Table completion questions are gap fill questions that require you to fill in missing words. The table will be made up of columns and rows containing information.
Generally, tables categorise information, that is, they group pieces of information that are related in some way or share the same features.
The subject matter could be almost anything but as long as you have a good strategy to follow, you’ll be able to answer any question you’re given.
Here are two IELTS Listening sample questions from past papers.
IELTS Listening Sample – Question 1
The recording for this sample question is a telephone conversation between a clerk at the enquiry desk of a transport company and a man who is asking for travel information. You are required to fill in the missing information about the cost of fares for bus and train journeys from Bayswater to Harbour City.
IELTS Listening Sample – Question 2
The recording for this sample question is a radio broadcast about The National Arts Centre. You are required to fill in four pieces of missing information about the centre.
We will look at the 2nd question in the strategy & tips section.
Strategy & Tips
You will have a short time to prepare before the speaker begins talking. Use this time to familiarise yourself with the question and focus your mind on what you need to listen out for.
1) Read the instructions
Read the instruction carefully, paying particular attention to how many words you are allowed to write for the answer.
The instructions for our sample question state that you must,
Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.
If you write more than three words, your answer will be marked incorrect even if the information you give is correct.
The first sample question I showed you stated that you must,
Write NO MORE THAN ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER for each answer.
So, the number of words allowed does vary between questions. Don’t get caught out.
2) Answer order
The answers will come in the same order in the recording as they are listed in the question so, for this question, you will hear answer 17 first, then answer 18 and so on. This makes it easier to pick out the answers than if they were in a random order.
3) Look at column headings
The columns in the table will have headings that tell you what type of information each column contains. It is essential to read these during your preparation time as they will help you to understand the table and give you a big clue as to what sort of information will be contained in the recording.
The column headings in our IELTS Listening sample question are:
Day Time Event Venue Ticket price
4) Predict the answers
The information in the column headings, as well as the rest of the table, will enable you to predict what the answers might be before you listen to the recording.
It's important to make predictions as this will focus your mind on what to listen out for in the recording.
Occasionally, you’ll be able to predict the actual word but most often, it will be the type of information that you’ll be able to determine. The answers to table completion questions will usually be factual information such as names, places, dates, times and prices.
Any clues you can get will help you to understand the recording and identify the information needed for the answers.
Have a go at predicting some of the answers in our practice question. There are 4 answers to fill in (17-20). Then have a look at my predictions below.
Here is the IELTS Listening sample table with the missing information.
17 – name of a room or facility
18 – name of a film
19 – a price in £
20 – an exhibition title
You can see that just a few seconds spent making predictions can give you a lot of information about what you need to listen for in the recording. This will greatly improve your chances of identifying the correct answers.
While you're listening to the recording, listen out for the information that comes before the answer you're waiting for as it appears in the table. These are the key words you need to identify.
For example, for answer 17, listen out for the speaker talking about Mozart’s opera ‘The Magic Flute’. The place (venue) where it will be performed will probably come in the same sentence or the next one.
5) Synonyms and paraphrasing
In all types of Listening questions, you need to listen out for synonyms and paraphrasing. These are something else that you may be able to predict.
If you have time before the recording starts, scan the question to identify key words or phrases that are likely to be replaced by synonyms and think of some that might be used.
Two that stand out are:
Word(s) in table: Possible synonym:
Saturday and Sunday weekend
As you’re listening to the recording, remind yourself that you are not only looking for the exact words as they are used in the question but words and phrases that have the same meaning.
We’ll look at some synonyms that have been used in this question when we review the answers.
6) Problematic vocabulary
There are 6 types of vocabulary that can cause particular problems for students and some of them will definitely be present in table completion questions, as we've just seen. The 6 types are:
You must be able to recognise them in speech and to write them correctly in your answers.
7) Watch out for distractors
The examiners will try and catch you out with distractors. A distractor is a word or a phrase that changes or corrects the original piece of information given. So, you may be given an answer and then have it taken away again.
Here are some sample sentences containing distractors. I’ve highlighted the relevant words.
The leaflet states that the sculpture exhibition is in Gallery 1 but it is, in fact, in Gallery 2.
The usual price of cinema tickets is £5.50. However, the cost of attending the special screening of ‘Great Expectations’ on Monday evening is reduced to £4.50.
The performance of ‘The Magic Flute’ by Mozart starts at 7 p.m. No, sorry. The doors open at 7 o’clock but the curtain goes up at 7.30.
The use of ‘but’ and ‘however’ are particularly common distractors but there are many different words and phrases that can be used to change or correct a piece of information so be alert for them.
8) Guess if necessary
My final tip is to never leave a blank space on the answer sheet. If you miss an answer, take an educated guess. This gives you at least some chance of getting it right. Don’t stress about a missed answer or it will affect your ability to answer the next set of questions. Just make your choice and move on.