One of the most difficult tasks in the IELTS reading exam is the summary completion. For the purpose of this lesson, I’m also going to include flow charts as a form of summary because these are very similar and require the same skills to answer.

In the case of completing a summary, you will have a short passage with gaps. You will be told to complete the information using no more than 1/2/3 words and/or a number. (Always read the instructions carefully!) The flow chart is essentially the same, except instead of a paragraph, you have a visual diagram.

The flow chart may look like this:

How to Successfully Complete this Task

Today, I will show you two steps to completing a summary or flow chart in IELTS reading. Of course, this all requires practice and study, but these two steps are key to succeeding.

1. Locate the Correct Section

The first step is to read the question and figure out what it’s about. Look at the summary or flow chart and find key words.

You can do this by looking for unusual words or ideas, or sometimes even numbers. Think about names and places, too. Then scan the text very quickly in order to find them. For more common words, you may need to search for synonyms.

Important: This is one of the few examples where the answers will not necessarily appear in the same order in the question and the text. For example, you may find answer 4 comes first, and then answer 2, and so on… 

Imagine the summary mentions pandas and tigers. You then scan the text for those words. When you find them together, that is most likely the correct section. Similarly, the summary might say “almost 70%” and then when you read the text you encounter “69%”. This is probably what you need to find.

It is important for all types of reading question that you don’t waste time studying the whole article. Remember: the test would be very easy if you had 2 hours! But you don’t, so practice reading quickly to find relevant information, and ignore everything else.

2 – Think About Grammar

Grammar often feels like the enemy when you are studying English, but in this type of question it really is your best friend! Here’s why:

Knowing the type of word that you need to find to complete a blank space is very important. Do you need a noun? An adjective? An adverb? A verb? This can help you to locate information. But it’s more important than that. It can help you check your answer.

Having a good grasp of grammar will let you know if your answer makes logical sense or not. Let’s look at an incorrect answer:

The population has been declined recently.

Does that make sense? No!

You may see a word like “declined” in the text and realize that it fits logically into the gap. However, this is the wrong type of word. If you look a little further, maybe you’d find a word like “growing” and realize that it fits better, grammatically speaking.


Getting better at IELTS reading takes practice. You ought to be reading every day, whilst also studying exam skills. Reading quickly is essential for success, and so you need get good at locating information in a short time. You can practice this doing some online IELTS reading tests. My advice to you today is to find the right part of the reading passage and then check that your answers are grammatically correct, then move on quickly to the next questions.

You can also do some reading practice here and here.