We've all taken exams in the past and kicked ourselves for making silly mistakes. Often it's the "trick questions" (deceiving questions) responsible for our downfall. You know, the simple questions obscured by a mask of evasiveness and lack of directness. While it's always a wise idea to check, double, and triple check our examination question and answers— being able to spot "trick" questions during tests is a useful tool to eliminating mistakes.


The IELTS exam has a few “tricks” of its own, just to make sure students really understand what they are hearing or reading, and not just guessing. Let’s take a good look to see how we can avoid them.



1) Word matching


The reading and listening sections of IELTS will often use specific words from the wrong answers on your exam paper. This is to test that students understand the full sentences being used and aren’t just matching words.


For example, your paper may have this possible answer in a multiple choice question:


C) David wants to arrive in Hong Kong on Tuesday.


The audio may be this:


Susan: So which day do you want to arrive in Hong Kong?

David: “Well Tuesday would be ideal. Oh, but wait a moment...I forgot I have an important meeting in the morning, better make it the next day.


A weaker student will hear “Tuesday” and excitedly choose that answer. A stronger student will focus on the full sentence and realise it’s not the correct answer.



2) Using quantifiers or similar language to change meaning.


The reading section of the IELTS exam often contains questions known as “True/False/Not Given”.


These questions require the student to state if a sentence is confirmed true by the text, can be proven false by the text or is not mentioned in the text. The ‘trick’ is that modifying words can be used to make a small difference. For example, a reading passage may have this line:


The new treatment was so effective that a large majority of the patients reported a positive response to it.”


Now, the question may look like this:


2) All the patients were happy with the new medicine.


Many students may read the text and think of the majority of the patients being happy. However, for the question to be answered “true”, we need to know that every single patient (“all”) was happy. Since the passage states a “large majority” were happy, it clearly suggests a small number were not happy. So, the answer to the question is false.


To avoid a mistake like this, we need to read each question carefully and pay attention to modifying words like ‘some’, ‘all’, ‘most’, ‘half’, etc.



3) Corrections


In part one of the IELTS listening test, it’s very likely you’ll hear someone making some kind of booking or order. For example, a customer may be ordering furniture from an online furniture store.


This always includes recording personal details such as a name, phone number, or address, It’s a test of the student’s listening skills, understanding of different accents and phonetics.


The trick used in some of these tests is for a spelling or name to be corrected. Here is an example:


Clerk: May I have your full name please?

Customer: Yes, it’s Lawrence Smith.

Clerk: Is that L-A-W-R-E-N-C-E ?

Customer: No, it’s L-A-U-R, not L-A-W..


A nervous or untrained student will become so focused on hearing the spelling from the clerk, that he or she may miss the correction.


To avoid this, simply listen to full sections of the conversation and be aware that these corrections do happen. Don’t worry too much however, they don’t happen more than once or twice.



4) Order of written work


OK so for this, perhaps it's me, Teacher Greg, that’s playing the trick! Because this isn’t so much a trick as it is a good way for students to organise themselves.


The second task in the writing section of IELTS is worth double the marks of the first task. Many IELTS students find it a challenge to complete both tasks in the 60 minutes they have to do so. For that reason, it’s a good idea to attempt part two before part one. Both tasks are given to students at the same time.



5) Using words from the text...or not


One type of question students can encounter in the reading section of IELTS is known as ‘sentence completion’. As the name suggests, students are required to finish sentences describing or repeating what they have read in the text.


However, there are two types of sentence completion questions. One type requires students to use “words from the text”. This means students must use the same words as the reading text. Using synonyms or paraphrases will not be correct. The second type is the opposite, students will need to use their own words, an exact choice of words won’t be available in the text.


Students who are not aware of the differences often using the wrong choice of words in their answer, and lose points.


To avoid this easy mistake, it’s always vital to pay attention to the instructions on these questions. If the instructions state “from the text”, underline those words to act as a reminder.


I hope you found these tips for tricks useful. For many, many more hints, tips, advice and encouragement, contact Teacher Greg.



Teacher Greg has lived and work in Asia as an IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC and school teacher for over ten years. He has helped hundreds of students prepare for IELTS exams.


Hero image by David Menidrey on Unsplash