IELTS reading: matching headings lesson

matching headings ieltsIELTS Reading: Matching headings tips, paraphrasing, and an exercise.

Updated: September 2023.

In the IELTS reading section, there are many types of tasks and you will get 3 different types of reading tasks to answer in this section of the exam.

One of the most challenging for many students is the ‘matching headings’  questions. For this task, you need to match headings to the paragraphs and there are always more headings than you need.

The ‘matching headings’ task tests your ability to understand the difference between the main idea and a supporting point. Matching heading questions can be quite challenging so practice this as much as possible using mock tests from the Cambridge IELTS books.

In this post, I will look at :

1. 8 tips for matching headings questions.
2. Examples of synonyms and a short exercise.
3. Examples of paraphrasing in IELTS reading.
4. Exercise with answers and analysis.

8 tips for ‘matching headings’ questions.

Note that headings and answers are written in Roman numerals (x iv i iii etc…)

1.  Some headings look similar and students can’t decide the best match. Analyse the keywords in the headings first before reading the text.

2. You can’t just get the meaning by skimming alone, sometimes you will need to read the paragraph in detail if you are still unsure of the answer.

3. Read the first 2 sentences and the last 2 sentences of the paragraph to get a good idea of meaning. Look out for keywords in the headings and their synonyms.

4. Think about how the heading and words in the paragraph could be paraphrased. Underline keywords in the heading then go through the paragraphs looking for matching meanings in sentence form, not just single words.

5. Do the matching headings task first because it takes longer, then the other reading tasks will seem easier as you will feel less pressure.

6. Spend no more than 2 minutes on each question. If you can’t get it then move on to the next one and come back later to that question. If you still can’t get it then just guess.

7. The first paragraph of the text is a general introduction to the topic. Analyse the headings and pick out the most general one first.

8. One very effective way to practice this type of task is to read the paragraphs first and then think of your own ideas for a heading. This will make it easier to find the right heading from the list.

Examples of synonyms in reading.

Understanding synonyms accurately is a very important skill in IELTS reading. For example, a word like “disadvantage” in the heading could be written as “downside” in the text. Here are some examples of synonyms in a reading text:

Advantage – Benefit
Difficulty – Problem
Aim – Purpose
Factor – Influence
Disadvantage – Downside
Risk – Threat
Role – Part
Issue – Problem
Organise – Co-ordinate
Burgeoning – Increasing
Tackle – Deal with

Choose 7 words from the list above that fit the sentences.

1. The _________ of nuclear power is that if there is an accident, it can have dire consequences.
2. The emergence of Chat GPT poses a __________ to people’s jobs in many professions.
3. The _______ that fathers play in a child’s upbringing is underestimated.
4. Education and home circumstances can be a huge _______ in a child’s mental development.
5. The government needs to __________ water pollution and air quality issues urgently.
6. The authorities decided to _____________ a rescue effort to reach the survivors of the Earthquake.
7. The __________ number of tourists in Thailand is harming the environment.

Actually, I can use their synonyms and the sentence would still be accurate.

1. The downside of nuclear power is that in the event of an accident, it can have dire consequences.
2. The emergence of Chat GPT poses a threat to people’s jobs in many professions.
3. The role that fathers play in a child’s upbringing is underestimated.
4. Education and home circumstances can be a huge factor in a child’s mental development.
5. The government needs to tackle water pollution and air quality issues urgently.
6. The authorities decided to co-ordinate a rescue effort to reach the survivors of the Earthquake.
7. The burgeoning number of tourists in Thailand is harming the environment.

Paraphrasing in the reading section

Understanding paraphrasing is the main skill to master in IELTS, and for this, you will need to have a good range of vocabulary. In the reading section, not just single words are paraphrased but whole sentences are, such as in these examples below taken from IELTS texts.

paraphrasing in IELTS reading


What if you don’t understand technical words?

Don’t worry if you have no idea about the topic, the IELTS reading test is not trying to test your general knowledge it is designed to test your vocabulary and comprehension skills. Some technical words you will not understand but you can often guess or predict meaning.

Click here to see more->  Guessing meaning from context.

When approaching IELTS reading you need to :

  • Scan and skim the text.

  • Read in detail in the area where you think the answer could be.

  • Be very aware of how paraphrasing works.

  • Have a good understanding of synonyms.

Short text for practice.

Let’s practice this type of question. Here is just part of a sample text on matching headings. This is from Download the full exercise PDF here

List of Headings

i    The environmental impact of modern farming
ii   The effects of government policy in rich countries
iii   Governments and management of the environment
iv  The effects of government policy in poor countries
v   Farming and food output

Section A
The role of governments in environmental management is difficult but inescapable. Sometimes, the state tries to manage the resources it owns and does so badly. Often, however, governments act in an even more harmful way. They actually subsidise the exploitation and consumption of natural resources. A whole range of policies, from farm-price support to protection for coal-mining, do environmental damage and (often) make no economic sense. Scrapping them offers a two-fold bonus: a cleaner environment and a more efficient economy. Growth and environmentalism can actually go hand in hand, if politicians have the courage to confront the vested interest that subsidies create.

Section B
No activity affects more of the earth’s surface than farming. It shapes a third of the planet’s land area, not counting Antarctica, and the proportion is rising. World food output per head has risen by 4 per cent between the 1970s and 1980s mainly as a result of increases in yields from land already in cultivation, but also because more land has been brought under the plough. Higher yields have been achieved by increased irrigation, better crop breeding, and a doubling in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Section C
All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts. For example, land clearing for agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides may contaminate water supplies; more intensive farming and the abandonment of fallow periods tend to exacerbate soil erosion; and the spread of monoculture and use of high-yielding varieties of crops have been accompanied by the disappearance of old varieties of food plants which might have provided some insurance against pests or diseases in future. Soil erosion threatens the productivity of land in both rich and poor countries. The United States, where the most careful measurements have been done, discovered in 1982 that about one-fifth of its farmland was losing topsoil at a rate likely to diminish the soil’s productivity. The country subsequently embarked upon a program to convert 11 per cent of its cropped land to meadow or forest. Topsoil in India and China is vanishing much faster than in America.

Download the full exercise PDF here

Answers and analysis.

Section A – iii
Section B – v
Section C – i

In section A the main keywords are “government, environmental management, policies, the state, politicians” This paragraph explains the role of governments managing the environment with examples about subsidies, environmental damage, specific policies. It is clear that section A is iii

In section B the main keywords are “farming, food output, yields, cultivation, irrigation, crop breeding, fertilisers” This clearly shows that the paragraph is about farming methods and production of food. So section B is v.

Section C keywords are “deforestation, pesticides, contaminate soil erosion, high yield crops, topsoil” This points to environmental issues, also there are examples of the USA, China and India regarding topsoil diminishing, which means eroding or reducing. It’s clear that the matching heading is i .

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