IELTS® Academic Reading Practice 7

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Early Writing Systems

A It was in Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that civilization arose, and it is there that we find the earliest examples of one of the key features of civilization, writing. These examples, in the form of inscribed clay tablets that date to shortly before 3000 B.C.E., have been discovered among the archaeological remains of the Sumerians, a gifted group of people who settled in southern Mesopotamia.

B The Egyptians were not far behind in developing writing, but we cannot follow the history of their writing in detail because they used a perishable writing material. In ancient times, the banks of the Nile were lined with papyrus plants, and from the papyrus reeds the Egyptians made a form of paper; it was excellent in quality but, like with any paper, it was fragile. Mesopotamia’s rivers boasted no such useful reeds, but its land did provide good clay, and as a consequence the clay tablet became the standard material. Though clumsy and bulky, it has a virtue dear to archaeologists: it is durable. Fire, for example, which is death to papyrus paper or other writing materials such as leather and wood, simply bakes it hard, thereby making it even more durable. So when a conqueror set a Mesopotamian palace ablaze, he helped ensure the survival of any clay tablets in it. Clay, moreover, is cheap, and forming it into tablets is easy. These factors allowed the clay tablet to become the preferred writing material, not only throughout Mesopotamia, but far outside it as well.

C The Sumerians perfected a style of writing suited to clay. This script consists of simple shapes, which are basically just wedge shapes and lines that could easily be incised in soft clay with a reed or wooden stylus; scholars have dubbed it cuneiform from the wedge-shaped marks (cunei in Latin) that are its hallmark. Although the ingredients are merely wedges and lines, there are hundreds of combinations of these basic forms that stand for different sounds or words. Learning these complex signs required long training and much practice; inevitably, literacy was largely limited to a small professional class, the scribes.

D The Akkadians conquered the Sumerians around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E., and they took over the various cuneiform signs used for writing Sumerian and gave them sound and word values that fit their own language. The Babylonians and Assyrians did the same, and so did peoples in Syria and Asia Minor. The literature of the Sumerians was treasured throughout the Near East, and long after Sumerian ceased to be spoken, the Babylonians and Assyrians and others kept it alive as a literary language, the way Europeans kept Latin alive after the fall of Rome. For the scribes of these non-Sumerian languages, training was doubly demanding since they had to know the values of the various cuneiform signs for Sumerian as well as for their own language.

E Cuneiform writing lasted for some 3,000 years, in a vast line of succession that ran through Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Nineveh, and Babylon, and preserved for us fifteen languages in an area represented by modern-day Iraq, Syria, and western Iran. The oldest cuneiform texts recorded the transactions of tax collectors and merchants, the receipts and bills of sale of an urban society. They had to do with things like grain, goats, and real estate. Later, Babylonian scribes recorded the laws and kept other kinds of records. Knowledge conferred power. As a result, the scribes were assigned their own goddess, Nisaba, later replaced by the god Nabu of Borsippa, whose symbol is neither weapon nor dragon but something far more fearsome, the cuneiform stick.

F Cuneiform texts on science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics abound, some offering astoundingly precise data. One tablet records the speed of the Moon over 248 days; another documents an early sighting of Halley's Comet, from September 22 to September 28, 164 B.C.E. More esoteric texts attempt to explain old Babylonian customs, such as the procedure for curing someone who is ill, which included rubbing tar and gypsum on the sick person's door and drawing a design at the foot of the person's bed. What is clear from the vast body of texts (some 20,000 tablets were found in King Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh) is that scribes took pride in their writing and knowledge.

G The ancient Egyptians invented a different way of writing and a new substance to write on - papyrus, a precursor of paper, made from a wetland plant. The Greeks had a special name for this writing: hieroglyphic, literally meaning "sacred writing.” This, they thought, was language fit for the gods, which explains why it was carved on the walls of pyramids and other religious structures. Perhaps hieroglyphics are Egypt's great contribution to the history of writing. Hieroglyphic wiring, in use from 3100 B.C.E. until 394 C.E., resulted in the creation of texts that were fine art as well as communication. Egypt gave us the tradition of the scribe not just as educated person but as artist and calligrapher.

H Scholars have detected some 6,000 separate hieroglyphic characters in use over the history of Egyptian writing, but it appears that never more than a thousand were in use during any one period. It still seems a lot to recall, but what was lost in efficiency was more than made up for in the beauty and richness of the texts. Writing was meant to impress the eye with the vastness of creating itself. Each symbol or glyph - the flowering reed (pronounced like V), the owl ("m"), the quail chick ("w"), etcetera - was a tiny work of art. Manuscripts were compiled with an eye to the overall design. Egyptologists have noticed that the glyphs that constitute individual words were sometimes shuffled to make the text more pleasing to the eye with little regard for sound or sense.

No mention of Sumerians using preferably using papyrus, so the answer is NOT GIVEN.
Throughout the passage, there is no mention of clay being unavailable, nor is there mention of clay being available, therefore the answer is NOT GIVEN.
There is no mention of the scribes having to learn all the languages, nor is there mention of the scribes knowing all the languages. Therefore, the answer is NOT GIVEN.
Cuneiform was written on clay, and clay is durable enough to last long enough for archaeologists to find.
Yes, it was cheap, so it became the preferred writing material, but the question is asking as a user, what is the most important feature. Most important and preferred are not synonymous, therefore, the answer is NOT GIVEN.



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 1-14.
Questions 1-5
The reading passage has eight paragraphs labelled A-H.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter A-H in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.

1. a consequence of the fact that scribes were powerful in Babylonian society.

2. an example of cuneiform texts that provides precise scientific information

3. reasons why hieroglyphics were not widely used

4. reasons why archaeologists' knowledge of the early history of writing relies mainly on Sumerian cuneiform

5. a description of how Sumerian languages were used by other civilizations.

Questions 6-12
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading passage? In boxes 6-12 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.

6. The durability of clay as writing material was the most important feature for users in Mesopotamia.

7. Because of its low cost and ease of use, clay became the preferred writing material throughout Mesopotamia and well beyond it.

8. Sumerians preferred clay tablets for writing over papyrus.

9. Clay was not available in Egypt.

10. Cuneiform writing was composed of very simple shapes and was understood by the majority of Sumerians.

11. Akkadians assigned new sound and word values to the signs of Sumerian cuneiform.

12. Scribes using cuneiform in Assyria, Babylon, Syria and Asia Minor had to learn all the languages that used the cuneiform script.

Questions 13-14
Choose two letters A-E.

Write your answers in boxes 13-14 on your answer sheet.

Which TWO of the following are stated about hieroglyphic writing?
  1. The glyphs used as symbols for individual words in texts were sometimes chosen for their particular shapes.
  2. Up to a 6,000 characters used during a given period
  3. Written on papyrus only.
  4. The symbols for individual words were sometimes moved around in a text, regardless of these words' meaning
  5. Associated with buildings that had a religious function

13

14




Answer Sheet
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
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
N/A
30
N/A
31
N/A
32
N/A
33
N/A
34
N/A
35
N/A
36
N/A
37
N/A
38
N/A
39
N/A
40
N/A


Reading Passage Vocabulary
Early Writing Systems


A It was in Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that civilization arose, and it is there that we find the earliest examples of one of the key features of civilization, writing. These examples, in the form of inscribed clay tablets that date to shortly before 3000 B.C.E., have been discovered among the archaeological remains of the Sumerians, a gifted group of people who settled in southern Mesopotamia.

B The Egyptians were not far behind in developing writing, but we cannot follow the history of their writing in detail because they used a perishable writing material. In ancient times, the banks of the Nile were lined with papyrus plants, and from the papyrus reeds the Egyptians made a form of paper; it was excellent in quality but, like with any paper, it was fragile. Mesopotamia’s rivers boasted no such useful reeds, but its land did provide good clay, and as a consequence the clay tablet became the standard material. Though clumsy and bulky, it has a virtue dear to archaeologists: it is durable. Fire, for example, which is death to papyrus paper or other writing materials such as leather and wood, simply bakes it hard, thereby making it even more durable. So when a conqueror set a Mesopotamian palace ablaze, he helped ensure the survival of any clay tablets in it. Clay, moreover, is cheap, and forming it into tablets is easy. These factors allowed the clay tablet to become the preferred writing material, not only throughout Mesopotamia, but far outside it as well.

C The Sumerians perfected a style of writing suited to clay. This script consists of simple shapes, which are basically just wedge shapes and lines that could easily be incised in soft clay with a reed or wooden stylus; scholars have dubbed it cuneiform from the wedge-shaped marks (cunei in Latin) that are its hallmark. Although the ingredients are merely wedges and lines, there are hundreds of combinations of these basic forms that stand for different sounds or words. Learning these complex signs required long training and much practice; inevitably, literacy was largely limited to a small professional class, the scribes.

D The Akkadians conquered the Sumerians around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E., and they took over the various cuneiform signs used for writing Sumerian and gave them sound and word values that fit their own language. The Babylonians and Assyrians did the same, and so did peoples in Syria and Asia Minor. The literature of the Sumerians was treasured throughout the Near East, and long after Sumerian ceased to be spoken, the Babylonians and Assyrians and others kept it alive as a literary language, the way Europeans kept Latin alive after the fall of Rome. For the scribes of these non-Sumerian languages, training was doubly demanding since they had to know the values of the various cuneiform signs for Sumerian as well as for their own language.

E Cuneiform writing lasted for some 3,000 years, in a vast line of succession that ran through Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Nineveh, and Babylon, and preserved for us fifteen languages in an area represented by modern-day Iraq, Syria, and western Iran. The oldest cuneiform texts recorded the transactions of tax collectors and merchants, the receipts and bills of sale of an urban society. They had to do with things like grain, goats, and real estate. Later, Babylonian scribes recorded the laws and kept other kinds of records. Knowledge conferred power. As a result, the scribes were assigned their own goddess, Nisaba, later replaced by the god Nabu of Borsippa, whose symbol is neither weapon nor dragon but something far more fearsome, the cuneiform stick.

F Cuneiform texts on science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics abound, some offering astoundingly precise data. One tablet records the speed of the Moon over 248 days; another documents an early sighting of Halley's Comet, from September 22 to September 28, 164 B.C.E. More esoteric texts attempt to explain old Babylonian customs, such as the procedure for curing someone who is ill, which included rubbing tar and gypsum on the sick person's door and drawing a design at the foot of the person's bed. What is clear from the vast body of texts (some 20,000 tablets were found in King Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh) is that scribes took pride in their writing and knowledge.

G The ancient Egyptians invented a different way of writing and a new substance to write on - papyrus, a precursor of paper, made from a wetland plant. The Greeks had a special name for this writing: hieroglyphic, literally meaning "sacred writing.” This, they thought, was language fit for the gods, which explains why it was carved on the walls of pyramids and other religious structures. Perhaps hieroglyphics are Egypt's great contribution to the history of writing. Hieroglyphic wiring, in use from 3100 B.C.E. until 394 C.E., resulted in the creation of texts that were fine art as well as communication. Egypt gave us the tradition of the scribe not just as educated person but as artist and calligrapher.

H Scholars have detected some 6,000 separate hieroglyphic characters in use over the history of Egyptian writing, but it appears that never more than a thousand were in use during any one period. It still seems a lot to recall, but what was lost in efficiency was more than made up for in the beauty and richness of the texts. Writing was meant to impress the eye with the vastness of creating itself. Each symbol or glyph - the flowering reed (pronounced like V), the owl ("m"), the quail chick ("w"), etcetera - was a tiny work of art. Manuscripts were compiled with an eye to the overall design. Egyptologists have noticed that the glyphs that constitute individual words were sometimes shuffled to make the text more pleasing to the eye with little regard for sound or sense.

No mention of Sumerians using preferably using papyrus, so the answer is NOT GIVEN.
Throughout the passage, there is no mention of clay being unavailable, nor is there mention of clay being available, therefore the answer is NOT GIVEN.
There is no mention of the scribes having to learn all the languages, nor is there mention of the scribes knowing all the languages. Therefore, the answer is NOT GIVEN.
Cuneiform was written on clay, and clay is durable enough to last long enough for archaeologists to find.
Yes, it was cheap, so it became the preferred writing material, but the question is asking as a user, what is the most important feature. Most important and preferred are not synonymous, therefore, the answer is NOT GIVEN.
 
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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