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IELTS Reading Skills: Keywords Practice


Keywords can help you locate answers in IELTS reading. Try this lesson and see if it helps you.

Can you see the keywords in the question that help you spot the answer in the passage?

Alexander Fleming and Penicillin

Alexander Fleming was born in Ayrshire on 6 August 1881, the son of a farmer. He moved to London at the age of 13 and later trained as a doctor. In 1928, while studying influenza, Fleming noticed that mould had developed accidentally on a set of culture dishes being used to grow the staphylococci germ. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. Fleming experimented further and decided to call the active substance penicillin. It was two other scientists however, Australian Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who developed penicillin further so that it could be produced as a drug. At first supplies of penicillin were very limited, but by the 1940s it was being mass-produced by the American drugs industry.

Notice: This passage is from BBC History. You can read the full article on this page: BBC History Alexander Fleming

Key words

Find the key words in the questions which help you locate the answers:

  1. Where did Fleming study medicine?
    1. (what are this keywords in the question that help you find the answer?
  2. What was Fleming studying when he realised that mould grew on a set of culture dishes?
    1. (what are the keywords in this question that help you find the answer?)
  3. Who gave penicillin its name?
    1. (what keywords in this question help you locate the answer?)

Quote from Fleming: “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.“.  


Click below to reveal the answers:

  1. keywords:
    1. where – this shows you are looking for a name of a place. So, you should scan the passage for a place name.
    2. other key words are: study medicine – this is paraphrased as “training to be a doctor”
    3. Answer to question: London
  2. keywords
    1. what – this key words shows the answer must be a noun.
    2. culture dishes –  VERY useful key words to locate the answer in the passage. These types of words can’t be paraphrased so you can find them easily and quickly.
    3. Answer to question: influenza
  3. keywords
    1. who: this shows you are looking for a name or names.
    2. other key word: name – this is paraphrased as “call” in the passage.
    3. Answer to question: Fleming


You can see that keywords are vitally important to find answers. But be careful as some keywords can be paraphrased so be prepared for that.

I hope you found this lesson useful 🙂

Transferring Answers in IELTS Listening and Reading

Do you get an extra 10 mins to transfer your answers in IELTS listening and reading? This is extremely important to know.

IELTS Listening: Extra 10 mins

You will listen for 30 mins to a recording and you will answer 40 questions. Your answers will be written on the question paper. You can also make notes and underline on your question paper. At the end of the recording, you will be given 10 mins to transfer your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet.

IELTS Reading: ?

You will be given your reading passages with questions. You will have 1 hour to read the passages and write your answers. Your answer will not be written on the question paper, you MUST write your answers directly onto the answer sheet. You will NOT be given an extra 10 mins to transfer answers. At the end of 1 hour, the invigilator will collect your answer sheet.

Writing Answers: Tips

  • Always pay attention to spelling. If you spell the word wrong, you will lose the point.
  • Pay attention to plurals. If you miss the plural “s”, the answer will be marked wrong.
  • Make sure you put the answer in the right box on the answer sheet. Putting answers in the wrong boxes will affect your score.

IELTS Listening & Reading Lessons

You can find more tips and practice lessons on the main pages. Click to open …

IELTS Listening: Tips & Practice Lessons

IELTS Reading: tips & Practice Lessons

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How I Scored 9 in IELTS Reading

“How I got Band 9 in IELTS Reading.”
Manal got band score 9 in IELTS reading with band score 8.5 overall.  Learn how she did it …
Below are her tips for a high score in GT reading:
 Getting 9 in IELTS reading
Manal’s Story and Tips for Band 9 in Reading
Oh I couldn’t believe in my wildest dreams that I scored a 9.0 in Reading. Reading was one of my weakest areas. After I gave the test, I had a gut feeling telling me that probably I scored a 9.0 in Reading. I even got to check all my answers in Listening as well as Reading.
 I re-took the General test. The first time I attempted this test was in October – that time I scored an overall band score of 8.0 with L – 8.5, Reading – 7.0, W – 8.0, S – 9.0. I retook the test specifically to improve my Reading score so obviously I relentlessly practiced tests from the General section of Cambridge IELTS books. I was aiming for a minimum of 8.0 in reading.
Tips for Getting Band Score 9 in IELTS Reading
Here are some tips and strategies which you could post. Please feel free to make any editions necessary. I like to explain things in detail, otherwise I do not feel satisfied. You can make them more brief and concise.
Tip 1
Effective time management I can’t stress enough about it. One thing which I meticulously practiced when I did the reading tests was to enforce a strict time division for each section of Reading. Even though in the cambridge books, it states to keep a minimum of 20 minutes for each section. I’d suggest to keep 15 minutes OR less in Section 1 and 2 and to rely solely on skimming and scanning (I mastered to finish Section 1 and 2 in less than 15 minutes leaving me with ample time to solve Section 3 questions). Keep 30 minutes or more for Section 3- where you will need to do a little bit more than skimming and scanning. I usually managed to have 5-10 minutes for revision.
Tip 2
Do not bother reading the passages. It’s a waste of time.
 First, read the questions and circle the keywords and then try to look for those keywords or a synonym / paraphased text in the passage. For Section 1 and 2  – skimming and scanning will be your best friends. 
 I didn’t even waste time reading Section 3. I just read the text associated with the questions. 
Tip 3
One strategy that worked for me best was “not to overthink” when you are solving the reading questions and to go with your gut instincts – there is no time to think during the 60 minutes of tackling reading questions. Especially this applies to me, because I tend to overthink and over analyze a lot when I am stressed. I struggled a lot with the true false questions. But as I trained myself not to overthink, if the text is there either it will be the same meaning as the question or opposite. If text is not there – not given. 
Tip 4
For paragraph heading questions, only read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. A synonym or a related keyword in the heading title should be there. I also sometimes to be on the safe side for some questions read the second sentence as well.
Tip 5
Although, you will keep hearing from people practice and practice. I personally believe practice is inefficient if you do not learn from your incorrect answers. So it really helps to look at your mistakes and compare with the correct answers in the answer key and to reflect on where you made the mistake. I feel that way – you learn more efficiently.
Hope that helps.
Comments from IELTS Liz
Thanks so much for sharing your tips, Manal. I think many students will benefit from this and also be inspired to keep aiming for the higher scores 🙂
Anyone who would like to add more tips, please post them in the comments box below 🙂
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Capital Letters in IELTS: Will it affect your score?

When to use capital letters in your IELTS listening and reading test. Will you get a lower score if you make a mistake with capital letters? Can you write your answers in all capital letters? What are the rules for capital letters in IELTS? Capital letters in IELTS 2017.

Using Capital Letters for Answers: IELTS Rules

Capital Letters in IELTS Listening and Reading

In IELTS listening and reading, you can write all your answers in capital letters if you want or not.

  • You can write your answers in small letters if you want.
  • You can write in all capital letters.

Examples of capital letters in listening and reading:

  • HOSPITAL = correct / hospital = correct / 9am = correct / 9AM = correct /

Which is best? Capital letters or lower case?

I recommend writing your listening and reading answers in capital letters. It is easier to read and this means it is better for the person marking. Of course, it is your choice. But my advice is to use all capital letters for writing your answers in listening and reading.

Transferring Answers

In IELTS listening, you will be given 10 mins extra to transfer your answers to your answer sheet. Check your answers and check your spelling – then write your answers on the answer sheet.  If your handwriting is poor, write using all capital letters so it is easy to read.

In IELTS reading, you will not get 10 extra mins to transfer your answers. You must write your answers directly on your answer sheet. But it is completely your choice how to write your answers. The most important factor is not clear writing. Use all capital letters if your handwriting isn’t clear.

Capital Letters in IELTS Writing

In IELTS Writing, you can choose to write your essay in capital letters. But I wouldn’t recommend it because:

  1. you have a strict time limit and it takes too long to write in capital letters
  2. you WILL be marked on punctuation so the use of capital letters and lower case is important to show. You must have a capital letter at the start of a sentence, for example.

So, write your essay in lower case and remember to use capital letters when appropriate. The examiner will mark you down if you use capital letters incorrectly. Here is a list of typical words that use capital letters:

When to use capital letters in English grammar

  • Days/ Months = Thursday / September
  • Names and Titles = Mrs J Blogs / Dr Author Jones
  • Countries / Cities = India / Vietnam / Paris / Hong Kong
  • Names of Places = University of London
  • Acronyms = BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
  • Start of a Sentence = “The majority of people use cars to go to work these days. However, it would be better if they used healthier means of transport such as the bicycle.”

Biggest Mistake with Capital Letters

  • but / because / and
    • These linking words NEVER start with a capital letter because they should NEVER be used to start a sentence. See my page of linking words for writing task 2 to learn tips and get a useful list: IELTS Writing Task 2 Linking Words

What about speaking part 2? Well, the notes you make for your talk are not marked and only you see them. The examiner will not check them or mark them. So, don’t write sentences or bother with punctuation, just write words, ideas and tips to help you present a good talk.

More IELTS Tips

What about using a pen or pencil? Click on this link: IELTS Pen or Pencil

How are words counted in IELTS Listening? Click on this link: How Words are Counted in IELTS

Can I use “I” or “my” in writing task 2? Click on this link: How to express your opinion in IELTS WT2

Tips & Practice for Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking:

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IELTS Reading Paragraph Information: Whaling

This passage is similar to the level of GT passage 3 and just below academic level. However, it is a useful passage for academic students because it will help develop skills without too much heavy academic vocabulary.

This IELTS reading practice requires you to match information to a particular paragraph. Read instructions carefully.

A Brief History of Whaling

A) People have been whaling for thousands of years. Norwegians were among the first to hunt whales, as early as 4,000 years ago. The Japanese may have been doing so even earlier.

B) Traditions as varied as the Inuit (who hunted in the Arctic Ocean), Basque (who hunted in the Atlantic), and Japanese (who hunted in the Pacific) relied on whales to provide material goods, as well as part of their cultural identity.

C) Nearly every part of the whale was used. Meat, skin, blubber, and organs were eaten as an important source of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Baleen was woven into baskets and used as fishing line. In warmer climates, baleen was also used as a roofing material. Bones were used primarily for tool making and carving ceremonial items such as masks.

D) During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, whaling gained popularity throughout Northern Europe. Whale oil and baleen (sometimes called whalebone, although it’s not bone at all) were valuable commodities. Whale oil comes from the blubber of right and bowhead whales, and the head cavity of sperm whales. It was used primarily for oil lamps. Corsets and hoop skirts were constructed from whalebone.

Questions 1-5

The reading passage has 4 paragraphs. Which paragraph contains the following information? Letters may be used more than once. Write the correct letter (A-D) as your answer.

  1.  Whaling became common in Northern Europe.
  2. A variety of different cultures have used whales to furnish important supplies.
  3. The Japanese probably started hunting before anyone else.
  4. Whale oil was used for lighting.
  5. The body of a dead whale was used for many purposes and little was wasted.

You can download a free pdf copy of the passage and questions: ielts-reading-history-of-whaling


Click below to open the answers for the above IELTS reading practice.

  1. D = Information about Northern Europe and whaling is contained in A (Norway) and D. However, information about whaling being common is contained only in D = gained popularity.
  1. B = Paragraph B contains the names of different cultures. It contains the words ‘provide material goods’ which can be paraphrased to mean ‘furnish important supplies’.
  1. A = Paragraphs A and B contain information about the Japanese. However, paragraph A contains information about the beginning of whaling and the last sentence in paragraph A contains the exact information.
  1. D = Paragraph D contains information about whale oil which was ‘used primarily for oil lamps’.
  1. C = Both paragraphs C and D contain information about the uses of whale. The first sentence of paragraph C, gives further information about not wasting the body.

Passage from: National Geographic  http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/news/big-fish-history-whaling/?ar_ 


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Sentence Completion: Life on Earth

This is a short reading passage to practice sentence completion questions. It’s quite an easy passage to give you all a chance to practice.

Life on Earth

Life on Earth started around 3.8 billion years ago and has since evolved and diversified through the process of natural selection to be adapted to almost every environment possible. There are currently an estimated 1.9 million animals, plants, and other forms of life on Earth.

Life can be found in every nook and cranny/niche of the globe, from the extreme environments of deep sea hydrothermal vents and the freezing conditions of the Polar Regions to the lush habitats found at the equator.

Looking back through time, by means of the fossil and phylogenetic record, we can see that the Earth has been home to many more species than are alive today. Taking a historical perspective shows that life is constantly evolving, with the success and dominance of different groups waxing and waning over time.

The diversity of life is truly amazing, but all living organisms do share certain similarities. All living organisms can replicate, and the replicator molecule is DNA. As well, all living organisms contain some means of converting the information stored in DNA into products used to build cellular machinery from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. 

Questions 1-4

Complete the sentences. Choose no more than three words and / or a number from the passage for each answer.

  1. The world has been developed and changed by ……………………………… for over 3.8 billion years.
  2. The past history of the species that used to exist on earth can be found through the …………………………………………. record.
  3. The coming and going of specific groups and species can illustrate to us that life is forever ………………………………………. .
  4. Without ……………………, life forms would not be able to replicate.


Click to get the answers: Answers

  1. natural selection
  • developed and changed = evolved and diversified
  • it is not possible to have “the natural selection”
  • it is not possible to have “natural selection process”
  1. fossil and phylogenetic (spelling must be correct)
  • past history = looking back through time
  1. evolving
  • coming and going = waxing and waning
  • forever = constantly
  1. DNA
  • life forms = living organisms

All reading exercises on ieltsliz.com have been written by myself to help you develop skills for IELTS. These lessons are not practice tests, they are exercises for students.   



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IELTS Reading Practice: Marie Curie

IELTS reading practice for matching sentence endings questions. This topic is a biography of Marie Curie, a famous scientist. Skim read the passage before attempting the questions. Please note this is not a practice test but just IELTS reading practice to develop skills and understanding of this type of question.

Download the PDF file for the passage and questions: IELTS Reading Practice Marie Curie

Marie Curie

During the 19th century scientists knew little about what went on inside an atom. However, by the end of the century there were startling new ideas about the structure of the atom resulting from the discoveries of X-rays, radioactivity and the electron.

Marie Sklodowska was born in Warsaw in 1867. She was a brilliant student and dreamed of studying at the Sorbonne in Paris but it took eight years of scrimping and saving before she could afford to go. Despite very poor living conditions and a lack of French she graduated in physics in 1893 and mathematics in 1894.

While looking for a laboratory in Paris to continue with her experiments she was introduced to Pierre Curie, a highly regarded professor at the School of Physics. At 35 years old, Pierre was already an internationally recognised physicist. With his brother Paul-Jacques, he discovered piezo-electricity: the fact that crystals under pressure produce electric currents. He also studied crystal symmetries and the magnetic properties of bodies at different temperatures. His papers had been well received by distinguished colleagues but he was still an outsider in the French academic community. Like Marie he did not care for outward distinctions or a career. They married in July 1895.

During her studies Marie had heard about Henri Becquerel’s discovery of some sort of radiation emitting from uranium salts and decided to investigate these mysterious ‘uranium rays’ for her doctoral thesis. She soon discovered that the intensity of the rays was in direct proportion to the amount of uranium in her sample. Nothing she did to the uranium affected the rays. This, she said, ‘shows that radioactivity is an atomic property’. She also found that two minerals, pitchblende and chalcite, were much more radioactive than uranium itself, and realised that they must contain a new radioactive element.

After the exciting results of Marie’s early experiments, Pierre abandoned his study of crystals to join her in her search for new substances. The couple laboured over their work, Marie carrying out the chemical separations and Pierre taking the measurements. They continued with the painstaking refining and by December 1898 the couple announced the discovery of an even more radioactive substance in pitchblende which they called radium. This discovery had far-reaching effects; opening up the fields of radiotherapy and nuclear medicine.

Matching Sentence Endings

Complete the sentences by selecting the correct ending, A-L (not all letters will be used).

  1. In the early 20th century, scientists….
  2. It took Marie 8 years…
  3. Marie tolerated sub-standard accommodation but still…
  4. The research of Pierre Curie was received well …
  5. Both Marie and Pierre shared the same belief that…
  6. The research by Henri Becquerel …
  7. On discovering that there must be a hitherto unknown substance …
  8. The revelation of radium had a momentous  impact on …


  • A) by the college where he worked.
  • B) lacked French.
  • C) had already made novel discoveries about the atom.
  • D) by notable fellows in his field.
  • E) recognition or vocation was not the main goal.
  • F) graduated in two subjects.
  • G) had rediscovered the x-ray.
  • H) nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.
  • I) prompted her to investigate his discovery further.
  • J) pitchblende.
  • K) her husband relinquished his work for hers.
  • L) of economising prior to  realise her goal of studying in Paris.
  1. C
    • novel = new / by the end of the 19 century means that this was already happening at the start of the 20th century
  2. L
    • Second paragraph. economising = being careful with money and not overspending = saving
  3. F
    • The answer can be found here: “Despite very poor living conditions and a lack of French she graduated in physics in 1893 and mathematics in 1894.”
  4. D
    • notable = distinguished / colleagues = fellows in his field. Please note that colleague and college do not have the same meaning.
  5. E
    • The answer can be found at the end of the third paragraph: “Like Marie he did not care for outward distinctions or a career.” Please note that “he” refers to her husband, Pierre. outward distinctions = recognition / career = vocation
  6. I
    • The answer can be found in the fourth paragraph: “During her studies Marie had heard about Henri Becquerel’s discovery ………and decided to investigate these mysterious ‘uranium rays’ for her doctoral thesis.”. Prompted means that she was persuaded or it caused her to.
  7. K
    1. The answer can be found in the last paragraph: “Pierre abandoned his study of crystals to join her in her search for new substances.”.  “he reliquished his work” means that he abandoned (gave up) his work.
  8. H
    1. The answer is in the last sentence of the passage: “This discovery had far-reaching effects; opening up the fields of radiotherapy and nuclear medicine. “. The word far-reaching is paraphrased as momentous.

Article from sciencemuseum.org.uk

More Practice with Matching Sentence Endings:

IELTS Reading Passage: Crime & Punishment 

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IELTS Tips: How words are counted

Learn how your words are counted in IELTS. This page explains about counting words, numbers and symbols. You need to know how words are counted for IELTS listening, reading and writing. If you make mistakes with the number of words, you can lose points which can affect your band score.

How words are counted in IELTS

1. Numbers, dates and time are counted as words in writing. For example 30,000 = one word  /  55  = one word  /  9.30am = one word / 12.06.2016 = one word. In listening, 30,000 is counted as one number and 9.30AM is also counted as one number.

2. Dates written as both words and numbers are counted in this way: 12th July = one number and one word.

3. Symbols with numbers are not counted. For example, 55% = one number (the symbol “%” is not counted as a word). However, if you write “55 percent” it is counted as one word and one number.

4. Small words such as “a” or “an” are counted as one word. All prepositions, such as “in” or “at” are also counted. All words are counted.

5. Hyphenated words like “up-to-date” are counted as one word.

6. Compound nouns which are written as one word are also counted as one word. For example, blackboard = one word.

7. Compound nouns which are written as two separate words, are counted as two words. For example, university bookshop = two words.

8. All words are counted, including words in brackets. For example in IELTS writing, “The majority of energy was generated by electricity (55%).”. This sentence is counted as 9 words. The number in brackets is counted.


Advanced IELTS Writing Lessons: Liz’s Advanced Lessons

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