How to use antonyms and synonyms to boost your Reading Test score

As we said in an earlier post, the best way to improve your score on the reading test is to, well, read, read, and read some more! Only by reading will you be able to expand your vocabulary resource.

Some students ask if they should just read past exam papers - while this helps you get used to the different task types and different questions used in the reading test, it is unlikely that the same topics will appear too often, so it’s better to read about a wide range of things that interest you.

Frequent, general reading is vital to improving your score on the reading test – read novels; read magazines; read news reports online; read blogs about the things you’re interested in be it sport, cinema, fashion or music – the more you read, the more new vocabulary you’ll encounter.

But what should you do with these new words and phrases that you come across in your reading? Keeping a vocabulary notebook is important to note down new words and phrases. You can arrange words alphabetically or by topic, with lists or with mind maps – whatever works best for you.

When writing down new vocabulary try and find synonyms, other words with similar meanings, and antonyms, words with opposite meanings as these are often used in reading questions.

Group these antonyms and synonyms together – in the reading test, antonyms and synonyms are often used in the questions to refer to words and ideas in the reading passages so that is why it’s important to learn both of these for common words.

There are many free online resources to help you find antonyms and synonyms such as or

Look at this example of a word and its synonyms:

Before – previously / in advance / beforehand / earlier/

And here are some antonyms:

Before - after / afterwards / later / subsequently

Look at the following reading passage and the True / False / Not Given statements to see how antonyms and synonyms are used in the reading test:

True / False / Not Given

1.    The contractors were paid after they did the work.

2.    All fingerprints are different so they can be used to confirm someone’s identity.

The Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India, Sir William Herschel, first used fingerprints to “sign” contracts with native Indians. In July of 1858, a local businessman named Rajyadhar Konai put his hand print on the back of a contract at Herschel’s request. Herschel was not motivated by the need to prove personal identity; rather, his motivation was to simply “frighten (Konai) out of all thought of repudiating his signature.” In the past, contractors, who had been paid in advance for the work to be done, often did not fulfil the contract claiming later to have never seen the signed paperwork before.

As the locals felt more bound to a contract through this personal contact than if it was just signed, as did the ancient Babylonians and Chinese, Herschel adopted the practice permanently. Later, only the prints of the right index and middle fingers were required on contracts. In time, after viewing a number of fingerprints, Herschel noticed that no two prints were exactly alike, and he observed that even in widespread use, the fingerprints could be used for personal identification purposes.

(Reading adapted from The Accidental Scientist by Graeme Donald)


1.    False – the contractors were paid ‘in advance’ or before they did the work. After is the opposite of before (in advance).

2.    True – no two prints were exactly alike = all prints were different, which means the same as  ‘no two prints were exactly alike’.

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