IELTS Reading Table Completion

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A common task type on the IELTS reading test is table completion questions. These are similar to note completion, although they are differently formatted so that they are in a table.

In this task type you are presented with a table which contains gaps. You must find the missing information in the text which completes the table.

As is usually the case for reading tasks on the IELTS paper, the answers appear in the text according to the order of the questions in the table.


As with other reading tasks, the key to performing well on this part of the test is locating the information in the text quickly.

Step 1: Read the Instructions

Before attempting any question that requires you to fill in a blank, you need to read the instructions to know how many words to write. The instructions will look something like this:

Questions 1-9
Complete the table below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.

From the above instructions you should note that you are required to write either one or two words for each answer. Typically such instructions require between 1 and 3 words and/or a number.

Step 2: Orientate to the Table

When tables are used in reading tasks (as with listening tasks) the questions will either be in a horizontal or vertical order e.g.

Horizontal Order

Three biggest metro services by comparison in 2013.

Tokyo3.35 bn1 ___
Beijing2 ___ bn3 ___
Seoul2.6 bn4 ___
Vertical Order

Pyongyang and Seoul metro services by comparison in 2019.

Passengers98,0003 ___
Stations1 ___716
Number of trains2 ___4 ___

Although the tables are set out differently, in both cases the passage will talk about the metro of each city in turn. If you understand the order in which the questions will be answered, then this will help you to locate the answers more easily. Whereas both are possible, horizontally-ordered tables are more common.

Step 3: Read the Table

Before you just start reading the text, you should now read the table in more detail. There are two things which you are looking for in particular:

  • Key words from the table which will appear in the text;
  • What type of word or response will go in the gap.
Identifying Key Words

The table is likely to contain some key words which will appear in the text. These will typically be among the words in the first column of a horizontally-ordered table. Once identified, scan the passage for these key words and underline them.

Anticipating the Answer

Another strategy you can use at this point is to anticipate the answer you are expecting to see in the text. By looking at the rest of the information in the table you can anticipate what part of speech the answer will be (noun, verb, adjective or number). Since the table will contain condensed information, the missing words are likely to be nouns. Where the word limit is two or even three words, some of these nouns may also take an adjective.


Identify the key words in the table then anticipate what type of word you will be looking for. After you can check your answers below.

Type of portRole of governmentRole of private companiesComments
Service port– owns and manages all assets
– employees are public workers
may only provide 1 ____ e.g. cateringfewer of these today due to 2 ____
Tool portan agency known as a 3 ____
– owns the land
– manages the infrastructure
employs the workersacts as a 4 ____ between two other models
Landlord port– government owns the land and assets
– leases them out long-term
– receives 5 ____
– operates the port
– employs the workers
– keeps 6 ____ in good order
– dominant model today
– endorsed by the World Bank
Corporatized portgovernment agencies own most of the port authority’s 7 ____– owns the land and assets
– manages the port
owner agrees to restrict use to 8 ____
Privatized portgovernment has a 9 ____ role.– owns the land and assets
– management of the port
not recommended by the World Bank

Keywords – service port, tool port, landlord port, corporatized port, privatized port

Anticipated answers (these were the writers’ thoughts when attempting this without seeing the text):

    1. adjective + ‘services’  – services describes catering and collocates strongly with provide, but seems insufficient on its own. If it is not services, then it will be another noun.
    2. noun (-isation?) – due to tells us that this must be a reason. Probably it is because of a change which would be described by a noun ending in -isation.
    3. noun – this may have capital letters since ‘known as’ implies it is a proper noun.
    4. a noun – something which appears with between e.g. ‘step’
    5. noun – maybe ‘rent’ – since the government is the landlord leasing the port
    6. noun – maybe ‘equipment’ or ‘machinery’ because these are likely to be found at ports and need keeping in good order
    7. a noun, since it is something which belongs to the port authority
    8. adjective + noun e.g. commercial purposes
    9. adjective e.g. legislative

Step 4: Read the Text

Begin by scanning the text for the first key word. This should lead you to any answers in the first row (if horizontally-ordered). 

Once you have found the key word, read this section of the text more carefully to find the answer.

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

Types of Ports

According to the World Bank, there are five distinct types of seaports: service ports, tool ports, landlord ports, corporatized ports and private ports. The basic difference between the five models is the amount of government control.

Service ports are most often found in developing countries; the port of Dakar in Senegal, for example, is a service port. At one time, most of the ports in the world were service ports. A service port is controlled by the central government, usually by the Ministry of Transportation or Communications. The government owns the land and all the port’s assets – all the infrastructure and tools. A port’s assets include roads, docks, terminal buildings, container facilities, vehicles and cargo handling equipment such as cranes and forklift trucks. The dock workers who load and unload the ships in service ports are all government employees. Some supplementary services, such as food for the workers, can be in the hands of private companies. Economic inefficiencies have led to a decline in the number of service ports in recent years.

In the tool port model, an agency, usually called the Port Authority, owns and manages the land and assets on behalf of the city. However, the dock workers are employed by private companies. All the ports in Portugal, many in Brazil, and the French port of Le Havre are tool ports. For many ports, the tool port model represents a transitional stage on the way to becoming a landlord port. TI1e transition generally requires that fundamental laws governing ports be changed, and that process often takes sometime.

The landlord port represents the dominant model today, and is the one recommended by the World Bank. Landlord ports include the world’s largest port, Rotterdam, the port of New York in the USA, and, since 1997. the port of Singapore. The city retains ownership of the land and the infrastructure, but leases these to a private company or companies which actually operate the port. The workers are employed by these private companies. The most common form of lease is a concession agreement where a private company is granted a long-term lease in exchange for rent. The firms that operate the port facilities agree to maintain port equipment and keep it up-to-date.

A corporatized port has been almost entirely privatized. The port authority is essentially a private enterprise which owns and controls the port. However, public agencies – either local or national – own a majority of the stock in the company managing the port and can use their controlling interest to steer the development of the port. As in the landlord model, the privatized port authority must keep up and improve the infrastructure, but must agree only to develop port activities. It could not, for example, turn a container storage yard into a block of luxury apartments. Corporatized ports can be found in Poland, in Australia, and elsewhere.

In the privatized port model, governments have no direct involvement in port activities. The land and all the assets are owned and managed by private companies, which likewise employ the dock workers. The government operates just in a regulatory capacity, making sure laws are followed. However, public entities can be shareholders. This model is in use in various ports in the United Kingdom, such as Felixstowe, and in several ports in New Zealand. The World Bank does not in general approve of this system. The bank advises against completely giving up public ownership, especially of the land.

  1. (supplementary) services
  2. economic inefficiencies
  3. Port Authority
  4. transitional stage
  5. rent
  6. (port) equipment
  7. stock
  8. port activities
  9. regulatory
Words in brackets are optional.

Step 5: Write your Answers

The last step is to write your answers. Remember when writing answers to table 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. This is therefore best done when you finish each text.


The reading passage and table completion questions in this post appear in A Complete Guide to IELTS. The full book can be purchased here.

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