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IELTS reading - Matching Headings and Evil Tricks!


Why do students find this difficult?

Well, let’s face it. The main reason is that these questions may involve more reading and analyzing than some of the other IELTS question types. This can be a problem for students who are struggling with vocabulary.

Are IELTS reading and listening questions truly EVIL???

Yes and No. It depends how you look it. Some people might call the questions tough but fair. Other people might call them tricky, devious, misleading, and therefore: YES! EVIL

Now, imagine that they ARE Evil.

What can you do - give up?

No. That’s not an option, so: What’s the BEST way to fight Evil?

Any superhero will tell you that the best way to fight Evil is by getting to know Evil. If you know how your enemy works and thinks, you can keep one step ahead of them, know when, where and how to take action, and how to avoid their deadly traps.



Before we look at how MATCHING HEADINGS questions can be evil, let’s review the basics:

In a MATCHING HEADINGS question, you have to choose the best HEADING for a paragraph, or in other words, the heading which is closest to the MAIN IDEA of the PARAGRAPH.

Most books or typical curses will give you the following strategy, which is pretty good:

  1. Look very briefly at the headings (I personally think it is better NOT to look at the headings first)

  2. Skim the paragraph quickly (focus on the first and last sentences)

  3. Try to identify the main idea

  4. Choose the proper heading

However, this is not enough to really help people with these types of questions.

Why? Because of the following EVIL TRICKS



Imagine that the IELTS test maker is your enemy and MATCHING HEADINGS questions are one of his or her weapons to use against you.

Now, let’s get inside the head of the IELTS question maker. This person knows it is necessary to make sure that the questions on his or her exam are difficult and tricky enough to fool a lot of students.


EVIL TRICK # 1 (well, this one is not so evil)

The IELTS test makers like to mix it up. They will mix easy questions with more difficult ones. In fact, out of the 40 questions on a full reading exam, there are usually 10 easy questions, and 10 really difficult questions. Sometimes one whole section may be either quite easy or really tough. In a matching headings section, there may be 1 or 2 easy questions.

EASY Matching Heading Questions

An easy matching headings question is one where the main idea can be easily seen in the first sentence of the paragraph and is very similar to one of the headings as in this example:

Antarctic penguins have a number of survival adaptations allow them to swim through water as cold as -2 degrees Celsius. In order to stay warm in these temperatures, penguins have to keep moving. Though penguins don't fly in the air, they are often said to fly through water. Instead of stopping each time they come up for air, they use a technique called "porpoising," in which they leap up for a quick breath while swiftly moving forward: Unlike most birds that have hollow bones for flight, penguins have evolved hard solid bones that keep them low in the water. Antarctic penguins also have unique feathers that work similarly to a waterproof diving suit.

LIST of HEADINGS. Choose the best one.

  1. Antarctic Penguins have adapted to be able to swim in very cold water.

  2. Antarctic Penguins enjoy swimming in cold water

  3. Antarctic Penguins are said to fly through the water

In this case, it is quite easy to see that the answer must be a). In this case, the main idea of the paragraph is stated clearly at the beginning of the paragraph. Notice that the word ADAPTATIONS is used in the paragraph, while the verb HAVE ADAPTED is used in the question. This is a kind of paraphrase, but in fact, quite easy.

How to deal with it:

Try to get good at spotting easy questions. Know what kind of questions you are good at and do those ones first. If you get stuck on a difficult question, move on to the next one. Remember that the easy questions are worth 1 mark, just like the difficult ones.

In Matching heading questions, try to figure out if the first sentence gives the main idea of the paragraph or not. Then try to find a heading that matches as closely as possible.