BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 429

BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 429

IELTS Academic Reading Test

Is it really true that human adults are less able to learn as they grow older? Traditionally, the brain was thought to be ‘completed’ at the latest by the start of adulthood. During adulthood the brain was viewed as relatively stable until at last the aging brain started to decline. We have around 86 billion neurons at birth, and that’s it. Or is it? 

Until two decades ago, it was thought that new neurons – the cells that carry messages between the brain and other parts of the body – did not grow in adults. Moreover, it was believed that functions in the brain were fixed or localized in distinct areas, one common assumption being that language functions resided solely in the left hemisphere of the brain. The functions were fixed in childhood and did not change.

But this is not strictly true. Research has shown that adult brains are not fixed, and nor are they degenerating or dying as we grow older. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case: neurons are dying and being regenerated all the time and new experiences create new connections between neurons. Furthermore, when the brain suffers damage, it has the ability to shift brain functions to other parts of the brain.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

The first evidence that refuted the idea that the brain was a stable organ was produced over 30 years ago. Fernando Nottebohm’s study of male songbirds at The Rockerfeller University showed that new neurons would grow when a bird learned a new song. And more recently, evidence from studies done at Wayne State University has shown that physical exercise or lack of it is a factor in remodeling the brain. Two regions of the brain are capable of producing new neurons: the hippocampus and the olfactory cortex. In particular, the hippocampus is extremely important in turning short-term memories into long-termmemories.

It appears that new neurons regularly grow and move into the hippocampus. Conversely, the loss of brain tissue, most often associated with brain damage or illness can also have a positive function. We know that most of the neurons that die offin children and adults are the ones that are not effective or are not needed. In short, the brain needs to operate at maximum efficiency and neurons which become unused are discarded. So, far from being a stable organ, the brain is constantly changing, losing what is not needed and developing what is needed.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

Alandmark study by neuroscientist Dr Eleanor Maguire and her colleagues at University College, London confirmedfindings from other studies which reveal that when humans spend time repeating a particular skill, the area ofthe brain associated with that skill becomes better developed. For four years, Dr Maguire and her team followed a group of79 London taxi drivers who shared certain characteristics including age, gender and education. They used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map changes to their posterior hippocampi. 

The hippocampus plays a major role in short-term memory and spatial navigation, both of which are very important to the work of taxi drivers, and London taxi drivers in particular. To become a taxi driver in London you need to learn ‘the Knowledge’ – a detailed understanding of the streets in central London as well as tourist spots and other places of interest. Gaining ‘the Knowledge’ takes on average three to four years, at the end of which taxi drivers have to take a test that only fifty per cent of candidates pass.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

At the start of the study, the taxi drivers had similar sized hippocampi but after four years of intensive spatial and memory training, Dr Maguire found that the taxi drivers who successfully passed their tests had more developed hippocampi than those who failed. This was confirmed by a series of memory tests and MRI images which showed that certain parts of their brains had developed over time. 

Furthermore, other experimental studies over the last few decades have shown that the adult brain can change its structure and function massively. In a 1982 study carried out by Jon Kaas at Vanderbilt University, changes in brain patterns were noted in people whose limbs had been amputated or who suffered nerve damage. Since then, it has become clear that the living brain is constantly changing depending on external experiences. As Boston University neurobiologist Howard Eichenbaum (commenting on Dr Maguire’s research) stated: ‘ … you can produce profound changes in the brain with training. That’s a big deal.’

IELTS Academic Reading Test

27. Humans are born with about ______________ neurons.

28. It used to be believed that neurons ______________ in humans after a certain age.

29. If the brain is damaged, it can ______________ to other areas within the brain.

30. The hippocampus, which plays a role in creating ______________ from short-term memories, has been identified as being one of the parts of the brain that can grow neurons.

31. The hippocampus also plays an important part in _____________a key skill for taxi drivers in London.

32. Taxi drivers who successfully passed ‘the Knowledge had_____________ hippocampi than those who did not pass.

IELTS Academic Reading Test


A. The hippocampus stores memories.

B. Song birds grew neurons when they learned a new song. 

C. The olfactory cortex is capable of growing new cells.

D. Being active changes the brain.

E. The brain is constantly changing its function and structure.

F. Training for a test enlarged a part of the brain in some people.

G. Brain patterns changed when a person’s arms or legs were cut off.

IELTS Academic Reading Test

33. Fernando Nottebohm, The Rockefeller University

34. Jon Kaas, Vanderbilt University

35. Eleanor Maguire, University College, London

36. Wayne State University

IELTS Academic Reading Test

TRUE – if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE – if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN – if there is no information on this

IELTS Academic Reading Test

37. When you do something over and over again, the part of the brain controlling the skill grows.

38. ‘The Knowledge· helps taxi drivers to take people to places in the shortest time.

39. Dr Maguire’s study was conducted on people with similar characteristics.

40. Dr Maguire relied mainly on intelligence tests in her research.

IELTS Academic Reading Test


BEST IELTS Academic Reading Test 429

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IELTS Academic Reading Test







33. B

34. G

35. F

36. D

37. TRUE


39. TRUE


IELTS Academic Reading Test

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