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IELTS Reading – Guess work?

Anybody out there who has completed an IELTS reading knows that guessing is sometimes unavoidable. It is true that it is better to write something than nothing, but is there such a thing as an educated guess? I have a suggestion.

Let’s look at True / False / Not Given, or Yes / No / Not Given questions. Now, let’s imagine that you have scanned the text, gone through the questions, found the place where the answer is likely to be, and you still can’t find it.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they just put “Yes” for everything, or that they randomly guess. I’m going to disagree. I think you should always guess Not Given. Here’s why:

1) If you randomly guess every answer, there is a possibility you will be wrong every time.

2) If you guess the same answer each time, there is a much better chance you will get a minimum of 1 answer correct, as IELTS exams vary the answers between the three options. I have never seen a task in IELTS that doesn’t include at least one answer from each option.

3) Why Not Given? Well, two reasons. Firstly, if you are looking for an answer and you can’t find it, maybe it’s because the answer isn’t there! I think you should trust your ability and have a confident mind. Tell yourself that you didn’t find it because it is Not Given, write it and move on, confidently. Secondly, Not Given answers are a task that is specifically an “IELTS task”. Therefore, the exam papers will always contain at least one answer per task that is “Not Given”.

I think you give yourself a chance of free points this way. Choose Not Given! Be confident!

 

Simon

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IELTS Reading (mini-tip) – what order do you answer questions in?

Let’s think about tasks such as True / False / Not Given, sentence completion and short answer questions. You will find that the answers can be found in the text in order. But are you using this fact to your maximum advantage?

Have a look at this short example text below.

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Questions 1-4

1. Chilies became popular as soon as they were brought into Europe.
2. Capsaisin damages the mouth.
3. Chilies can be part of a birds diet.

 

4. Smaller chillies are generally hotter than larger chillies.

 

OK, so of course, we start off looking for information for question 1. (You can find it in line 3: “immediate sensation”) – so we mark it TRUE (not T, not Yes!)

But what next? In a longer text, I find that sometimes students perform better when the next question they answer is question 5, not question 2.

WHY?

Pretty simple, really. Sometimes, the final answer can be found a long way before the end of the text. (In this case, you can find the answer in line 1 of the second-to-last paragraph – “The smaller chillies tend to be the hottest”) If you can find the final answer position, you can then trap the remaining answers in between questions 1 and 5, so that you reduce the area of text that you have to scan. See below: Blue – question 1 answer / question 5 answer. BOLD = text containing answers 2-4.

 

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Have a try of this next time, and remember: IELTS is about finding a technique that you are comfortable with. There is not one “correct” way – if this tip works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. There will be another way that you are happy with.

 

Simon

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IELTS Reading – Paragraph completion (word choice)

Here is a step by step guide for completing this kind of task. Remember to practise these steps until you have memorised them! Take a look at the task below.

It is a common 9 ……………….. that only men suffer
from colorblindness. On average 10 ………………..
than ten percent of men have this problem. Women
have two 11 ………………..  For this reason it is 12………………..  for a woman to suffer from  colorblindness.
myth a little less
X chromosomes defective genes
fact slightly more
exactly less likely
more probable

Often, the first thing you think is “what shall I read first?” In this case, the first thing to do is think about your grammar knowledge – just like you do in the listening exam during your preparation time. What kind of words do I need? What are the most logical answers?

9 – must be a singular noun

10 – something related to the percentage – must be “more” or “less”

11 – a plural, countable noun

12 – needs an adjective

Does this knowledge help you? Now look at the text here http://www.ielts-exam.net/ielts_reading/119/#P6b What you want to do is pick a keyword from the first sentence of the question, and match that to something in the text. Look at the beginning of paragraph B and you can see “men” and “colorblindness”. Now all you need to do is match a word or a synonym to one of the possible answers (you can see the word “myth” very early on – the answer to question 9).

Now complete the other three questions.

Summary

  1. Read the question and look at the grammar first
  2. Match a keyword / keywords from the first sentence to a location in the text
  3. Match synonyms or exact words to words in the box

So, in this task you don’t need to understand very much at all – you are just matching a few words and synonyms! Good news!

Simon