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Reading: How to Answer Matching Paragraph Headings Questions



In this article we we will look at how to answer Short Answer questions.


  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. 📑 An Example




2. 🎯 The Objective


You need to:

  • Understand the main idea of each paragraph.

  • Identify the correct ‘heading’ for each paragraph, often by distinguishing between some similar sounding 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 try to read and retain too much information at once, ie. read all of the questions and all of the options, before looking at the text, and get confused. The options are designed to confuse you, and you want to minimise ‘cognitive load’ while you’re completing the reading exam.


😎 You should try to get an idea of the answer to the head question before you start looking at the options. If you do that, you should be able to immediately discard some, or all, of the incorrect answers without letting them confuse you.

🏃 Some candidates rely too much on ‘skimming’ and ‘scanning’, rush their reading, don’t really understand the text or the questions, and get the answers wrong. These questions test your comprehension of the meaning of whole phrases and passages of text, not just matching individual words.

🧐 You need to make sure you really understand the text and the questions, not just look at them superficially.


🐢 You might start quite slowly, realise you have a lot to read and a lot of options, and start to panic.


🏃 Keep calm. The more answers you put down, and the more you read, the faster and more confident you’ll get, as later on in the exercise you’ll have fewer options to choose from.


👯 Some options are very similar and may contain words which are the same in the text. It can be challenging to distinguish between these options.


🔬 Before you look at the options, make sure you really understand the text first. Then, you need to read the options very carefully and try to understand what the differences are. Sometimes the difference is a single qualifying expression or adjective. Also, remember that you’re being tested on understanding meanings of whole phrases, not just matching words.


🔬 Some candidates confuse details they see in a paragraph with its general idea. They might see a single word or sentence about one particular topic, and focus too much on that, ignoring what the paragraph is about overall.


🌎 The overall meaning of the paragraph is the culmination of the details, so while you need to understand the details, the appropriate heading will be the one which describes the paragraph more generally. Also, some headings might seem appropriate at first, but later, you’ll see a paragraph which goes with it much better.


😕 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


Strategy One:


  1. Carefully read the first paragraph, but don’t look at any of the heading options.

  2. Think, what is this paragraph about? What is the main topic? What title could I give it?

  3. Look at the options and decide which one is closest to the title that you made up. Mark that as your first potential answer. If there’s more than one option, put both of them for now.

  4. Read the second paragraph, but forget about the head options.

  5. Think, what is this paragraph about? What is the main topic? What title could I give it?

  6. Look at the options and decide which one is closest to the title that you made up. Mark that as your second potential answer. If there’s more than one option, put both of them for now.

  7. Continue doing this process until you have finished. As you go, a few things should happen. One, as you complete the exercise, you should have fewer and fewer options, and the exercise will get easier. Two, sometimes if you’re stuck between two heading options for one of the paragraphs, you might later find a paragraph which definitely uses one of those headings, and so you can discard it as an option from the earlier paragraph.

  8. As always, if you’re not sure of an answer, make a note, move on, and come back to it later. In this particular exercise, the answers get easier the more of them you complete.


Strategy Two:


  1. This type of question is typically the first question for a passage, but for this approach, you leave it until last. Before completing it, skip ahead to whatever other questions you have for the passage (multiple choice, T/F/NG, table competition, etc). Keep in mind that these questions may not be about the first few paragraphs.

  2. Once you have completed the other exercises, come back to the matching headings exercise. At this point, you should be a lot more familiar with some of the paragraphs.

  3. Start the matching headings exercise by reading the shortest paragraph first, and the longest paragraph last, while repeating steps 2-8 of the previous strategy (making up your own heading and comparing it to the list).


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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