IELTS® Academic Reading Practice 15

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Infant Attention

Daniel Haworth got wheeled behind the dark screen with a high chair, suddenly his 9 months old eyebrows got cloaked with fear. His dim blue eyes dart left and right looking for familiar reassurance of his mom's face. She calls his name and makes relieving sounds, however, Daniel detects something unusual going on. He sucks his fingers for comfort but this time, he gets none, making his mouth fold and his body stiffened, and finally, he cries out of distress. This is the usual pattern when babies are abandoned or left alone. His mother lifts him up, consoles him, and after two minutes, fearful and scared Daniel returns to the dark booth behind the scenes and surrenders himself to the baby lab, a unit set up in 2005 at the University of Manchester in northwest England to research how babies think.

It is very fascinating and amazing to most parents and even developmental psychologists to watch babies grow in every aspect of their lives. We can know when they are happy by just a smile or when they are in distress by sign language. But can we know their thoughts?  How much of their understanding and reactions to this world comes instilled at birth? How much does experience impact? Such are the main curiosities being explored at the baby lab. Though the facility is just 18 months old and has tested only 100 infants, it’s already challenging current thinking on what babies know and how they come to know it. 

Daniel is now engrossed in watching video clips of a red toy train on a circular track. The train enters a tunnel and emerges on the other side. While all this is happening, an unseen device above the screen is monitoring Daniel’s eyes as they follow the train and measuring the diameter of his pupils 50 times a second. As Daniel gets bored or “habituated”, as psychologists define the process, he rapidly loses attention. But it gets heightened whenever something changes. The train might change colour to green, or even blue and sometimes, an impossible thing can happen like the train going into a tunnel one colour and coming out in another. 

Variations of experiments like this one, examining infant attention, have been a standard tool of developmental psychology ever since the Swiss pioneer of the field, Jean Piaget, started experimenting on his children in the 1920s. Piaget’s work led him to conclude that infants younger than 9 months have no innate knowledge of how the world works or any sense of “object permanence” (that people and things still exist even when they’re not seen). Instead, babies must gradually construct this knowledge from experience. Piaget’s “constructivist” theories were massively influential on postwar educators and psychologist, but over the past 20 years or so they have been largely set aside by a new generation of “nativist” psychologists and cognitive scientists whose more sophisticated experiments led them to theorize that infants arrive already equipped with some knowledge of the physical world and even rudimentary programming for math and language. Baby lab director Sylvain Sirois has been putting these smart-baby theories through a rigorous set of tests. His conclusions so far tend to be more Piagetian: “Babies,” he says, “know nothing.” 

What Sirois and his postgraduate assistant Lain Jackson are challenging is the interpretation of a variety of classic experiments begun in the mid-1980s in which babies were shown physical events that appeared to violate such basic concepts as gravity, solidity and contiguity. In one such experiment, by University of Illinois psychologist Renee Baillargeon, a hinged wooden panel appeared to pass right through a box. M.I.T’s Elizabeth Spelke found that babies as young as 3 1/2 months would reliably look longer at the impossible event than at the normal one. Their conclusion: babies have enough built-in knowledge to recognise that something is wrong. Sirois does not take issue with the way these experiments were conducted. “The methods are correct and replicable,” he says, “it’s the interpretation that’s the problem.” In a critical review to be published in the forthcoming issue of the European Journal of Developmental Psychology, he and Jackson pour cold water over recent experiments that claim to have observed innate or precocious social cognition skills in infants. His own experiments indicate that a baby’s fascination with physically impossible events merely reflects a response to stimuli that are novel. Data from the eye tracker and the measurement of the pupils (which widen in response to arousal or interest) show that impossible events involving familiar objects are no more interesting than possible events involving novel objects. In other words, When Daniel had seen the red train come out of the tunnel green a few times, he gets as bored as when it stays the same color. The mistake of previous research, says Sirois, has been to leap to the conclusion that infants can understand the concept of impossibility from the mere fact that they are able to perceive some novelty in it. “The real explanation is boring,” he says

So how do babies bridge the gap between knowing squat and drawing triangles—a task Daniel’s sister Lois, 2 1/2, is happily tackling as she waits for her brother? “Babies have to learn everything, but as Piaget was saying, they start with a few primitive reflexes that get things going,” said Sirois. For example, hardwired in the brain is an instinct that draws a baby’s eyes to a human face. From brain imaging studies we also know that the brain has some sort of visual buffer that continues to represent objects after they have been removed—a lingering perception rather than conceptual understanding. So when babies encounter novel or unexpected events, Sirois explains, “there’s a mismatch between the buffer and the information they’re getting at that moment. And what you do when you’ve got a mismatch is you try to clear the buffer. And that takes attention.” So learning says Sirois, is essentially the laborious business of resolving mismatches. “The thing is, you can do a lot of it with this wet sticky thing called a brain. It’s a fantastic, statistical-learning machine”. Daniel, exams ended, picks up a plastic tiger and, chewing thoughtfully upon its heat, smiles as if to agree.




This reading practice simulates one part of the IELTS Academic Reading test. You should spend about twenty minutes on it. Read the passage and answer questions 29-40.
Questions 29-32
Look at the following Statements (Questions 29-32) and List of people below.

Match each statement with the correct person

Write the correct number A-E in boxes Questions 29-32 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.
List of people
  1. Jean Piaget
  2. Sylvian Sirois
  3. Lain Jackson
  4. Renee Baillargeon
  5. Elizabeth Spelke

29. Decided that babies spent more time looking at something unusual.

30. Believes in the validity of earlier experiments.

31. Their work is no longer considered relevant to many of today’s experts.

32. Agrees with an earlier theory that babies are born without any innate knowledge of the world around them.

Questions 33-37
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading passage? In boxes 33-37 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE   if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE   if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN   if there is no information on this.

33. Only 100 experiments have been done but can prove the theories about what we know.

34. Some experiments focused on the way in which babies move their arms and legs when shown an impossible event.

35. A baby will respond more quickly to the face of their mother.

36. Babies need to spend time learning to recognize a human face.

37. The learning process involves a series of learning from mistakes.

Questions 38-40
Complete each sentence with the correct ending A-E from the box below.

Write the correct letter A-E in boxes 38-40 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.

  1. when they had seen the same thing for a while.
  2. when facing the possible and impossible events
  3. before they are born.
  4. before they learn from experience.
  5. when the previous things appear again in the lives.

38. Jean Piaget believes babies only get the knowledge

39. Sylvain Sirois thinks that babies can reflect a response to stimuli that are novel

40. Sylvain Sirois thinks babies’ attention level will drop




Answer Sheet
1
N/A
2
N/A
3
N/A
4
N/A
5
N/A
6
N/A
7
N/A
8
N/A
9
N/A
10
N/A
11
N/A
12
N/A
13
N/A
14
N/A
15
N/A
16
N/A
17
N/A
18
N/A
19
N/A
20
N/A
21
N/A
22
N/A
23
N/A
24
N/A
25
N/A
26
N/A
27
N/A
28
N/A
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40


Reading Passage Vocabulary
Infant Attention


Daniel Haworth got wheeled behind the dark screen with a high chair, suddenly his 9 months old eyebrows got cloaked with fear. His dim blue eyes dart left and right looking for familiar reassurance of his mom's face. She calls his name and makes relieving sounds, however, Daniel detects something unusual going on. He sucks his fingers for comfort but this time, he gets none, making his mouth fold and his body stiffened, and finally, he cries out of distress. This is the usual pattern when babies are abandoned or left alone. His mother lifts him up, consoles him, and after two minutes, fearful and scared Daniel returns to the dark booth behind the scenes and surrenders himself to the baby lab, a unit set up in 2005 at the University of Manchester in northwest England to research how babies think.

It is very fascinating and amazing to most parents and even developmental psychologists to watch babies grow in every aspect of their lives. We can know when they are happy by just a smile or when they are in distress by sign language. But can we know their thoughts?  How much of their understanding and reactions to this world comes instilled at birth? How much does experience impact? Such are the main curiosities being explored at the baby lab. Though the facility is just 18 months old and has tested only 100 infants, it’s already challenging current thinking on what babies know and how they come to know it. 

Daniel is now engrossed in watching video clips of a red toy train on a circular track. The train enters a tunnel and emerges on the other side. While all this is happening, an unseen device above the screen is monitoring Daniel’s eyes as they follow the train and measuring the diameter of his pupils 50 times a second. As Daniel gets bored or “habituated”, as psychologists define the process, he rapidly loses attention. But it gets heightened whenever something changes. The train might change colour to green, or even blue and sometimes, an impossible thing can happen like the train going into a tunnel one colour and coming out in another. 

Variations of experiments like this one, examining infant attention, have been a standard tool of developmental psychology ever since the Swiss pioneer of the field, Jean Piaget, started experimenting on his children in the 1920s. Piaget’s work led him to conclude that infants younger than 9 months have no innate knowledge of how the world works or any sense of “object permanence” (that people and things still exist even when they’re not seen). Instead, babies must gradually construct this knowledge from experience. Piaget’s “constructivist” theories were massively influential on postwar educators and psychologist, but over the past 20 years or so they have been largely set aside by a new generation of “nativist” psychologists and cognitive scientists whose more sophisticated experiments led them to theorize that infants arrive already equipped with some knowledge of the physical world and even rudimentary programming for math and language. Baby lab director Sylvain Sirois has been putting these smart-baby theories through a rigorous set of tests. His conclusions so far tend to be more Piagetian: “Babies,” he says, “know nothing.” 

What Sirois and his postgraduate assistant Lain Jackson are challenging is the interpretation of a variety of classic experiments begun in the mid-1980s in which babies were shown physical events that appeared to violate such basic concepts as gravity, solidity and contiguity. In one such experiment, by University of Illinois psychologist Renee Baillargeon, a hinged wooden panel appeared to pass right through a box. M.I.T’s Elizabeth Spelke found that babies as young as 3 1/2 months would reliably look longer at the impossible event than at the normal one. Their conclusion: babies have enough built-in knowledge to recognise that something is wrong. Sirois does not take issue with the way these experiments were conducted. “The methods are correct and replicable,” he says, “it’s the interpretation that’s the problem.” In a critical review to be published in the forthcoming issue of the European Journal of Developmental Psychology, he and Jackson pour cold water over recent experiments that claim to have observed innate or precocious social cognition skills in infants. His own experiments indicate that a baby’s fascination with physically impossible events merely reflects a response to stimuli that are novel. Data from the eye tracker and the measurement of the pupils (which widen in response to arousal or interest) show that impossible events involving familiar objects are no more interesting than possible events involving novel objects. In other words, When Daniel had seen the red train come out of the tunnel green a few times, he gets as bored as when it stays the same color. The mistake of previous research, says Sirois, has been to leap to the conclusion that infants can understand the concept of impossibility from the mere fact that they are able to perceive some novelty in it. “The real explanation is boring,” he says

So how do babies bridge the gap between knowing squat and drawing triangles—a task Daniel’s sister Lois, 2 1/2, is happily tackling as she waits for her brother? “Babies have to learn everything, but as Piaget was saying, they start with a few primitive reflexes that get things going,” said Sirois. For example, hardwired in the brain is an instinct that draws a baby’s eyes to a human face. From brain imaging studies we also know that the brain has some sort of visual buffer that continues to represent objects after they have been removed—a lingering perception rather than conceptual understanding. So when babies encounter novel or unexpected events, Sirois explains, “there’s a mismatch between the buffer and the information they’re getting at that moment. And what you do when you’ve got a mismatch is you try to clear the buffer. And that takes attention.” So learning says Sirois, is essentially the laborious business of resolving mismatches. “The thing is, you can do a lot of it with this wet sticky thing called a brain. It’s a fantastic, statistical-learning machine”. Daniel, exams ended, picks up a plastic tiger and, chewing thoughtfully upon its heat, smiles as if to agree.

 
IELTS Academic Reading Tips for Success
These are general tips that will appear on all reading questions.

Tips to improve your reading speed
To get a high score on the IELTS reading section, you need to have a fast reading speed. To have a fast reading speed, you need to improve your vocabulary and practice dissecting sentences. One strategy to dissect a sentence is to look for the subject and verb of the sentence. Finding the subject and verb will help you better understand the main idea of said sentence. Keep in mind, a common feature of a IELTS reading passage is to join strings of ideas to form long compound sentences. This produces large chunks that students have a hard time absorbing. Do not get overwhelmed by its length, just look for the subject and verb, the rest of the ideas will flow.


Keep in mind, having a slow reading speed makes skimming or scanning a reading passage more difficult. The process of quickly skimming through a reading passage for specific keywords or main ideas is a requirement for you to employ successful reading strategies to improve your IELTS reading score. In other words, skimming and scanning are critical skills to ensure you complete all questions in the allotted time frame.
IELTS Reading Strategies
Once you can read and comprehend a passage with a rate of, at least, 220 words per minute, you'll be ready to start implementing our strategies. All too often, students spend too much time reading the passages and not enough time answering the questions. Here is a step by step guide for tackling the reading section.

  1. Step 1: Read questions first

    One of the most common mistakes that candidates make when approaching the reading exam is reading every single word of the passages. Although you can practice for the exam by reading for pleasure, "reading blindly" (reading without any sense of what the questions will ask) will not do you any favors in the exam. Instead, it will hurt your chances for effectively managing your time and getting the best score.

    The main reason to read the questions first is because the type of question may determine what you read in the passage or how you read it. For example, some question types will call for the "skimming" technique, while others may call for the "scanning" technique.

    It is important to answer a set of questions that are of the same question type. You'll need to determine which question type you want to tackle first. A good strategy would be to start with the easier question type and move on to more difficult question types later. The Easiest question types are the ones where you spend less time reading. For example, the Matching Heading question type is an easier one because you only need to find the heading that best describes the main idea of a paragraph. An example of a difficult question type would be Identifying Information. For this question type, you'll need to read each paragraph to find out if each statement is TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN according to the passage.

    Here is a table that lists the difficulty levels for each question type. Use this table as a reference when choosing which question type you want to tackle first.


    Difficulty level Question Type
    Easy Sentence Completion
    Short answer
    Medium Matching Features
    Multiple choice
    Matching Headings
    Summary, Table, Flow-Chart Completion
    Difficult Matching Sentence Endings
    Matching Information
    Identifying Information (TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN)
    Identifying Viewer's claims (YES/NO/NOT GIVEN)

  2. Step 2: Read for an objective

    After you've read the questions for the passage, you will be able to read for an objective. What does this mean? For example, if you come across a question that includes the year "1896", you can make a note of when this year comes up in the text, using it to answer the question later on. There are two reading techniques that will help you stay on track with reading for an objective. The first one, skimming, is best defined as reading fast in order to get the "gist", or general idea, or a passage. With this technique, you are not stopping for any unfamiliar words or looking for specific details. The second technique, scanning, is best defined as reading for specific information. With this technique, you are not reading for the overall gist, but rather, specific information. Notice how each of these techniques has a specific objective in mind. This will help you find information more quickly.

  3. Step 3: Take notes

    As you're reading for an objective, you should also be making notes on the margins of the passage, placing stars next to key information, or underlining things that you believe will help you answer the various questions. This will make it easier for you to check back when you are asked certain things in the questions. Choose whichever note-taking system is right for you - just make sure you do it!

  4. Step 4: Answer wisely

    After you've read the questions, read the passage, and have taken any appropriate notes, you you should have located the part of the text where you where you need to read carefully. Then just read carefully and think critically to determine the correct answer.

IELTS Reading Question Types
 
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