Signal Words in IELTS Reading

An important way to improve your reading skills is to understand the signal words in IELTS reading. Signal words help the writer to get their ideas into shape. Therefore, they can help us to understand the structure of an article and identify writers’ views. Besides, they are essential for quickly locating key information for a question because sometimes the answers are just around these words. Here is a list of frequently used signal words in IELTS reading articles as well as some example sentences from IELTS reading practice tests.


Proper Nouns

Proper nouns refer to particular names, things, places or ideas such as Mary and London. They begin with capital letters, so they are quite easy to locate in the article.

Try to find the proper noun in the following sentence!

A report published in 1992 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emphasized the health dangers, especially from side-stream smoke.

Key: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)


Compare/Contrast Signal words

Compare/contrast signal words can show the likenesses or differences between two or more views or facts. You will find key information right before or after these words. Here are some examples: however, but, different from, similar to, although, despite and while.

Try to find the signal word in the following sentence!

Evenings are important for winding down before sleep; however, dietician Geraldine Georgeou warns that an after-five carbohydrate-fast is more cultural myth than chronobiological demand.

Key: however


Sequence/addition Signals

Sequence signal words are used to show a certain order between ideas or examples. The common signal words you will see in the IELTS reading are first, firstly, second, secondly, third, thirdly, next, in addition, besides, moreover, furthermore and at last.

Try to find the signal words in the paragraph below!

A number of steps need to be taken in order to avert a costly predicament in the coming decades. Firstly, all existing supplies of helium ought to be conserved and released only by permit, with medical uses receiving precedence over other commercial or recreational demands. Secondly, conservation should be obligatory and enforced by a regulatory agency. At the moment some users, such as hospitals, tend to recycle diligently while others, such as NASA, squander massive amounts of helium. Lastly, research into alternatives to helium must begin in earnest.

Key: Firstly, Secondly, Lastly


Cause and Result Signal words

Some signal words can indicate the cause and result relationship such as because, since, for the reason that, due to, so, therefore, result from and the result of. You can find out the reason or the effect by locating these words.

Can you find the signal word in this sentence?

Our unique abilities are the result of an expansive third brain – the neocortex – which engages with logic, reason and ideas.

Key: the result of


Exemplification/illustration Signal words

Exemplification/illustration signals are for giving examples and supporting facts. You can see for example, for instance, specifically and such as in the IELTS reading passages.

Can you find the signal words in this sentence?

Recent therapeutic developments for humans such as artificial light machines and melatonin administration can reset our circadian rhythms, for example, but our bodies can tell the difference and health suffers when we breach these natural rhythms for extended periods of time.

Key: such as, for example


Clarification signal words

Clarification signal words tell you that the writer is going to further explain an idea. Here are some examples: that is to say, that is, in other words and to put it another way.

Can you find the signal word in the following sentence?

Numerous creatures, humans included, are largely diurnal – that is, they like to come out during the hours of sunlight.

Key: that is

Signal Words are useful tools for you to understand an article better. You can circle these words when you scan or skim the passage, which will help you to quickly locate information when answering the questions.

Further IELTS Reading Resources

I hope this has helped! For more information, tips, tricks, and practice, be sure to check out Magoosh’s Complete Guide to IELTS Reading. And consider a subscription (or free one week trial) to Magoosh IELTS, for access to video lessons and practice questions for every section of the exam.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Kuangyan

    Kuangyan creates IELTS blogs at Magoosh. She is passionate about language education and has a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from New York University. Kuangyan has experience of teaching English both in China and in US. In her free time, she drinks mocha, does yoga, takes photos and travels to different places to explore the exciting world.