IELTS Reading Matching Headings Tips and Strategy

This article will help you match headings more effectively in the IELTS reading test.

In the IELTS reading test you may be asked to match headings to sections of text. This type of question tests your ability to understand the main idea of each paragraph.

Headings are short sentences that summarise the information in a paragraph. You have to pick the one that best summarises the information in a paragraph.

You will be given between 5 and 7 headings and asked to match each paragraph in the reading text to one heading. There are always more headings than paragraphs.

In this post we will look at:

  1. Common problems
  2. Tips
  3. Strategy
  4. Practice

Common Problems

Below is a list of common problems my students tend to have. Have you experienced any of these problems?

Later in the post we will look at tips to overcome these problems and a strategy for answering this kind of reading question.

  1. There is too much information to get through and not enough time.
  2. Trying to match a word or words from the headings to a word in the text.
  3. Some of the headings may appear to have the same meaning.
  4. Some students only read the first sentence of each paragraph and do not understand the main idea of the paragraph.
  5. Spending too much time on one paragraph or heading.
  6. Answers are not in the same order as the text.

Tips and Solutions

  1. Do this question first. By doing this you will be able to get the general meaning of the text as a whole and this will help you with the rest of the question that requires you to take a more detailed look at the text.
  2. You are not expected to read every word of the text. This will take too long and you don’t have time for this. In this kind of question you are only expected to understand the main idea of each paragraph. A good way to do this is to read the first one or two sentences and the last sentence of the paragraphs. You can also briefly look at the rest of the paragraph but you don’t have to read every word.
  3. If there are words you don’t understand, don’t worry about this. Again, you should only worry about the general meaning of the paragraph as a whole, not individual words. Even native speakers will fail to understand every word in the IELTS reading test.
  4. Be aware of synonyms. Many students look for words that match exactly with words in the text and ignore synonyms. For example, a keyword in the heading might be ‘Beautiful’, however the word you’re looking for could be many different synonyms of ‘beautiful’ like ‘attractive’, ‘pretty’, ‘lovely’ or ‘stunning’.
  5. If there are two or three headings that are similar, write them beside the paragraph and try to find out the difference between the two headings. What are the keywords? How does this change the meaning? Which one matches the paragraph best?
  6. If you still can’t decide which one suits best, move on and come back to it later. The answer will normally be easier to find after you have matched some more headings.
  7. Ignore anything you already know about the topic. You are being tested on the text only.
  8. Don’t read too quickly. Some teachers advise that students should just ‘skim’ the text because you don’t have much time. In my experience, this leads to students not understanding most of the text and making mistakes. It is better to do this a little slower and actually understand what is in front of you.
  9. Don’t panic if you know nothing about the general topic of the reading text. The IELTS reading test is not a knowledge test and you are not expected to have prior knowledge of the topic.
  10. Don’t look at the headings first. This will automatically make you look for specific words in the text rather than the main idea. Remember it is your ability to find the main idea that is being tested, not your ability to find specific information. Instead of reading the headings first, ignore them and get the general meaning of each paragraph first by reading the first and last sentences.


  1. If this type of question is on the test, do it first.
  2. Don’t look at the headings.
  3. Read the first one or two sentences and the last sentence of each paragraph to understand the general meaning of the paragraph. Don’t worry about highlighting keywords in the test. Try to sum up the general meaning of each paragraph in one or two words.
  4. Look at the headings and identify keywords within each heading.
  5. Match any headings that are very obvious and you are sure about.
  6. For the others, write 2 or 3 headings beside the paragraph. Identify the difference between each of the headings. Establish if there are any synonyms in the paragraph to keywords in the headings.
  7. If you still can’t pick one, move one. The answer will often reveal itself later.
  8. Repeat until finished.


Let look at an example question. Below are two paragraphs from an article called ‘Trees in Trouble- What is causing the decline of the World’s giant forests?’

Match the two paragraphs with one of the following three headings:

  1. How wildlife benefits from big tress
  2. Factors that enable trees to grow to significant heights
  3. How other plants can cause harm

Paragraph 1- Big tress are incredibly important ecologically. For a start, they sustain countless other species. They provide shelter for many animals, and their trunks and branches can become gardens, hung with green ferns, orchids and bromeliads, coated with mosses and draped with vines. With their tall canopies basking in the sun, they capture vast amounts of energy. This allows them to sustain much of the animal life in the forest.

Paragraph 2- Only a small number of tree species have the genetic capacity to grow really big. The mightiest are native to Norther America, but big trees grow all over the globe, from the tropics to the boreal forests of the high latitudes. To achieve giant stature, a tree needs three things: the right place to establish its seedling, good growing conditions and lots of time with low adult mortality. Disrupt any of these, and you can lost your biggest trees.

If you look at the above paragraphs you will see that they are full of difficult words like ‘bromeliads’, ‘basking’ and ‘stature’. If you try to read and understand every word you will get nowhere.

Instead we just look at the first and the last sentences and with some highlighting of keywords and an awareness of synonyms it is apparent that the answers are:

Paragraph 1- How wildlife benefits from big tress

Paragraph 2- Factors that enable tree to grow to significant heights

I hope the tips and strategies in this post helps you. Try them with some past paper IELTS writing questions.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below.

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  1. Haifaa Abdelaziz says

    Thank you so much

  2. ranjeet says

    Thnx sir for your tips it’s really helpful for me

  3. Manelli says

    Hi dear sir. Would you please tell the difference between this type of questions and “matching information to paragraphs”. I dind’nt really get the diffrences. It would be better if you present an actual test or sample for this type of question. Thanks for having me.

  4. 337337 says

    Thank you very much! It is very helpful to me!

  5. Malik khalid says

    Respected sir I usually read your guidelines which are very useful even average student like me

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