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Reading: How to Answer Multiple Choice Questions

In this article we we will look at how to answer Multiple Choice questions. Specifically, we will:

  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

2. 🎯 The Objective

You need to:

  • Understand the and be able to answer the ‘head question’ with reference to the text.

  • Discard obviously incorrect options.

  • Distinguish between similar sounding, potentially correct answers and identify which of those is in fact correct.

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 the question 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.

🔢 Some statements, and sections of text contain qualifying words and phrases like ‘some’; ‘all’; ‘most’; ‘mainly’; ‘only’; ‘occasionally’; ‘always’; or ‘possibly’, which significantly effect the meaning of the overall phrase.

🕵️ You need to pay special attention to these words and phrases in the questions and in the text.

👯 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. 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 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 if you need to select 1 or 2 multiple choice options. They usually look quite different so this shouldn’t be too hard.

  2. Carefully read the ‘head’ part of the first question, but don’t look at the options. Treat the ‘head’ of the question as an open question which you need to answer. If the question is a direct question, can you answer it in your own words? If the question is a sentence fragment, could you reformulate it as a question and answer it in your own words? For example: Question in exam: ‘David Storey’s study found that …’ Question you ask yourself before reading the text: ‘What did David Storey’s study find?’ Also, pay attention to keywords (nouns, verbs, names, places, etc) and to qualifying words (‘some’, ‘always’, ‘mainly’, etc), but it’s important to understand the meaning of the whole phrase.

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

  4. Read the paragraph carefully to understand exactly what is being stated. Remember, the ideas in the text will likely be expressed with synonyms, rather than using the same words as the questions. Be careful with those qualifying expressions, but also make sure you are understanding the meaning of complete ideas, and not just matching individual words. Remember, the other options may trick you because they contain words which are mentioned in the text. You might need to go look back and forth between the question and the text.

  5. When you have a good idea of the answer, look at the options. As you read them, you should be able to immediately discard one or more obviously incorrect answers. If you are left with similar sounding options, reread them carefully until you’re clear of the difference.

  6. Refer back to the text as necessary to help you choose the correct option.

  7. 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.


The answers to some multiple choice questions, usually the ‘select 2 options’ from a longer list of questions, do not necessarily appear in the same order as in the text, and the answers could potentially be anywhere in the text.

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 this overall reading strategy.

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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