IELTS Reading: Matching Headings

matching headings ieltsMatching headings, techniques and sample text.

In the IELTS reading section, there are usually 14 different types of questions but for each reading text, you may get 3 or 4 different types to answer. You might get True False Not Given, Yes No Not Given, completing a sentence, matching a heading or multiple choice to name just a few.

In this post we will look at :

1. Top tips for matching headings questions.
2. Examples of synonyms and a short exercise.
3. Paraphrasing in the reading section
4. Short sample text with answers and analysis.

Tips for Match Headings questions

The ‘matching headings’ task is testing your ability to understand the difference from the main idea and a supporting point. Matching heading questions can be quite challenging, so here are some top tips to remember.

1. Matching heading questions are not in order in the text, unlike True False Not Given or Yes No Not Given which are always in order.

2. You can’t just get the meaning by skimming alone, you need to understand the paragraph by reading in detail if you are 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 synonyms and antonyms.

4. Think about how the heading and words in the paragraph could be paraphrased. Underline keywords in the heading then go through the paragraphs.

5. Watch out for synonyms, it is very important to work on your vocabulary.

6. Do the matching headings questions first because it takes longer, then the other task questions will be easier.

7. 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, in the worst case if you still can’t get it then guess.

8. Remember that some headings often look similar and students can’t decide the best match.

9. Answers are written in Roman numerals (x iv i iii etc..)

10. A good practice technique is to read the paragraphs first and then think of your own ideas for a heading.

Examples of how synonyms work in reading

Understanding synonyms 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 the reading text:

Difficulty = Problem
Organise = Co-ordinate

Choose 6 words from the list above that match,  there is more than one possible answer.

1. The _________ of nuclear power is that if there is an accident it can have dire consequences.
2. Global warming pose __________ to many species.
3. The _______ that humans play in the destruction of the environment cannot be underestimated.
4. Education can be a huge _________ in a persons mental development.
5. Economic ___________ impact the crime rate in most developed countries.
6. The government decided to _____________ a rescue effort to reach the survivors of the Earthquake.

1. The disadvantage of nuclear power is that if there is an accident it can have dire consequences.
2. Global warming poses a risk to many species.
3. The part that humans play in the destruction of the environment cannot be underestimated.
4. Education can be a huge factor in a persons mental development
5. Economic problems impact the crime rate in most developed countries.
6. The government decided to co-ordinate a rescue effort to reach the survivors of the Earthquake.

Paraphrasing in the reading section

Of all the skills you need to develop in IELTS, I would have to say that understanding how paraphrasing works is the number one skill, but you need to have good vocabulary. Understanding how synonyms and antonyms work in short text is important. below is an example of how this works in reading.

ielts paraphrasing in reading


By the way, 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 reading skills. Some technical words you just will not understand but you can often guess or predict meaning. You do not need to understand every word. Here is a link about 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.

Now lets practice this type of question, here is part of a sample text and matching headings exercise. I got this from a PDF download from You can download it 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.

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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