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Reading: How to Answer Gap-Fills (sentences, summaries, diagrams, tables, etc)

In this article we we will look at how to answer Gap-Fill questions (sentences, summaries, diagrams, tables, etc)

  1. 📑 Look at some examples

  2. 🎯 Focus on the objective

  3. 🤔 Discuss common problems that students have and how to solve them

  4. Describe the best strategy for answering these questions

  5. ✍️ Do a practice example

  6. 💡 Review some general Reading Exam tips

1. 📑 Examples

Table Completion

Summary Completion

Multiple Choice Summary Completion

2. 🎯 The Objective

You need to complete the summary/diagram/table/chart with words or numbers from the text, or from a list of options.

3. Common Problems and Solutions

Problems IELTS candidates have with these questions and some solutions to these problems:

The Problem:

The Solution:

🥴 Some candidates don’t read the question properly and put three words when the question only permits two, or they write a word instead of a letter (if it’s multiple choice).

🔢 Read each question carefully. You might have practised lots of gap-fills which ask you to use TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER, but on exam day, you might be answering a gap-fill which asks for ONE WORD ONLY.

🔣 Some candidates miscopy or misspell words from the text when writing the answers.

✍️ You should make sure you copy the words very carefully, especially if they are unusual names or technical words.

😱 Some candidates feel intimidated by having to complete gapfills about ‘specialist’ subjects with ‘technical’ vocabulary.

😎 Keep in mind that you’re not being tested on your specialist knowledge or knowledge of technical vocabulary, you’re only being tested on your ability to find information in a text. Any non-specialist who knows how to read can do these exercises.

🐢 Some candidates who are slower readers might spend too long reading whole blocks of text, rather than getting straight to the answer.

🏃 Although in general you shouldn’t read too superficially, for this type of question you might want to skim and scan to get to the answer more quickly.

🤨 Some candidates find these exercises harder because fundamentally, their grammar isn’t so good, so they might be looking for the wrong type of word, e.g. a verb instead of a noun.

👩‍🎓 If your grammar is good, these questions will be much easier, as you’ll be able to predict answers more easily, be able to find the answers more easily, and be less likely to make basic mistakes.

😒 Some candidates find these exercises harder because they don’t have much awareness of collocations.

😏 If you have a strong awareness of collocation, as you’ll be able to predict answers more easily, be able to find the answers more easily, and really, some of the answers will be very easy.

​😕 Some candidates don’t know enough vocabulary, or don’t understand synonyms or paraphrases of words or phrases.

📚 It’s highly important that you build your vocabulary for every section of the IELTS test. The reading test is largely a big vocabulary test. You also need to be sensitive to how things could be reworded in the questions and in the text.

4. The Strategy

The answers to these questions appear in the same order in the text, so you should read the text in order, and you should answer the questions in order too. Answer the questions one at a time.

  1. Carefully read the instructions to establish how many words/numbers you can put in the gaps, or if you need to select from a list of options and put a letter. If you write too many words, or put a word instead of a letter from the options, your answer will be wrong.

  2. Look at the first sentence/part of the summary/table/diagram. Pay attention to keywords (nouns, verbs, names, places, etc) around the gap. These will help you identify where in the text you’ll find the answers.

  3. Look at the gap and establish if it’s a noun/verb/adjective/number.

  4. If you’ve already read the relevant part of the text, can you remember what the answer should be? If you haven’t, can you make a logical prediction about what the answer could be?

  5. Find the paragraph in the text which contains the answer.

  6. Scan the text to find the word which fits in the gap. Remember, the ideas in the text will likely be expressed with synonyms, rather than using the same words as the questions.

  7. Copy your answer carefully, making sure that the spelling is correct, that your answer fits grammatically and makes sense.

  8. If you’re not sure of an answer, make a note of what you think the answer is, the question and the area of the text, so that you can come back and check it later. Don’t waste too long on any one question. Try to keep moving. After rechecking, if you’re still not sure, you should make your best guess.


a) If you’re given multiple choice options, you should still use the above strategy, but after checking the text, you should then look at one of the options which best fits the gap. Remember to write the letter in your answer sheet, not the word.

b) If you have to label a diagram which doesn’t contain much text. You’ll probably have to understand the text in a bit more depth to orientate yourself around the picture.

5. ✍️ Some Practice Exercises

6. 💡 General Reading Exam Tips

Different types of questions will test different reading skills such as your understanding of individual words, understandings of whole sentences in the context of a paragraph, understandings of whole paragraphs in the context of a text, understandings of writer’s opinions, and variations of the above.

While you should use different strategies for different questions, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  1. Reading every day to improve your reading fluency and comprehension will have a greater effect on your score than learning some exam strategies.

  2. Improving your vocabulary will have a huge effect on your score, more so than learning some exam strategies.

  3. You need to practise answering different types of questions and using different reading strategies so that you know exactly what to do on exam day. Just looking at this article once is not enough - you need to do a lot of practice.

  4. In the exam, always read the instructions to each question very carefully. You might have practised lots of gap-fills which ask you to use TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER, but on exam day, you might be answering a gap-fill which asks for ONE WORD ONLY. If you write two words in that gap on exam day, your answer will be wrong.

  5. Even though there are different strategies for different questions, I would still recommend using the overall reading strategy we discussed in the last class.

i. Read the Title (if there is one)

ii. Read the First Paragraph

iii. Answer Any Questions You Can

iv. Repeat with the Next Paragraph

Try to complete the exam one paragraph and one question at a time. Be systematic and don’t overload your brain with too much confusing information.

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