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Reading: How to Answer Short Answer 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. 📑 Examples





2. 🎯 The Objective


You need to:

  • answer the direct questions with words/numbers from the text.



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.


🔢 Read each question carefully. You might have practised short answer questions 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 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 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 you can write, or if some answers might contain numbers.

  2. Read the first question and 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.

  5. Write down your answers, making sure your spelling is correct and that your answers are within the word limit.

  6. Go between the question and the text as necessary.

  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.


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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