Following on from your feedback, I have created another audio reading lesson to help you with IELTS Reading Passage 2. If you haven't already listened to me speaking about passage 1 yet, you can find it here.
I will be completing the task below from pages 85-88 of IELTS 13 Academic, so please do follow along with me.
(Tip: press 'CTRL' on your keyboard and click to open the exercise in a new window)
Hello everyone, this is Sophie and I would like to talk you through the second passage of the reading test from the book IELTS 13 Academic. If you haven’t listened to me discussing Passage 1 yet, make sure to check it out via the link at the top of this page first. As previously, I have not looked at this particular section at all, to make sure you get an authentic view into my thought processes when I answer the Reading test. Also, as before, as I do the reading, I will break the recording into several sections to give us all time to read through the relevant passages and questions. This should also give you some time to try and answer the questions yourself before you listen to how I would do it. Make sure you’re ready and comfortable now because the next passage will start by talking you through the reading process straightaway. Click on the next section when you’re good to go.
Just as in the previous passage, the first thing we do is take a look at the title of the text. It says: ‘Saving the Soil’. Now I understand what that means, of course, but not everybody will know the word ‘soil’, so I will also read the subtitle which says “More than a third of the Earth’s top layer is at risk. Is there hope for our planet’s most precious resource?” Okay, so we’re talking about the top layer of the Earth, and I am thinking this text will probably be about food production, climate, and so on. On a side note, if you didn’t know it before, you should definitely study the word soil. Just before I turn to the questions for this passage, I also notice that the individual paragraphs are given letters. As with most types of questions, I spend some time preparing for the reading before I turn to the first paragraph, so I now turn to the questions. When you’re ready to join me play the next recording.
For the first set of questions, we are asked to complete sentences. This could be a summary of the whole text or a specific passage within the text. However, it could also be a selection of sentences relating to selected sentences from across the text. We will have to wait and see. At this point there are two things I need to do: Firstly, for each of the questions, I should decide what kind of word I am looking for for the gap. However, I will not spend too much time on this as I will have to test my ideas during the reading stage anyway. More importantly, I want to set myself some markers or inner alarm bells that alert me when I am in the right section of the text. As in passage one, I will now look at each of the statements in turn to allow you to follow exactly what I’m doing.
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Okay so the first sentence says that healthy soil contains ‘bacteria’, ‘microorganisms’, ‘plant remains’ and I am looking for the final ingredient in soil. Therefore, I know that I am looking for a noun to go into the gap. In order to remember where to slow down to find the answer, I now make a mental note of the word microorganisms and I note down the question: ‘What is the fourth ‘thing’ in soil?’.
When I look at the next sentence, I see that we are talking about food, antibiotics and the function of soil and what it can store. This means that I am here looking for another noun and a very straightforward question to ask would be: ‘What can soil store?’ ‘Antibiotics’ is also a very useful word to look out for, as there aren’t really many synonyms for it, and I have a high chance of finding exactly that word in the text.
For the next gap I’m looking for the idea of ‘property’ and ‘infrastructure’ or synonyms thereof. These might include words like houses, buildings, structures… I will then make a note of the question: ‘What does soil do that prevents damage to property?’
For the final sentence in this set of questions, I am looking for the main factor which contributes to soil degradation. However, as always, I remember that the words leading up to the gap might not be exactly the same. So, ‘degradation’ might, for example, be replaced by the verb ‘degrade’ or ‘main factor’ might be replaced by ‘key aspect’ or an expression with a similar meaning. Here, I add the question ‘What is the main factor in soil degradation?’ to my list.
So here is the list of questions that I made a note of:
‘What is the fourth ‘thing’ in soil?’.
‘What can soil store?’
‘What does soil do that prevents damage to property?’
‘What is the main factor in soil degradation?’
Depending on your level of English, you might even want to note these questions down in your own language, to make sure that your brain is alert to the kind of information you’re looking for. I now put these questions aside ready for reading the text later and I turn to the second set of questions.
The next set of questions involves matching the start of a sentence with the appropriate second half. For this type of question, I prepare a little differently to save some time. Instead of reading all of the answers, I only read the first part of the statement, which will show me where in the text I should slow down to then compare the reading passage to the different options given. In this section, it is quite important not to focus on the key ideas alone, but on which particular idea within the key ideas I am looking for.
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For question number 18, for example, I get the phrase ‘Nutrients contained in the unused part of harvested crops’. So, of course, nutrients and crops are important, but they are likely to be ideas that occur throughout the text. Therefore, we should focus on the idea of ‘unused parts’
of crops to identify the relevant passage. So now that my inner alarm clock is set to the idea of something that has not been used, I am ready to look at the next question.
In question 19 the key ideas seem to be ‘fertilisers’ and something called the ‘Haber-Bosh process’. Whilst the relevant section should be very easy to identify thanks to the use of the name Haber-Bosch, I do have to be extremely careful that I find information on synthetic fertilisers. I don’t know if the examiners are trying to trick me in this particular question, but I do like to be careful and there might be a distinction between synthetic and natural fertilisers here. Like I said, I haven’t actually read the text yet, so we’ll find out. Before I move on, I set my inner alarm to Haber-Bosch.
For question 20, it is also very easy to set my inner alarm because I have another name. So, I will slow down and complete the rest of the task when I see ‘Pius Flori’.
And finally, for question 21, I am looking for something called ‘zero net soil degradation’. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who doesn’t know what that means, and there will be some reading texts where we never really find out. That does not mean that we cannot complete the task.
The final set of questions is, in principle, very similar to the matching headings task we have seen in Reading Passage 1, as I have to link the content to a particular section of the reading text. One thing that does mean, is that I do not prepare the questions. I read the instructions carefully, including the fact that I may use any letter more than once, but I do not fill my head with all of the different statements. Instead, I prepare to compare each section to the list and select them after reading the passage. I really don’t want to try and remember the different options at this stage, as I already have quite a few ideas to keep in my head from the previous two tasks.
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Right let us move to actually reading the text now. Before I start, I have one last quick look at my alarm triggers and then I settle in to read. You should now read the first paragraph yourself and see if you can answer any of the questions before playing the next recording.
This first paragraph does not trigger any of my alarms from questions 14 to 21 so I can move straight to questions 22 to 26 to decide which ones, if any, are relevant to this first paragraph. I now read each statement in turn and eliminate the ones that don’t apply. In statement number 22 we talk about a person’s motivation. This immediately eliminates 22 as a possible answer. In 23, we are looking at a time before farming. While this paragraph includes the idea of farming, it looks into the future, rather than the past. So, 23 is definitely not the answer. 24 looks at different ways of collecting information on soil degradation and I do not have this idea in section A at all. So again 24 is definitely not the answer. Number 25 talks about a suggestion for the future. As there is no hint of a suggestion at all in this paragraph, I can discard A as an answer for question 25. And finally, I check number 26 and there is no idea of an overview of soil degradation here at all. I therefore know that the letter A is not the answer to any of the questions 22 to 26. However, by doing this, I now have a fairly good overview of the statements even though I did not read them in advance. This will have saved me some time in the exam. You should now read paragraph 2, see if any of our alarms are triggered and see if you can connect any of the questions 22 to 26 with paragraph B. Then you should play the next recording to check in with me and see what I’ve done.
My first alarm was triggered in my head halfway through the first part of paragraph B where it says ‘a single gram of healthy soil might contain…’. I remember that I’m looking for the fourth element contained in soil, so I now slow down in order to find the answer to question 14. In this sentence, I have six main ideas expressed in noun form: ‘bacteria’, ‘microorganisms’, ‘viruses’, ‘fungi’, ‘decomposing plants’, and ‘minerals’. I can eliminate the three ideas already contained in the question namely ‘bacteria’, ‘microorganisms’, and ‘plant remains’. That leaves me with three ideas ‘viruses’, ‘fungi’ and ‘minerals’. However, if I look at the sentence closely, I realise that ‘viruses’ and ‘fungi’ are simply an example of ‘microorganisms’ as they are preceded by ‘such as’. Therefore, the only possible answer here is ‘minerals’ and I write that on my answer sheet before reading on.
The next time my alarm gets triggered is when I see the words ‘antibiotic-resistant bacteria’. I realise that I must be very close to question 15. What I anticipate is that the writer might use synonyms, rather than the word ‘storing’ itself. That can make the question a little bit difficult, depending on your level of vocabulary. However, do remember that you do not have to find the answers to every question to get an acceptable score in the IELTS test. In fact, the text uses two synonyms for ‘storing’ namely ‘lock in’ and ‘hold’. Both times this idea relates to ‘carbon’. So, ‘carbon’ must be the right answer. For the next question, the text sets a similar “trap” by using the word ‘hold’ in the question and the word ‘store’ within the text. However, once I read realise that, I see that the word ‘store’ relates to ‘water’ which makes that my answer.
By the time I get to the end of the paragraph, I have not come across any ‘alarm’ ideas from the second set of questions, so I now turn to the final set of questions and quickly compare the answers there to this paragraph. I go through the same process of elimination as I did for paragraph A and I realise that none of the descriptions fit paragraph B. Therefore, B is not an answer to any of the questions 22 to 26.
You should now read paragraph C and apply as many of the techniques you have seen me demonstrate as possible before playing the next recording.
Before I read this paragraph, I very briefly remind myself of the final question for the first task, namely ‘the main factor in soil degradation’. When I get to the second part of this paragraph, I immediately see that ‘agriculture is by far the biggest problem’, which has the same meaning as ‘the main factor’. The correct answer for the final question in the first set of questions is therefore ‘agriculture’. The next time my alarm is triggered in the same paragraph is when I see the word ‘unused’ about halfway down the second section. So, I read this sentence and the following ones very, very carefully before turning to the second set of questions. I then read the first part of the sentence and try and complete it with the different options, so it has the same meaning as the passage in the text. Options A and B do not really make very much sense at all, so I know that they definitely cannot be the answer. However, option C looks pretty good as we are talking about the necessary nutrients not being returned back into the soil. Just to be on the safe side, I briefly read through options D to F, but I quickly realised that none of the ideas in their relate to unused crops. So, I’m pretty confident that C is my answer. Whilst I’m here, I quickly remind myself that my next trigger is the ‘Heber-Bosch process’. But before I can move on, I have to complete task three. By now, I have forgotten all of the options, and that’s okay I want to keep my mind as clear as possible. So I just quickly go over each option and dismiss the unsuitable ones. While I do have an individual person mentioned in this paragraph, we are not really talking about a soil improvement project or this person’s motivation, so 22 and C do not go together. However, when I see the second option, I realise that it does explain how the soil ecosystem worked before farming. While I’m pretty confident that C is the answer for 23, I do like to quickly double-check the remaining three options. And as the section does not talk about data collection, suggestions or an overview of soil degradation, my answer is confirmed and I write down C as the answer to question 23. You should read Paragraph D now and see what you can do in terms of questions 19 to 21 and questions 22 to 26.
In the second sentence of paragraph D, I see ‘Haber-Bosch process’ which is great, because I know that I need to read the section carefully to find the answer to question 19. I really slow down my reading and I read a couple of sentences after the mention of the name as well. I then turn to question 19 and try to complete the sentence with an option that reflects the meaning in this paragraph. This is quite a tricky question, because it is implied that the Haber-Bosh process improves the number and quality of plants, but it isn’t actually stated. However, the second part of the paragraph clearly talks about the pollution and damage to the environment. Therefore, E is the correct answer here. If you have a good memory, you will probably realise at this stage, that this paragraph does not correspond to any of the options in the final task. However, if you’re like me, you very quickly check to make sure. At this stage, I also remind myself of my next alarm trigger which is ‘Pius Floris’. Join me again, in the next recording, after you have read paragraph E.
This is a great paragraph, because I immediately see my alarm trigger – ‘Pius Floris’ – and I know that I should be able to answer question 20 if I read carefully. I realise that the rest of this paragraph talks about improving the number and quality of plants growing there. So A is definitely my answer. I also have a pretty good idea about the final set of questions already. But I just want to double-check. I thought the answer to 22 might be E, but I start to second-guess myself when I see the word motivation, because I don’t really remember reading about this. So I do what I rarely do, which is to re-read a section. This proves worthwhile as I only need to re-read the first two sentences to realise that he did this because it was ‘the best way to ensure his trees flourished’. This is probably not the most obvious connection, in terms of language, so I don’t feel too bad about having to re-read, and you really shouldn’t feel too bad if you miss the answer altogether. If it takes you too long to confirm your answer, remember to move on to the other questions first and to leave this one just in case you have enough time at the end. It is better to snatch up the easy points than to spend too much time on questions you really struggle with.
We now only have three points left and my next trigger is ‘zero net soil degradation’. Keep an eye out for this as you read the next paragraph.
I did this really quickly. Firstly, I didn’t see my remaining trigger anywhere. And secondly, I actually remembered the right option from the final list because I’ve seen it so many times now. When I saw ‘That’s not easy’ in paragraph F, I immediately thought of ‘a reason why it’s difficult to provide an overview’. So the answer to Question 26 is F. However, because I like to doublecheck everything, I read the rest of the options and I realised that this paragraph also talks about different ways of data collection such as ‘field surveys’, ‘drone surveys’, ‘satellite imagery’ and ‘lab analyses’. I’m really glad that I did this extra check, because it shows me that Paragraph F is also the answer to question 24.
If I were now running out of time, I could probably guess, that the remaining option in the final set of tasks has to be G for Question 25. And I could probably also guess the answer to question 21 with a pretty good chance of success. However, let’s imagine we do have enough time left and turn to paragraph G. Join me again after reading this section and finding the final two answers.
In the first part of this section, I do find ‘net soil degradation’ in close proximity to the idea of ‘governments’ and ‘policy makers’. Therefore, the correct answer for 21 is D. Even if you cannot confidently figure this one out from the text, you don’t have too many options left. In this paragraph we do not get a mention of ‘nine countries’. We also do not get the idea of a ‘global’ level explicitly or the idea that this approach would work better as a ‘global initiative’. This idea is, of course, implied, but in the IELTS test it is really important that you only base your answers on what is actually written. My only remaining question now is 25, and I can confirm on reading paragraph G that it does, in fact, contain a solution to the problem. So I happily note down G as the answer.
With the exception of having to return to one of the paragraphs briefly to confirm an answer, you will have noticed that I’ve only read each section once, and that I tried to minimise the time preparing the questions by not looking at the different options in advance. Instead, I tried to set the right triggers and ask myself the right questions to identify the relevant sections in the text and then to slow down and find the answer once I’ve done so. This will save you having to look at numerous ideas at once and it will hopefully make the whole experience a lot less confusing. Also remember that you do not have to answer all of the questions correctly. So, if finding the answer to a particular question takes too long remember to cut your losses and to move on. Thank you for staying with me till the end. I hope you found this useful. I certainly enjoyed myself.
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