IELTS Reading Exam Tips – Short Answer Question Type


In your IELTS preparation, you’ll need to practice a total of 11 IELTS reading question types. In this article, we’ll look at the Short Answer IELTS reading question type in detail and provide you IELTS reading exam tips on how you can successfully answer it.

In this post, you will

  1. Identify what a short answer question is
  2. Identify common problems students make answering short answer questions
  3. Learn IELTS reading exam tips & strategies for successfully answering a short answer question
  4. Do a short answer IELTS reading practice question.

Short Answer Question Type Introduction

As the name implies, you’ll be answering questions with short answers. The instructions will specify the length of your answer, which is typically 3 – 4 sentences max. Let’s have a look at an IELTS reading sample question.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 1–5 on your answer sheet. 1.
Which animal has the most fat ………………

Common Problems Answering IELTS Reading Short Answer Questions

One of the common problems most made by students is attempting to look for keywords found in the question in the reading passage. The problem with this approach is that short answer questions always paraphrase(JAMES LINK TO PARAPHRASE BLOG LESSON) the keywords, so you’ll end up wasting a lot of time searching for keywords that aren’t there.

Below is a snippet of an IELTS reading sample passage and short answer question.

As the largest animal in the world, the blue whale also has the most fat. In a 1968 study involving 49 different species of mammal from across the US and Brazil, researchers deduced that the blue whale had the highest percentage of body fat – more than 35%. With the whales weighing in at up to 180 tonnes, that’s easily a record-breaking amount of fat for one animal.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 1–5 on your answer sheet. 1.
Which animal has the most fat? ………………

The question is “Which animal has the most fat?

You can find the answer from this sentence “researchers deduced that the blue whale had the highest percentage of body fat”.

As you can see, the question doesn’t just ask “which animal has the the highest percentage of body fat”. Instead, it paraphrases it to “Which animal has the most fat”.

The second most common mistake students make is reading every word in the reading passages. Reading every word is not necessary and is a waste of time. We’ll discuss more on this in the tips & strategies section.

The final mistake is not following the instructions. This mistake is made more often if you skim over the instructions assuming they’re always the same. For example, you answer a question correctly in 3 words, but the instructions specifically state “Write more than three words”. In this case, you’re going to lose marks, even though you answered the question correctly.

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IELTS Reading Exam Tips & Strategies: How to Answer Short Answer Questions

Now that you’re aware of the common mistakes made answering a short answer question, it’s time to start your IELTS preparation for answering a short answer question type. We’ll begin by teaching you some IELTS reading tips & strategies for successfully answering a short answer question.

Short Answer tips & strategies:

  1. Read the instructions carefully and note the word limit.
  2. Fully understand the question (This means you know exactly what you’re looking for in the passage).
  3. Underline any keywords in the questions on the question paper.
  4. Scan the text and find which paragraph contains the answer. (Remember, we said scan, not read every single word.)
  5. Once the paragraph containing the answer is found, read it attentively, searching for the answer.
  6. Once you’ve found the answer, make sure you don’t exceed the word limit specified in the instructions.

Using this strategy, you’re certain to find answers efficiently, saving yourself precious time ensuring you answer every question before time runs out.

One of the key skills needed to successfully master this strategy is learning to quickly skim and scan text. Even if you’re decent at this skill, we recommend you take a look at our blog on skimming and scanning reading passages. We discuss it in detail and is beneficial for anyone taking the IELTS exam.

Free IELTS Reading Samples

Let’s do some IELTS reading practices to hone the new skills, tips, and strategies you learned. You are welcome to leave your answers on the comment section.

Reading passage

The concept of health holds different meanings for different people and groups. These meanings of health have also changed over time. This change is no more evident than in Western society today, when notions of health and health promotion are being challenged and expanded in new ways.

For much of recent Western history, health has been viewed in the physical sense only. That is, good health has been connected to the smooth mechanical operation of the body, while ill health has been attributed to a breakdown in this machine. Health in this sense has been defined as the absence of disease or illness and is seen in medical terms. According to this view, creating health for people means providing medical care to treat or prevent disease and illness. During this period, there was an emphasis on providing clean water, improved sanitation and housing.

In the late 1940s the World Health Organisation challenged this physically and medically oriented view of health. They stated that “health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and is not merely the absence of disease” (WHO, 1946). Health and the person were seen more holistically (mind/body/spirit) and not just in physical terms.

The 1970s was a time of focusing on the prevention of disease and illness by emphasising the importance of the lifestyle and behaviour of the individual. Specific behaviours which were seen to increase risk of disease, such as smoking, lack of fitness and unhealthy eating habits, were targeted. Creating health meant providing not only medical health care, but health promotion programs and policies which would help people maintain healthy behaviours and lifestyles. While this individualistic healthy lifestyles approach to health worked for some (the wealthy members of society), people experiencing poverty, unemployment, underemployment or little control over the conditions of their daily lives benefited little from this approach. This was largely because both the healthy lifestyles approach and the medical approach to health largely ignored the social and environmental conditions affecting the health of people.

During the 1980s and 1990s there has been a growing swing away from seeing lifestyle risks as the root cause of poor health. While lifestyle factors still remain important, health is being viewed also in terms of the social, economic and environmental contexts in which people live. This broad approach to health is called the socio-ecological view of health. The broad socio-ecological view of health was endorsed at the first International Conference of Health Promotion held in 1986, Ottawa, Canada, where people from 38 countries agreed and declared that: “The fundamental conditions and resources for health are peace, shelter, education, food, a viable income, a stable eco-system, sustainable resources, social justice and equity. Improvement in health requires a secure foundation in these basic requirements.” (WHO, 1986)

It is clear from this statement that the creation of health is about much more than encouraging healthy individual behaviours and lifestyles and providing appropriate medical care. Therefore, the creation of health must include addressing issues such as poverty, pollution, urbanisation, natural resource depletion, social alienation and poor working conditions. The social, economic and environmental contexts which contribute to the creation of heath do not operate separately or independently of each other. Rather, they are interacting and interdependent, and it is the complex interrelationships between them which determine the conditions that promote health. A broad socio-ecological view of health suggests that the promotion of health must include a strong social, economic and environmental focus.

At the Ottawa Conference in 1986, a charter was developed which outlined new directions for health promotion based on the socio-ecological view of health. This charter, known as the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, remains as the backbone of health action today. In exploring the scope of health promotion it states that:

Good health is a major resource for social, economic and personal development and an important dimension of quality of life. Political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, behavioural and biological factors can all favour health or be harmful to it. (WHO, 1986) The Ottawa Charter brings practical meaning and action to this broad notion of health promotion. It presents fundamental strategies and approaches in achieving health for all. The overall philosophy of health promotion which guides these fundamental strategies and approaches is one of “enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health” (WHO, 1986).

Questions 1 – 3

Answer the questions below using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 1-3 on your answer sheet.

In which year did the World Health Organisation define health in terms of mental, physical and social well-being. ……………..
Name the three broad areas which relate to people’s health, according to the socio-ecological view of health. ……………..
During which decade were lifestyle risks seen as the major contributors to poor health? ……………..


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