Strategy to Solve IELTS Reading Summary Completion Question

There are two types of summary completion questions:

  1. You will need to fill the gaps with the words from the reading text (Example 1 below)

  2. You will be given a list of options to choose from (Example 2 below)

If you are given a list, definitely there will be more words in the list than that you will need.  Summary Completion type question tests how good you are at finding the main idea of the text. Look at the example questions below from previous actual test questions:

Example 1

IELTS Reading Summary Completion question example 1

Source: Cambridge English IELTS Past Papers

Take a look at the instruction sentence of the example above, it says "choose one word only from the passage for each answer". That means you must not use more than one word to fill a gap, and your word has to come from the reading passage. 

Example 2

IELTS Reading Summary Completion question example 2

Source: Cambridge English IELTS Past Papers

Now let's have a glimpse at the example 2 above. It asks you to write the correct letter A-K in the specific boxes on your answer sheet. Look, there are more words than you need. Don't write the words, rather just write the correct letters and place them in answer sheet accordingly. If you write the word, your answer will be wrong. 

Common Problems

Many students try to match the words of the question summary with the words in the reading text. They tend to forget that it's very unusual for IELTS exam to get the same words both in the reading text and in the question summary. There will be always synonyms or paraphrases.


When it is about summary, some students tend to think that it is the summary of the whole essay, whereas most of the time summary question will cover a particular area of the text.

In the summary questions, sometimes examiners attach a few exact words from the reading text. Many students get trapped into this. As a result, wherever they see those words in the reading text, they tend to choose them as the answers.


Some students just rush to fill the gaps considering only close meaning of the words, rather than looking at the complete grammatical structure of the full sentence. This is how many students throw away easy marks using right words with wrong grammar forms.

Solution Tips

When you attempt to answer this question, you need to remember two things:

  1.  Do not expect that the reading text will contain the same words that you got in the question summary.  

  2.  You can expect the same words in the reading text as you got in the summary question.

Quite interesting, right? Yes, it is interesting. Examiners are smart people. They know how ​to check the best skills you have. It's true that most of the time in reading text, you will not get the exact words that appear in the question summary. Rather you will find synonyms or paraphrases. Examiner does it to judge your vocabulary. 

However, sometimes you will find the same word in the reading text as that appears in the question summary.  Here in this case, examiner tries to trick you using distraction. Watching a matching word, you will rush to choose and a wrong answer. This is how examiner tricks you to test your lexical resources (range of vocabulary).

Read the instruction sentence carefully. See how many words you are allowed to write for an answer. 

If you find any question really difficult, make a guess and mark the probable answer. Move on to next questions. It will be easier to answer when you come back later.

Usually the answers in the reading passage will appear in the same order as they appear in the texts. That means most of the time it will be an ordered question. Remember this precious information. It will make your job easier.

Don't look for the words that directly match with the words in the question. Rather always be aware of synonyms and paraphrases.

Check the other question types in detail for the Reading section exam: