If you’ve visited this blog recently, you know that I’ve been sharing quite many IELTS reading tutorials. And in this writing, I’m going to talk with you about Sentence Completion Questions in the IELTS reading test. This type of questions almost always shows up in every examination. It can be said that being well-prepared for the IELTS can’t be done without basic knowledge of Sentence Completion Questions.

Be patient to read till the end to get more tips, advice, common mistakes and strategy on this topic.

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What is a Sentence Completion Questions?

The task is simple. You need to complete the text with given words from the passage. There are a number of sentences with blank spaces or gaps that need to be filled with suitable words taken directly from the reading text.

The text you are asked to complete is, however, not the same all the time. It can be presented as a table, a short summary or a series of sentences. You can see that this type of questions requires your ability to search for specific information. The words or phrases you pick out from the text have to be accurate. Never forget to check your grammar and spelling. You are also given a word limit, for example: “Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS …”, so pay attention to it as well.

Take a look at an example from Cambridge English for this question type:

 Sentence Completion Questions
(Source: Cambridge IELTS General Training Reading Task Type 7 and Type 8 – Example 1 – Sentence Completion)

How to deal with Sentence Completion Questions

The following steps to process are just my proposed strategy for you. You’d better choose what you think is more effective and easier to practice.

1Carefully learn the instructions

This is the very first and basic step everybody should take, but many of us usually ignore it. If you think every instruction is the same as each other, then you’re so wrong! Be aware, always!. Some instructions are just similar, but it doesn’t mean they are exactly the same. Read them slowly and feel what it requires you to do. One of the most important things to note is the number of words you can write. The examiners often want you to put the exact words taken from the text.

2 Start with the incomplete sentences

It’s always suggested that you should pay close attention to the incomplete sentences first. This will give you the idea of what you should be looking for. Also, take this chance to guess the words or phrases you can use as answers here. Prediction is one of the most useful skills in Sentence Completion Questions. Remember to think of paraphrasing and synonyms for the keywords.

3 Decide where to find the answer

In order to look for the right answers for these questions, you must locate where the related information is. And this job can be done well enough by scanning. Scan quickly or move on if you don’t see anything worth reading. Don’t waste your time on unnecessary paragraphs.

 Sentence Completion Questions
Try to quickly find where the answer is. (Image by Free-Photos via Pixabay)

4 Take one more look at the incomplete sentences in the questions

Why do you have to do this? Its purpose is to remind you of the questions’ requirements. Moreover, re-reading the incomplete sentences helps to make sure that you’re not on the wrong track. Don’t waste your precious minutes on searching in an unrelated part of the text.

5Find the answers by studying the text

You’ve found the text that may contain what you need to fill in the blanks. Now, just read it attentively and try to link the information to what you have noted in the questions. Ask yourself questions like: Is there any paraphrase here? Is there any synonym that may represent the keyword? If you have several choices, write them all down and consider one more time before filling.

Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar when doing Sentence Completion Questions. I know a lot of candidates who regretted not putting a single “s” behind a plural noun and lost their scores.

Tips on dealing with Sentence Completion Questions

1Changing or keeping the words from the text?

This will depend on the instructions However, you are most likely to see this kind of instruction: “Choose/write/use … from the text/passage”. This means you must not change the words or adjust them to different forms. You can only write the words in the exact same way they are in the text. However, if in some cases, the instructions do not say “from the text”, then you can use your own words or change the form of the words in the reading text. That’s why I always tell you to read the instructions carefully before you answer any questions.

Sentence Completion Questions
Follow the instruction. (Image by geralt via Pixabay)

2 Don’t be panic

It’s easy to get panic and do something wrong. And one of the things candidates tend to do when they’re nervous is reading all the text. Now, keep in mind this magic spell: look at the questions before looking at the text, locate the answers before giving the answers. You typically need to read 70% of the text in search of the answers. It’s your choice to read the whole passage if you believe this will not waste too much time. However, this is not so well-recommended.

3Don’t forget the order of the answers

IELTS Sentence Completion Questions still offer you real help after all. The answers to this question type appear in the same order as the questions. You can always find the answer to question number 5 after the answer to question number 4. This also means that accurate locating of one answer can successfully lead to another answer finding.

4Check the required number of words

How many words you’re asked to write? Two or no more than three? “NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS” (most common) would mean you can only write the maximum of two words. You may also see “ONE WORD ONLY” or “NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS”. Just one word more than needed and your answer is immediately disqualified. In addition, when numbers are written numerically (such as 1, 56, 89), they represent one word. Hyphenated words can count as one word, too.

5Consider paraphrasing and synonyms

Picking out keywords is essential when scanning. However, you can’t scan with the only hope of finding the exact same word in the questions. Try to link and figure out other options of paraphrasing and synonyms for those keywords. Transport can be carriage or shipment. A journey can be an adventure or expedition. Words don’t stay the same and wait for you to find them. The IELTS reading part is not that easy, don’t you agree?

Here are some paraphrases from the example in section 7:

Sentence Completion Questions
Paraphrases from the example in section 7

6Stay incorrect grammar and spelling

No matter what you fill in the blank spaces, it must be grammatically correct. First, check what type of word is needed: adjective, adverb, noun or verb. The perfect answer choice has to be proper in grammar, spelling and meaning.

Sentence Completion Questions
Be careful with your grammar and spelling. (Image by 3844328 via Pixabay)

Necessary skills to deal with Sentence Completion Questions

There are certain skills you must possess in order to do well in this question type. Here are 3 of the most highly recommended skills: skills.

Skill 1: Scanning

Scanning will save you a lot of time. Instead of reading the whole text. You only need to pick out the keywords from the questions and start scanning for them. Moreover, doing scanning offers you the chance to quickly find out the order of the answers as well as the questions.

Skill 2: Time management

This skill requires you to spend a proper amount of time for each question. You must not fill in the gaps respectively. You should focus on what you believe is simple first. Trying to answer as many questions as you can is always a good choice.

Skill 3: Finding paraphrases and synonyms

IELTS Sentence Completion Questions part is not a vocabulary test. You don’t have to be excellent in commanding of words but still do just fine. Keep in mind your guess or prediction of how the keywords may be presented. Paraphrases and synonyms are usually used to trap you.

Learning new words with eJOY Extension is a good choice. You can double-click on an unfamiliar word and eJOY Extension will provide you with its pronunciation, Vietnamese translation (or a translation for your preferred language) and English definition without opening a new tab.  This extension also allows you to save any new words to your wordbooks so that you can review them later. What’s more, you can play many interesting word games to master those words. Isn’t it cool? Why not download it for your Chrome and immerse yourself in English with joy now? 

Sentence Completion Questions
Searching for words meaning with eJOY eXtension

Using eJOY Extension to learn new words

Common mistakes while dealing with Sentence Completion Questions and solutions

1 Changing without being asked

This mistake is usually made when you don’t read the instruction properly. Some questions will ask you to fill and keep the exact words from the text. Some other questions allow you to change the words or phrases as long as you leave the meaning unchanged.

2 Ignoring the word limit

Even when you’ve read the instruction carefully, you can still make such a mistake. Writing too many words or not enough words can lead to a regretful score lost.

3Reading the text first

Don’t get yourself confused by doing so. It’s better to go through all the given questions to get the basic ideas of what you’re about to find. With this understanding, you can quickly scan the text for useful information.

Sentence Completion Questions
First, go with the questions. (Image by TeroVesalainen via Pixabay)

Important notes

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the above, just write down my simple notes for this Sentence Completion Questions part:

  • Read the incomplete sentences first and then the text.
  • Locate the answers by scanning.
  • Don’t change the words without being asked to do so.
  • Never exceed the word limit
  • The answers and questions always appear in the same order.
  • Think of paraphrases and synonyms.
  • Pay attention to grammar and spelling.
  • Distribute your time wisely.

Of course, you don’t have to learn these notes by heart. That would make no sense, especially when you’re in the examination room. You can do this test well enough just by being careful and practicing frequently.

Examples of Sentence Completion Questions and answers

This is an example from Cambridge English with my suggested steps:

Read the text below and answer Questions 15-20.

Advice for Employees

Safe computer use

Most people suffer no ill-effects from using VDUs (Visual Display Units) as they don’t give out harmful levels of radiation and rarely cause any kind of skin complaint. If you do suffer ill-effects, it may be because of the way you’re using the computer and this can be avoided by well-designed workstations. When working at a VDU, make sure you keep a good posture and that your eyes are level with the screen.

Under health and safety regulations your employer should look at VDU workstations, and reduce any risks by supplying any equipment considered necessary (e.g. a wrist rest). They should also provide health and safety training. This also applies if you’re working at home as an employee and using a VDU for a long period of time. There is no legal limit to how long you should work at a VDU, but under health and safety regulations you have the right to breaks from work using a VDU. This doesn’t have to be a rest break, just a different type of work. Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests it’s better to take frequent short breaks but if your job means spending long periods at a VDU, for example as in the case of data input, then longer breaks from your workstation should be introduced.

If you’re disabled, your employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for you may mean that they will provide you with special computer equipment. You can also get advice and maybe help with paying for equipment from the local job centre.

Studies haven’t shown a link between VDU use and damage to eyesight, but if you feel that using a VDU screen is making your eyes tired, tell your employee safety representative. You have the right to a free eyesight test if you use a VDU a lot during work hours. If you’re prescribed glasses your company must pay for them, provided they’re required in your job.

If you have any health problems you think may be caused by your VDU, contact your line manager. He/she has a duty to consult you on health and safety issues that affect you, and should welcome early reporting of any issue.

Questions 15 – 20

Complete the sentences below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the text for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 15-20 on your answer sheet.

15 It is unusual to get a ………… as a result of using computers.

16 Employers may be required to provide you with items such as a ………… to use while at work.

17 If your job involves tasks such as ………… , the advice from the HSE may not apply.

18 Financial assistance in the case of special requirements may be available from

the ………… .

19 The company is obliged to cover the cost of ………… if you need them while working.

20 Any concerns about the effect of using a VDU on your general well-being should be reported to ………… .

Suggested steps: I’ll take question 15 to demonstrate the steps.

Carefully learn the instruction: NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS” means you can only write the maximum of 3 words. We need a countable and singular noun to begins with consonant “a”.

Start with the incomplete sentences: In question 15, we have 2 keywords: “unusual”, “result” and “using computers”.Underline them.

Sentence Completion Questions
Start with the incomplete questions. (Image by TBIT via Pixabay)

Decide where to find the answer: After scanning, you can easily find some paraphrases for these keywords in paragraph 1. We have “using VDU” (using Visual Display Unit) for keyword “using computers”, “rarely cause” is also a paraphrase of “unusual”.

Take one more look at the incomplete sentences: We’re trying to find what is unusual to get from using a computer.

Answer the question by studying the text: There are some possible answers from the paragraph. “ill-effect” begins with a vowel so it’ll not fit with “a…” and “no” doesn’t perfectly replace “unusual”. Therefore, “ill-effect” isn’t suitable .“radiation” is an uncountable noun, so we can’t use it, either. “Skin complaint” seems to be perfect in both grammar and meaning.

Now it’s your turn to complete questions 16 to 20. Don’t look at the answers below before giving your own ones:

15. skin complaint
16. wrist rest
17. data input
18. (local) job centre
19. (your) glasses
20. your line manager

I hope you’ve found this article about Sentence Completion Questions useful. Here in eJOY, we are still working on giving you more helpful tips and advice for the IELTS test. Stay in touch with us to get the latest updates by subscribing to our blog or leaving us your email!