"Guess meaning in IELTS reading"

Every sentence is defined by its meaning, and to make it more attractive, we tend to use better words that enhance the outlook of the sentence keeping the meaning the same. Now in all that, there are thousands of synonyms of each word, and the further these synonyms have thousand such antonyms, which makes it impossible to know it all. But the meaning must be guessed if not understood to serve the purpose of attempting the paper; this is where deducing the context of the text comes to play.

We cannot make difficult words our enemy; we just have to deduce what they are trying to say or portray in the sentence. The following article will help you in the IELTS preparation to solve this purpose of deducing and will explain and tell how to approach the text in different ways in the IELTS reading test, in the IELTS listening, writing, and IELTS speaking test.

There are two different IELTS exams, the IELTS academic exam and the IELTS general training. The general training paper has language, which is a little bit simpler than on the academic paper. However, it is a paper where you will find vocabulary that you don't know. Now, we must remember that the IELTS reading section gets progressively difficult. The first section of the reading test is easier and gets harder as you move through sections.

The academic exam has three texts which are of an academic style and nature. There are between 1700-2000 words in the test paper with a lot of vocabulary and grammatical range. The answer sheet consists of 40 blanks for answering questions. It is not possible to know it all. So, the development of this skill of deduction is integral.

Guessing from context defines the ability to infer the meaning of a word or an expression using the clues in the text.

It may be purely in a linguistic environment in which a word is used within the given text or in a situational scenario where the extra-linguistic elements contribute to the construction of meaning which may involve some background knowledge of the subject.

What this amounts to is that you should be able to understand the meaning of an unknown word given in the question using:

  • The meaning of vocabulary that surrounds the word
  • The word formation
  • Some Knowledge of the subject and the situation.
Guessing Techniques

Texts are often full of repetition and redundancy, which helps students use the relation between different words within a text to infer the meaning. Prior knowledge of the world may also contribute to understanding what an expression means.

Synonyms and definitions:

It was a historic judgment as the court announced the ruling against the guilty defendant.

Antonym and contrast

He loved his job but condemned the system.

Parts of speech

If the word is a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb, functioning as a subject, a predicate, or an object.

Examples: Code Red is an example of a computer virus

Cause and effect

He broke the vase. That's why he was fined.

Getting information from prefixes and suffixes to understand a word.

Examples: dis- (meaning not), in-(means in, on or not) –less (meaning without)…

General knowledge

The Nobel Prize for Physiology or medicine in 2020 was jointly awarded to three scientists for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

These techniques listed above help the students to get the meaning of words or at least narrow down to the various possibilities.


Let's look at the following examples to get an idea of expressions present in question types:

  • I couldn't concentrate due to the incessant chatting around me.

    So, first of all, incessant is a new word and isn't heard often. So now, let's work outlook at what kind of word is incessant. From the sentence, we can see it is an adjective as it describes the way of talk happening around the person.

    Now let's look at the context again; it is seen negatively in this case.

    If we were to break down the word really into Prefix and Suffix and had some good word root knowledge, it could be seen that it's describing a negative outcome. Incessant means non-stop/ continuous. I mean, it does have a negative connotation. So, look out and try to identify the word type and try to look for any prefix or suffix.

  • Now, there are certain things that writers and native speakers or other speakers do while talking when they use certain expressions to describe a situation not directly but concerning it.

    Sometimes particularly in a rich academic text, you might find that the writer has defined the word within his writing or explained what it means. You may find that there are synonyms for the word within the sentence, or you may find an example that will clarify its meaning.

    There might be an antonym, contrast, or analogy, which is a comparison of the word. Analogies tend to be used for chunks of language rather than for individual words. For example:

    Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

    That's an example of an analogy. Life is compared to a box of chocolates, how when taking out chocolate you don't know which one is going come similarly when you are living your life you don't know what the next moment holds, it's full of surprises, or full of turns and is unpredictable. Analogies enrich the text along with making the text clear in a language people generally talk in.

  • Due to the scarcity of water, people are turning to adapt rainwater harvesting systems.

    Scarcity means the lack of, shortage of, insufficient amount limited numbers, or unavailability. Now, even if you don't know the meaning, you can deduce from the sentence that people tend to alternative methods to save water, so it might mean that there isn't enough water.

  • The intuitive thinking and brilliant business acumen made him the CEO of this company today.

    Acumen is an unfamiliar word, and it's defined as insight, cleverness, brightness, etc. Now, we need to use a little bit of our knowledge. We know that the person got promoted because of quick thinking and some brilliant ability about business, so it can be predicted that it is whether due to his sharpness or brilliant understanding which solves the purpose and fits right with the sentence.

Now let's look at this academic text and try to understand and deduce its meaning:

"Chronobiology might sound a little futuristic – like something from a science fiction novel, perhaps – but it's actually a field of study that concerns one of the oldest processes life on this planet has ever known: short-term rhythms of time and their effect on flora and fauna. This can take many forms. Marine life, for example, is influenced by tidal patterns. Animals tend to be active or inactive depending on the position of the sun or moon. Numerous creatures, humans included, are largely diurnal – that is, they like to come out during the hours of sunlight. Nocturnal animals, such as bats and possums, prefer to forage by night. A third group is known as crepuscular: they thrive in the lowlight of dawn and dusk and remain inactive at other hours."

So, we have got a lot of words here which are difficult or not commonly heard of. The first word is chronobiology, and you can see that the word is defined in the second part of the sentence. So chronobiology is actually a field of study of short-term rhythms of time and their effect and it can be seen that the word is defined within the paragraph.

The second word is tidal patterns. It is seen that there is an adjective and a noun combination. The adjective must be tidal, and the noun is patterns. The background knowledge can be used now from the paragraph that maybe marine is concerned with the sea. And we might think, what will influence the animals that are in the sea? What sort of patterns? Now, that is the tide.

Some of you might know that, or you might know about tidal power if you've been learning about alternative energies, and the tides are when the sea rises and falls. And there's another clue in the text that talks about the moon's position, which affects the tides.

The next word is diurnal, and again it is defined in the sentence just after the word, that is, they like to come out during the hours of sunlight; that word is defined for you. So that word diurnal comes out in the day and then in the next sentence, you get a word nocturnal, which contrasts to the one before it, diurnal is in the daytime or in the sunshine nocturnal at night.

Now, these two words are bats and possums. Have you heard this vocabulary before? Now obviously, you might have heard of bats and batman. But what about possum? Is it important for us to know what that word means? Should we go and search for that word or spend a long time on test day trying to work it out? No, it's because we just know that they are two examples of animals that come out at night, which is more than sufficient to know at the moment.

The next word is forage. When and why did they come out? Why do they come out? They go out and animals when they go out, maybe not like humans, they don't go out and go to the gym. But they go out to find food. That's their main purpose. And we can deduce that that's what the word to forage might mean.

Now, there is we've got a third group. So, first of all, let's identify what the first and second groups were. So, we've got the diurnal, they come out in the sunshine, we've got nocturnal that come out at night. So, we can predict what this third group is.

They tell us the name of it. It is crepuscular. And then the keyword here is that they do something to thrive in the low light. So, let's think again, what might that thrive bit mean?

What are the other sentences done? They've said that the animals forage; we're not going to repeat that word. But here we've got thrive, which means to do well, when do they do well, in the low light of dawn and dusk. Now the other two groups, we talked about night-time, and we talked about sunshine. So, which two periods of the day Do we have low light?

Sunrise is dawn and dusk when the sun goes down? Sunrise, sunset. Admittedly, this one was from part one of the reading. So, each is the easier chunk. But what we've aimed to do this morning is to tell you that you must not be afraid of unknown vocabulary and take the assistance of the sentences already given in the text.

Remember, in the IELTS academic reading exam, you, as a test taker, haven't got enough time for reading texts in detail and understand everything and complete the answers. So don't let the unknown vocabulary in your readings scare you; the purpose here is to avoid giving the wrong answer and try giving as many correct answers in the given time frame. There are methods, strategies, and techniques for you to work out for your IELTS test. First, whether the vocabulary is key, whether it is crucial that you understand it or not, or whether its general sense is enough as with incessant. Remember, we need that one to be negative; it had a negative connotation of knowing what vocabulary is, such as the possum in this example. We know it's an animal that lives at night which has got some similarities to a bat.

We want to suggest to all the IELTS candidates that when you're reading it, particularly if you're reading on paper, highlight useful vocabulary, or try sometimes doing the same thing that we've just done together. Highlight the vocabulary that's new to you; try to work it out from the context.

So, there's a little collection of new vocabulary that we've worked out today. Let's make a recap of the words we learned through this article, incessant, scarcity, chronobiology, tidal patterns, diurnal, nocturnal, possums, dusk, dawn, etc.

No matter the level you are on, you will often come across difficult words in texts exposed to. Inferring and guessing the meanings of unfamiliar words is a strategy that is worth developing, and as always, we suggest you practice and practice. You can go through various exercises, including reading passages, reading modules, and other question answers asked in the IELTS listening test, IELTS writing task, and other tasks on the MarvelIELTS.com website and learn more about these exam sections. You can also visit our institute in Zirakpur, where our best IELTS teacher and other faculty can guide you.