Reading Question Types Series

IELTS Lessons, written by Sam Morgan and Tom Speed

The best IELTS reading practice you can do is under test conditions. Do the reading and tasks on this page without googling anything or using a dictionary.

​After you have finished the tasks, go back and use your dictionary to learn any new or unfamiliar words or phrases which you encountered.

Short Answer Questions

​In the IELTS reading test you are often asked questions that have short answers. These are typical comprehension type questions that every student will be familiar with from their school or university classroom. Let’s have a look at some tips about how to approach the text and questions.
IELTSTutors Tips

​1. Skim over the passage to get the overall gist of it and to identify what each paragraph is about. Reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph should help you to do this. See this Skimming and Scanning lesson for more.

2. Read the question instructions carefully. What is the maximum number of words you may write?

3. Underline keywords or phrases in the questions. Think about synonyms for these words and phrases as you underline them. This will help you find the answer in the text.

4. Find the part of the text the question relates to. This should be fairly simple as you have already skim read the text.

5. Carefully read the relevant section of the text to find the answer. Remember to think about synonyms of keywords and phrases from the question while you do this, and to answer with words that are in the text.

6. In the exam, write your answer directly onto the answer sheet. You are NOT given time at the end to transfer your answers.

Let’s try these tips on the reading exercise below. 

Reading Activity | Questions 1 – 5

​Complete the sentences below
Write NO MORE THAN 4 WORDS from the text for each answer.
1. What element of English vocabulary causes difficulty for learners?

2. Which language has the most speakers?

3. What is the name for the streamlined language that the writer suggests?

4. How has the meaning of words been changed in the streamlined form of the language?

5. What has been introduced to reduce confusion in text?

See our Answer EXPLANATIONS here

​1 – What element of English vocabulary causes difficulty for learners?
synonyms: The text states that ‘it (English) has tens of thousands of synonyms that confuse non-native speakers to no end’. ‘causes difficulty’ is a synonym of ‘confuse’. ‘to no end’ here means ‘a lot’.

2 –  Which language has the most speakers?
English: In the text we read ‘it’s (English is) spoken fluently by more souls than any other tongue’. ‘more than any other’ is paraphrased by ‘most’.

3 –  What is the name for the streamlined language that the writer suggests?
Simplified Technical English / STE: The text says ‘Simplified Technical English is a stripped down, hollowed out version of the world’s best-known language.’ ‘stripped down’ and ‘hollowed out’ are paraphrases of ‘streamlined’.

4 – How has the meaning of words been changed in the streamlined form of the language?
words have rigid definitions: We read ‘Unlike regular English, where one word can have many meanings, Simplified Technical English words have rigid definitions.’ Notice that the question and the text both use the word ‘meaning’, making this question easier to answer.

5 – What has been introduced to reduce confusion in text?
writing rules: The text states ‘the most important thing to understand about Simplified Technical English is that its writing rules are designed to minimize ambiguity.’ Here ‘minimize ambiguity’ is a synonym of ‘reduce confusion

Five Arguments for Simplified Technical English

English teachers are fond of saying that English is the world’s easiest language to learn. That’s probably an overstatement: English might lack gendered nouns and complex casing, but it has tens of thousands of synonyms that confuse non-native speakers to no end, not to mention a slew of idiosyncrasies that provoke mirth and befuddlement in equal measure.

Still, no one seriously disputes that English is the world’s indispensable language. It’s the language of international business (Es tut uns leid, German) and culture (pardon, French) — and it’s spoken fluently by more souls than any other tongue (抱歉, Mandarin).

English’s greatest strength — its indispensability — is also its greatest weakness. Hundreds of millions of people speak English as a first language, but billions must know enough English to accurately (and safely) read technical manuals and basic business communications.

A Better Way to Speak and Write English


That’s where Simplified Technical English (STE) comes in. Formally known as ASD-STE100, Simplified Technical English is a stripped down, hollowed out version of the world’s best-known language. It features fewer than 1,000 words and a set of easy-to-follow syntax and vocabulary rules: everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Aside from the skimpy vocabulary, the most important thing to understand about Simplified Technical English is that its writing rules are designed to minimize ambiguity. Unlike regular English, where one word can have many meanings, Simplified Technical English words have rigid definitions. For instance, the word “close” can only be used as a verb, as in “close the circuit” or “close the door,” but not “move close to the door.” “Oil” can be used only as a noun, as in “change the oil,” but not “oil the hinge.”

It’s starting to make sense, right?

If you’re not yet convinced that Simplified Technical English can help your organization — and your international customers — communicate more effectively, these five arguments just might do the trick.

  • [6] Simplified Technical English is all about clarity and directness. STE sentences are designed to be interpreted in one fashion, and one fashion only. This is a huge boon for manufacturers that need to ensure their instruction manuals or safety directives are taken at face value — not open to interpretation due to unclear wording or unnecessary verbiage.
  • [7] Simplified Technical English is easy for non-native, non-fluent English speakers to understand. There aren’t any big or unusual words to keep straight, nor are there any idioms (figures of speech) that only make sense in certain geographical areas or among certain cultural groups. As such, virtually anyone with basic English knowledge can parse Simplified Technical English. When your entire workforce or customer base understands your instructions or written directives, there’s no need to hire a pricey translation firm (or an on-staff translation team) to make your words legible.
  • [8] Clarity and legibility aren’t always simple matters of convenience. Sometimes, they’re matters of life and death. When hazardous equipment or environments are in play, it’s critical that technical instructions are taken literally, down to the last letter. Simplified Technical English dramatically reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding.
  • [9] Simplified Technical English cuts to the heart of the matter. Since it’s a fixture in technical manuals pulled out during maintenance periods, that’s a major boon for bean-counters who know that there’s an inverse relationship between productivity and maintenance time. By reducing maintenance time down to the bare minimum, Simplified Technical English helps users focus on what matters most — the bottom line.
  • [10] For companies looking to cut costs wherever possible, STE’s brutal efficiency is a godsend. By reducing the amount of exposition necessary to communicate the same number of ideas, Simplified Technical English keeps writing, editing, and publishing costs in check and empowers decision-makers to focus on what they do best. And, if employees and users have to spend less time reading and interpreting STE instructions, so much the better.


“5 Arguments for Simplified Technical English” groundreport, http://www.groundreport.com/5-arguments-simplified-technical-english-explain-less/ Accessed 9.8.2017

How did that go? Remember that practice is very important, so apply these tips to all your IELTS short answer reading practices in the future to build confidence and speed.

Now we are ready to move on to Matching Headings question types.

Matching Headings

For this type of question you must match a heading to a paragraph. The heading must present the main focus of the paragraph. This task tests your understanding of the structure of the text as well as your understanding of the details. 
IELTSTutors Tips

1. It is best to answer this type of ‘gist’ question before moving onto ‘detail’ questions such as short answer questions. This will save you time as when you move onto detail questions later, you will know where in the text to find the answers. IELTS test questions are often (but not always) organised in this way. 

2. Read the instructions carefully. What exactly do you have to write on your answer paper?

3. Familiarise yourself with the list of headings.

4. Look for and underline keywords/phrases in each heading. As you do this think of synonyms for the key words. Be careful of headings that seem similar. Think about what makes them different.

5. Skim over the passage to get the overall gist of each paragraph and match the headings to the paragraphs as you read. Reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph should help you to do this. Don’t get stuck on words that you don’t understand, this type of task is about the general meaning.

6. In the test, write your answers on your answer paper straight away. You will not receive any extra time to transfer your answers.

Now we can follow these tips for the next set of questions.

READING ACTIVITY | QUESTIONS 6 – 10​

​In the text there are paragraphs numbered 6-10. Choose the appropriate heading above each paragraph. You do not need to use all of the headings.
MATCH THE HEADINGS TO THE PARAGRAPHS
6.

Simplified Technical English is all about clarity and directness. STE sentences are designed to be interpreted in one fashion, and one fashion only. This is a huge boon for manufacturers that need to ensure their instruction manuals or safety directives are taken at face value — not open to interpretation due to unclear wording or unnecessary verbiage.

7.

Simplified Technical English is easy for non-native, non-fluent English speakers to understand. There aren’t any big or unusual words to keep straight, nor are there any idioms (figures of speech) that only make sense in certain geographical areas or among certain cultural groups. As such, virtually anyone with basic English knowledge can parse Simplified Technical English. When your entire workforce or customer base understands your instructions or written directives, there’s no need to hire a pricey translation firm (or an on-staff translation team) to make your words legible.

8.

Clarity and legibility aren’t always simple matters of convenience. Sometimes, they’re matters of life and death. When hazardous equipment or environments are in play, it’s critical that technical instructions are taken literally, down to the last letter. Simplified Technical English dramatically reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding.

9.

Simplified Technical English cuts to the heart of the matter. Since it’s a fixture in technical manuals pulled out during maintenance periods, that’s a major boon for bean-counters who know that there’s an inverse relationship between productivity and maintenance time. By reducing maintenance time down to the bare minimum, Simplified Technical English helps users focus on what matters most — the bottom line.

10.

For companies looking to cut costs wherever possible, STE’s brutal efficiency is a godsend. By reducing the amount of exposition necessary to communicate the same number of ideas, Simplified Technical English keeps writing, editing, and publishing costs in check and empowers decision-makers to focus on what they do best. And, if employees and users have to spend less time reading and interpreting STE instructions, so much the better.


Open Our Answer Guide

​6 – D) Clear writing with reduced ambiguity
In this paragraph we read ‘Simplified Technical English is all about clarity and directness’. The link here is the word ‘clarity’. We also read that the language is ‘not open to interpretation due to unclear wording’ which is another way of saying ‘reduced ambiguity’.
 
7 – A) Big Savings on Translation Costs
In paragraph 7 we read ‘When your entire workforce or customer base understands your instructions or written directives, there’s no need to hire a pricey translation firm.’ So if there is no need to pay for expensive (‘pricey’) translations, there are ‘big savings on translation costs’.

8 – C) Improved Workplace Safety
Paragraph 8 talks about the dangers of misunderstanding safety instructions. Here we see ‘When hazardous equipment or environments are in play, it’s critical that technical instructions are taken literally, down to the last letter. Simplified Technical English dramatically reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding.’ The text suggests that ‘misunderstanding’ can be ‘hazardous’ (dangerous).

9 – F) Less Time Lost to Maintenance
Paragraph 9 talks about time: ‘By reducing maintenance time down to the bare minimum, Simplified Technical English helps users focus on what matters most — the bottom line.’ Paragraph 10 also talks of time, but not in the context of maintenance. We can see that the word ‘maintenance’ is used both in the text and the heading, making this question easier.  
 
10 – B) More Efficient Writing & Communication
In paragraph 10 we read ‘By reducing the amount of exposition necessary to communicate the same number of ideas, Simplified Technical English keeps writing, editing, and publishing costs in check.’ We see here both ‘writing’ and ‘communication/communicate’ are used in the heading and the text. We also is the word ‘Efficiency’ used and defined in the phrase ‘reducing the amount of exposition (explanation) necessary’.

Use these tips as often as you can to speed up your reading skills.

For reading practice 2, check out this lesson on matching sentence endings.

If you found this reading practice task useful, why not try our complete test with guided answers.

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