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Headings questions in IELTS reading

Headings questions in IELTS reading are one of the most common – and most difficult – types of question you are likely to face in the IELTS reading test. With Headings style questions, where you are required to match a heading (much the same as a title) to a paragraph from the text.

Here are some facts about Headings questions in IELTS:

  • There are always more headings than paragraphs.
  • There can be up to ten paragraphs in an IELTS reading text
  • Some of the headings are similar
  • Matching words and phrases directly from the heading and the text is not a good technique – you need to focus on parallel expressions (that is, the same meaning written in a different way with different vocabulary)
  • The same heading is never used more than once.
  • You need to write the Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v etc) not the heading itself
  • You are often given an example, but this is not necessarily the first paragraph

For many IELTS candidates, Headings style questions and True, False, Not Given style questions are the most difficult question types, so if you’re having difficulty, you’re not alone!

Here’s an example of a headings style question.

Headings questions in IELTS reading Which of the three headings given do you think matches best (the answer is below the text)?

a Disappointment in GM foods.
b GM foods could be the answer.
c The history of GM foods.

When the idea was first put forward, the concept of genetically modified (GM) food seemed to be the answer to so many problems. The ability to harvest foods that could grow in specific climates and were resistant to disease would end famine in many countries, saving millions, even making fortunes for farmers. The truth, however, is a little different. Lower yields, expensive research and general public distrust of ‘tampered’ food have not made genetic modification the solution it promised to be. 

Click here to see the answer and explanation
The correct answer is A. Although the paragraph does refer to some positive things, these were only the hopes for GM food, not what actually happened.

B is not correct – although the text does talk about some of the hopes for GM food, the end of paragraph shows that these hopes did not come try. The text is written in the past tense, but the heading would be looking for the present or future tense (‘Could be’ is referring to the future).

C is not the correct answer because the text is written in the past tense, but it is about what people hoped or expected would happen. The last sentence of the paragraph refers to the current situation, not the history.

Here are some useful tips to help answer Headings questions in IELTS:

  1. Read the first and last part of the paragraph carefully.
  2. Underline key words, phrases or sentences.
  3. Pick more than one heading for each passage if you are not
    sure. When you have completed this for all paragraphs, you can
    see if any have been used twice.
  4. Make sure the meaning of the complete heading matches, not just single words.
  5. Look for what is different between each paragraph, not what is
    the same.
  6. If an example is given, cross it off the list of headings.