Reading Test Series

IELTS Lessons, written by Sam Morgan and Tom Speed

We are going to look at how to answer the different types of reading questions which can be found on the reading test (taken from takeielts.britishcouncil.org). First you will see tips and then the questions themselves. Look at our tips and see if you can answer the questions, then you can use the answer explanations to see if you made mistakes and, importantly, why.
​If you haven’t done the other passages in the test, try passage 1 and passage 2 first.

Now let’s begin passage 3 – Helium’s Future up in the Air.
This passage contains the question types:

Matching information / headings to paragraphs
Identifying the writers views (yes / no / not given)
Summary completion​

Here is a reminder of our speed reading techniques from the previous passages.

Speed Reading Note

If you want to learn how to read a text quickly, use skimming and scanning to help you. Here are the important things to know:

First skim to get an overall meaning of the text:
1. Read the first and last paragraph.
2. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.
3. Look out for any key names, dates and other nouns.

Scan for the answer to each question:
1. Look at the question and identify key words.
2. Use what you remember about the text from your skimming to find the paragraph which has the answer.
3. Match the meaning of the question with the meaning of the text to find your answer.

 You should take no more that 4 minutes to skim a complete passage, and no more than 20 minutes to finish all the questions for each passage.

If you want to learn about skimming and scanning and get more practice, join our self study reading course. Now free for new students!

00:00:00

​This is the third section of the IELTS Academic Reading test.  Read the passage and answer questions 27-40.

​You can use the timer above to practice your skimming skills.

HELIUM’S FUTURE UP IN THE AIR

A) In recent years we have all been exposed to dire media reports concerning the impending demise of global coal and oil reserves, but the depletion of another key non-renewable resource continues without receiving much press at all. Helium – an inert, odourless, monatomic element known to lay people as the substance that makes balloons float and voices squeak when inhaled – could be gone from this planet within a generation.

B) Helium itself is not rare; there is actually a plentiful supply of it in the cosmos. In fact, 24 per cent of our galaxy’s elemental mass consists of helium, which makes it the second most abundant element in our universe. Because of its lightness, however, most helium vanished from our own planet many years ago. Consequently, only a miniscule proportion – 0.00052%, to be exact – remains in earth’s atmosphere. Helium is the by-product of millennia of radioactive decay from the elements thorium and uranium. The helium is mostly trapped in subterranean natural gas bunkers and commercially extracted through a method known as fractional distillation.

C) The loss of helium on Earth would affect society greatly. Defying the perception of it as a novelty substance for parties and gimmicks, the element actually has many vital applications in society. Probably the most well known commercial usage is in airships and blimps (non-flammable helium replaced hydrogen as the lifting gas du jour after the Hindenburg catastrophe in 1932, during which an airship burst into flames and crashed to the ground killing some passengers and crew). But helium is also instrumental in deep-sea diving, where it is blended with nitrogen to mitigate the dangers of inhaling ordinary air under high pressure; as a cleaning agent for rocket engines; and, in its most prevalent use, as a coolant for superconducting magnets in hospital MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners.

D) The possibility of losing helium forever poses the threat of a real crisis because its unique qualities are extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible to duplicate (certainly, no biosynthetic ersatz product is close to approaching the point of feasibility for helium, even as similar developments continue apace for oil and coal). Helium is even cheerfully derided as a “loner” element since it does not adhere to other molecules like its cousin, hydrogen. According to Dr. Lee Sobotka, helium is the “most noble of gases, meaning it’s very stable and non-reactive for the most part … it has a closed electronic configuration, a very tightly bound atom. It is this coveting of its own electrons that prevents combination with other elements’. Another important attribute is helium’s unique boiling point, which is lower than that for any other element. The worsening global shortage could render millions of dollars of high-value, life-saving equipment totally useless. The dwindling supplies have already resulted in the postponement of research and development projects in physics laboratories and manufacturing plants around the world. There is an enormous supply and demand imbalance partly brought about by the expansion of high-tech manufacturing in Asia.

E) The source of the problem is the Helium Privatisation Act (HPA), an American law passed in 1996 that requires the U.S. National Helium Reserve to liquidate its helium assets by 2015 regardless of the market price. Although intended to settle the original cost of the reserve by a U.S. Congress ignorant of its ramifications, the result of this fire sale is that global helium prices are so artificially deflated that few can be bothered recycling the substance or using it judiciously. Deflated values also mean that natural gas extractors see no reason to capture helium. Much is lost in the process of extraction. As Sobotka notes: “[t]he government had the good vision to store helium, and the question now is: Will the corporations have the vision to capture it when extracting natural gas, and consumers the wisdom to recycle? This takes long-term vision because present market forces are not sufficient to compel prudent practice”. For Nobel-prize laureate Robert Richardson, the U.S. government must be prevailed upon to repeal its privatisation policy as the country supplies over 80 per cent of global helium, mostly from the National Helium Reserve. For Richardson, a twenty- to fifty-fold increase in prices would provide incentives to recycle.

F) A number of steps need to be taken in order to avert a costly predicament in the coming decades. Firstly, all existing supplies of helium ought to be conserved and released only by permit, with medical uses receiving precedence over other commercial or recreational demands. Secondly, conservation should be obligatory and enforced by a regulatory agency. At the moment some users, such as hospitals, tend to recycle diligently while others, such as NASA, squander massive amounts of helium. Lastly, research into alternatives to helium must begin in earnest.

mATCHING iNFORMATION / HEADINGS TO PARAGRAPHS

Each paragraph of the text has a letter A-F. There is a numbered list of information contained in the passage. You have to match the information to the paragraph.
Sometimes you must match a heading to a paragraph. If you must do this then the heading must present the main focus of the paragraph.

IELTSTutors Tips:

 

  • Step 1: Read the instructions carefully.
  • Step 2: Familiarise yourself with the numbered list of information by skimming each item quickly.
  • Step 3: Look for and underline keywords in each piece of information. As you do this think of synonyms for the key words. This will help you to identify the information in the passage.
  • Step 4: Now you know what you’re looking for and you should have an idea where in the text it is roughly – beginning, middle or end, as you have already skimmed the passage. Now scan over the part of the text you think is correct and find the answer.
Try these steps on the questions below, then check your answers with us.

QUESTIONS 27 – 31

Reading passage 3 has six paragraphs, A–F.
Which paragraph contains the following information?

1. a use for helium which makes an activity safer
2. the possibility of creating an alternative to helium
3. a term which describes the process of how helium is taken out of the ground
4. a reason why users of helium do not make efforts to conserve it
5. a contrast between helium’s chemical properties and how non-scientists think about it



ANSWERS

27) A USE FOR HELIUM WHICH MAKES AN ACTIVITY SAFER

C

The text states ‘helium is also instrumental in deep-sea diving, where it is blended with nitrogen to mitigate the dangers of inhaling ordinary air under high pressure’. The activity in the question must be deep sea diving.

28) THE POSSIBILITY OF CREATING AN ALTERNATIVE TO HELIUM

D

The text says ‘The possibility of losing helium forever poses the threat of a real crisis because its unique qualities are extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible to duplicate (certainly, no biosynthetic ersatz product is close to approaching the point of feasibility for helium’. The writer is pessimistic about a replacement for helium being produced any time soon.

29) A TERM WHICH DESCRIBES THE PROCESS OF HOW HELIUM IS TAKEN OUT OF THE GROUND

B

The text tells us that helium is ‘commercially extracted through a method known as fractional distillation’. Method is a synonym of process (found in the question).

30) A REASON WHY USERS OF HELIUM DO NOT MAKE EFFORTS TO CONSERVE IT

E

The text tells us ‘the result of this fire sale is that global helium prices are so artificially deflated that few can be bothered recycling the substance or using it judiciously’. This suggest companies see no point recycling as it is so cheap to buy helium. Here using judiciously means conserving (using carefully/in small quantities).

31) A CONTRAST BETWEEN HELIUM’S CHEMICAL PROPERTIES AND HOW NON-SCIENTISTS THINK ABOUT IT

A

The text says ‘Helium – an inert, odourless, monatomic element (what scientists think) known to lay people as the substance that makes balloons float and voices squeak (the perception of this element by non-scientist) when inhaled’. Lay people are non-scientists in this context.

YES/NO/NOT GIVEN (IDENTIFYING THE WRITER’S VIEWS)

There are a number of statements. You must choose if these statements agree with the writer’s views or disagree with them. The statements follow the same order as the information in the passage.

It is often easy to understand the writer’s view when it is stated directly, but sometimes it is implied (suggested). Careful! The writer’s opinion might not be the same as the facts. Also, the writer’s opinion might be different to yours.

IELTSTutors Tips:

  • Step 1: Read the instructions carefully.
  • Step 2: Skim through all the statements to get an idea of the views you will need to look for.
  • Step 3: Read the first statement again carefully. Note the main point or opinion in the statement. Underline the key words.
  • Step 4: Skim the passage to find the part which refers to the point/opinion in the statement.
  • Step 5: Read this part very carefully. Compare the writer’s view with the statement. If the statement agrees with the writer’s view, write Yes on your answer sheet. If the statement contradicts the writer’s view, write No. If the writer doesn’t give an opinion which agrees or disagrees with the statement, write Not Given.
Let’s try out these tips on the following questions.

QUESTIONS 32 – 35

Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in Reading passage 3?
Answer Yes, No or Not given to questions 32-35.

Yes | if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer
No | if the statement contradicts (is the opposite of) the claims of the writer
Not Given | if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

1. Helium chooses to be on its own.
2. Helium is a very cold substance.
3. High-tech industries in Asia use more helium than laboratories and manufacturers in other parts of the world.
4. The US Congress understood the possible consequences of the HPA.



ANSWERS

Remember to only look at the answers after you have tried the questions yourself.

32) HELIUM CHOOSES TO BE ON ITS OWN.

YES

From paragraph D: ‘it’s very stable and non-reactive for the most part … it has a closed electronic configuration, a very tightly bound atom. It is this coveting of its own electrons that prevents combination with other elements’. The use of the word coveting makes it sound like helium makes the choice itself.

33) HELIUM IS A VERY COLD SUBSTANCE.

NOT GIVEN

​We are told about the boiling point of Helium but there is no other information about temperatures.

34) HIGH-TECH INDUSTRIES IN ASIA USE MORE HELIUM THAN LABORATORIES AND MANUFACTURERS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.

NOT GIVEN

​High Tech industries in Asia are mentioned but there is no explicit comparison of the amount of helium they use compared to laboratories and manufacturers in the rest of the world.

35) THE US CONGRESS UNDERSTOOD THE POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF THE HPA.

NO

In Paragraph E we are told ‘Although intended to settle the original cost of the reserve by a U.S. Congress ignorant of its ramifications, the result of this fire sale is that global helium…’ This is intended to convey (show) the writer thinks Congress didn’t understand the consequences (ramifications).

SUMMARY COMPLETION

We are on to the last part of the IELTS reading test now.
​There is a summary of a part of the passage or maybe all of the passage. All of the information in the summary is contained in the reading passage but the words used in the summary will be different. The summary contains gaps and your job is to fill in the gaps with the appropriate word(s) EITHER from a list OR from the passage.

If you are given a list of words, there will be more words than gaps. Only one word choice will be suitable for each gap (the answer) but other words may appear suitable to distract you.

If you are asked to complete the gaps using words from the passage, you must find the appropriate word(s) in the passage. The instructions will tell you how many words you can write in each gap.

IELTSTutors Tips:

  • Step 1: Read the instructions carefully. Remember that every IELTS test is different, so the instructions might be different from the example given below.
  • Step 2: Skim through the summary to get an idea of the topic.
  • Step 3: Decide which section(s) of the passage the summary covers.
  • Step 4: Read through the summary.
  • Step 5: Predict what kind of information is missing and where in the text you can find it.
  • Step 6: Predict what part of speech you need to use. Noun, verb, adjective, etc.
  • Step 7: Scan the part of the text you think contains the answer. Find the answer and make sure it fits into the summary grammatically.
  • Step 8: Double check your spelling. Bad spelling loses points!

QUESTIONS 36 – 40

Complete the summary below.
Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Sobotka argues that big business and users of helium need to help look after helium stocks because (36) will not be encouraged through buying and selling alone. Richardson believes that the (37) needs to be withdrawn, as the U.S. provides most of the world’s helium. He argues that higher costs would mean people have (38) to use the resource many times over.
People should need a (39) to access helium that we still have. Furthermore, a (40) should ensure that helium is used carefully.

ANSWERS

Check these after you have tried the questions on your own.

…LOOK AFTER HELIUM STOCKS BECAUSE (36) ……………….. WILL NOT BE ENCOURAGED…

PRUDENT PRACTICE

In paragraph paragraph E we are informed ‘This takes long-term vision because present market forces are not sufficient to compel prudent practice’.

RICHARDSON BELIEVES THAT THE (37) ……………….. NEEDS TO BE WITHDRAWN…

PRIVATISATION POLICY

In paragraph E the writer states ‘For Nobel-prize laureate Robert Richardson, the U.S. government must be prevailed upon to repeal its privatisation policy as the country supplies over 80 per cent of global helium’.

…PEOPLE HAVE (38) ……………….. TO USE THE RESOURCE MANY TIMES OVER.

INCENTIVES

The final sentence of paragraph provides the answer ‘For Richardson, a twenty- to fifty-fold increase in prices would provide incentives to recycle’. Incentive here means ‘a reason to do something’.

PEOPLE SHOULD NEED A (39) ……………….. TO ACCESS HELIUM…

PERMIT

Paragraph D offers suggestions from the writer on what he considers to be the correct policy in regard to helium extraction and use. He writes ‘all existing supplies of helium ought to be conserved and released only by permit’.

FURTHERMORE, A (40) ……………….. SHOULD ENSURE THAT HELIUM IS USED CAREFULLY.

REGULATORY AGENCY

In paragraph D the writer states ‘conservation should be obligatory and enforced by a regulatory agency’. Used carefully is a paraphrase of conservation.

ACADEMIC READING TEST IELTS BAND SCORES

These scores should only be used as a guideline, as the values can change depending on the difficulty of test.

Now that you’ve learned our tips to answer these types of reading questions, practice to build up your speed and confidence. We have a free reading course for new students that will give you more preparation for the reading test.

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