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IELTS Reading – Matching Headings Questions – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 20 April, 2017 , No comments

Are you taking the IELTS examination? What do you know about the IELTS reading exam? Are you having problems with any of the question types?

In this lesson, you are going to learn how to complete matching headings questions in the IELTS reading exam. You’ll see simple, effective techniques which you can use to answer matching headings questions in your IELTS reading test.

IELTS Reading - How to Answer Matching Headings Questions - reading image

1. Basic Tips for the IELTS Reading Matching Headings Section

Answering matching headings questions is often one of the most difficult tasks for IELTS students. Why?

The main reason is that the headings in the IELTS reading test are usually very similar to each other.

Also, you have more headings than you need for the question.

So, how can we make this a little easier?

Firstly, if there’s an example – and there usually is – cross out that answer. You don’t need it; don’t let it confuse you.

Also, the example isn’t always the first paragraph, so make sure you check carefully.

Secondly, check how many questions you need to answer. How many extra answers are there? When answering matching headings questions, do not use any answer more than once.

Finally, and most importantly, do not read the whole text! You don’t have time. You get marks for answering the questions, not understanding the whole text. Your only job is to choose the correct answers.

So, how can we find them? How can you actually answer matching headings questions in the IELTS reading exam?

2. How to Answer an IELTS Reading Matching Headings Question

Take a look at these headings:

  1. How wildlife benefits from big trees
  2. How large trees are being destroyed
  3. How to support a functioning ecosystem

Before you read any of the text, one technique is to read the headings first.

Read the headings and think about the topic of the text.

So, what were your ideas? Something about trees? The environment?

Now, let’s take a look at the first paragraph.

  • Large trees are an essential part of any successfully functioning ecosystem. Without the trees, innumerable species would be left without habitats and would cease to exist. They supply shelter for many animals, and their trunks and branches can become veritable gardens, hanging with vines and covered with beautiful flora, such as flowers, types of moss and countless others. With their tall canopies sprawling under the sun, they collect vast quantities of energy. This allows the trees to support a substantial proportion of the life in the forest.

That is a lot of text. We could read it all, but why would we? We don’t need the details, we just need to work out what the main idea of the paragraph is.

And, to do that, we only need the first, second and last sentences.

  • Large trees are an essential part of any successfully functioning ecosystem. Without the trees, innumerable species would be left without habitats and would cease to exist. (…) This allows the trees to support a substantial proportion of the life in the forest.

Much better.

Read the first sentence. Most paragraphs will start with a mini-introduction that will often tell you what the paragraph is about.

  • Large trees are an essential part of any successfully functioning ecosystem.

Okay, so from our three headings, which one could it be? Try looking for synonyms and phrases that have a similar meaning to the first sentence. Can we rule out any answers yet?

  1. How wildlife benefits from big trees
  2. How large trees are being destroyed
  3. How to support a functioning ecosystem

Well, it could be number one. We have a mention of trees, and the words ‘essential part’ and ‘successfully’ could connect to the idea of ‘benefits’ in heading one.

What about heading two? We have ‘trees’ again. However, number two contains the word ‘destroyed’, and there is nothing which connects to this in the first sentence.

In number three, we have the phrase ‘functioning ecosystem’, which appears in the first sentence. So, three is another possibility.

Even if you think you know, make sure you read the last sentence of the paragraph to check your ideas. Most paragraphs will end with a mini-conclusion. If this mini-conclusion is on the same topic as the first sentence, that is often enough to give you the answer.

Let’s look at the last sentence:

  • This allows the trees to support a substantial proportion of the life in the forest.

What is the meaning of the sentence? Can you see any synonyms or other words which we can connect to words or phrases in the headings?

At this point, we can say that it can’t be heading two. In both sentences we have nothing about the destruction of trees.

Number one is looking very likely. We have ‘support’ – a similar idea to ‘benefits’ – and ‘life’ – similar to ‘wildlife’.

Number three? ‘How to support a functioning ecosystem’ suggests that the text should give people advice. Are these sentences giving us advice or not? They aren’t, and so we can rule out heading three.

So you could now choose heading one and move onto the next question in your IELTS reading test.

However, if you aren’t sure, don’t worry. Read the second sentence in the paragraph. This should help you to find the right answer with more certainty.

  • Without the trees, innumerable species would be left without habitats and would cease to exist.

Okay, even if you weren’t sure before, you can see that this is about trees and how they help wildlife. The answer must be heading one: ‘How wildlife benefits from large trees.’

3. How to Answer Matching Headings Questions: a Second Example

Let’s look at one more IELTS matching headings question. We’ll use the same technique.

Look at these headings:

  1. Working conditions in the UK
  2. The benefits of being a member of a trade union
  3. Declining membership of trade unions in the UK

Again, read the headings and think about the topic of the text.

So, what were your ideas? Something about work in the UK? Membership of trade unions?

Now, let’s take a look at our paragraph:

  • Trade unions provide an essential defence against exploitative working practices. Yet, due to a lack of awareness surrounding the benefits of joining a union and an increase in temporary work, union membership in the UK continues to fall year-on-year. From a high of 13.2 million members in 1979, membership of trade unions in the UK has steadily dropped and today stands at just over 7 million people. A large decrease in the number of members means that trade unions currently have far less influence compared to the height of their power in the 1980s.

Remember, for your IELTS reading test, you don’t need the details, you just need the main idea of the paragraph.

Again, you just need the first, second and last sentences.

  • Trade unions provide an essential defence against exploitative working practices. Yet, due to a lack of awareness surrounding the benefits of joining a union and an increase in temporary work, union membership in the UK continues to fall year-on-year. (…) A large decrease in the number of members means that trade unions currently have far less influence compared to the height of their power in the 1980s.

Let’s have a look at the first sentence. How does that help us?

  • Trade unions provide an essential defence against exploitative working practices.

Okay, exactly the same as before: try looking for synonyms and phrases that have a similar meaning to the first sentence. Can we rule any answers out yet?

  1. Working conditions in the UK
  2. The benefits of being a member of a trade union
  3. Declining membership of trade unions in the UK

It could be heading one. We have the word ‘working’ in both. The sentence also says ‘exploitative’.

‘Exploitative’ describes a relationship where one side is more powerful, and uses that power to treat the other side unfairly. This could link to ‘working conditions’.

What about heading two? The phrase ‘trade union’ is in both. Also, we have the word ‘defence’. ‘Defence’ here connects to the idea of helping people by protecting their rights. Heading two talks about ‘benefits’, so it could still be number two.

What about the third heading? ‘Trade union’ is in both, but there’s nothing else to connect the heading to the first sentence. So, it looks less likely, but we don’t have enough information to rule any headings out yet.

You can see that this example is a little more difficult. With our first example, we had a good idea of which heading was right after reading one sentence. Here, the first sentence of the paragraph hasn’t helped us much yet.

What do you do? No problem! Remember: the next step is to look at the final sentence of the paragraph:

  • A large decrease in the number of members means that trade unions currently have far less influence compared to the height of their power in the 1980s.

Does this make things any clearer?

The sentence says the number of members has decreased. So, heading three is looking more probable, because it talks about ‘declining membership of trade unions’.

But, what about headings one and two?

There’s nothing obvious in the last sentence which connects to one or two. However, there’s also nothing which lets us rule them out.

So, I think we need to do some more work.

What should you do? Read the second sentence.

  • Yet, due to a lack of awareness surrounding the benefits of joining a union and an increase in temporary work, union membership in the UK continues to fall year-on-year.

Can we make a final decision now? The second sentence mentions ‘benefits’, which appears in heading two, but this sentence says that people don’t know the benefits of joining a trade union, which is a different context from heading two.

So, there’s nothing to connect this sentence to headings one or two. What about heading three?

The sentence tells us that trade union membership continues to fall. ‘Fall’ is a synonym for ‘decline’. Therefore, we can match heading three to this paragraph.

Is that any clearer? If you aren’t sure why number three is the answer, remember that you can review this section as many times as you need. Follow each step and think about the logic you need to use to reach the right answer.

These questions can be challenging, but by practising the technique, you will feel more confident when answering matching headings questions in your IELTS reading exam.

4. Review and Final Advice

So, that is how you answer matching headings questions in the IELTS reading exam. Make sure you practise this technique to improve your speed.

Some key points to remember for your IELTS reading test:

  1. Do not read the whole text. You only need to read the first, last and maybe the second sentences.
  2. Look for synonyms and similar ideas between the headings and sentences. Is the paragraph saying the same thing, but in a different way?
  3. Remember that seeing synonyms or even the same words in the paragraph and the heading DOES NOT mean that this heading is the right one. Always check that the meaning fits.
  4. If you’ve used the technique and still aren’t sure of an answer, move on to the next question. When you’ve answered a few more questions and used more of the headings, you can come back to questions you haven’t answered.
  5. Answer all the questions. Even if nothing works, make sure you write an answer, even if you have to guess between 2 or 3 options.

I hope this helps you answer matching headings questions in the IELTS reading exam.

Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon!

Thanks for watching and make sure to see our other Free IELTS Preparation Lessons!

Oli RedmanIELTS Reading – Matching Headings Questions – Video Lesson