Inference Questions in the Reading Section

Whether you take the General or the Academic version of the IELTS exam, one of the sections will test your reading skills. While the material that you read will be different, depending on which version of the exam you take, the questions that you will have to answer will be similar.

One of these question types on the IELTS Reading section is an inference question. In some ways you can treat this as a question subtype. Inferences are most commonly tested within the IELTS Reading multiple choice question type, but inference can also come up in any of the twelve IELTS Reading question types. Inference questions test your ability to read a passage and see not only what the author is actually saying, but also what the author means to say.

What is an Inference?

An inference is a way of knowing something. It is a way of using logic to see or understand something more than what is being said. Inferences are very helpful to use, because they can let you turn only a couple of pieces of information into many more.

Examples of an Inference

Here is a really easy example of an inference: If someone is talking about soccer, and they say, “Arsenal is in third place, but they’re ahead of Manchester United,” then you can infer that Manchester United is not in either first or second place. How do you know this, when they did not say where Manchester United was in the standings? Because Manchester United can’t be in first or second, if they are behind the third place team.

This is an inference, because you are using logic to understand something more than what was said.

How to Answer Inference Questions on the IELTS

Being able to infer something is a very important language skill because it allows you to understand much more information. Because of how important it is to be able to infer something, the IELTS Reading section will include several inference questions.

When you come across an inference question on the IELTS, you will be asked to state what the author was inferring when he or she wrote a particular passage. You may also be asked to give the “implied meaning” of a passage, which is just another way of saying “inference.”

When you come across one of these questions, look at the passage it is asking about. There should be a piece of information that is obvious from reading the passage, but is not actually stated in that passage. That missing piece of information is the inference, or the “implied meaning,” that you are being asked about. If you are still stumped, read the passage and then think, “therefore…” It can help cue your mind into looking for what is missing.

Oftentimes, the piece of information that you are supposed to infer from a passage will seem obvious to you. Remember that the IELTS is a language test, not a logic exam. The inference that you are supposed to make for one of these questions in the Reading section often will not be a big one.

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  • Sean

    Sean is a former IELTS administrator and an IELTS blogger for Magoosh. He has a degree in English literature from the University of New Hampshire, and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati. He has also studied abroad in Cambridge, England and in Botswana. In his spare time, he plays ultimate Frisbee, reads, plays guitar, and writes novels, though not all at the same time.