’re clear about how many words are allowed or if there is a selection of words you can choose from.
  2. Look over the diagram and try to get the main idea of what it is showing. Underline/circle key words or labels that you will scan for in the passage.
  3. Scan for those words to locate where in the passage you will find the description for this diagram.
  4. Once you find the paragraph/area in the passage, you will read more intensely and carefully making sure you have found the exact words/phrases. You can try to do it in order, but you can also choose to do the easiest label – that is, the one with a key word you’ve scanned and can easily find in the passage.
  5. If you aren’t given possible answers to choose from, also think of the type of words that would fill in the blank, ie. verbs, nouns, proper nouns, etc. as you read carefully and search for the answers.

Here’s a sample passage and diagram questions from the Sample Reading Test from I’ll explain how I approach these diagram completion questions.

dung beetle diagram - 1


As you can see, the pink circles show the key words that I target for scanning. Straight away I start with the numbers on the left side because numbers are the easiest and quickest to scan for. And straight away, I find numbers in the second paragraph, which I’ll underline in yellow. This is where I’ll start to read more intensely to find the missing labels:

dung beetle diagram-2


Since I saw “30 cm below the dung pat” first when I scanned the text, I’ll read that more intensely since it correlates to question #7 on the diagram (the lowest tunnel that’s closest to the 30 mark on the diagram). As I also know from skimming the question that my possible answers in the box are names of country origin for these dung beetles, I keep that in mind too as I read. See what I’ve underlined here:

dung beetle diagram-3

I’ve circled “France” and then look at the box of choices given under the diagram and I see “French” is a choice. Therefore, my answer for Question 7 is “FRENCH”.

Now I move to where I scanned “20 cm”, which correlates to Question 6, and has the tunnels closest to the 20 mark. Reading intensely, here is what I find:

dung beetle diagram-4


I can see that South African is an option. I also notice that South African ball roller is also a choice, so I read the next sentence just to be sure. This sentence that follows talks about species that are shaped into balls, but they are attached to the bases of plants, so I’m confident the answer for Question 6 is “SOUTH AFRICAN“.

And finally, I look for an answer to Question 8. I don’t see “10 cm” mentioned anywhere in that paragraph, but I can guess it is one that is the shortest or shallowest or closest to the surface or something similar to that. I read carefully and here is what I find:

dung beetle diagram- 5

As you can see here, “the shallowest” is used, so vocabulary is important here – you need to know or be able to guess (based in context) that “shallow” means not very deep and therefore closest to the surface, which is a safe guess for tunnels of 10 cm below the surface. If I wasn’t sure of  the meaning for “shallowest”, I would look at the choices I have left in the answer box. There is no mention of Mediterranean or Australian Native . We’ve already seen where South African ball rollers are, so therefore I can confidently choose” SPANISH” for Question 8.

NOTE – To read and answer as efficiently as possible:

  • As you can see I didn’t answer the questions in order. I attacked the easiest one first, which was Question 7 which was straightforward in stating dung beetles from France burrow tunnels to 30 cm. Then I worked my way to the hardest.
  • For this set of questions, I didn’t read the other paragraphs in the passage - I only focused on the 3 – 4 sentences that had the key words I needed from the diagram.

More examples on how to answer true/false/not given and yes/no/not given IELTS questions

shutterstock_103929908See my previous post on strategies for answering  True/False/Not Given and Yes/No/Not Given questions on the IELTS Reading section. The basic strategy is:

  1. SKIM for main idea and organization of passage
  2. SCAN for key words you’ve highlighted in the question
  3. READ INTENSELY (CAREFULLY) around the sentences where you found the key words

Here’s an example showing how to do this with a sample passage & questions taken from Academic Reading Sample from (The Risks of Cigarette Smoke – full passage).

This is the Yes/No/Not Given question:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 4

Look at the key words I circled in yellow. These are the words I’m going to SCAN for in the passage. Numbers are especially quick and easy to scan for. Here is the paragraph I found the words I scanned for.

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 4a


Straight away I see “30 per cent”. Notice the yellow underlines the key words – “is responsible” indicates “causes” and we’ve got “30 per cent”. However, the text underlined in pink shows that this percentage is for all deaths from cancer, not “deaths in the United States” as written in question #4. By reading this part carefully, you would see that this statement does not match the writer’s view and therefore you choose the correct answer of “NO”.

Here’s the next question:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 5


Scanning through the passage I come across the 4th paragraph and see “married couple” and “one partner”. Here is the paragraph:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 6


Reading carefully, the part underlined in pink doesn’t mention anything about the other partner likely to take up smoking. I continue to read to the end of that paragraph and still, there is nothing about the non-smoker partner taking up smoking. After scanning the rest of the passage for “marriage” or “partner”, I don’t find anything else. Therefore, I would choose “NOT GIVEN”.

Now to the next question:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 6aKey word to scan for is “teenagers”. I can’t find the exact word “teenager” but I do find a word associated with teen years, which is “adolescence”.  Here’s what I find:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 6bReading carefully here, I’ve underlined that 17 % of people with lung cancer got it from second-hand smoke (from their smoker parent) when they were teenagers. Therefore, I will correctly choose “YES”.

Now, here’s the last question:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 7I’m going to scan for UCSF study first because it’s an acronym and probably easiest to spot. Then I’ll look for “opponent” or “finance” or similar words. I’ve found the paragraph with UCSF:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 7aI don’t see anything with “opponent” or “finance” so I continue to the next paragraph:

yes-no-not-given question on cigarrettes - 7bI’ve found “opponent”, but it says nothing here about “financing” the study or anything similar to that, ie. “paid for the research”. It only states that it was “published” in the Journal, which isn’t the same. Therefore, I can correctly choose “NOT GIVEN”.

Practice using this strategy of SKIM, SCAN, READ INTENSELY around the key words you’ve located. Be careful of pitfalls (hidden danger or trap!). I’ll write about these mistakes to avoid in another post.