IELTS Reading Practice: Plastics

Readers of this blog will know that I really care about the environment, and as such it’s one of my favourite IELTS topics. Yesterday, I came across this news report in the Guardian. It tells us about a fantastic new scientific development that could be great for our future. I was very excited and wanted to share it with my readers for some valuable IELTS reading practice.

Synonyms and Antonyms for IELTS Reading

You probably know already that synonyms are super important for IELTS reading. In fact, they are important in all parts of the IELTS exam. However, while knowing some synonyms can help your speaking and writing seem more developed, it is absolutely essential to the reading exam.

Antonyms are also very important. This is the opposite of a synonym. It means the opposite of a word (or phrase). For example, slow and fast are antonyms.

Let’s consider this excerpt from the above article:

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

Let’s do a little practice now. In these true or false questions, I have underlined a word or phrase. You should seek synonyms or antonyms in the text for these. (I will put the answers below, but try to find them yourself first! 🙂 )

  1. The scientists uncovered the enzyme on purpose.
  2. The enzyme was not altered by the scientists.
  3. Thanks to the scientists, the enzyme can now biodegrade plastics quickly.
  4. The researchers don’t think that this will have significant results.

Answers

  1. A synonym for “scientists” is researchers. They are also referred to as “the international team” in the text. “On purpose” is the opposite of “by accident” and “inadvertently,” both of which appear in this passage. This tells us that the statement is false.
  2. So there are a few synonyms for “altered” here. The first one is “mutant” which appears in the first line. The second is “naturally evolved”. These suggest that the statement is true; however, if you read further, you will see that it’s false. Another synonym is “improved,” which tells us that there was a human intervention in addition to the previous natural changes.
  3. There are numerous references in the text to “breaking down” plastics and once to “eating” plastics. These have the same meaning as “biodegrade.” “Quickly” is the same as “faster” and there is also a reference to “speeded up” (which actually, I think, should be “sped up”). The answer, then, is true.
  4. Ok, this is an easy question, but the language is still useful to consider. If the researchers “don’t think” that the outcome will be positive, then they are pessimistic. However, they are “optimistic,” meaning that this answer is false. And “significant results,” although not truly a synonym, contextually means “viable large-scale process.”

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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