How to answer IELTS True False Not Given questions

The following video shows a talk I gave at conferences in Dubai and the UK about how to answer #IELTS True/False/Not Given questions.  Here are some comments people have made about the video:

This is a real eye-opener!!! I saw some materials I have been using.’
‘Really useful….Your speech makes me feel so relieved when it comes to this type of questions.’

(The original version of this video has been removed, but thankfully one version still exists, with subtitles added by a follower of my Facebook page.)

Click on the image below to watch the video and learn the best ways to practise for IELTS True False Not Given questions:

me at talk cropped

Recent Comments

  • Mehdi
    28th August 2021 - 7:38 pm ·

    Dear Ms. Cullen
    As you advised, I’m practicing authentic and updated materials. However, I have a problem with a Reading Test from Cambridge IELTS Book 9 (Test 3, Passage 1). In question 1, we have an statement: “There are understandable reasons why arguments occur about language”. For answering this, some websites offer the first sentence of the passage: “It is not easy to be systematic and objective about language study”. They mentioned that this sentence is a synonym for “understandable”. But I think this is not correct. Additionally, this sentence is about “language study” while the question is about “arguments about language”.
    The other websites refer to the third sentence of first paragraph: “Language belongs to everyone, so …”. Based on this, they conclude that there are “understandable reasons”. But I think if this is the case, we will have only one reason –”Language belongs to everyone”. Because the sentence that comes after “so” cannot consider another “reason”.
    To be honest, I’m now confused why the answer is “Yes”.
    As always, I appreciate your helpful comments.

    • Pauline
      28th August 2021 - 9:47 pm ·

      The question asks if the following statement agrees with the writer’s claims in the passage: ”There are understandable reasons why arguments occur about language.”
      And in the passage we are told: ”Language belongs to everyone, so most people feel they have a right to hold an opinion about it. And when opinions differ, emotions can run high. Arguments can start as easily over …” So, there is a lot of support here for the sentence in the question: he offers several reasons (1) language belongs to everyone and 2) most people feel they have a right to hold an opinion about it. And 3) when opinions differ, emotions can run high.). The comment that ‘Arguments can start as easily over minor points or usage as over major policies of linguistic education.’ Tells us he is giving reasons why these arguments occur about language. Having said that, I am surprised at the level of this passage – to me this is a reading passage 3 level, not reading passage 1.

  • Linh Pham
    11th June 2020 - 10:38 am ·

    Dear Pauline,
    Thank you so much for your efforts. Your talk debunks many myths I have heard about True/False/Not Given questions.
    I know that the only remaining version of the talk is on Andy’s Youtube channel ( However, the embedded subtitles cover most of the slides you used in the talk. I really want to make an animated/illustrated video about True/False/Not given using the audio from the video so that future viewers wouldn’t encounter the same difficulties I had while watching Andy’s video. Of course I won’t do anything without your permission to use your speech. Please let me know your opinion on this matter. Thank you.

    • Pauline
      11th June 2020 - 6:20 pm ·

      Hi, Linh Pham, this is the only existing copy that I know of, so you are more than welcome to do that if you know how to. Can you send me a copy too? Best wishes

      • LINH PHAM
        12th June 2020 - 3:49 am ·

        I will definitely email you the link of the demo video when I finish editing/putting things together. (And I will reedit any parts that you may find inaccurate before publishing it on Youtube.) Thank you for your quick reply. Best wishes ^^.

  • Chethiya
    2nd January 2020 - 4:32 pm ·

    Dear Pauline,
    When we write answers for the reading test in the answer sheet, if I am to write answers in “Simple Letters”, how should I write TRUE,FALSE and NOT GIVEN? Which one of the following is correct?
    1. True,False and Not given

  • Anonymous
    23rd June 2019 - 4:35 am ·

    Dear Ms Pauline,
    I have read your free e-book and have a question in Tru/False/Not given for reading part.In the page 54, the sentence is “He noticed that the city temperatures were higher than country temperatures, regardless of the season.” And you said the answer is TRUE because the source material wrote “the difference temperatures…both in winter and summer”.
    Your answer made me confused because it didn’t mention autumn and spring, so how can you come up with the answer of TRUE? I think it is an example how IELTS reading test tricks candidates. Although I totally understand the passage but I still get confused.

    • Pauline
      24th June 2019 - 8:58 am ·

      First of all, an extract from a short text book exercise cannot be compared to the real test. Text book exercises are written in a completely different way to the real test – there is no pretesting and no team of specialists working on them – the aim is simply to show you how to practice and the type of language you need to be able to understand or use. Secondly, a sentence prior to this one indicates that this is in fact a general phenomenon (therefore applies as all times). I would recommend you look at authentic tests that have been written in a painstaking process and have been pretested (test books 9 onwards) to see if you think that the real test is trying to trick you.

      • Mehdi
        2nd August 2021 - 6:27 am ·

        Dear Cullen,
        I’ve read your book “IELTS Teacher” and now I totally realise the importance of “authentic materials”. This book, like all of your great books, is very helpful and I appreciate the time you devoted for this.
        Now, I have a question. In fact, some teachers believe that we must use Cambridge 9 onwards unless when we are totally ready for the final exam – only few weeks before the real exam. So they advise that we start with Cambridge Book 3 for being familiar with the test types and practicing transcribing and so on. Do you think is it a good idea that we use the old Cambridge Test Books for practicing Listening and Reading skills?
        And would you mind please explaining why you advise only “Cambridge Practice test books 9 onwards” in your book? Is it for all skills or some old books can be beneficial for Listening and Reading?
        I really appreciate your help.

        • Pauline
          2nd August 2021 - 8:18 am ·

          Hi Mehdi
          The IELTS test changed several times in the almost 30 years since it began, the last significant change being in 2005, so earlier books do not reflect the current format. With the practice test books, test books 9 onwards are the closest you can get to the real test because they are created in a similar way and are pretested. This was not always the case with earlier books, which means the level can vary although the format should be the same for books published after 2005 (I am not sure which those are). Certainly those books should help with training, but may be less useful when it comes to understanding the level of the test. Does this help?

          • Mehdi
            2nd August 2021 - 10:20 am ·

            Thank you so much for your clear and comprehensive explanation. I do understand.
            So, maybe it can be said that not only “authentic” but also “up-to-dated” resources are exactly what we need to focus on.
            Best wishes to you

  • Binh Le
    5th June 2019 - 2:22 am ·

    Hi Pauline, I have read and watched all your posts and videos on this website and really appriciate your valuable advice. Recently, I stumbled across a True/False/NG question which confused me quite a bit. Could you give some advice for this?

    The Reading extract from Mindset for IELTS 3, pages 53-54 —————–
    “Milton Ernest Rauschenberg, who later became known as Robert Rauschenberg, was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925, while Andrew Warhola – Andy Warhol – was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both were of European heritage, born to working class families. In Rauschenberg’s case, his childhood environment was hardly inspiring – a blue-collar town that has been described as a ‘cultural wasteland with no art’. His father had no understanding of art and gave him no encouragement. His mother, on the other hand, supported her son as much as she could. For much of his life, 2Rauschenberg had been waiting for the opportunity to leave his hot sticky industrial home town and he did so in 1944, moving to California. Like Rauschenberg, Warhol was close to his mother. A sickly child, he spent a lot of time at home with her. Though he was missing a lot of school, 3he was developing his artistic skills and tastes, so it was actually an important period of his life. He eventually enrolled in the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, where he took his first steps into the art world. Eventually, both artists gravitated towards New York, which, by the early 1950s had taken over from Paris as the centre of the Avant Garde.”
    The statement is: “Rauschenberg was often unwell as a child.”
    My answer is False as we know from the reading that Warhol was unwell as a child.
    But the answer from the book is Not Given which really confuses me. Could you elaborate on this?
    Thank you so much.

    • Pauline
      5th June 2019 - 8:32 am ·

      Hi Binh le
      Well written test materials must have questions with one clear answer. If they do not, then the skills needed for reading are not being tested and, as a result, you will not acquire the skills necessary for success in the test. Furthermore, if the answer key does not reflect the fact that there are 2 or more answers, then this makes the test materials impossible and leaves the students and teachers confused. I do not say ‘candidates’ here because these are features of preparation books that are written by people who are not skilled test writers.

      It takes a long time to learn how to write test questions so that they are fair, valid, and reliable, and have a good washback effect to the classroom. It took me 5 years of having my work edited and rejected to understand the basics of how to create materials like this, and a further 5 years to master these skills. I did not write my first book until I had done this. I have also trained many test writers, so I can tell you confidently that the material you have shown here does not reflect the way that fair, valid, reliable T/F/NG questions are written. As you rightly say, there are 2 possible answers here. The statement is both False (we can correct this statement by saying ‘No, Warhol was often unwell.’ and also Not given when it comes to Rauschenberg (we do not know if he was often unwell as a child).

      This is not a sign that the real test is confusing, it is a sign that the writer does not understand how these questions work. Other problems you may find will be:
      1) multiple choice questions where many of the the options do not logically or grammatically fit the stem. This means you can ‘dismiss the silly options’ and you can often answer without reading
      2) You will see that many questions match the passage almost word for word with only one or two differences. This creates a vocabulary matching exercises and again, means you do not acquire the reading skills needed for the real test.

  • Yasir
    5th October 2017 - 8:18 pm ·

    Hello Pauline, I appreciate your efforts for everything but I request you to share some of your own writing task 1 and task 2 modal answers for all kinds of reports and essays.

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