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IELTS Reading: Sentence Completion Questions

Updated: May 3

Explanation of this question type

  • You will be given a set of four or five sentences with gaps in them.

  • You are required to fill the gaps with appropriate words to complete the meaning of the sentence.

The instructions will tell you how many words you are allowed to use to fill the gap. Read them very carefully. They will most likely tell you to use ONE WORD ONLY or NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS.

If you use the wrong number of words, your answer will be marked incorrect even if the information you give is correct.

The instructions will also state whether you have to use words taken from the reading text or if you can use different ones, that is, synonyms.

Here’s an example of instructions taken from a past test paper. In this case, you can only use ONE WORD for your answer and it must come from the text.


Skills needed

This type of question tests your ability to:

  • Identify synonyms

  • Understand paraphrasing

  • Scan for specific information

  • Read in detail for meaning

You need a good knowledge and understanding of synonyms and paraphrasing for all IELTS Reading questions but they are particularly important in sentence completion questions. Here’s a quick reminder of what each of them is.

Synonyms are words that mean exactly or nearly the same as a given word. For example, for the word ‘true’ you could also use, ‘genuine’, ‘accurate’, ‘factual’ or ‘correct’.

Paraphrasing is saying the same thing in different ways, using different words and/or a different sentence structure. For example,

a) The new restaurant was small and cosy and the food excellent.

b) The cuisine served in the new eatery was superb and the atmosphere intimate.

You’ll notice that the paraphrased sentence (b) contains a number of synonyms as well as being structured in a different way to the original sentence (a).

These synonyms have been used:

Restaurant/eatery

small and cosy/intimate

food/cuisine

excellent/superb


Key tips

1) Read the instructions carefully to find out:

a) how many words you should write for the answer.

b) if you have to use the exact words from the text or can use synonyms.

2) Read the sentences before you read the text. It’s a waste of time reading the passage first as you don’t know what information you’re looking for until you’ve read and understood the sentences.

3) The answers appear in the same order in the text as the order of the list of incomplete sentences.

4) The completed sentences must be grammatically correct. If they aren’t, then you have the wrong answer.

5) When first studying the sentences, try to work out what type of word is missing, e.g. a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. This will help you to find it more quickly.

6) Scan to find the location of the answer, then read in detail to find the answer itself.

7) Always be thinking about synonyms and paraphrasing. Look for matching meaning rather than exact word matches when comparing the information in the sentences and the text.


The Strategy


# 1 Carefully read the instructions.

# 2 Read the sentences with the gaps in. Try to understand what they mean.


# 3 Try to predict the type of word that's missing, e.g. a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. Occasionally you may even be able to guess the missing word.

# 4 Underline key words to scan for in the text. Include names, numbers, dates and places if there are any as these will be easy to spot. Think about possible synonyms as you do this.

# 5 Scan the text for the keywords in the first sentence.

It’s important that you start with this one even if you think some of the other sentences will be easier to complete. Remember, the answers will come in order in the text so it will be much easier and quicker if you search for them in order.

# 6 Finding the key words will show you where the answer is located. You then need to read that part of the text in detail to find the actual answer.

The text will probably paraphrase the incomplete sentence so you’ll need to interpret what it means to find the correct match of information. Then identify the word or words you need for the answer.

# 7 When you’ve found the answer, fill in the answer sheet. Check that the sentence is grammatically correct and that your spelling is correct.

# 8 Repeat this process with the next sentence and so on until you have completed them all.

# 9 If there’s a sentence you really struggling with, take a guess at the missing word and move on. If you waste too much time trying to get this one mark, you’ll run out of time and miss out on easier marks later on.

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