Click on the link below to try today's reading exercise. The questions are at the end of the passage.
The General Training reading test is a bit different to the Academic test. However, the techniques you need to use to find the answers are the same:
- Underline key words in the question.
- Look for those words, or words with the same meaning, in the passage.
General Training questions are easier than those in the Academic test, so I often give my students a section from a GT test as an introduction to the reading exam.
Read the following passage about ancient uses of the word 'talent'.
The word ‘talent’ comes from the Latin word ‘talentum’, meaning a sum of money, and from the Greek ‘talanton’, meaning a unit of money or weight. An ancient Greek talent was 26 kilograms, which was approximately the mass of water required to fill an amphora - an ancient jar or jug.
When used as a measure of money, the word ‘talent’ typically referred to a weight of gold or silver. A Roman talent was around 33 kilograms of gold, while an Egyptian talent was 27 kilograms and a Babylonian talent was 30.3 kilograms. At the current price of around 38 US dollars per gram, a Roman talent of gold would cost roughly 1.25 million dollars.
Another way to calculate the modern equivalent to a talent is from its use in estimating military pay. During the Peloponnesian war in Ancient Greece, a talent was the amount of silver needed to pay the crew of a trireme (a warship requiring about 170 oarsmen) for one month. Alternatively, a talent of silver was said to be equivalent to the value of nine years of one man’s skilled work.
Are the following statements true, false or not given?
If you want to do some realistic IELTS reading practice, the only books that I recommend are Cambridge IELTS books and the two 'Official Practice Materials' books.
Here are some problems that I've seen in other 'unofficial' books:
You can still use unofficial books for reading practice. Just don't expect the tests in them to be realistic.
Read the following passage about animal migration.
(Source: National Geographic)
Large migrations are some of nature's greatest spectacles. Wildebeest and zebra chase the rains through the Mara ecosystem every year, monarch butterflies trace a path from Mexico to Canada and back, and tiny songbirds fly nonstop for days at a time. And now scientists are starting to figure out how they know where to go, and when.
Some of these animals, they’ve found, have their migration pathways written into their genes. A songbird hatched in a laboratory, having seen nothing of the natural world, still attempts to begin migration at the right time of year and in the right cardinal direction.
But large mammals like bighorn sheep and moose are a different story. Wildlife researchers have long suspected that they require experience to migrate effectively, that their annual journeys are the result of learning from one another, not of genetic inheritance. A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that those hunches may be correct—some animals must learn how to migrate.
The existence of collective information and knowledge, that can be passed from older animals to younger ones, is a form of “culture,” researchers explain. And when animals learn as a result of social interaction and the transfer of this information, that’s a type of cultural exchange—as opposed to genetic.
Fill each gap in the summary below with ONE word from the passage.
Scientists believe that ______ are responsible for some animal migrations. Songbirds, for example, do not need to learn when and in which ______ to migrate. On the other hand, bighorn sheep appear to ______ migration habits from the herd. They, and other mammals, seem to have a ______ that is passed from one generation to the next through interaction and exchange of ______.
I often talk about the "keyword technique" in my reading lessons. But the "keyword technique" isn't special; it's just a convenient name that I use. Here's what I mean when I use this name:
Note: The main point of the "keyword technique" is that you have some specific words to look for in the passage. But remember: Locating the answer is just the first step. The second step is reading carefully, making sure you understand what you are reading, and comparing with the question.
To see me use the "keyword technique" in a quick video lesson, click here.
A few people have asked me to look at some examples from the General reading test. Try the exercise below; I'm sure you'll see that it's basically the same as Academic reading, just easier.
Read the following information about some medicine.
(Source: Cambridge IELTS book 3)
Do the following statements agree with the information above? Write YES, NO or NOT GIVEN.
What were the 'keywords' that gave you the answers?
Students often ask me this: Is it possible to match paragraph headings to the correct paragraphs by reading the first sentence of the paragraph only?
My answer is: sometimes. The problem is that this 'technique' doesn't always work. For example, try the following exercise.
Choose the best heading (1 or 2) for the paragraph below. Which sentence gave you the answer?
It was once assumed that improvements in telecommunications would lead to more dispersal in the population as people were no longer forced into cities. However, the ISTP team's research demonstrates that the population and job density of cities rose or remained constant in the 1980s after decades of decline. The explanation for this seems to be that it is valuable to place people working in related fields together. 'The new world will largely depend on human creativity, and creativity flourishes where people come together face-to-face.'
(Source: Cambridge IELTS 6, test 2)
You've probably read my advice about underlining 'keywords' in the question and then searching for those words in the passage.
But people sometimes find the keywords and still get the wrong answer. Does this mean that the 'keyword technique' doesn't work? No. If you found the keywords but still got the wrong answer, the problem must be this: you didn't fully understand what you read.
Remember that the keyword technique involves 2 steps:
Remember: Keywords don't automatically give you the answer. They help you to locate it, but then you'll need to understand the relevant sentence(s).
I've said before that IELTS Reading is a vocabulary test. If you don't understand the words that you read in the questions or passage, you probably won't get the right answer. Here's an example from one of my video lessons:
Is the following statement true, false or not given?
Some sewage networks built by the Romans in the UK were made out of wood.
Relevant part of the passage:
Roman towns and garrisons in the United Kingdom between 46 BC and 400 AD had complex sewer networks sometimes constructed out of hollowed-out elm logs.
- What answer would you give (T, F or NG)?
- Which 'keywords' would you underline in the question and passage?
- Which words do you need to understand in order to get the answer?
Read the following passage.
The cinematograph is a motion picture film camera which also serves as a film projector and developer. It was invented in the 1890s, but there is much dispute as to the identity of its inventor.
Some argue that the device was first invented and patented as "Cinématographe Léon Bouly" by French inventor Léon Bouly on February 12, 1892. Bouly coined the term “cinematograph”, which translates in Greek to “writing in movement”. It is said that Bouly was not able to pay the rent for his patent the following year, and that the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière bought the licence.
A more popular version of events is that Louis Lumière was the first to conceptualise the idea. The Lumière brothers shared the patent, and they made their first film, Sortie de l'usine Lumière de Lyon, in 1894.
Choose the best title for the whole passage from the list below.
A) How the cinematograph was invented
B) The first film projector
C) Who invented the cinematograph?
D) What is a cinematograph?
Read the following passage about compound words and hyphens.
A study of more than 10,000 compound words has found that four basic rules, regarding when to use a hyphen, will work 75 per cent of the time.
If the compound word is a verb (like to blow-dry), or an adjective (like world-famous), it probably needs a hyphen. For nouns with two syllables, like break-up and set-to, the rule is easy: use a hyphen only when the second word has two letters. If the second part of the word has more than two letters, it should be spelled as a single word, like coastline or bedroom. This explains why hotdog is not hyphenated. Finally, if the noun has three or more syllables, it is two separate words. Examples here include bathing suit and washing machine.
Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer, who is a linguistics professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, produced the simple set of rules after examining thousands of English words. She worked alongside a programmer and a statistician to find the patterns in the English language. She said: “A whole range of factors can have an influence on how compound words are typically spelled. But on a general level, it all boils down to a few simple guidelines.” She has published exceptions to the rules, and additional guidelines for hyphens, in a book called ‘English Compounds and their Spelling’.
(Adapted from www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech)
Answer each question below with just ONE word.
Choose the best heading for the following paragraph from the list below.
“Big data” is a term being used more and more by politicians. It refers to the concept that any problem – from underperforming pupils to failing hospitals – can be solved by collecting some tightly focused data, crunching it and making tweaks, such as moving pupils or changing nurses’ shifts, rather than dealing with bigger issues, such as poverty or spending cuts. This is an approach that focuses narrowly on “what works” without ever troubling to ask: “works for whom?” Its watchword is “smart”, which can easily be appreciated, rather than “right”, which can’t. Putting trust in highly educated technocrats, it is naturally less interested in public debate.
A) How data can be used to improve society.
B) Big data: a smart approach to politics that works for everyone.
C) A sceptical perspective on “big data”.
D) Why the public trusts technocrats more than politicians.
Read the following passage about the language known as 'Old English'.
Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century.
After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, as during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.
Like other old Germanic languages, Old English is very different from Modern English and difficult for Modern English speakers to understand without study. Old English grammar is quite similar to that of modern German: nouns, adjectives, pronouns and verbs have many inflectional endings and forms, and word order is much freer.
Choose the best answer, A, B or C, for the two questions below.
1. What happened in the 7th century?
A) The English language was first established in Britain.
B) The first oral stories in Old English were told.
C) The earliest examples of creative writing in Old English come from that time.
2. Old English is…
A) related to the French language.
B) more easily understood by German speakers than English speakers.
C) largely indecipherable to English speakers nowadays.
Hopefully you do this already, but it’s worth pointing out why underlining is so important when you’re doing an IELTS reading test. I tell my students to underline the main words in the question, then underline any similar words that they find as they read the passage.
There are 3 reasons why underlining is useful:
I can always tell when students have worked hard on a reading paper by the amount of underlining or highlighting they have done. If you don't usually underline things, start now!
Read the following excerpt from a newspaper article about the effects of humans on wild animals.
Humans are driving mammals including deer, tigers and bears to hide under the cover of darkness, jeopardising the health of the creatures that are only supposed to be active by day, new research his found. The presence of people can instil strong feelings of fear in animals and as human activities now cover 75 per cent of the land, we are becoming increasingly harder to avoid. Unable to escape during the day, mammals are forced to emerge during the night.
A team led by Kaitlyn Gaynor at the University of California, Berkeley arrived at this conclusion after analysing nearly 80 studies from six continents that monitored the activity of various mammals using GPS trackers and motion-activated cameras. The scientists used this data to assess the night time antics of the animals during periods of low and high human disturbance.
Such disturbances ranged from relatively harmless activities like hiking to overtly destructive ones like hunting, as well as larger scale problems like farming and road construction. Overall, the researchers concluded that from beavers to lions, there was an increase in nocturnal behaviour when humans were in the vicinity.
Fill the gaps in the summary using words from the list below it.
A recent study has shown that many mammals are being forced to become ______ due to the presence of humans. Scientists reached these findings by ______ and analysing the movements of mammals in areas with different levels of ______. They showed that human activities, ranging from hiking to ______ to road building, made it more likely that mammals would ______ at night.
Here's another quick true, false, not given exercise:
In psychology, trait theory (also called dispositional theory) is an approach to the study of human personality. Trait theorists are primarily interested in the measurement of traits, which can be defined as habitual patterns of behaviour, thought, and emotion. According to this perspective, traits are aspects of personality that are relatively stable over time, differ across individuals (e.g. some people are outgoing whereas others are not), are relatively consistent over situations, and influence behaviour. Traits are in contrast to states, which are more transitory dispositions.
In some theories and systems, traits are something a person either has or does not have, but in many others traits are dimensions such as extraversion vs. introversion, with each person rating somewhere along this spectrum.
There are two approaches to defining traits: as internal causal properties or as purely descriptive summaries. The internal causal definition states that traits influence our behaviours, leading us to do things in line with that trait. On the other hand, traits as descriptive summaries are descriptions of our actions that don't try to infer causality.
Are the following statements true, false or not given?
Read the following paragraph and choose the best heading.
‘Phonics’ refers to a method for teaching speakers of English to read and write that language. Young learners are taught to associate the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters. For example, they might be taught that the sound /k/ can be represented by the spellings c, k, ck, ch, or q. Using phonics, the teacher shows the learners how to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words. Phonics is a widely used method of teaching children to read and decode words. Children begin learning to read using phonics usually around the age of 5 or 6.
A) A new method for language learning
B) How phonics benefits children in the UK
C) Children learn to link sounds with spellings
D) Children learn the rules of spelling
Read the following passage about the teaching of multiplication tables in Britain.
Children will now have to know their 12 times tables by the age of nine, but it's not about rote learning, it's about revelling in the profusion of patterns, writes Rob Eastaway, maths writer and dad.
There was a time - several decades ago now - when the reason for learning the 12 times table was obvious. As a country using imperial measurements, we were all measuring in feet and inches and paying in shillings and pence, so multiplying by 12 was a common, everyday experience.
But for today's children this is all ancient history. Yes, we do still count eggs in dozens, and a lot of people - including most Americans - do still work in inches, but that's hardly justification for spending hours swotting those extra tables.
And yet, there's still a case for learning your "twelves", but the reason is to do with discovering patterns and building a confidence in handling numbers. Once children begin to get comfortable multiplying numbers larger than 10, they start to get a feel for big multiplications. Knowing your 11 and 12 times tables can introduce intriguing patterns that might be missed if you stop at 10.
Choose the correct answer to complete the two statements below.
1. In the past, British children learnt the 12 times table because
A) rote learning was the traditional teaching method.
B) it exposed them to new mathematical patterns.
C) we used a different system of measurements and money.
2. The author believes that these days
A) there is no justification for teaching the 12 times table.
B) children should still learn to multiply numbers bigger than 10.
C) children lack confidence when handling large numbers.
I recently spoke to a student who was completely new to the IELTS test. He had never tried or even seen an IELTS reading test before, and he asked me how and where to begin. My advice to the student was this: start by doing a 'general' IELTS reading test.
There are three reasons why I tell new students to start with the general test:
Today I'm attaching a reading exercise that requires you to match names with statements. For this type of question, I'm going to recommend 3 things that contradict my normal advice:
Try following these 3 steps to do the exercise attached below.
I haven't made many lessons about 'short answer' questions. They are not very common in the reading test, and I think they are quite easy. Try the example exercise below, and watch this video lesson if you want some more help and practice.
Read the following passage about humour.
Many theories exist about what humour is and what social function it serves. The prevailing types of theories attempting to account for the existence of humour include psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humour-induced behaviour to be very healthy; spiritual theories, which may, for instance, consider humour to be a "gift from God"; and theories which consider humour to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience.
Answer the question below using ONE word only.
Which group of theories about humour describe it as being good for us?
Here's part of an exercise from Cambridge IELTS book 12 (test 5, passage 2). The exercise is quite easy, but it contains some good 'keywords'.
Collecting as a hobby
Many collectors collect to develop their social life, attending meetings of a group of collectors and exchanging information on items. This is a variant on joining a bridge club or gym, and similarly brings them into contact with like-minded people.
Another motive for collecting is the desire to find something special, or a particular example of a collected item, such as a rare early recording by a particular singer. Some may spend their whole lives in a hunt for this. Psychologically, this can give a purpose to a life that otherwise feels aimless.
Complete each sentence below with ONE word from the passage.
Which 'keywords' in the questions and in the passage helped you to get the answers?
Match two of the following headings with the paragraphs below. I'll reveal the correct answers tomorrow.
From a single point of origin, Mainz, Germany, printing spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became so synonymous with the enterprise of printing that it lent its name to an entire new branch of media, the press.
In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and ideas transcended borders and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.
Read the following passage and try the quick exercise below it.
Hell Creek is heaven for paleontologists. The Montanan wildlife refuge is rife with clay and stones that hold clues to our prehistoric past. It was in Hell Creek that researchers from the University of Kansas recently stumbled on the remains of a young Tyrannosaurus rex—they think.
Fossils from various periods have been found there, and this isn't the first T. rex fossil to be found, but University of Kansas scientists think it could be one of the most intact. The entire fossil remains of the upper part of the dinosaur's jaw, with all its teeth, was found. Paleontologists dug up parts of a skull, foot, hips, and backbones. If the remains do in fact belong to a T. rex, that would make them around 66 million years old. Adding to the rarity of the find is the fact that the fossils may belong to a juvenile.
Further work will determine whether the team actually has a T. rex on their hands, or possibly a Nanotyrannus, a tiny genus of tyrannosaur that's a matter of scientific debate. Many paleontologists think that so-called Nanotyrannus fossils are actually juvenile T. rex specimens.
Are the following statements true, false or not given?
IELTS students often say that "not having enough time" is their biggest problem in the reading test. But is time really the problem?
Try this experiment to find out how time is affecting you:
1) Normal speed
Give yourself one hour to do a full reading test (from one of the Cambridge books). Or just take one passage and do that in 20 minutes. How many correct answers did you get?
2) Too fast
Give yourself just 30 minutes to do a full reading test, or only 10 minutes to do one passage. Use skimming, scanning, guessing, or any other 'trick' to get through all of the questions. This goes against my normal advice, but it's fine for this experiment.
3) Too slow
Give yourself 2 hours to do a full reading test, or 40 minutes to do one passage. Read everything slowly and carefully, and aim for a perfect score!
What happened when you performed this experiment? What scores did you get at normal, fast and slow speeds? Was time really the big problem, or did the experiment highlight any other difficulties?
People often ask about extra reading practice: Is it a good idea to read newspapers or magazines, and which ones are the best for IELTS practice?
Two good places to find articles are The Economist and National Geographic. Try to spend a few minutes every day reading something from one of these sites. Make a note of some new words or phrases, and gradually your reading will improve.
The people who write the questions for IELTS reading do something like this:
Have you ever tried writing your own IELTS reading questions? It's a good exercise to get you thinking like the question writer, and hopefully you'll see why the keyword technique is so useful.
Tip: If you try this, start by writing your own 'true, false, not given' questions.