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Headings questions in IELTS reading

One of the most common – and most difficult – types of question you are likely to face in the IELTS reading test are Headings style questions, where you are required to match a heading (much the same as a title) to a paragraph from the text.

Here are some facts about Headings questions in IELTS:

  • There are always more headings than paragraphs.
  • There can be up to ten paragraphs in an IELTS reading text
  • Some of the headings are similar
  • Matching words and phrases directly from the heading and the text is not a good technique – you need to focus on parallel expressions (that is, the same meaning written in a different way with different vocabulary)
  • The same heading is never used more than once.
  • You need to write the Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v etc) not the heading itself
  • You are often given an example, but this is not necessarily the first paragraph

For many IELTS candidates, Headings style questions and True, False, Not Given style questions are the most difficult question types, so if you’re having difficulty, you’re not alone!

Here’s an example of a headings style question.

Which of the three headings given do you think matches best (the answer is below the text)?

a Disappointment in GM foods.
b GM foods could be the answer.
c The history of GM foods.

When the idea was first put forward, the concept of genetically modified (GM) food seemed to be the answer to so many problems. The ability to harvest foods that could grow in specific climates and were resistant to disease would end famine in many countries, saving millions, even making fortunes for farmers. The truth, however, is a little different. Lower yields, expensive research and general public distrust of ‘tampered’ food have not made genetic modification the solution it promised to be. 

Click here to see the answer and explanation

The correct answer is A. Although the paragraph does refer to some positive things, these were only the hopes for GM food, not what actually happened.B is not correct – although the text does talk about some of the hopes for GM food, the end of paragraph shows that these hopes did not come try. The text is written in the past tense, but the heading would be looking for the present or future tense (‘Could be’ is referring to the future).


C is not the correct answer because the text is written in the past tense, but it is about what people hoped or expected would happen. The last sentence of the paragraph refers to the current situation, not the history.

Here are some useful tips to help answer Headings questions in IELTS:

  1. Read the first and last part of the paragraph carefully.
  2. Underline key words, phrases or sentences.
  3. Pick more than one heading for each passage if you are not
    sure. When you have completed this for all paragraphs, you can
    see if any have been used twice.
  4. Make sure the meaning of the complete heading matches, not just single words.
  5. Look for what is different between each paragraph, not what is
    the same.
  6. If an example is given, cross it off the list of headings.

Now practice with a complete text.

The GM controversy – is it worth it?

A Four genetically modified foods are currently being tested in the UK in the hope that they will be resistant to the most common herbicides. The aim is to create a crop which can be sprayed to kill everything around it, allowing more room and an easier harvest. Yet the project has been under heavy pressure, as it promotes the use of broad spectrum herbicides which have already been linked with the decline in farmland wildlife, a result of its highly efficient removal of weeds and a consequent decrease in food supplies for invertebrates and birds.

B In order to pacify the environmentalists, the experiment into herbicidal side effects will be run on four fields, all divided into two – one half growing the GM crop and the other half growing a non-GM variety – with numbers of insects, wild flowers and birds being compared in each half of the field. However, the GM crop will be grown for only one year and each trial field will be monitored for only a further two years. Farmland ecology is poorly understood and the wildlife in these fields will never have been studied before. Soil type is an important factor in determining what lives in the field, yet it may vary from one part of the field to another. Modern fields are often two or three older fields joined together, each of which may have a different history, soil structure and wildlife. Insect numbers vary naturally from one year to the next, so effects would have to be large, otherwise they would not be detected. Earthworms, fungi and bacteria are vital to the health of the soil, yet their numbers are not being monitored.

C Naturally, those who are opposed to the experiment claim that the effects of GM crops and their herbicides are likely to be subtle. It took many years for the devastating effects of DDT on birds to be realised and over 50 years for scientists to discover the damage caused to the ozone layer by CFCs, previously thought to be inert. Three years of limited studies is simply not long enough to say that GM crops are ‘safe’. DNA from GM crops may spread into the wider environment through the transfer of genetic material to soil microbes. DNA from GM sugar beet persists for up to two years in the soil. In laboratory experiments DNA from GM plants was taken up by both fungi and bacteria. Agricultural soils are often very mobile, so it is likely that soil contaminated by GM crops will spread to other fields. In addition, sugar beet seeds can remain in the ground, dormant but fertile, for at least 10 years, giving rise to GM sugar beet plants long after monitoring of the fields has stopped.

D GM contamination will affect livelihoods of other farmers, especially organic farmers, who will be unable to sell contaminated crops. Honey contaminated with GM pollen from last year’s crop trials has already been found. Beekeepers provide a vital service to fruit growers but will be forced to move their hives from areas near GM crop trials if they wish to avoid GM contamination, and this will affect land values.

E But perhaps the most persuasive reason to abandon GM food is that nature is already evolving beyond our advances in the field. GM insect-resistant crops are starting to become less effective, as the insect pests they were designed to resist rapidly develop tolerance. Similarly, weeds will develop herbicide tolerance as they are exposed to more of the same few herbicides, and as nature adapts to the new environment, another weakness of GM foods is exposed – it cannot change. By being manipulated and modified, GM crops have lost their ability to adapt as natural crops would, and are unable to cope with the environmental changes the planet is experiencing.

Questions 1-5. Match the headings below with a paragraph from the text above. Write I – VIII in the boxes provided.

List of headings
I. Looking at the long term
II. The weaknesses of upcoming tests
III. Benefits to farming
IV. Subsidiary effects
V. Controversial experiments for easier farming
VI. GM food remains highly adaptable
VII. The flexibility of nature
VIII. The science of genetic modification

1. Paragraph A:
Show answerV

2. Paragraph B:
Show answerII

3. Paragraph C:
Show answerI

4. Paragraph D:
Show answerIV

5. Paragraph E:
Show answerVII


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Headings questions in IELTS reading

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