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



  1. Ogheneruno says

    Thank you Liz.

  2. liviay4xst says

    Very helpful, indeed grateful Madam.

  3. thanks i can practice my reading and your explanation is very clear. I need to practice a lot however without paying. Do you know? Are there any devices for me to practice?
    Thanks in advanced

    • There are over 300 pages of free lessons and tips on this site. Why don’t you use them? Just click on the RED BAR to go to the section of the test you want to learn and practise.

      • says

        Hi Liz,
        I want to improve my academic writing, which is the effective method to improve academic writing skills ?


  4. Hycent Nwabeze says

    The test lesson has been very helpful.
    Thank you very much Liz

  5. Actually , it was an easy one .

  6. Edidiong Ephraim says

    This is really helpful. Well done!

  7. It was quite easy suddenly.
    Thank you so much, dear Liz!
    I am so excited about your page!

    • Glad things are getting easier and clearer 🙂 Read the instructions on the HOME page to learn how to access all the other lessons and tips. There are over 300 free pages in total – more or less.

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