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How to avoid distractors in the IELTS Reading test


Test Takers


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Date Published

01 February 2023

Why might you get an answer wrong in the IELTS Reading test?

You may not understand the text or question, you may not know where in the text to look for the answer, you may not have enough time or lose concentration, you may make a spelling mistake or write too many words for a particular answer.

There’s also another common reason IELTS test takers get answers wrong in the Reading test: Distractors!

Distractors in the IELTS Reading test

A distractor is when a word from an incorrect answer is included in the text.

For example, in the following multiple choice question from IELTS 15 General Training, there is a word from an incorrect answer in the relevant part of the text.

Read the following extract of the text about protecting sea turtle eggs and answer the multiple choice question below.

IELTS Reading test multiple choice question

If you chose answer B, it may be because you saw the word ‘scientists’ in the same sentence as ‘flatback turtle’ in the text. Here, the word ‘scientists’ is a distractor and is included to check you really understand this part of the text (not to check you can match a word from the question with one in the text).

The answer is A.

IELTS Reading test multiple choice answer

This doesn’t mean every answer that includes a word from the relevant part of the text is wrong. What it does mean is that you need to read the relevant part of the text carefully (and maybe more than once) so that you understand as much as you need to.

So, now that you’ve seen an example of a distractor, how can you avoid choosing answers that contain them?

How to avoid distractors

To avoid distractors in multiple choice questions like the one above, follow these three steps:

  1. Find the relevant part of the text by looking for a word or words in the question (not the answers) that will be easy to find in the text. For the question above, look for ‘flatback turtle’ in the text rather than ‘scientists’ from answer B or ‘IUCN Red List’ from answer D.
  2. Read the relevant part of the text carefully (and maybe more than once) to find the answer to the question before reading the possible answers.
  3. Read the possible answers and choose the one closest to your understanding of the text.

If you prefer to read the text for the main ideas and to see how it’s organised before looking at the questions, then do this before Step 1 above.

Remember! IELTS Reading multiple choice questions are in the same order as information in the text, e.g. the answer to question 35 will be before the answer to question 36 in the text if the questions are multiple choice.

If you get an answer wrong, it’s important to recognise whether you chose a distractor and why you chose it as this may prevent you from making the same kind of mistake again.

Hope you found this useful!