How to Prepare Learners for Matching Headings Task on the IELTS Reading Test

Matching headings is one task type that test takers may find on either the IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training test. For this task, test takers are asked to match a list of headings to paragraphs or sections of a reading text. When test takers approach this task by reading the entire passage first, they may have very little time to complete the task. In this blog post, I will show you a strategy you can use with your learners to help them approach this task type with confidence. 

About the IELTS Reading Test

The main difference between IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training Reading tests are the texts used on each. While both include extracts from authentic texts, the IELTS General Training Reading test includes reading passages that test takers are likely to encounter on a daily basis in English-speaking environments. The IELTS Academic Reading test, on the other hand, includes longer passages appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking professional registration. Beyond the reading selections, the tests are quite similar, and both assess a broad range of reading skills, such as reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for details, skimming, and recognizing a writer’s opinions, attitudes, and purpose. This is done through a number of task types. You can read more about on task types on the IELTS test format page.

About Matching Headings

One common task type is matching headings. For matching headings, test takers are given a list of headings such as the ones below.


Fig.1 List of Headings

The headings refer to main ideas, and the test taker will need to match the heading with the appropriate paragraph or section of the text. There are always more headings than needed, so some headings will not be used. This task type is only used with texts that have paragraphs or sections with clearly defined themes or main ideas.
This task assesses test takers’ ability to recognize the main idea in the paragraphs or sections of a text and to distinguish main ideas from supporting ones. One thing to note about this task type is that if it is on a Reading test, it will be the first set of questions in the section.

How to Answer Matching Headings Questions

Preparing your learners with strategies they can use with specific task types will help them gain confidence and increase their band scores. I’d like to introduce you to a 3-step strategy for matching headings that you can use with your own learners.

Step 1: Read through the headings and underline or highlight key words. Often synonyms of the key words are found in the text, not the exact words, so test takers should think about the meaning of the keywords.

Step 2: Identify topic sentences in each paragraph. As with many pieces of writing, the topic sentence can often be found in the first or second sentence, but sometimes in the last. To identify the topic sentence, test takers will need to quickly skim (not read) the paragraph.

Step 3: Match key words in headings to key words in topic sentences. Remember that the exact words may not be used, so encourage your learners to look for synonyms.

While matching headings tasks look intimidating, it is important that test takers not waste time reading the text carefully from beginning to end. Instead, they should use the above 3-step strategy to quickly match the headings to the appropriate section. Also, remind your learners it is ok to guess when they are not sure of an answer since test takers are not penalized for wrong answers.

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About the author

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Misty Wilson is an experienced English as a Second Language instructor.

Misty Wilson

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the guest contributing writer. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of IELTS.