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IELTS Reading: Table Completion Questions

Updated: May 3, 2022

Table completion and flowchart completion questions come up frequently in the IELTS Reading test. They look harder than they are but as long as you understand what you have to do and have a good strategy for completing them, you’ll be able to score well.

Explanation of this question type

  • You will be given a table of information with gaps in it.

  • You are required to fill the gaps with appropriate words from the reading text.

You could also be given a flowchart. The main difference between the two is in the way the information is laid out. The process for completing flowcharts is exactly the same as with a table.

The instructions will tell you how many words you are allowed to use to fill each 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.

Here are examples of two sets of instructions taken from past test papers. The first is a table and the second, a flowchart.

Example 1 - Table

Example 2 – Flowchart

Skills needed

This type of question tests your ability to:

  • Scan for specific information

  • Skim for general meaning

  • Understand paraphrasing

  • Identify synonyms

  • Read in detail for meaning

The information in the table or flowchart will match the information in the text but it will very likely be paraphrased and include synonyms.

Once you’ve located where in the text the answer is located, you'll need to interpret the language to identify the word or words you need to fill the gap in the table or flowchart.

Key tips

1) Table completion and flowchart questions are not as hard as they look. If you apply the step-by-step strategy I explain below, you shouldn’t have too many problems answering them.

2) This type of question can be presented in several different forms, especially in the case of flowcharts, so may not look exactly like either of the examples I’ve given you.

Don’t panic if the layout is unfamiliar. What you need to do to complete the task will be the same however it might look.

3) The information in the table may appear in a different order to the matching information in the reading text.

4) Fill the gap with the exact words from the text. Don’t use synonyms or your answer will be marked incorrect.

5) When first studying the table, 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) Always be thinking about synonyms and paraphrasing. Look for matching meaning rather than exact word matches when comparing the information in the table and the text.

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

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

9) Use any little clues that are present in the table to help you understand the type of information you need to find. For example,

  • Column headings, such as Test and Findings in example 1 above.

  • Words in bold, such as Theory 1 and Theory 2 in example 2 above.

10) You don’t need to understand everything. Even if some of the vocabulary is unfamiliar, you'll probably be able to work out the answer from context and other clues.

The Strategy

1 Read the instructions carefully and note how many words you’re required to write in the gaps, e.g. NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS.

2 Look at the layout of the table and work out the best way to read it, particularly noting any headings that will give you clues as to its subject and content.

3 Quickly read through the sentences or phrases with gaps in to get a general idea of what information you’ll be looking for in the text. Try and work out what type of word is missing in each case, e.g. a noun, a verb, an adjective.

4 Skim read the text to get a general understanding of what it’s about and write keywords or ideas beside each paragraph. This will help you to quickly find the information again later.

5 Go back to the table and read the first phrase or sentence with a gap in it. Select keywords and scan the text for them in order to locate the paragraph that contains the answer.

The notes you wrote beside the paragraphs may also help you to identify the correct one.

6 Read the section of text you’ve identified in detail to find the answer. Remember that synonyms and paraphrasing may have been used.

Check that your answer makes sense, is grammatically correct and doesn’t go over the word limit.

7 Write your answer on the answer sheet, making sure you spell it correctly. Repeat the process to fill in the remaining gaps.

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