IELTS Reading Tips & Practice Test: Matching Headings to Paragraphs exercises

IELTS Reading Tips & Practice Test: Matching Headings to Paragraphs

This post will help you match headings more effectively in the IELTS reading test with Common Pitfalls, Tips, Techniques and Practice Test.

A few things to know about Matching headings to paragraphs

  1. The task is to match between 5 and 7 headings to paragraphs in the text.
  2. If it is used for a reading passage, it will usually be the first set of questions.
  3. There are always more headings than paragraphs
  4. You may need to read the whole text or only a part of it
  5. Matching headings with paragraphs tests your ability to understand general information.

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Some pitfalls (common problems):

  • Just because a paragraph contains the key word(s) of  a heading, it doesn’t mean that is the correct heading! You still need to read carefully around the key words in the paragraph and see if it does indeed have the same main idea as the heading. If you’re still unsure, just write a note to the side and come back to it later after you’re sure about the other headings
  • Keep track of your notes and answers.  Students sometimes carelessly write down the wrong roman numeral on the answer sheet! Familiarize yourself with the roman numeral system (at least just up to 15, which is XV).
  • Don’t accidentally use the same heading twice. Again, keep clear notes of what answers you’re using for which paragraph.
  • Keep track of your time. You should allow 20 minutes *maximum per reading passage (as there are 3 of them to do within 60 mins.) If you find that you’re spending too much time here, move on to the other questions! Maybe after answering those, you’ll have a better understanding of the passage and you will be able to go back and finish the heading questions.

Top 8 Tips for Matching Headings:

1. Do these questions first

Always do exercises with headings first, as the headings summarize the text. They help you scan the answers to the other questions.

2. Try looking at the shortest paragraph(s) first.

By this way you can skim through it quicker, choose the heading and then you will have fewer headings to choose from for the longer paragraphs.

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3. Read through the list of headings

Become familiar with them  and underline key words that either identify the main idea or target words that you will be scanning for in the passage.

4. If there are two or three headings that are similar:

First, match any headings that are very obvious and you are sure about. For other kinda similar headings, write them (2 – 3 headings) beside the paragraph and try to figure out the difference between them. What are the keywords? How does this change the meaning? Which one matches the paragraph best?. If you still can’t pick one, move on and come back to it later.

5. Look for similar words/synomyms

As with most types of IELTS reading question, you should be able to find words in the paragraph that are similar to words in the heading. Be aware of synonyms. Many students look for words that match exactly with words in the text and ignore synonyms. For example, a keyword in the heading might be ‘hard working’, however the word you’re looking for could be many different synonyms of ‘hard-working’ like ‘diligent’, ‘assiduous’, ‘studious’ or ‘industrious’.

6. Move on if you are spending too much time and come back later

‘Paragraph headings’ questions often take a long time. Don’t allow yourself to use more than 20 minutes for each reading passage. If you haven’t finished after 20 minutes, move on to the next passage and come back later if you still have time left.

7. Read the instructions. Check if you can use a heading more than once.

8. Look always for the most general heading. This may be the first paragraph or the conclusion.

Also check : Tips to Improve IELTS Reading Skills

Technique 1: analyse the grammar and vocabulary in the headings

• Distinguish between the two types of words used: information specific to the paragraph and organizing words.

• Organizing words like plural countable words are common, e.g. causes, reasons, advantages, drawbacks, difficulties, responses, problems, effects, solutions, factors, dangers, examples, etc. Learn to recognize how these are expressed in a text. Be aware of similar words.

Note that the specific information about the paragraph is added on to these organizing words: [causes] of poverty in urban areas‘, [different levels ] of urban poverty. Note how the phrases in italics narrow the meaning of the organizing words in brackets.

Use this division of information to help you skim/scan paragraphs. Look for paragraphs that describe effect, levels, problems, etc. Then see if they contain the specific information in the rest of the heading.

• Plural organizing words indicate the paragraph has more than one idea or a list of ideas probably with an introduction.

• A paragraph can be organized around uncountable words: damage, etc. It can be organized around countable singular nouns where the paragraph is describing one item: a comparison, impact, development, etc.

Technique 2: search for connections between headings

• Headings are usually connected with each other.
• Check for a heading that looks specific: it could be a detail in a paragraph and therefore a distracter for a general heading. If yon removed this detail from the paragraph, would it still remain intact?
• A heading that looks specific could be a heading for paragraph describing just one detail.
• Check for headings that relate to each other: cause/effect  – problem/solution.
• Check for headings with adjectives, which qualify nouns. Make sure the heading covers all aspects of the paragraph. Don’t forget about the adjective or other qualifying phrases.
• Headings can have two pieces of information where one is referring back to the previous paragraph.

Advanced techniques

• Read the headings and skim a paragraph quickly. Make a decision quickly.
• Expand the heading into a sentence. This might make the meaning clearer.
• When you find the general theme or focus of the paragraph, stop skimming and match quickly.
• Once you have matched the headings, read them in order and see if the sequence makes sense
• When you check, avoid looking at the detail, as it can make you change your mind.
• Predict a possible sequence of headings before you look at the text.
• If a paragraph is difficult, use the various skimming techniques focusing on text development. Always look for change of direction in a text.
• Skim each paragraph in turn and then decide very quickly what it is about. Make your own heading in a couple of words. Then look at the list of headings and match.

Sample Practice

Choose the correct heading for sections A-D and F from the list of headings below.

Write the correct number i-ix in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet heading to paragraph

Section A

The role of governments in environmental management is difficult but inescapable.  Sometimes, the state tries to manage the resources it owns, and does so badly.  Often, however, governments act in an even more harmful way.  They actually subsidise the exploitation and consumption of natural resources.  A whole range of policies, from farm-price support to protection for coal-mining, do environmental damage and (often) make no economic sense.  Scrapping them offers a two-fold bonus: a cleaner environment and a more efficient economy.  Growth and environmentalism can actually go hand in hand, if politicians have the courage to confront the vested interest that subsidies create.


Section B

No activity affects more of the earth’s surface than farming.  It shapes a third of the planet’s land area, not counting Antarctica, and the proportion is rising.  World food output per head has risen by 4 per cent between the 1970s and 1980s mainly as a result of increases in yields from land already in cultivation, but also because more land has been brought under the plough.  Higher yields have been achieved by increased irrigation, better crop breeding, and a doubling in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in the 1970s and 1980s.


Section C

All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts.  For example, land clearing for agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides may contaminate water supplies; more intensive farming and the abandonment of fallow periods tend to exacerbate soil erosion; and the spread of monoculture and use of high-yielding varieties of crops have been accompanied by the disappearance of old varieties of food plants which might have provided some insurance against pests or diseases in future.  Soil erosion threatens the productivity of land in both rich and poor countries.  The United States, where the most careful measurements have been done, discovered in 1982 that about one-fifth of its farmland was losing topsoil at a rate likely to diminish the soil’s productivity.  The country subsequently embarked upon a program to convert 11 per cent of its cropped land to meadow or forest.  Topsoil in India and China is vanishing much faster than in America.


Section D

Government policies have frequently compounded the environmental damage that farming can cause.  In the rich countries, subsidies for growing crops and price supports for farm output drive up the price of land.  The annual value of these subsidies is immense: about $250 billion, or more than all World Bank lending in the 1980s.  To increase the output of crops per acre, a farmer’s easiest option is to use more of the most readily available inputs: fertilisers and pesticides.  Fertiliser use doubled in Denmark in the period 1960-1985 and increased in The Netherlands by 150 per cent.  The quantity of pesticides applied has risen too: by 69 per cent in 1975-1984 in Denmark, for example, with a rise of 115 per cent in the frequency of application in the three years from 1981.


In the late 1980s and early 1990s some efforts were made to reduce farm subsidies.  The most dramatic example was that of New Zealand, which scrapped most farm support in 1984.  A study of the environmental effects, conducted in 1993, found that the end of fertiliser subsidies had been followed by a fall in fertiliser use (a fall compounded by the decline in world commodity prices, which cut farm incomes).  The removal of subsidies also stopped landclearing and over-stocking, which in the past had been the principal causes of erosion.  Farms began to diversify.  The one kind of subsidy whose removal appeared to have been bad for the environment was the subsidy to manage soil erosion.

In less enlightened countries, and in the European Union, the trend has been to reduce rather than eliminate subsidies, and to introduce new payments to encourage farmers to treat their land in environmentally friendlier ways, or to leave it fallow.  It may sound strange but such payments need to be higher than the existing incentives for farmers to grow food crops.  Farmers, however,  dislike being paid to do nothing.  In several countries they have become interested in the possibility of using fuel produced from crop residues either as a replacement for petrol (as ethanol) or as fuel for power stations (as biomass).  Such fuels produce far less carbon dioxide than coal or oil, and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.  They are therefore less likely to contribute to the greenhouse effect.  But they are rarely competitive with fossil fuels unless subsidised – and growing them does no less environmental harm than other crops.


Section E

In poor countries, governments aggravate other sorts of damage.  Subsidies for pesticides and artificial fertilisers encourage farmers to use greater quantities than are needed to get the highest economic crop yield.  A study by the International Rice Research Institute of pesticide use by farmers in South East Asia found that, with pest-resistant varieties of rice, even moderate applications of pesticide frequently cost farmers more than they saved.  Such waste puts farmers on a chemical treadmill: bugs and weeds become resistant to poisons, so next year’s poisons must be more lethal.  One cost is to human health.  Every year some 10,000 people die from pesticide poisoning, almost all of them in the developing countries, and another 400,000 become seriously ill.  As for artificial fertilisers, their use world-wide increased by 40 per cent per unit of farmed land between the mid 1970s and late 1980s, mostly in the developing countries.  Overuse of fertilisers may cause farmers to stop rotating crops or leaving their land fallow.  That, in turn, may make soil erosion worse.


Section F

A result of the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations is likely to be a reduction of 36 per cent in the average levels of farm subsidies paid by the rich countries in 1986-1990.  Some of the world’s food production will move from Western Europe to regions where subsidies are lower or non-existent, such as the former communist countries and parts of the developing world.  Some environmentalists worry about this outcome.  It will undoubtedly mean more pressure to convert natural habitat into farmland.  But it will also have many desirable environmental effects.  The intensity of farming in the rich world should decline, and the use of chemical inputs will diminish.  Crops are more likely to be grown in the environments to which they are naturally suited.  And more farmers in poor countries will have the money and the incentive to manage their land in ways that are sustainable in the long run.  That is important.  To feed an increasingly hungry world, farmers need every incentive to use their soil and water effectively and efficiently.


Section A: v Governments and management of the environment

‘The role of governments in environmental management is difficult but inescapable.’ is the topic sentence of this paragraph. Resource management and the whole range of policies are examples of environmental management. In the list of headings, only vincludes the government and environmental management.

Section B: vii Farming and food output

Some people may take the first sentence ‘No activity affects more of the earth’s surface than farming.’ as the main idea of this paragraph and choose ii as the answer. If you go on reading this paragraph, you will find the rest of the paragraph is all about food output which has nothing to do with environmental impacts.

Section C: ii The environmental impact of modern farming

‘All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts.’ is the topic sentence of this paragraph. These activities refer to farming which is in section B. Some people may choose iiiFarming and soil erosion’ because soil erosion is included in this paragraph. However, deforestation, water contamination and soil erosion are just examples supporting the main idea. Therefore, ii is the correct answer.

Section D: iv The effects of government policies in rich countries

The first paragraph describes the immense subsidies for farming in rich countries. The other two paragraphs are about their policies to reduce the subsidies and the impacts on the environment. Besides, section E is parallel to section D because they describe two parts of the effects of government policies. From the example, we’ve known that the heading for section E is the effects of government policies in poor countries. Therefore, it is quite obvious that iv is the heading for section D.

Section F: i The probable effects of the new international trade agreement

Some people may choose ixThe new prospects for world trade’ as the heading because it contains a keyword ‘trade’.  However, the last section is about the results of Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations not the possible future of the whole world trade.

Written By

Nafia Zuhana is an experienced content writer and IELTS Trainer. Currently, she is guiding students who are appearing for IELTS General and Academic exams through With an 8.5 score herself, she trains and provides test takers with strategies, tips, and nuances on how to crack the IELTS Exam. She holds a degree in Master of Arts – Creative Writing, Oxford Brookes University, UK. She has worked with The Hindu for over a year as an English language trainer.

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