Qualifying words in IELTS reading
By now, you should be familiar with the idea of looking for key words in the question before looking for the answer in both the IELTS reading and listening test. However, a common reason for IELTS candidates to lose points is by not looking closely enough at qualifying words – words that modify the degree or amount of the main verb or noun.
Compare these two sentences:
- Every government believes that education is important.
- Most governments believe that education is important.
When you are looking for key words, you should have identified ‘government’, ‘important’ and ‘education’.
However, you should also have identified the qualifying words – in sentence 1, the qualifying word is ‘every’. In sentence 2, this has changed to ‘most’.
Now look at the TRUE, FALSE or NOT GIVEN question below.
All governments feel that being educated is significant.
If you were answering question 1 above (Every government believes that education is important), then the answer would be TRUE. However, if you were answering question 2 (Most governments believe that education is important) then the answer changes to FALSE, because it is not ALL governments, only MOST.
As you can see from the example above, qualifying words are particular important in TRUE, FALSE NOT GIVEN questions, but they can also be important with other question types.
Here are some more qualifying words that are commonly used in the IELTS test.
- virtually nil, an insignificant number, negligible, rarely
- a few, a minority, a small number, occasionally
- always, everyone, the entirety
- all but a few, the majority, most, little doubt
- nil, zero, nobody, absolutely none
- roughly half, sometimes, neither one way nor the other, no particular emphasis either way
Now practice by reading the short text below and answer the questions that follow.
For most people, traditional forms of culture have little impact on their daily lives. Opera, fine art, classical literature – these are special events, not the common fare of the average household. Popular culture, on the other hand, dominates almost all of our leisure time. We are becoming a nation with very short attention spans, spending most evenings in front of the TV, with very few people making the effort of actually entertaining themselves.
Are the following statements TRUE (T) or FALSE (F)?
1 Traditional culture has no impact on our daily lives.
2 Popular culture dominates all our leisure time.
3 Only a minority of people make their own entertainment.
Check all three answers
1. FALSE – the questions says ‘no impact’, but the text says ‘little’
2. FALSE – the question says ‘all our leisure time’ but the text says ‘almost all’
3. TRUE – the question says ‘only a minority’, which is equal to ‘very few’
USEFUL TIP: In the writing test, using qualifying words to make your opinion less dogmatic (strong, or presented as absolutely 100%) can help improve your result. For example:
People on lower incomes never save money. This is too strong
People on lower incomes rarely save money. This is more academic as it allows for exceptions.