IELTS Reading: Short-Answer Questions

Learn about Short-answer questions in IELTS reading with an overview, recommended strategy and practice questions.

IELTS Reading: Short-Answer Questions

Overview

Short-answer questions test your ability to locate and understand precise information in the reading passage.

Here are some key points about Short-answer questions:

  • The questions are in the same order as the information in the passage. This means that the answer to the first question will come before the answer to the second one.
  • They’re generally used with factual passages that contain a lot of detail.

Here are some example Short-answer questions from a passage about a famous American bridge:

Questions 1–7

Answer the questions below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 1–7 on your answer sheet.

1     How long is the Brooklyn Bridge’s main span?

2     In what year was the design of the Brooklyn Bridge officially approved?

3     What was the cause of John A. Roebling’s death?

4     What was used to fill the caissons once they were deep enough?

5     What was used to protect the Manhattan caisson from fire?

6     What illness affected many caisson workers?

7     What was the problem with the cables?

IELTS Reading Tips: The Ultimate Guide for 2021

Maximise your IELTS reading score with these essential tips.

Recommended strategy

Here’s my recommended strategy for answering Short-answer questions. I’ll use Question 1 to demonstrate the steps you need to take.

Step 1  >  Identify key words in the question

Key words are the important words that help you understand the focus of the question. Key words include names, places and figures, as well as nouns, verbs and adjectives.

For Short-answer questions, it’s also very important to look at the question word(s) at the start of the question. For example, if the question asks Who, you need to look for a person. If it asks When, you need to look for a time reference.

Here’s the first question with the key words highlighted:

1     How long is the Brooklyn Bridge’s main span?

The use of How long tells us that we need to look for some kind of measurement. This means that we can include units of measurement such as metres, feet, kilometres and miles in our list of possible key words.

Step 2  >  Scan the passage to find the key words

Once you’ve identified the key words, you can scan for them in the passage. It’s important to keep in mind that synonyms – words and phrases with the same or a similar meaning – are often used in the passage rather than the actual key words from the question, so you need to look for them, too.

Here’s the reading passage. You can see that the key words and/or synonyms for this question have been highlighted:

Step 3  >  Read carefully

Once you’ve found the relevant part of the passage, read it carefully and decide on your answer. You should always read the sentences before and after the sentences that contain key words to make sure you don’t miss anything.

In our example, you can see that three different lengths are mentioned: 1,991 metres, 480 metres and 322 metres. These are the lengths of three different bridges, but we’re only interested in the length of the Brooklyn Bridge’s main span.

What makes this question challenging is the fact that the pronouns which, it and its are used. This means that we have to read very carefully to understand which bridge is being referred to.

If we remove the information about the other bridges, this is what we have:

The Brooklyn Bridge is dwarfed by modern suspension bridges … but at the time of its construction, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 480 metres.

This tells us that 480 metres is the correct answer. However, before we finalise our answer, it’s very important to make sure that it fits within the word limit for the question. We can see that the instructions say to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer. Our answer, 480 metres, fits within this word limit, so we can safely choose it as our answer.

Final tips

Here are some important final tips:

  • Remember that the questions are in the same order as the information in the passage. This can help you if you’re having trouble finding an answer.
  • Remember that all of your answers must be words from the passage.

Practice questions

Now it’s your turn to practise. Answer the remaining Short-answer questions from the passage using the steps outlined above.

The Brooklyn Bridge


Looming majestically over New York City’s East River, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the nineteenth century. At its opening ceremony, it was proclaimed the eighth wonder of the world because of its two stately towers and unprecedented length. Suspension bridges are generally measured by the length of their main span, which is the distance between their two supporting towers. The Brooklyn Bridge is dwarfed by modern suspension bridges, the longest of which is 1,991 metres, but at the time of its construction, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 480 metres. That was substantially longer than the previous record holder, which was 322 metres in length.

Prior to its completion in 1883, commuters had only been able to travel between the then-separate cities of Brooklyn and New York by ferry. A range of proposals for a bridge spanning the East River were put forward as early as 1800, but none were accepted by city officials due to the technical difficulty or prohibitive cost involved. It was not until 1867 that permission to build the Brooklyn Bridge as we know it today was finally granted by New York legislators. The designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, German-born immigrant John A. Roebling, was a pioneer in the design of steel suspension bridges, having previously designed and built others including the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. Opened in 1866, this bridge is still standing today and crosses the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky.

Unfortunately, John A. Roebling did not live to see the completion of his bridge. While conducting final surveys of the site of the Brooklyn tower in June 1869, he sustained an injury when an incoming ferry crushed his foot against the dock. The injury itself was not life-threatening, but apart from allowing a surgeon to amputate his injured toes, he refused medical treatment, opting to treat his wound himself. His condition deteriorated when he contracted tetanus, which claimed his life three weeks later. His 32-year-old son, Washington A. Roebling, also a trained engineer, took over his father’s role.

Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in January 1870. In order to dig solid foundations for the bridge’s stone towers, massive wooden boxes with no bottoms called caissons were used. The caissons allowed workers to dig away at the sand and rock on the riverbed without being flooded by the river water. The stone towers were built on top of the caissons, which sank deeper into the riverbed as the workers dug. Water was kept out of the work chamber at the base of the caisson where the workers dug by means of compressed air, which was pumped in through a special duct in the roof of the caisson. Workers entered via a series of ladders, passing through an air lock on the way down. This had a door on each side, only one of which could be opened at any one time. Had both doors been opened, compressed air would have escaped, with dire consequences for the workers. The sand, rock and boulders that workers excavated were hoisted out of the caisson in huge buckets via a debris shaft. This was filled with water in order to maintain the correct air pressure. When the caissons had reached the desired depth, concrete was pumped into them until they formed solid blocks. These then become part of the permanent foundations.

Caisson work was extremely difficult, and the men who worked in the caissons took great risks. Not only was flooding a possibility, but fire was also a very real threat. In 1870, the timber roof of the Brooklyn caisson caught fire from a worker’s candle. This fire, nicknamed the “Great Blowout”, delayed construction for several months because repairs had to be carried out. The Manhattan caisson, which was built after the Brooklyn one, was lined with plate iron to ensure that it would not become engulfed in flames like its counterpart had. Many of the workers were also struck down by a mysterious ailment. Poorly understood at the time, the bends killed at least three workers, and caused joint pain, speech impediments and paralysis in many others. The high toll that the caisson work was taking on workers ultimately led Washington A. Roebling to halt construction, but that was not before Roebling himself had succumbed to the illness. His condition left him unable to supervise the project in person. He was forced to remain in his home, but his wife Emily, also a trained engineer, relayed his instructions to site workers, and eventually took over day-to-day supervision and project management.

Once the caissons were completed, the masonry towers continued to be built on top, a complex process that took four years. The weight of the blocks meant that a pulley system had to be used to transport them to the base of each tower. They were then carried up a timber track and manoeuvred into position with the help of a derrick. The next stage was the cabling. Work began on the four enormous cables that would support the roadway in 1877. Work was well underway when it was discovered that the cable manufacturer had been selling them faulty wires. This could have caused the bridge to collapse had it not been for the over-engineering in John A. Roebling’s design. It was too late to replace the cables, but they were able to reinforce them with additional wires, and the roadway was then suspended from the cables.

The Brooklyn Bridge was officially opened on 24 May 1883, connecting the cities of Brooklyn and New York for the first time in history. The project had taken 15 years, claimed the lives of 27 workers, and cost almost half a billion dollars in today’s money.

Questions 1–7

Answer the questions below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 1–7 on your answer sheet.

1     How long is the Brooklyn Bridge’s main span?

2     In what year was the design of the Brooklyn Bridge officially approved?

3     What was the cause of John A. Roebling’s death?

4     What was used to fill the caissons once they were deep enough?

5     What was used to protect the Manhattan caisson from fire?

6     What illness affected many caisson workers?

7     What was the problem with the cables?

Answer sheet

Write your answers in the boxes.
__________

Feedback

Click below for explanations.
__________

Question 1

The correct answer is “480 metres”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“The Brooklyn Bridge is dwarfed by modern suspension bridges, the longest of which is 1,991 metres, but at the time of its construction, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 480 metres. That was substantially longer than the previous record holder, which was 322 metres in length.”
Question 2

The correct answer is “1867”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“It was not until 1867 that permission to build the Brooklyn Bridge as we know it today was finally granted by New York legislators.”
Question 3

The correct answer is “tetanus”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“His condition deteriorated when he contracted tetanus, which claimed his life three weeks later.”
Question 4

The correct answer is “concrete”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“When the caissons had reached the desired depth, concrete was pumped into them until they formed solid blocks.”
Question 5

The correct answer is “plate iron”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“The Manhattan caisson, which was built after the Brooklyn one, was lined with plate iron to ensure that it would not become engulfed in flames like its counterpart had.”
Question 6

The correct answer is “the bends”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“Many of the workers were also struck down by a mysterious ailment. Poorly understood at the time, the bends killed at least three workers, and caused joint pain, speech impediments and paralysis in many others.”
Question 7

The correct answer is “faulty wires”.

Here’s the relevant part of the passage:

“Work was well underway when it was discovered that the cable manufacturer had been selling them faulty wires.”

You might also like…