The summary completion task often appears in the IELTS Academic Reading test. It assesses your ability to understand details within the text and to identify the main idea and will usually be on one part of the text rather than the whole text. In this question type, you will see an incomplete summary presented with missing words. There are two variations of this question task type where you either select words directly from the text, or where you select words from a list of answers.
If you select words directly from the text, the instructions will make it clear how many words or numbers you should use in your answer.
If you select words from a list, these words can be synonyms (words of similar meaning) or antonyms (words that have opposite meaning) of the words that appear in the text, or they can be taken directly from the text. Therefore, it is essential to prepare for IELTS Reading by increasing your vocabulary range and by learning how to identify word groups.
We will focus on the second variation of this task where we choose words that have been given to us to fit the gap. Let's take a look at a reading passage and learn how best to prepare for this question type.
Summary completion text and question
The following Part 3 extract is taken from a sample IELTS Academic Reading test about language. In this question type, an incomplete summary will appear below the text with a box containing words or phrases that you will select for the missing gaps in the summary.
With an exercise like this, you will need to use reading skills such as skimming and scanning to make sure you can identify where in the text you need to read to understand the main idea and to choose the correct words.
You will also need to rely on your own vocabulary knowledge and to be able to identify which word type is missing. You should be able to identify if you need a noun, a verb, an adjective or adverb.
Sample Academic Reading Summary Completion © Guy Deutscher, Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group. 2006
'This Marvellous Invention'
Of all mankind’s manifold creations, language must take pride of place. Other inventions – the wheel, agriculture, sliced bread – may have transformed our material existence, but the advent of language is what made us human. Compared to language, all other inventions pale in significance, since everything we have ever achieved depends on language and originates from it. Without language, we could never have embarked on our ascent to unparalleled power over all other animals, and even over nature itself.
But language is foremost not just because it came first. In its own right it is a tool of extraordinary sophistication, yet based on an idea of ingenious simplicity: ‘this marvellous invention of composing out of twenty-five or thirty sounds that infinite variety of expressions which, whilst having in themselves no likeness to what is in our mind, allow us to disclose to others its whole secret, and to make known to those who cannot penetrate it all that we imagine, and all the various stirrings of our soul’. This was how, in 1660, the renowned French grammarians of the Port-Royal abbey near Versailles distilled the essence of language, and no one since has celebrated more eloquently the magnitude of its achievement. Even so, there is just one flaw in all these hymns of praise, for the homage to language’s unique accomplishment conceals a simple yet critical incongruity. Language is mankind’s greatest invention – except, of course, that it was never invented. This apparent paradox is at the core of our fascination with language, and it holds many of its secrets.
Questions 1 – 4
Complete the summary using the list of words, A-G, below. Write the correct letter, A-G, in boxes 1-4 on your answer sheet.
The importance of language
The wheel is one invention that has had a major impact on 1 ………… aspects of life, but no impact has been as 2 ………… as that of language. Language is very 3 ………… , yet composed of just a small number of sounds. Language appears to be 4 ………… to use. However, its sophistication is often overlooked.
Read the question first
The first thing you should do is read the question first. Remember that the summary will be quite short, so you will be able to read it quickly.
Let's look at some important points to focus on when you read the questions.
As you read it for the first time, you will be able to form an incomplete summary in your head before looking at the text.
Pay attention to the heading - The importance of language - understanding that the summary will be about how important language is.
As you read the summary, underline or circle key information words - wheel, invention, major impact, composed, small number of sounds, sophistication, overlooked.
Then pay attention to the missing words and think of what word groups they might belong to. For example, the first gap implies that the word will be an adjective, describing aspects of life. This is also the case of the third gap - Language is very ... where a word will describe what language is in relation to the main idea in the text.
Focus on linking words, adverbs or conjunctions that might introduce a reason, a contrast or comparison - but, yet, however.
Then look at the list of words - there are 7 words, and only 4 gaps to fill. You will see that the words in the box are mainly adjectives, so look at the summary again and think of what word type should fit each gap. The grammatical structure of the sentence will also help with this, for example, but no impact has been as 2 ………… as that of language - comparative structure using an adjective.
Q1: adjective describing the impact on aspects of life
Q2: adjective describing the impact of language
Q3: adjective describing a feature of language
Q4: adjective describing how language appears to us
Read the text for the main idea
You have studied the question and have an incomplete summary of the main idea in this text.
Now skim through the text focusing on some of the key information words you underlined in the summary - wheel, invention, major impact, composed, small number of sounds, sophistication, overlooked.
How to answer Question 1
The wheel is one invention that has had a major impact on 1 ………… aspects of life
What aspect of life did the wheel have a major impact on?
We find some of our key words at the beginning of the text and see that the wheel was very important from a material point of view, whereas language made us human.
Other inventions – the wheel, agriculture, sliced bread – may have transformed our material existence, but the advent of language is what made us human
We see in the text that it transformed/changed our material existence. This word appears in the box, so it fits best as an answer for question 1.
How to answer Question 2
but no impact has been as 2 ………… as that of language.
We then read the second question and need to choose an adjective that shows us that no other invention has had such a significant/huge/major impact on us.
When we read the text we see that everything depends on language and it is very significant:
Compared to language, all other inventions pale in significance, since everything we have ever achieved depends on language and originates from it.
The word from the list that best matches this gap is fundamental.
How to answer Question 3
Language is very 3 ………… , yet composed of just a small number of sounds.
When we look at this question we see the adverb 'yet', used to highlight a contrast. When we read the text we think that:
Even though language is only composed of a small number of sounds it is a marvellous invention being extraordinarily sophisticated.
In its own right it is a tool of extraordinary sophistication, yet based on an idea of ingenious simplicity: ‘this marvellous invention of composing out of twenty-five or thirty sounds that infinite variety of expressions So we need to choose an adjective from the list that describes the word sophisticated, a word that is opposite in meaning to simple - complex fits best.
How to answer Question 4
Language appears to be 4 ………… to use. However, its sophistication is often overlooked.
In the final question, we see a simple sentence stating a fact. This sentence is followed by 'However', an adverb/connector used to introduce a statement that contrasts with the previous statement. In the previous question, we read that language was sophisticated, so we need to find an adjective that has the opposite meaning.
But language is foremost not just because it came first. In its own right it is a tool of extraordinary sophistication, yet based on an idea of ingenious simplicity:
In the text we see the word 'simplicity' used. The idea of language based on a small number of sounds appears to be simple/easy, however, it results in a complex, sophisticated form of communication. The word that best fits from the list is easy.
Now you try
Once you practice this type of question, you will learn how to do it successfully. Remember to look for all the clues that the summary contains and then skim through the text looking for these clues and matching the words that best fit the summary.
Make sure you practise summary completion exercises, you can even listen to the news, or read a text and write your own summary. Practice makes perfect!