The words True, False and Not Given are written in bid blue, red and yellow letters on a black background

Are you confused by True / False / Not Given questions? Well, you are not alone. They really are question that seems to confuse IELTS test-takers most. I mean, what is the difference between False and Not Given? And if you can scan for the answers, why aren’t they easier to find?  Well, in today’s blog, I hope to finally clear up all of the basic questions you might have about True /False / Not Given questions AND look at where you might be going wrong. But first, let’s look at

THE FACTS 🗂

  • True / False / Not Given questions ask you to verify FACTS
  • Yes / No / Not Given questions ask you to verify the AUTHOR’S OPINIONS or CLAIMS

  • you use the SAME technique to answer both types of question
  • the questions ALWAYS appear in the SAME ORDER as the text (so you should never go backwards!)
  • you will NEVER be able to guess or use general knowledge to answer the items
  • 
you CAN SCAN for T/F/NG questions

So far in my reading blogs, I have had to spend a lot of time showing how most IELTS advice is wrong. Not today! ✊ I am farily sure that every IELTS teacher uses the same technique for True / False / Not Given questions, so let’s start by looking at the correct method, before examining each stage in more detail.

  1. Skim the text to get a general idea of the topic of the passage
  2. Look at the True / False / Not Given statements and find the KEYWORDS. These are the words that you will use to locate the area of the text that you need to read in more detail. Underline them.
  3. Now, you are ready to start reading. Look at the keywords for the FIRST TWO items and start scanning. It is important that you scan for TWO questions at the same time. Remember, T/F/NG questions ALWAYS appear in the same order as the text. Therefore, if you start scanning and find the keyword for question number 2, you know that you have to go BACK to find question number 1 🔙.
  4. Once you locate the keyword for question number 1, start reading in detail to confirm if the answer is True, False, or Not Given. You will need to confirm that ALL of the information in the sentence, so look back and forth between the text and question to double-check everything. And I mean EVERYTHING!
  5. Once you have chosen your answer, continue scanning for questions 2 AND 3 (remember to always look for TWO questions as you continue through the text)
  6. Keep going until you have answered all of the questions correctly. 🎉

And, that’s it. Those are True /False / Not Give questions. I hope that I have cleared up any confusion you had and you will be able to answer any you encounter in the future……


Sorry? What was that? You know this technique, but you STILL can’t get the right answer?!!!!

😜Of course, you can’t!!!! 😜

True /False / Not Given questions are one of the most difficult types of question to answer BECAUSE THERE CAN BE PROBLEMS AT ALMOST EVERY STAGE. So, let’s then look at some of the stages again in more detail 👇👇👇👇👇👇👇

Problem 1: Finding the Keywords

We practiced finding keywords in the recent How to Read Faster blog, when we looked at the True / False / Not Given questions from the passage Land of the Rising Sum. If you remember, we learned that the best keywords are:

  • names of people / businesses / organisations
  • languages / nationalities / countries / places
  • dates / numbers
  • 
technical words (a word you don’t recognise)

And, luckily for us, in the Land of the Rising Sum text, the keywords in ALL the questions fell under one of these categories. For example:

There is a wider range of achievement amongst English pupils studying maths than amongst their Japanese counterparts T/F/NG = nationalities 


The percentage of Gross National Product spent on education generally reflects the level of attainment in mathematics. = unique technical word

However, Land of the Rising Sum was the FIRST passage in the exam. And, as we know, in the IELTS exam, the passages become progressively more difficult throughout the reading test, with Passage 1 being the “easiest” and Passage 3 being the “most difficult”. But, it’s not just the texts themselves that become more difficult, it’s the QUESTIONS too!

For example, let’s look at three True /False / Not Given questions that go with a text in Objective Cambridge IELTS titled Nature/Nurture: An Artificial Division. This text is more similar in difficultly to Passage 2 or 3 in the real exam and discusses which factor has more influence on our personality – nature (our biology / genes) or nurture (our environment / the way we are raised)Read the three T/F/NG questions and underline the keywords you would scan for:

  1. The effects of genetic and environmental factors can be easily distinguished.
  2. Living conditions affect the brain development of people more than rats.
  3. A desire to identify causes as either genetic or environmental may make it difficult to solve certain problems.

How did you get on? ‘1’ and ‘3’ were difficult, right?! Where were all the lovely organisations and countries and languages like we had in the Japanese Maths text?!!!! Exactly, they weren’t there!!! 🙈 Remember this is Passage 3 so it’s testing your skills to the maximum level! This time, there are no really “unique” nouns, but simply nouns that will be

UNIQUE IN CERTAIN PARTS OF THIS TEXT!

The WHOLE passage is about genes and environment, so neither of those words will help us scan for the answers (if you see the same words again and again in the questions, it is unlikely that they will be good words to scan for), which I’m afraid doesn’t leave us with much to look for:

  1. The effects of genetic and environmental factors can be easily distinguished.

As I said, nurture vs nature means genes vs environment – I expect that the WHOLE text will discuss this issue, so it is a BAD idea to scan for these words. That only leaves us with effects  and maybe distinguished but that’s is an adjective, which are are usually difficult to scan for. If you only have one word to scan for, then you might want to think about also scanning for synonyms, especially if the word has a lot of common synonyms in English  For example, effects could be replaced by outcomes or results or consequences

  1. Living conditions affect the brain development of people more than rats.

Hurrah!🎉🎉 Rats! Ugly little creatures but in this sentence, they look like a great word to scan for. 🐭 I expect we will read about an experiment with rats somewhere in the text. Also, I it might be a good idea to scan for living conditions i.e. a cage


  1. A desire to identify causes as either genetic or environmental may make it difficult to solve certain problems.

And again, another sentence with almost NOTHING for us to scan for. With genetic and environmental being useless, all that’s left is causes or problems. Both these words are very general, but they are all we have. I would DEFINITELY keep in mind synonyms when scanning here.

So, I think you can already see that even the first instruction, “find the keywords” can be tricky. Yes, in Passage 1 (and maybe 2), the keywords will likely be lovely unique nouns like countries, or names of professors, or dates. But, in Passage 3, don’t be surprised if you have to scan for general words in the text like cause or effect or even synonyms! In fact, some might say that at this point you aren’t “scanning” any more but “speed reading”, which is why it is so important that you raise your general reading speed.


Problem 2: Forgetting to go back

So, you’ve looked at all of the questions and underlined the keywords (even if some of them are very general!). Not it’s time to start actually finding some answers. So, you start scanning and, after a few lines, you find your first keyword – YES. So, what do you do next? Well, my advice is

STOP 
🛑

GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE SENTENCE / PARAGRAPH 🔙

START LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER ✅

Why should you go back to the beginning of the sentence or paragraph? Because keywords only tell you the APPROXIMATE place to read. It is a mistake to think that the answer you are looking for is in exactly the same place as the keyword. This can even be true in easier passages, like this question taken from Cambridge IELTS 9: William Henry Perkins. The statement we are asked to check is:

a. Michael Faraday was the first person to recognise Perkin’s ability as a student of Chemistry

​Ah, Passage One – look at all those lovely words to scan for – Michael Faraday, Chemistry! The sentence in the text that contains the answer is here:

His talent and devotion to the subject were perceived by his teacher, Thomas Hall, who encouraged him to attend a series of lectures given by the eminent scientist Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution.

​But, look where Michael Faraday is in this sentence – right at the end To find the answer (and, what is the answer …… have a quick look 👀), we have to go back to the BEGINNING of the sentence to where it says

His talent and devotion to the subject were perceived by his teacher, Thomas Hall

​It wasn’t Faraday who FIRST recognised his talent – it was Thomas Hall. If you didn’t go back, you might mistakenly choose NG. The lesson? Keywords only tell you the approximate place to read in detail. You should ALWAYS go back to the beginning of a sentence. In fact, in more difficult texts, you may even have to go back to the SENTENCE BEFORE because T/F/NG don’t always test your understanding of ONE sentence – the information you need to answer them could be spread over 2, 3 or even 4!

👉 Don’t expect the answer to be sitting waiting for you next to the keyword! 👈


​Problem 3: The difference between True, False and Not Given

So, now we have arrived at the big question – one you have found the correct part of the text and you can see the words you need to check, how can you decide if the answer is true, false or not given? Well, even though most people only have problems differentiating between False and Not Given, let’s look at each of the options in turn to understand exactly what they mean

​True: you can locate information in the text that confirms the statement. You can put your finger on the sentence in the passage that directly states or allows you to infer the statement is true.

​False: you can locate information in the sentence that contradicts the statement. You can use information from the passage to CHANGE the statement to be true.

​Not Given: you cannot locate information in the text to help you determine if the statement is true or false. You cannot point to ANY information in the text that will help you decide if the statement (or part of the statement) is true or false.

So, let’s be clear. If you are going to choose TRUE OR FALSE, you have to be able to put your finger onto the test paper and say: “Look at this information here- it confirms the information in the statement.” Remember, when you are checking the statements, you will need to check EVERY WORD. If only one word is contradicted in the text, it is False. In a future blog we will look at different the types of reading skills that T/F/NG questions test (and therefore what words to check), but in general, you will need to CONFIRM EVERYTHING for a True answer.

It’s the same for False, you will have to be able to put your finger on the test paper and say “Look at this information here- it contradicts the information in the statement.” And this is the key point, you have found information that proves the statement is false, so you can now CAN CHANGE THE QUESTION TO MAKE IT TRUE! Let’s repeat that! 👉 If you choose FALSE it means that you have found information in the text that you can use  to make the statement true 👈 In my classes, I make every student who chooses False tell me what the “True” sentence is (using information from the text, NOT their imagination!).

If they can’t, well it’s not False – it’s Not Given. Because, that’s what Not Given is – a sentence that we CANNOT confirm as being true or false because we simply don’t have enough information. The topic might be discussed, but the specific piece of information we are being ask to verify is missing. Hence, it’s Not Given.


Why don’t we have a look at the three Nature v Nurture questions to make this distinction clear:

1. The effects of genetic and environmental factors can be distinguished with ease = FALSE

The concept of dividing everything into these two mutually exclusive groups is not the right way to think about diseases of behaviours, because genes and environment are not independent. They influence each other greatly, and their effects can almost never be disentangled.

This statement is definitely false. Look at the underlined information. It clearly tells us that genetic and environmental factors CAN ALMOST NEVER BE DISENTANGLED because they influence each other. This means that the two cannot be easily distinguished with ease. As the answer is false, I can change the original statement to be true: The effects of genetic and environmental factors can NOT be distinguished with ease.

​2. Living conditions affect the brain development of people more than rats. = NOT GIVEN​

A more complicated example involves brain development. Rats who live in dark, crowded, dirty cages grow fewer neural connections than rats raised in spacious cages with toys and varied diets. The disadvantaged rats learn more slowly and perform more poorly on memory tests, although the rats where related genetically. It is always dangerous to extrapolate from animals to humans, so I won’t draw any sweeping conclusions, but at the very least, this experiment shows that environmental factors can produce very different outcomes from similar genetic materials.

What does this part of the passage tell us? It tells us that the brain development of rats is definitely affected by their living environment. However, does the text compare the level of the effect with experiments on humans?! NO!!!! Scientists haven’t kept two sets of children in good and poor living to compare their development (although I am sure that some would like to! 👩 vs 🐭. We have NO IDEA if people are MORE affected than rats. In fact, the writer even says

It is always dangerous to extrapolate from animals to humans, so I won’t draw any sweeping conclusions

​Dangerous to extrapolate means that we CAN’T take the results of experiments from rats and say they are the same for humans. Anyway, even if we could, the results of experiments on rats and humans are never compared so, sadly, we WILL NEVER KNOW who is MORE influenced by environment. And, as I do not know if the statement is true of false, the answer is Not Given. Very simply, I CANNOT UNDERLINE ANY PART OF THE TEXT THAT CONFIRMS OR CONTRADICTS THE STATEMENT. Also, notice that both humans and rats are discussed in the text. 👉 Not Given doesn’t mean that there is NO information. It simply means that there is NOT ENOUGH information! 👈

​3. A desire to identify causes as either genetic or environmental may make it difficult to solve certain problems. = TRUE

In summary, the nature/nurture debate is outdated. We now realise that the either/or choice is too simple, and continuing to think in that way will restrict our understanding of humans and limit our ability to address the complex issues we face today.

​The underlined parts of the statement and the text say exactly the same thing. Therefore, because the information in the passage confirms the statement in the passage, the correct answer is True. They key here is that I am to point to a part of the text that confirms the statement 👆.


So, that’s it – those are True / False / Not Give questions. Phew – that was a long one! Was this useful? Even though I gave the same technique as most teachers, were my explanations easy to understand? Let me know in the comments below. Good luck! 🚀

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