IELTS Reading Note Completion

A common task in the IELTS reading test is note completion. In these questions, you are presented with a text, and some incomplete notes about part of the text.

To complete these questions successfully, you need to identify the correct place in the text where the answers can be found. You then need to read this part of the text more closely to find the correct answer.

Strategy

The biggest problem for IELTS candidates in the reading test is finding the answers quickly. If you follow this strategy, you shouldn’t have any problem.

Step 1: Read the Instructions

In note completion questions you are required to write one or more words. You must therefore look at the instructions to know how many words to write.

Look at the example instructions below:

SECTION 1
Questions 1-9
Complete the notes below.
Choose ONE WORD ONLY from the passage for each answer.

Reading questions typically allow between one and three words. Note that the words should come “from the passage” – you therefore shouldn’t change their form.

Step 2: Read the Title

In order to find the answers quickly, we are going to rely on key words. We therefore need to read the title (and any subtitle), so that we can eliminate any words which appear here.

For example, we will look at a text called “Bringing Cinnamon to Europe.” We can tell therefore that the words Cinnamon and Europe are bad key words, because they are likely to be in the text a lot.

Step 3: Read the Questions and Find Key Words

Key words help us to find the information quickly in the text. Good key words are therefore either easy to see in the text, or less common and technical words which are difficult to paraphrase.

The following make strong key words:

  • names (of people, places, etc.)
  • acronyms (e.g. WHO, NATO, etc.)
  • years or numbers
  • technical terms (e.g. Carbon Dioxide)
  • less common words (e.g. abdicate)

We should aim to find a key word for each question. In some cases two or more questions may share the same key word.

If we can’t find a good key word for a question, this isn’t a problem. We should remember that the order of the questions follows the order of the text. Therefore if question 3 doesn’t have a strong key word, we know that the answer will appear in the text between the answers to questions 2 and 4. Finding good key words to some of the questions will therefore still help us to find where we should read.

Practice

Read the questions and identify the key words. Then check the answers.

The Early History of Cinnamon

Biblical times:
added to 1 __________
used to show 2 ___________ between people
Ancient Rome:
used for its sweet smell at 3 ___________
Middle Ages:
added to food, especially meat
was an indication of a person’s 4 ___________
known as a treatment for 5 ___________ and other health problems
grown in 6 __________
merchants used 7 __________ to bring it to the Mediterranean
arrived in the Mediterranean at 8 __________
traders took it to 9 ___________ and sold it to destinations around Europe

1 – biblical times

2 – biblical times

3 – Rome

4 – Middle Ages

5 – health

6 – grown (not a strong key word

7 – Mediterranean

8 – Mediterranean

9 – traders

Step 4: Find the Key Words and Read Around Them

Begin by scanning the text for your key words. Underline the key words where you find them.

Once you have found the key words, read these sections of the text more carefully to find the answer.

Attempt to answer the questions in the text below. You should use no more than one word from the passage for each answer.

Bringing Cinnamon to Europe

​Cinnamon is a sweet, fragrant spice produced from the inner bark of trees of the genus Cinnamomum, which is native to the Indian sub-continent. It was known in biblical times, and is mentioned in several books of the Bible, both as an ingredient that was mixed with oils for anointing people’s bodies, and also as a token indicating friendship among lovers and friends. In ancient Rome, mourners attending funerals burnt cinnamon to create a pleasant scent. Most often, however, the spice found its primary use as an additive to food and drink. In the Middle Ages, Europeans who could afford the spice used it to flavour food, particularly meat, and to impress those around them with their ability to purchase an expensive condiment from the ‘exotic’ East. At a banquet, a host would offer guests a plate with various spices piled upon it as a sign of the wealth at his or her disposal. Cinnamon was also reported to have health benefits, and was thought to cure various ailments, such as indigestion.

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, the European middle classes began to desire the lifestyle of the elite, including their consumption of spices. This led to a growth in demand for cinnamon and other spices. At that time, cinnamon was transported by Arab merchants, who closely guarded the secret of the source of the spice from potential rivals. They took it from India, where it was grown, on camels via an overland route to the Mediterranean. Their journey ended when they reached Alexandria. European traders sailed there to purchase their supply of cinnamon, then brought it back to Venice. The spice then travelled from that great trading city to markets all around Europe. Because the overland trade route allowed for only small quantities of the spice to reach Europe, and because Venice had a virtual monopoly of the trade, the Venetians could set the price of cinnamon exorbitantly high. These prices, coupled with the increasing demand, spurred the search for new routes to Asia by Europeans eager to take part in the spice trade.

Seeking the high profits promised by the cinnamon market, Portuguese traders arrived on the island of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean toward the end of the 15th century. Before Europeans arrived on the island, the state had organized the cultivation of cinnamon. People belonging to the ethnic group called the Salagama would peel the bark off young shoots of the cinnamon plant in the rainy season, when the wet bark was more pliable. During the peeling process, they curled the bark into the ‘stick’ shape still associated with the spice today. The Salagama then gave the finished product to the king as a form of tribute. When the Portuguese arrived, they needed to increase production significantly, and so enslaved many other members of the Ceylonese native population, forcing them to work in cinnamon harvesting. In 1518, the Portuguese built a fort on Ceylon, which enabled them to protect the island, so helping them to develop a monopoly in the cinnamon trade and generate very high profits. In the late 16th century, for example, they enjoyed a tenfold profit when shipping cinnamon over a journey of eight days from Ceylon to India.

  1. oils
  2. friendship
  3. funerals
  4. wealth
  5. indigestion
  6. India
  7. camels
  8. Alexandria
  9. Venice

Step 5: Write your Answers

The final step is to write your answers on the answer sheet. Remember when writing answers to note completion tasks you must not write more than the number of words allowed. Spelling is important since answers which are not spelled correctly will be marked incorrect.

Further, unlike listening, there is no time for transferring your answers to the answer sheet in IELTS reading. This is therefore best done when you finish each text.

Acknowledgement

The text and questions used in the post come from Cambridge Academic IELTS 13 which you can purchase here.

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