IELTS Reading: True, False, Not Given

Everybody hates it, but there’s no avoiding it: the True, False, Not Given question in IELTS Reading! Let’s take a look at an example.

TRUE, FALSE, NOT GIVEN: Sample Question

What’s going on inside our skulls? Thanks to brain scanners and other hi-tech methods, we now have the technology to peer inside the brain. However, that wasn’t always the case. Human beings have tried to understand the workings of our mysterious grey matter in various other ways over the past few centuries.

Do the following statements agree with the information in the text? Write TRUE, FALSE or NOT GIVEN.

1. Brain scanners are not the only way to see inside the brain.

2. There is a long history of using technology to study the brain.

3. Scientists now have a good understanding of how the brain works.

How did you do? Now let’s answer each question in turn.

TRUE, FALSE, NOT GIVEN: How to Answer the Question

First, read the passage to get an idea of what it’s about. Don’t worry about any strange words or phrases like ‘mysterious grey matter’. They may not be important!

1. Brain scanners are not the only way to see inside the brain.

The first thing to do after reading the question is mentally paraphrase it. This helps us focus on the true MEANING of the question rather than the words used. It has the additional benefit of activating other vocabulary that can be used to express the same idea.

So, brain scanners are not the only way to see inside the brain. Pay attention to the word ‘not’. That means there must be ANOTHER way to visualise the brain. Check the passage, first sentence: ‘brain scanners and other hi-tech methods’. That seems to mean the same thing as the question. But wait, does ‘peer inside the brain’ mean the same as ‘see inside the brain’? We might not know for sure, but we can guess that it does because of the presence of ‘inside’.

I think we can confidently say that the answer to Question 1 is TRUE.

2. There is a long history of using technology to study the brain.

Again, paraphrase the question: People (scientists?) have used technology for many years to try to understand the brain.

The passage says: ‘Human beings have tried to understand the workings of our mysterious grey matter in various other ways over the past few centuries.’ Since the subject is the brain, we can guess that ‘grey matter’ also refers to the brain. The past few centuries is a long time, so this would seem to be true. But wait, what does ‘in other ways’ mean exactly? Does it mean ‘using other forms of technology’ or does it mean ‘not using technology’?

The sentence before says ‘However, that wasn’t always the case.’ So there is some sort of conflict between now and the past. On balance, the question seems to be saying the opposite, so the answer to Question 2 should be FALSE.

3. Scientists now have a good understanding of how the brain works.

So, researchers today can explain the functions of the brain. This sounds true enough. But wait, never let your own opinions influence your answer to a True, False, Not Given question in IELTS!

The passage tells us that ‘we now have the technology to peer inside the brain’. We think ‘peer’ means ‘see’, but does this mean we ‘understand’ the brain? The passage also says: ‘Human beings have tried to understand … over the past few centuries.’ So they are still trying. But trying to understand and actually understanding are not quite the same thing.

In Question 3, it’s difficult to know if scientists actually understand the brain. The passage doesn’t give us enough information about this, so the answer must be NOT GIVEN.

Teacher’s Note

What do you think? Do you agree with the answers to these questions? Here’s a final thought: in order for IELTS to function well as a test, there must be a few extremely difficult questions in the reading section. That helps to separate a brilliant candidate from a very good candidate. It’s likely that these very tricky questions will be True, False, Not Given. So give it your best guess, but don’t get stressed when a True, False, Not Given question seems impossible to answer. It could just be part of the design of the test.