Strategies For Guessing The Correct Word

IELTS Reading Tips

Dear IELTS Students,

Often in a reading text we are faced with a number of words that we have not come across before. These words are completely unknown to us and without an understanding of these words you might be unable to fully understand the text. 

Do not despair; there are a number of strategies for guessing the correct word from a passage.


Context plays a big role in understanding a text and sometimes you may be able to guess correctly the meaning of an unknown word simply by understanding the context. Here are three strategies for you to think about and practice the next time you are faced with an unknown word:

1. Look at the unknown word.

What part of speech is the word? Is it a noun, verb, an adjective or an adverb? Look at the suffix, i.e. the ending of the word can help you know the part of speech. Words ending in -tion are nouns (nation, invitation, organization), words ending in -ize are verbs (to emphasize, to organize, to synchronize) and words ending in -ly are adverbs (slowly, correctly, hurriedly).

2. Look at the sentence or clause that the unknown word is in.

Use this to help you work out what words go with the unknown word.

  • If the unknown word is a noun, which adjective describes it? What verb is it near? What does the noun do or what is done to it?
  • If it's a verb, what noun is the subject or object? Does an adverb add more information to it?
  • If it's an adjective, what noun goes with it?
  • If it's an adverb, what verb is it describing?

3. Look at the relationship between the sentence containing the unknown word and other nearby sentences or paragraphs.

What is the relationship between the sentence which contains the unknown word and other sentences or paragraphs? i.e. what is the sentence or paragraph about? What do you already know about this subject that can help you guess the meaning of the unknown word? Words like 'but', 'however', 'when', 'if', 'because', can be useful. They show relationships between ideas such as opposites, time, an example, cause and effect etc...

For example: I was ravenously hungry because i hadn't eaten for three days.

The thought that someone hadn't eaten for this length of time would give you a good idea that they were extremely hungry!

Words like 'this', 'these', 'those', and 'such' also give useful information

For example: I looked after my nephew yesterday. He is rude, violent and argumentative. These loathsome qualities that he has makes him very unpleasant to be around.

Do you think the qualities he has are good or bad? you would be correct if you thought they are awful, terrible and really bad.

Try some of these strategies next time you come across an unknown word in a reading passage and they will help you to guess the correct word!