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Strategies for heading match questions

Published on November 20, 2017

One type of question that is known for being difficult on the IELTS test is Heading Match questions in the reading section. It has this reputation because:

  • It takes more time than other questions to complete.
  • Often, there are more headings than paragraphs.
  • There are some similarities between headings.
  • Headings that only include specific details rather than the main idea mislead candidates.

Heading Match Questions can be approached in these two ways.

Strategy #1: Question First - Reading Second

1. First, read each heading.

Try to completely understand the meaning of each heading by reading all of them thoroughly. Understanding the main idea of the heading can be made easier by paraphrasing.

2. Circle key words within the headings.

Underline or circle any key words in each heading such as names, places, dates, and nouns, once you have read them fully. Connecting the correct heading to the appropriate paragraph may become easier with this step.

3. Any similarities or differences between the headings should be noted.

In this type of question, headings are often very similar or completely opposite. Similarities and differences will become clearer among the headings, once you have picked out key words. This will make choosing an option clearer.

4. Read the first and last sentence of the paragraph.

The first and/or last sentence of a paragraph often contains the main idea. It is good practice to read these sentences carefully as it will save time. It is also important to skim the other sentences quickly within the paragraph because the main idea might not be apparent until the second or third sentence.

5. The heading that is most suitable for the paragraph should be chosen.

Choose the heading that most closely matches the paragraph once you have read through them again. Make a note if you are unsure of the difference between multiple headings, and move on. You may be able to cross some heading options out and answers may become clearer once you’ve read all of the paragraphs.

Remember, a heading is the main idea of the paragraph, NOT a specific detail. The same detail in the paragraph such as a matching word may be in the heading, but it may not be the main idea. This can be confusing to candidates.

Strategy #2: Reading First - Question Second

1. Read one paragraph at a time.

Again, spend more time on the first and last sentences of a paragraph, trying to identify the main idea.

2. Create your own heading.

Come up with your own heading once you have read the paragraph. Your heading should encompass the main idea, and not just specific details.

3. Read each individual heading.

For a complete understanding of the meaning, read the headings thoroughly. This time, try to choose a heading that is closely related to the heading that you gave the same paragraph. Again, make note of multiple options that may fit the paragraph, and move on. As you read more paragraphs, you may be able to eliminate options.

Mark key words that note similarities and differences as this will aid in eliminating headings with similar meanings.

General Tips

Be as efficient with your time as possible when choosing the correct heading for both strategies as this can be very time consuming. Make a note of all answers and move on to the next paragraph if you are unsure of the difference between two or more headings. Eliminating possible answers as you read further into the passage may be an option.

Crossing out the heading on the test booklet once you are sure you have the correct heading for the paragraph or have eliminated an option, is good practice. This results in less time spent on repeatedly reading the same heading.

Finally, skimming is an essential skill for time consuming question types such as heading match questions. This skill will also provide you more time to do the other questions within the section.

What you are most comfortable with as well as how much time you have to spend on the question will help you find the best strategy when tackling heading match questions. This will also become more apparent through practice.