Reading Practice: History of Sugar

This reading practice lesson is based on IELTS Yes, No, NG Questions. The approach is the same as the TFNG questions. The only difference is that this is about the writer’s opinions. You need to think what the writer is implying and what the writer is trying to say.


  1. Skim reading the passage paying attention to keywords, and the opening and closing lines of each paragraph.
  2. Then read the questions.
  3. Do not look for the answers until you have thoroughly analysed the questions. You must know what a YES answer is, what a NO answer is and what a NG is before you look for the answer.
  4. Scan the passage looking for keywords to locate the information in the passage.
  5. Read around that location. Sometimes answers are based on more than one sentence.

Passage: The History of Sugar

It is thought that cane sugar was first used by man in Polynesia from where it spread to India. In 510 BC the Emperor Darius of what was then Persia invaded India where he found “the reed which gives honey without bees”.  The first sugar was recorded in England in 1099. The subsequent centuries saw a major expansion of western European trade with the East, including the importation of sugar. Sugar was expensive and only used as a luxury item by those who could afford it. Columbus sailed to the Americas, the “New World” and in in 1493 he took sugar cane plants to grow in the Caribbean. The climate there was so advantageous for the growth of the cane that an industry was quickly established.

This food, which nobody needed, but everyone craved, drove the formation of the modern of the world. There was a huge demand for labour to cultivate the massive sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. This need was met by a transatlantic slave trade, which resulted in around 12,570,000 human beings being shipped from Africa to the Americas between 1501 and 1867.

In many ways, the story of sugar and tobacco are closely aligned. Both products were initially produced through slave labour, and were originally seen to be beneficial to health. And although both sugar and tobacco have ancient origins, it was their sudden, mass consumption from the mid-17th century onwards that created the health risks we associate with them today. But in the 21st century, the grip of sugar is stronger than comparable scourges like tobacco, or even alcohol. Sugar is not only ubiquitous – it is potentially responsible for approximately 20% of the caloric content of modern diets – but also central to the world’s economy and cultural heritage.

The effect sugar has on our health is considerable. A high intake of sugar causes our blood sugar levels to shoot up, giving us that feel-good ‘high’ followed by a crashing slump that leaves us tired, irritable and craving more sugary foods. It’s a vicious cycle that may be contributing to our weight problems as well as health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Source: An adaptation of three sources: BBCGoodFood,, and

Questions 1-7: YES / NO/ NOT GIVEN

  1. The Emperor Darius invaded India to find sugar cane.
  2. Sugar was a common food item for people in western Europe after it was introduced in England in 1099.
  3. The weather in the Caribbean was conducive to the growth of sugar cane.
  4. The slave trade was fuelled by the sugar industry.
  5. In ancient times, both sugar and tobacco were considered a health risk.
  6. 20% of all people are addicted to sugar these days.
  7. The “high” people get from sugar can be compared to alcohol.


Click below to open the answers.

  1. NO
    1. The passages states “[he] invaded India where he found [sugarcane]”. From this we see that first he invaded India and when he was in India he discovered sugarcane. This means the invasion happened first and the discovery of sugarcane was result of the invasion. Consequently, finding sugarcane was not a motivation for the invasion. Sugarcane was discovered while he was in India after having invaded it. For this reason, the answer is NO. As you see, you need to understand the meaning rather than trying to match words. If you only look for synonyms, you would not find this answer. Always look at the meaning.
    2. Also note that if the sentence had been written “he invaded India to find sugarcane”, the preposition “to” indicates reason/intent and this would give the answer YES. So, you can see this question really tests your understanding of English. This was a very challenging question, so don’t worry it you didn’t get it correct. Hopefully you got all the others right.
  2. NO
    1. There are particular keywords in the question statement: common food, western Europe & 1099. You should use the year “1099” to locate the area of the passage with the information. You then look for “western Europe” which is found in the next sentence. Then you keep your eyes open for the concept of “common food”. This is found in the following sentence, but with an opposite meaning “luxury item”. For this reason, the answer is NO. As you can see, you needed to read at least three sentences to find this answer. This is a good tip for IELTS reading – locate the area and then read around it to understand the answer
  3. YES
    1. The keyword is “conducive”. You needed to understand this word to get the right answer. It means that the weather was good for growing sugarcane in the Caribbean. The answer is found in the last two sentences of the first paragraph.
  4. YES
    1. This is found in the second paragraph. The need for labour for the sugarcane industry resulted in slave labour.
  5. NO
    1. Third paragraph – they were thought to be beneficial to people’s health originally.
  6. NG
    1. The passage gives information what proportion of calorie content in our diet is sugar. However, it does not give information about how many people are addicted. We do not know if 20% of people are addicted. We do not know if addiction accounts for more or less than 20%. The passages does not say anything about percentages of addiction.
  7. NG
    1. The last paragraph does describe the “high” from sugar as “feel-good”, but it does not compare this high to anything else.


I hope you found this lesson useful 🙂

All the best


Reading Practice: Procrastination

This reading lesson is based on Sentence Completion questions that are very common in IELTS reading, both GT and Academic.

Reading Exercise: Procrastination

Procrastination refers to the voluntary postponement of an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgement (Steel, 2007). There are a few reasons for procrastination. One reason is the lack of imposed direction that’s become common in the workplace. People tend to dawdle in completing a task when they are not given set deadlines and goals. The most significant predictor of procrastination is a task that’s considered unpleasant, boring, or uninteresting. The less people are interested in their task, the less effort they put into completing it. Furthermore, avoidance is a well-known form of coping with anxiety. Procrastinators may postpone getting started because of their doubts and a fear of failure. Finally, when difficulties arise, people with weak self-confidence easily develop doubts about their ability to accomplish the task at hand, while those with strong beliefs are more likely to continue their efforts. When low self-confidence causes people to avoid activities, they miss opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills. All these reasons are typical of procrastination. However, there is one other reason not mentioned so far and that is passive aggressive behaviour. These people use avoidance tactics to express their anger in a non-confrontational way by purposely not completing their task which they know might cause problems for others.

Source: Adapted  from Parts of this passage have been altered from the original to suit the lesson.

Questions 1-5: Complete the sentences using no more than two words and/or a number.

  1. People may procrastinate if they are not given clear aims and …………………
  2. Without an interest in what they are doing, people might not put enough …………. into it.
  3. People may delay beginning their task because of a ………..of …………
  4. Some people avoid learning new skills due to  ………………
  5. Passive aggressive people procrastinate to convey ………..


Click below to reveal the answers:

    1. The answer cannot be “goals” because that is already paraphrased in the question as “aims”.
    1. This should be singular. This is not usual in IELTS and is specifically for this lesson only. The question I have written requires you to change the noun.
    1. It is not necessary to use punctuation in any listening answers. You can just write two words only. If you use a comma, it is fine – but not necessary.
    2. Your answer will be marked wrong if you wrote “of”. This word is given in the question and you do not repeat it. Your task is to write what it missing.
    3. Some people struggled with this one. They thought the answer was “doubt fear. For example, “People may delay beginning their task because of a doubt of fear.” = this is 100% wrong.
    4. The term “a fear of failure” is an expression which is well known. It cannot be written as “a doubt of fear”.
    5. In the passage, it said that people procrastinate because of doubt AND a fear of failure. As you see “doubt” and “fear of failure” are two different things. You can have “doubt and fear”, but you can’t have “doubt of fear” – the question had the word “of”, it did not have the word “and”.
    6. So this question really tests your understanding of language. I hope this explanation will help you understand if you got that question wrong.
    1. If you wrote only “self-confidence” it would be marked wrong. This is not about self-confidence, it is specifically about LOW self-confidence.
    2. You must decide when to add the extra word and when not to. This will always depend on meaning. To miss the word “low” changes the meaning.
  5. ANGER
    1. You should not use “their”. It is not necessary to include the pronoun, only the noun.
Useful Vocabulary
  • postponement
  • against one’s better judgement
  • procrastination / procrastinate
  • dawdle
  • deadlines
  • predictor
  • avoidance
  • a fear of failure
  • low self-confidence
  • acquire knowledge
  • passive aggressive behaviour
  • avoidance tactics
  • non-confrontational


I hope you enjoyed the topic. Procrastination is a common problem for many people – don’t let that happen with your IELTS preparation 🙂

All the best


IELTS Reading Lesson: Death of the High Street

A 2019 IELTS lesson 🙂 A reading exercise for matching headings practice about the “Death of the High Street”. This is an easy lesson to help you develop confidence. There are two exercises in this lesson.

  1. Exercise 1 = Matching Headings
  2. Exercise 2 = Synonyms (Vocabulary practice)

Death of the High Street: Reading for IELTS

Exercise 1: Matching Headings

Questions 1-5. Match the heading with the relevant paragraph below. Write a letter for each answer.

  1.  Changing Tastes
  2.  Rising Overheads
  3. Squeezed Incomes
  4. Too Much Debt
  5. E-commerce

A) A big factor has been a fall in discretionary spending, spurred by rising shop prices and weak wage growth. A near 15% fall in the pound since the Brexit vote has pushed inflation over 3% – way above the Bank of England’s 2% target. This has made imported goods more expensive, with those costs passed on to consumers. Couple that with the fact that wages have been rising at a slower pace than inflation – and shoppers have less disposable income to spend in stores and restaurants.

B) Online giants such as Amazon have had a huge impact on the high street as more consumers see online shopping as cheaper and easier than going to the shops. And while overall retail sales growth is weak, online sales continue to shoot up. If shops fail to do either “value, convenience, or experience” well, they will struggle, Mr Martin says.

C) Toy store “Toys R Us” fell short in all three areas, according to Simon Thomas of Moorfields Advisory, the toy chain’s administrators. He says it was “unlikely” the retailer can be saved because its business model “isn’t what consumers really want now”. “We’ve got very large stores which are fairly impersonal. People are looking now to have a better shopping experience, and we were unable to deliver that.”

D) Inflation is not the only cost pressure retailers face. The National Minimum Wage and new National Living Wage for over-25s go up each year, pushing up payroll costs. “Business rates are deterring investment in local communities, causing shop closures and job losses in hard-pressed communities and preventing retailers from delivering what their customers want in an efficient and cost-effective way.”

E) As a consequence of over expansion, many retailers are shouldering “high debt burdens”, says KPMG’s Mr Martin. Just before its collapse, Toys R Us UK faced a looming VAT debt payment deadline of £15m. It would have been unable to pay it without a cash injection from an outside investor.

Source: Passage from BBC News Photo sourced online.

Exercise 2: Synonyms Practice

Questions 6-12. Find the following synonyms in the passage above. The answers will come in order in the passage. No more than two words for each answer. This question type does not come in the test. I have created it to give you essential practice with synonyms.

  • 6. triggered
  • 7. combine
  • 8. expendable
  • 9. soar
  • 10. discouraging
  • 11. imminent
  • 12. boost


Click below for Answers:


Please remember that in the real IELTS test, if you are asked to write a letter, you must write the letter and not the word. Always following instructions very carefully.

  1. A = 3
  2. B = 5
  3. C = 1
  4. D = 2
  5. E = 4
  6. triggered = spurred
  7. combine = couple that
  8. expendable = disposable
  9. soar = shoot up
  10. discouraging = deterring
  11. imminent = looming
  12. boost = injection


Hope you find the lesson useful 🙂

All the best


Migrating Birds: IELTS Synonyms Practice

Finding Synonyms: In IELTS reading, you need to develop the skill of spotting synonyms in the reading passage.

This lesson helps you develop this skill. There is no specific question like this in the IELTS reading test, but all question types require this skill. So, I have made this lesson to help you practice spotting paraphrases.

Bird Migration Synonyms Practice

Birds migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations.

While short-distance migration probably developed from a fairly simple reason such as for food, the origins of long-distant migration patterns are much more complex. They’ve evolved over thousands of years and are controlled at least partially by the genetic makeup of the birds. They also incorporate responses to weather, geography, food sources, day length, and other factors.

Migrating birds can cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, often travelling the same course year after year with little deviation. First-year birds often make their very first migration independently. Somehow they can find their winter home despite never having seen it before, and return the following spring to where they were born.

The secrets of their amazing navigational skills aren’t fully understood, partly because birds combine several different types of senses when they navigate. Birds can get compass information from the sun, the stars, and by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. They also get information from the position of the setting sun and from landmarks seen during the day. There’s even evidence that sense of smell plays a role, at least for homing pigeons.

Notice: This article has been adapted from this page: The Basics of Bird Migration. It is always useful to read original articles.

Find the Synonyms

Find the word(s) in the reading passage above that have the same meaning as the words below. Answers will come in the order of the questions. This means you find the answer to question 1 first and the other answers will follow in order.

  1. breeding sites
  2. relatively
  3. developed gradually
  4. include
  5. departing from an established course
  6. on their own
  7. distinct feature noticeable from a distance


Click below to reveal the answers:

  1. breeding sites = nesting locations
  2. relatively = fairly
  3. developed gradually = evolved
  4. include = incorporate
  5. departed from an established course = deviation
  6. on their own = independently
  7. distinct feature noticeable from a distance = landmark


I hope you found this lesson useful 🙂

All the best


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IELTS Reading: Choosing a title

A lesson on choosing a title for IELTS reading. Remember you need to think of the whole aim for the passage for this IELTS lesson. Useful for both GT and academic students – the level isn’t too hard.

Here are some tips to help you with how to choose the best title for the reading passage below.

Tips for Choosing a Title

  • This question type is usually the last question of the passage
  • By the time you come to this question, you will already have read skim read the passage
  • You should find the main aim of the passage
  • Analyse all the options for the title
  • Common trap – there will probably be information about all options in the passage – you need to find the main aim / message
  • Always look at the introduction sentence and concluding sentence to see if there is a similar message

Reading Passage:

Coffee is one of the most popular hot drinks in the world. Almost a third of the world’s population drinks coffee. People often meet at cafes or coffee shops for a coffee break during the middle of the morning or stop work in the afternoon to drink coffee.
About 7 million tons of coffee is produced every year. Brazil is, by far, the world’s largest coffee producer. About a third of the world’s production comes from this South American country. Other coffee producing countries include Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia.
The United States is the biggest coffee consumer in the world. About 1.2 billion kilograms of coffee are consumed there every year. Drinking coffee is extremely popular in European countries, like Italy, France and Germany, as well as in Brazil.


Choose the correct letter A – C

Which is the best title for the passage below?

A.  Coffee – a popular hot drink
B.  Coffee – the main consumers
C.  Coffee – the main producers


To see the answer, click below:


All the best,


Desertification Reading Exercise & Useful Vocab

Reading lesson on Desertification to develop ideas and vocabulary for IELTS.  This lesson will provide you with ideas and vocabulary for IELTS writing task 2, speaking part 3 and the reading test.

Desertification: IELTS Environmental Topic

Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and human activities. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem.

Questions 1 – 8

Match each paragraph below to a title from the list. Not all letters will be used.

  • A) Overgrazing
  • B) Mass migration
  • C) Overpopulation
  • D) Polluted drinking water
  • E) Famine
  • F) Extinction of species
  • G) Deforestation
  • H) Poverty
  • I) Unsustainable agriculture techniques
  • J) Soil infertility

Reading Passage: Desertification Causes and Effects

Causes of Desertification

1) Trees are being cut down at much larger scale than ever before to be used as fuel, to provide products we use in our daily life, or to simply create more space for agriculture to sustain growing human population. Once the trees and other vegetation in an area are gone, there is nothing left to hold the soil in place.

2) Our planet’s ecosystems sustain life only when balanced. They can cope with incremental challenges and adapt but beyond a certain tipping point they collapse. A rapid increase in the number of people demands higher amounts of natural resources and expands more and more over the landscape, leading to increased desertification.

3) Improper irrigation methods used in arid areas, such as canal irrigation, lead to a buildup of salt in the soil and make it difficult for crops and other plants to grow, increasing desertification. Similarly harmful is cultivation of already deteriorated lands. Through inconsiderate farming methods, farmers only speed up the process of desertification in exchange for poor quality crops with low economic value.

4) In arid regions, grass and other vegetation is necessary to keep the soil in place. If such vegetation is used as feed for cattle without sustainable control, there is nothing that remains to prevent soil from blowing or washing away, and if this process occurs long enough, it can lead to desertification.

Effects of Desertification

5) As desertification occurs, the soil can be blown or washed away, and valuable soil nutrients are lost. As the soil dries out, it hardens and it becomes difficult for any rainfall that does occur to penetrate below the soil’s surface. And what remains left is a lifeless pile of dust instead of a life-giving medium.

6) Due to drought conditions and a loss of productive land, local people find themselves and their livestock experiencing starvation.

7) Desertification events have been a major driver behind the movement of large human populations throughout history. When soils are not able to support their civilisation, people set on the move to look for better locations.

8) Species that once lived in a fertile and productive climate may not survive in a newly desertified region.


The answers are now available for this reading lesson. Click below for Answers:


Please remember that in the real IELTS test, if you are asked to write a letter, you must write the letter and not the word. Always following instructions very carefully for IELTS.

  1. G
    1. Deforestation. Keywords: Trees are being cut down
  2. C
    1. Overpopulation. Keywords: A rapid increase in the number of people
  3. I
    1. Unsustainable agriculture techniques. Keywords: Improper irrigation methods / inconsiderate farming methods
  4. A
    1. Overgrazing. Keywords: feed for cattle without sustainable control
  5. J
    1. Soil infertility. Keywords: valuable soil nutrients are lost /  soil dries out / lifeless pile of dust
  6. E
    1. Famine. Keywords: people find themselves and their livestock experiencing starvation.
  7. B
    1. Mass migration. Keywords: movement of large human populations
  8. F
    1. Extinction of species. Keywords: Species …………………. may not survive …

All reading exercises on have been designed by myself to help you prepare for your IELTS test.   


All the best


How Nilay Scored IELTS 8.5 Overall

Nilay scored 8.5 Overall in the IELTS Academic test this month. Below are his tips for his great score in IELTS.

Nilay’s Scores: Overall 8.5

  • Listening: 9
  • Reading: 9
  • Writing: 8
  • Speaking: 8

Nilay’s Tips for IELTS 8.5

Nilay here. I am an orthopedic surgeon from India and currently trying to specialize in spine surgery. I appeared for the IELTS to register with the Canadian medical boards for which I needed minimum 7 in each of the four categories. This was the academic version.

To summarize the prep, I gave it around 12-14 days part time. I had been aware of your videos and thought to just concentrate on that during last 3 to 4 days and I attribute a large part of my writing score to your tips. I didn’t opt for paid tutorials but I feel that the content you generously provide is more than enough in most cases. Having said that, I was planning to get your paid tutorials if I couldn’t cross the required threshold of 7/9 in writing; I was reasonably certain I would cross 7 in RW and S. My tips are summarized here.
Reading Tips- As a compulsive reader, I was a bit overconfident when I started out the prep and expected to score a perfect 9 each time. My behind was handed back to me promptly by the No/Not Given dilemma. Your tips on that cleared out the webs and I highly recommend that video to polish the reading score. One thing I realized in the exam is that the reading paragraphs can be difficult and must not be underestimated even if you are good at reading to begin with. I consider myself a very fast reader and still had only 8-10 mins left at the end. I would advise underlining key words and phrases as it makes it easier to fish out the answers.  I wrote in all caps as advised.
Listening Tips – Tricky proposition. I feel that IELTS listening section doesn’t evaluate your listening capability but rather evaluates your presence of mind and multi-tasking ability to listen, note and paraphrase at the same time. I am very well versed with major accents and still made mistakes in answers due to missing plurals, not catching the exact words and sometimes missing paraphrases at the end of tests. I would really advise going through Cambridge practice tests to refine this. They are the real counterparts to the exam. I can’t stress enough on scanning the questions in advance, predicting answers and using the 30 seconds given to go over your last batch of answers to scan the questions ahead instead.  Presence of mind is really important or you would make a mess of it. Also, all caps again.
Speaking Tips –  Didn’t prepare much for it except for going through your tips and speaking to a local instructor I knew. I am fluent but I speak too fast and maybe that reflected on what I consider a lower score on my speaking test. Also, this is a live interaction test and your score will depend upon your rapport with and impression upon the examiner even if they are trained to disregard those factors. I more or less had  a friendly conversation and was asked questions about skilled and unskilled jobs in last part. I think the trick here is to fill up the time allotted and keep on speaking. I attribute the shavings in my score to speed and my roundabout answer to a bizarre question about soft and hard skills. I could have done better here.
Writing Tips – Last but not the least. I have BAD handwriting which live up to all the cliches about illegibility of doctors. This was a big issue for me with IELTS being a written exam. I realized that all my writing skills would be for naught if it looked like someone dipped ants in ink pot and let them loose on the paper. So I ditched the cursive, zoomed in the fonts and increased the space between words and made several people go through it till their satisfaction. I was confident about my vocabulary and grammar, so that helped but this exam is all about sticking to the format.  I can not stress enough how helpful your writing section videos are. I stuck to the outline stressed upon by you for both the tasks and I was rewarded. I made sure to follow the cite-support-example format for body paragraphs on task two; it really eased the though organization process. Task one is straightforward but it’s important not to get mired into details and just focus on major trends and data points. I didn’t have problem with time and word count. But even if you do, I really suggest taking 2 minutes to read the task and then a minute or so to jot down writing points on paper; paragraph wise. Also keep a minute or two at the end to go over your writing. Do not try to correct or improve large sections of a sentence but concentrate on spell check, grammatical gaffes and punctuation marks.
  To conclude [the format ,the format!], I am satisfied with my result and would thank you for your generous online help. I really stress upon test takers to go through your videos which I consider the best resource available online for this test. I hope my experience helps future test takers. Best of luck to you all!
Message to Nilay: Thanks so much for sharing your tips! I know students will be inspired by your results and also grateful for the experiences you have shared. Well done again with your excellent score 🙂

Reading Practice: Ancient City Caral

True False and Not Given reading practice for IELTS students based on a topic that was reported by students in their reading test in January 2018. To see all my reading lessons, click here: Main Reading Page. Other main pages are accessed through the red bar at the top of the website.

Passage: Pyramid City Caral

The Norte Chico civilization of Supe, Peru, was the first known civilisation of the Americas. Their capital was the Sacred City of Caral – a 5,000-year-old metropolis complete with complex agricultural practices, rich culture, and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures, stone and earthen platform mounds, temples, amphitheatre,  sunken circular plazas, and residential areas.

Caral is situated on a dry desert terrace overlooking the lush valley of the Supe River. Exceptionally well-preserved, the site is impressive in terms of its design and the complexity of its architecture. The city’s plan and some of its features, including pyramidal structures and residences of the elite, show clear evidence of ceremonial functions, signifying a powerful religious ideology.

The centre of the Caral complex consists of a central public area with six large pyramids (platform mounds) arranged around a huge plaza. The largest of the mounds, located in a dominating position within the urban plan of Caral, is 60 feet high and measures 450 x 500 feet at the base, covering an area nearly the size of four football fields. From the top of the great pyramid, the rulers of Caral would have been able to monitor the entire city. In total, it is estimated that Caral was home to a population of about 3,000 people. Researchers believe the model of the city was used by many civilizations that came after the Norte Chico. In 2001, the Sacred City of Caral in Supe was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Notice: This passage has been adapted from the website You can read the full passage here: Pyramid City of Caral. The picture above is also from the same article.

Questions: Are the following statements True False or Not Given based on the passage above?

  1. The city did not include housing for its citizens.
  2. As far as the eye could see, the landscape was arid.
  3. The largest pyramid is 60 feet in height in Caral.
  4. Caral had a bigger population than most cities at that time.
  5. Caral is thought to have provided a prototype for subsequent civilisations.

Notice from Liz: I will be taking a break from posting lessons in Feb, Mar and Apr. I will post a notice when my holiday begins. Some pages will be kept open during my break.


The answers to this lesson are now available:

Click here for the answers: Answers to Caral Reading Lesson

All the best



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