short answer questions ielts reading

This type of question focuses on test takers’ ability to identify specific word or a phrase within the text. This may be a stressful task for some, as it requires both skimming and scanning skills.

Read below for helpful tips and tricks, as well as example questions!

1. Question Overview

The Short Answer question type is one of fourteen (14) question types on the Reading Section of the IELTS exam.

  • 1.1. Objective: You must identify specific word or a phrase in the text that answers the question.
  • 1.2. Skills Used: You will need to skim and scan the text for specific content and choose the word or phrase that accurately answers the question within a word limit indicated in the instructions.

The questions will contain key words you will need to paraphrase, which will help you locate the information in the text. Good news, answers come in order! If you feel you may need support and practice in completing this task, continue reading for tips and practice!

Check out our article with an overview of all the Reading question types on the IELTS exam!

2. Example of Short Answer Question


3. Steps to Follow

How should you answer questions that require you to give short answer? Follow our steps below!

IELTS writing correction

3.1. Read the Instructions Carefully.

The instructions in this task will tell you how many words you may use to answer such question type. For example, if the instructions ask you given ‘no more than 2 words and/or a number’, then you can write only up to 3 words out of which there can be maximum 2 words and 1 number. You cannot have 3 words or 1 word and 2 numbers or 3 numbers etc. However, it is perfectly fine to write only 1 word or 1 number or 2 words as well since those would fit within the 3-word capacity.

IELTS Reading Question Types List

3.2 Read and Understand the Questions

Because you are looking for specific information in the text, it essential that you read the questions carefully and understand what they mean. Ask yourself what is it that the question statement requires? For instance, if the question is ‘When was Albert Einstein born?’, you will directly understand you are possible looking for a year or full date of birth.

3.3. Paraphrase the Short Answer Questions

Paraphrasing the questions means saying what they mean in different words, focusing particularly on key words/phrases. In a way this is similar to what has been discussed above with the only difference being you

Example: ‘In which geographical location were the first representations of flipflops found?’

In other words: ‘Where in the world were flipflops seen for the first time?’

If you explain the questions in other words, you make sure you understand them better, and you can see more easily where the meaning is expressed in the text.

3.4. Skim the Text

To skim the text means to read it quickly to get the general idea. This is a good way to familiarise yourself with the content, since you will need to find specific words to use as your answer. Reading the text quickly should help you notice certain words that might be helpful when looking for  answers in the text. This will also give you a broad idea about the nature of information in each paragraph thereby helping locate rest of the question types as well.

3.5. Scan the Text for Information

To scan a text means to read it quickly while looking for specific information. You don’t need to read or understand every single word, as long as you are able to identify specific information that helps you answer the question, including synonyms to key words you have paraphrased.

3.6. Choose the Correct Answer

After you’ve made sure you understood the question, and you have skimmed and scanned the text for specific information, you can choose the word or phrase that answers the questions. You must choose the exact word or phrase from the passage. If the final sentence is grammatically incorrect, this means your answer is wrong.



You may use up to 2 words


The use of flipflops dates back to around the year 4,000 BC. Early displays of flipflops can be found in artwork in Egypt.


‘In which geographical location can the first representations of flipflops be seen?’

Short Answer





The key information in the text is underlined here:

Early displays of flipflops can be found in artwork in Egypt.

We found the phrases ‘early displays’ and ‘be found’, two of the synonyms we found. The last word is an indicator that the ‘geographical location’ is the ‘country’ of ‘Egypt’.


  • geographical location = place, country, city, in the world, area
  • first representation of flipflops = first displays, first signs of/first model of/original flipflops
  • Be seen = be found, be discovered, be encountered

IELTS writing correction

4. Tips & Tricks

3.1 You must read the instructions carefully. They will tell you the maximum number of words to use in your answer, as well as whether you are expected to      use words and/or numbers.

3.2 Read all the questions before reading the text. Because the answers come in order, you want to make sure you know what specific information you are expected to look for in the text before answering the questions. This will help you make the most of your time.

3.3 When paraphrasing the questions, think of synonyms to key words and/or phrases in the questions:

Example:  As of 2020, there have been 46 presidents in US history.

As of 2020 —> up until 2020, from (year) until 2020

46 presidents = forty-six presidents (key information, may not be rephrased, but number is important to locate)

US history = history of the US/United States, since the creations of the United States/US

3.4 When thinking of a way to paraphrase the questions, think of the type of words you might need to look for. For example, if the question refers to a description of sort, you may need to look for adjectives or adverbs, depending on what is being described. If the question requires finding an object or location, you may want to look for nouns.

3.5 The advantage of skimming the text is that scanning becomes easier, as you are familiar with the content. You then do not need to understand all the words in the text, as long as you identify specific information to answer the questions.

3.6 The answers will come in order, so this should help you find the answers more easily, as there is no need to go back and forth in the text.

3.7 Make sure you write the exact word or phrase as given in the passage. If you need to change the word from singular to plural or its tense for example, then you have chosen a wrong answer

5. Mock Test


Vincent van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Zundert, a village in the southern province of North Brabant, in the Netherlands. He was the second child of a family of six children, born to the Reverend Theodorus van Gogh (1822 – 1885) and Anna Cornelia Carbentus (1819 – 1907). The family would often enjoy going for walks, which will have encouraged a love of nature in van Gogh’s heart.

Van Gogh did not receive a smooth education. He spent one year at the village school in Zundert, two years at a boarding school in Zevenbergen, and eighteen months at a high school in Tilburg. When he was sixteen, he began working at The Hague gallery of the French art dealers Goupil et Cie., a branch that his uncle Vincent had established. His brother Theo later worked for the same firm. In 1873, the firm transferred Vincent to London, then Paris two years later, where he lost all interest in becoming an art dealer.

Van Gogh then took a post as an unpaid assistant teacher in Ramsgate, England, then found a salaried position at a private school run by a vicar in Isleworth near London. He was allowed to preach at the school and in the surrounding villages, but Vincent was disappointed by the lack of opportunities, and returned to the Netherlands at the end of the year 1876. He now decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a clergyman. This was yet another inadequate choice for him. Upon advisement from his uncle the minister who helped him prepare for his entrance exam, Van Gogh abandoned the lessons, and after brief training as an evangelist, he went to the Borinage coal-mining region in the south of Belgium, in 1879. He connected with the families and workers, and experienced life as they did, however, he was not able to establish a close-knit community of worshippers. His contract was therefore not renewed, and his parents regarded him as a social failure.

When van Gogh decided to become an artist, there was no obvious indication that he might possess an extraordinary talent. He eventually showed his ability and tendency to choose bold and harmonious colour effects, as well as simple, yet, memorable compositions. To help prepare for his new career, Van Gogh went to Brussels to study at the academy, but left after nine months.

In April 1881, Van Gogh went to live with his parents in Etten in North Brabant, where he decided to learn to draw. In the winter of that same year, he moved to The Hague, where he took painting classes from his uncle Anton Mauve. He also continued to practise profusely his drawing skills, sharpening his perspective skills. In 1883, Vincent moved back in with his parents, where he focused on sketching and painting. Most of his subjects were taken from peasant life.

Throughout his life, Van Gogh was inspired by a range of contemporary artists, such as Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne, and truly forged his own unique style. Today, Van Gogh is generally viewed as the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt.

Text edited, adapted and partially paraphrased from the following sources:

Questions 1 – 6

Answer the questions below.

IELTS Reading Short Answer Question (Completion Type)

  1. What was a frequent family activity in his youth?
    going for walks
  2. Which of his family members was working for Goupil et Cie when he was employed?
  3. Following his father’s career path, what did he intend to become?
    a clergyman
  4. How did his parents perceive him?
    a social failure
  5. What was van Gogh’s main theme of artistic inspiration?
    peasant life
  6. Although second to Rembrandt, what is van Gogh’s overall reputation today in the arts’ world?
    greatest Dutch painter
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