Matching headings


In the IELTS reading matching headings questions, you must match the given headings with the various text sections. This task tests your ability to identify the main topic of a text. This question type is considered to be one of the most challenging tasks of the reading section.

IELTS Reading matching headings sample task

IELTS reading matching headings sample question

Source: Official IELTS website www.

IELTS Reading matching headings sample task text

Section A

The role of governments in environmental management is difficult but inescapable. Sometimes, the state tries to manage the resources it owns, and does so badly. Often, however, governments act in an even more harmful way. They actually subsidise the exploitation and consumption of natural resources. A whole range of policies, from farm-price support to protection for coal-mining, do environmental damage and (often) make no economic sense. Scrapping them offers a two-fold bonus: a cleaner environment and a more efficient economy. Growth and environmentalism can actually go hand in hand, if politicians have the courage to confront the vested interest that subsidies create.

Section B

No activity affects more of the earth’s surface than farming. It shapes a third of the planet’s land area, not counting Antarctica, and the proportion is rising. World food output per head has risen by 4 per cent between the 1970s and 1980s mainly as a result of increases in yields from land already in cultivation, but also because more land has been brought under the plough. Higher yields have been achieved by increased irrigation, better crop breeding, and a doubling in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Section C

All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts. For example, land clearing for agriculture is
the largest single cause of deforestation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides may contaminate water supplies;
more intensive farming and the abandonment of fallow periods tend to exacerbate soil erosion; and the
spread of monoculture and use of high-yielding varieties of crops have been accompanied by the
disappearance of old varieties of food plants which might have provided some insurance against pests or
diseases in future. Soil erosion threatens the productivity of land in both rich and poor countries. The United
States, where the most careful measurements have been done, discovered in 1982 that about one-fifth of its
farmland was losing topsoil at a rate likely to diminish the soil’s productivity. The country subsequently
embarked upon a program to convert 11 per cent of its cropped land to meadow or forest. Topsoil in India
and China is vanishing much faster than in America.

Section D

Government policies have frequently compounded the environmental damage that farming can cause. In the
rich countries, subsidies for growing crops and price supports for farm output drive up the price of land. The
annual value of these subsidies is immense: about $250 billion, or more than all World Bank lending in the
1980s. To increase the output of crops per acre, a farmer’s easiest option is to use more of the most readily
available inputs: fertilisers and pesticides. Fertiliser use doubled in Denmark in the period 1960-1985 and
increased in The Netherlands by 150 per cent. The quantity of pesticides applied has risen too: by 69 per
cent in 1975-1984 in Denmark, for example, with a rise of 115 per cent in the frequency of application in the
three years from 1981.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s some efforts were made to reduce farm subsidies. The most dramatic
example was that of New Zealand, which scrapped most farm support in 1984. A study of the environmental
effects, conducted in 1993, found that the end of fertiliser subsidies had been followed by a fall in fertiliser
use (a fall compounded by the decline in world commodity prices, which cut farm incomes). The removal of
subsidies also stopped land-clearing and over-stocking, which in the past had been the principal causes of
erosion. Farms began to diversify. The one kind of subsidy whose removal appeared to have been bad for
the environment was the subsidy to manage soil erosion.

In less enlightened countries, and in the European Union, the trend has been to reduce rather than eliminate
subsidies, and to introduce new payments to encourage farmers to treat their land in environmentally
friendlier ways, or to leave it fallow. It may sound strange but such payments need to be higher than the
existing incentives for farmers to grow food crops. Farmers, however, dislike being paid to do nothing. In
several countries they have become interested in the possibility of using fuel produced from crop residues
either as a replacement for petrol (as ethanol) or as fuel for power stations (as biomass). Such fuels produce
far less carbon dioxide than coal or oil, and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. They are therefore less
likely to contribute to the greenhouse effect. But they are rarely competitive with fossil fuels unless
subsidised – and growing them does no less environmental harm than other crops.

Section E

In poor countries, governments aggravate other sorts of damage. Subsidies for pesticides and artificial
fertilisers encourage farmers to use greater quantities than are needed to get the highest economic crop
yield. A study by the International Rice Research Institute of pesticide use by farmers in South East Asia
found that, with pest-resistant varieties of rice, even moderate applications of pesticide frequently cost
farmers more than they saved. Such waste puts farmers on a chemical treadmill: bugs and weeds become
resistant to poisons, so next year’s poisons must be more lethal. One cost is to human health. Every year
some 10,000 people die from pesticide poisoning, almost all of them in the developing countries, and another
400,000 become seriously ill. As for artificial fertilisers, their use world-wide increased by 40 per cent per unit
of farmed land between the mid 1970s and late 1980s, mostly in the developing countries. Overuse of
fertilisers may cause farmers to stop rotating crops or leaving their land fallow. That, in turn, may make soil
erosion worse.

Section F

A result of the Uruguay Round of world trade negotiations is likely to be a reduction of 36 per cent in the
average levels of farm subsidies paid by the rich countries in 1986-1990. Some of the world’s food
production will move from Western Europe to regions where subsidies are lower or non-existent, such as the
former communist countries and parts of the developing world. Some environmentalists worry about this
outcome. It will undoubtedly mean more pressure to convert natural habitat into farmland. But it will also
have many desirable environmental effects. The intensity of farming in the rich world should decline, and the
use of chemical inputs will diminish. Crops are more likely to be grown in the environments to which they are
naturally suited. And more farmers in poor countries will have the money and the incentive to manage their
land in ways that are sustainable in the long run. That is important. To feed an increasingly hungry world,
farmers need every incentive to use their soil and water effectively and efficiently.

Source: Official IELTS website www.


Choose the headings carefully

There will be more headings than needed and some may seem similar so choose the correct headings following the strategy shared below.

Identify the main idea of the paragraph carefully

The paragraph might build on more than one idea, care must be taken to identify the main idea.

Avoid wasting too much time on a paragraph

One of the biggest risks with this question type is that you spend too much time reading and re-reading the paragraph text to figure out the main idea. You have to understand the main idea of a paragraph to identify the heading.

Eliminate the headings already used

Keep a mental note of the heading already used. This will make it easier for you as you will have fewer headings to choose from.


Read the question

It is important to read and understand the question completely. In the question above you will find that you have to answer questions 1-5. You have a list of headings and the various sections of paragraphs. You have to select the correct heading for each of the paragraphs. Heading for section E is vi (The effects of government policy in poor countries.). Since this is already answered for you. You can remove this heading from your list of headings and concentrate on the remaining ones.

Read one paragraph at a time

The correct approach to attempt this question type is to target one paragraph/section at a time. Skim through the text and pay special attention to the paragraph’s first two and last two lines. The first two lines will have an introduction about the main theme of the paragraph. The last two lines will have a conclusion about the main theme.

Identify the main theme/topic

Once you have skimmed through the entire paragraph and understood the meaning you will have a fair idea about the main topic of the text.

Read the heading

Now can you read the headings and match the identified topic or theme with them. Finalize the one that matches in meaning to the main theme or topic you had in mind after skimming the paragraph.

Remove the used headings

Once you have used a heading for a paragraph remove it from your list of headings. This will make your task easier as you have to focus on fewer headings.

Choose between similar headings

While reading through the headings you might come across two headings that seem similar and it might be confusing which one to select.

Read the first heading and try to understand its meaning. Now read the second heading and understand its meaning too. Then compare the two to understand the difference between them.

Correct answers

1 Section A – v
2 Section B – vii
3 Section C – ii
4 Section D – iv
5 Section F – i

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