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Reading Strategies: Matching Headings

Heading match questions on the IELTS test are notorious for being difficult. Some reasons are:

  • They are time consuming.
  • There are often more headings than paragraphs.
  • Some headings are very similar.
  • Headings can be misleading by providing specific details rather than main ideas.

Here are two different approaches to try when attempting heading match questions.


Strategy #1: Question First - Reading Second

  1. Read each heading first. Read all of the headings thoroughly and try to completely understand the meaning of each one. Paraphrasing here helps to understand the main idea of the heading.

  2. Circle key words in the headings. Once you have read the headings fully, underline or circle any keywords in each, such as names, places, dates, and nouns. This will allow you to connect the correct heading to the appropriate paragraph more easily.
  1. Note any similarities or differences between the headings. Often, the headings in this type of question are very similar or completely opposite. Having picked out keywords will allow you to see the similarities and differences among the headings, so when it comes time to choose, it will help make the options clearer.
  1. Read the first and last sentence of the paragraph. A lot of times, the main idea of the paragraph is in the first and/or last sentence of the paragraph. Reading these sentences carefully is good practice because it will save time. Quickly skimming the other sentences within the paragraph is also important as the main idea might not come until the second or third sentence.
  1. Choose the heading that is most suitable for the paragraph. Read through the headings again and choose the one that most closely matches the paragraph. If you are unsure of the difference between multiple headings, make a note of all of them and move on. Answers may become clearer once you’ve read all the paragraphs, allowing you to cross some heading options out.

Remember, you are looking for the main idea of the paragraph, NOT a specific detail. Some headings will try to confuse you by having the same detail as in the paragraph such as a matching word, but it may not be the main idea.

Strategy #2: Reading First - Question Second

  1. Read one paragraph. Read one paragraph, again, spending more time on the first and last sentences trying to identify the main idea.

  2. Create a heading. Once you have read the paragraph, come up with your own heading. Try to think of something that would encompass the main idea, and not just specific details.

  3. Read each heading. Read the headings thoroughly for a complete understanding of the meaning. This time, try to choose a heading that is closely related to the heading that you gave the same paragraph. Again, if there are multiple options that may fit the paragraph, make note of them and move on. Eliminate options as you read more paragraphs.

Also note similarities and differences by marking keywords as this will help you to eliminate headings with similar meanings.

General Tips

For both strategies, be as efficient with your time as you can choosing the correct heading as this can be very time consuming. If you are unsure of the difference between two or more headings, make a note of all answers and move on to the next paragraph. You may be able to eliminate options as you read further into the passage.

Once you are sure you have the correct heading for the paragraph or have eliminated an option, crossing out that heading on the paper is good practice. This will stop you from reading the same heading, repeatedly.

Finally, skimming is an essential skill for heading match questions as this question type is very time consuming, and you will need time to do the other questions within the section.

Matching headings are difficult and the strategy you use depends on what you are most comfortable with as well as how much time you have to spend on the question. When practicing, try different strategies to see which one works best for you.

By Ashlee Hunter

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