Reading Strategies: Matching Headings


In the IELTS Reading exam, one really common type of question is matching a heading to a particular paragraph. The reason for this is that finding the main idea in a paragraph is one of the most important reading skills. Students need to be able to identify the main idea and match it to a suitable heading. Below, I’ll explain an important strategy for achieving this.


Skim the article

You don’t have to read every word in the text. This sort of question usually comes before others that require you to read in detail. Therefore, skim the article quickly to ascertain the main idea. You don’t need to understand everything. Instead, you simply identify the main idea of a paragraph and match that to an appropriate heading.


Check the list of headings

After you’ve skimmed the article, look quickly through the headings. Do you understand what they mean? Do some of them seem similar? There will be headings that are deliberately similar in meaning. This forces students to think more carefully about the exact meaning.


Look for the topic sentence

Paragraphs usually have a topic sentence that tells you the paragraph’s general meaning. This is usually the first sentence in a paragraph. However, remember that not all paragraphs are the same, and so not all paragraphs have this structure. Still, it is common enough to be a useful means of getting the paragraph’s topic in a short time.

Compare headings and paragraphs

 Now it’s time to look quickly through the headings again and see if any of them match the paragraphs. Read the paragraphs more closely to choose whether or not its precise meaning is covered by the heading. If the paragraph is short, read the whole thing. However, if it’s long then you might want to read just the first and last sentence (aka the concluding sentence) to confirm your idea.

Critical thinking

Use your brain. If the answer isn’t obvious, slow down and read more carefully. Some paragraphs, as mentioned before, don’t have a topic or concluding sentence. In this case, read thoroughly and try to summarize it yourself.


Eliminate the others

If you don’t know, move on. Once you’ve chosen the correct answer for other headings, you’re closer to knowing the difficult ones. At that point, you can begin a process of elimination to get read of any headings you know are definitely wrong. This should narrow down your choice substantially. If you really can’t choose between the remaining headings, then take a guess! You don’t want to leave blank spaces on the answer sheet.

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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.

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