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IELTS Reading: Summary Completion Questions

Updated: May 3, 2022

Summary completion questions appear regularly in the IELTS Reading test so you need to learn how to answer them.

Explanation of this question type

First, I want to be sure that you understand what a summary is.

A summary is:

‘a short, clear description that gives the main facts or ideas about something’.

In this case, it’s a short summary of information from part of the text that’s been set for your reading test.

For summary completion questions, you will be given:

1) The text.

2) A summary of information from a section of the text with some gaps where words have been missed out.

You may also be given a list of words to fill the gaps with.

You will be required to do one of the following tasks:

a) Fill in the gaps with words from the word list


b) Fill in the gaps with words from the text.

Here are two sets of instructions from the official IELTS website to illustrate the two different forms of summary completion questions.

Selecting from a list of words or phrases

* Note that there are more words in the list than are needed to fill the gaps.

Selecting words from the text

Skills needed

This type of question tests your ability to:

  • Skim the summary for general meaning.

  • Scan the text for specific information.

  • Identify key words.

  • Recognise synonyms & paraphrasing.

  • Use context to make predictions.

Key tips

1) Vocabulary – Summary completion questions are all about vocabulary. You need to be able to recognise a wide range of synonyms and also paraphrasing to score highly.

2) Answer order – The answers are usually in the same order in the text as the order of the missing words. On the rare occasions that they aren’t, the key words will help you to easily spot this.

3) Words from text questions – Take careful note of how many words you should write for your answer, e.g. NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS. If you write more than this, your answer will be marked wrong even if the information is correct.

4) List of words questions – There will be more words in the list than there are gaps in the summary to fill so you won’t need them all. Your task is to select the correct ones.

There will probably be some words in the list that you can eliminate immediately as clearly being incorrect. This could be because of their meaning or their grammar form. Cross them through in pencil so you don’t waste time considering them.

5) Prediction – When you read the summary, try to predict the type of word you’ll need to fill each gap from the context of the sentence. Is it an adjective, a noun, a verb, etc? Doing this will make it much easier to spot the correct word because you’ll have a big clue as to what you’re looking for.

6) Use other clues – If you are able to predict the word form, e.g. an adjective, look for the adjective closest to the key word in the text. This will probably be the word you need or a synonym of it. I’ll illustrate this when we come to the example exercise.

7) Time management – If you’re struggling to find a specific missing word, take an educated guess and move on. It’s not worth losing too much time on it. Focus on getting the easier marks and come back to it later if you have time.

8) Check grammar – When you’ve entered your answer, check the sentence to ensure that it is grammatically correct. If it isn’t, your answer is wrong.

9) Don’t read it all – You don’t need to read the whole text in detail, just the part that is summarised.

The Strategy

# 1 Carefully read the instructions taking particular note of where you should get the missing words from – a word list or the text. If it’s the text, note the word limit for your answer, e.g. no more than two.

# 2 Skim read the summary to get a general understanding of what it’s about.

# 3 Next, read the summary in more detail and try to predict the type of word needed to fill each gap, e.g. verb, noun, adjective, and what that word might be. Don’t spend too long on this but it will save you time later if you do it.

# 4 If the question includes a list of words, see if you can guess any answers. You may be able to narrow it down to 2 or 3. There will be others that will obviously be wrong.

# 5 The summary will normally relate to one section of the text, probably 2-3 paragraphs. Your next job is to identify this.

Pick out a few key words from the summary to scan for. Names, numbers, places or dates are ideal if there are any in the summary as these will be easy to spot. Remember that synonyms could be used. When you’ve made your selection, scan the text for them.

# 6 Read the first sentence of the summary with a gap in it. Try to work out what form of the word will fit, e.g. an adjective, the past tense of a verb, a countable noun. You may even be able to predict the missing word itself or a synonym.

# 7 Identify one or two key words and scan the section of text for them, watching out for synonyms and paraphrasing.

# 8 When you’ve found the part of the text with the answer in, read it in detail to identify the word you need, either in the text itself or from the word list.

# 9 Check your answer to ensure that the sentence is grammatically correct.

# 10 Repeat this process for the rest of the missing words.

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