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A Song On The Brain Reading Sample

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

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The Reading Section is one of the most critical aspects of IELTS exam preparation. Adequate practice is required to achieve a good IELTS result. Here is one of the sample papers that can help you comprehend the document's part and purpose.The following practice reading passage on the theme "A Song on the Brain" includes questions and answers.

A song on the brain

Some songs just won’t leave you alone. But this may give us clues about how our brain works

Everyone knows the situation where you can’t get a song out of your head. You hear a pop song on the radio – or even just read the song’s title and it haunts you for hours, playing over and over in your mind until you’re heartily sick of it. The condition now even has a medical name ‘song-in-head syndrome’.
But why does the mind annoy us like this? No one knows for sure, but it’s probably because the brain is better at holding onto information than it is at knowing what information is important. Roger Chaffin, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut says, ‘It’s a manifestation of an aspect of memory which is normally an asset to us, but in this instance, it can be a nuisance.’

This eager acquisitiveness of the brain may have helped our ancestors remember important information in the past. Today, students use it to learn new material, and musicians rely on it to memorise complicated pieces. But when this useful function goes awry it can get you stuck on a tune. Unfortunately, superficial, repetitive pop tunes are, by their very nature, more likely to stick than something more inventive.

The annoying playback probably originates in the auditory cortex. Located at the front of the brain, this region handles both listening and playback of music and other sounds. Neuroscientist Robert Zatorre of McGill University in Montreal proved this some years ago when he asked volunteers to replay the theme from the TV show Dallas in their heads. Brain imaging studies showed that this activated the same region of the auditory cortex as when the people actually heard the song.

Not every stored musical memory emerges into consciousness, however. The frontal lobe of the brain gets to decide which thoughts become conscious and which ones are simply stored away. But it can become fatigued or depressed, which is when people most commonly suffer from song-in-head syndrome and other intrusive thoughts, says Susan Ball, a clinical psychologist at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. And once the unwanted song surfaces, it’s hard to stuff it back down into the subconscious. ‘The more you try to suppress a thought, the more you get it,’ says Ball. ‘We call this the pink elephant phenomenon. Tell the brain not to think about pink elephants, and it’s guaranteed to do so,’ she says.

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For those not severely afflicted, simply avoiding certain kinds of music can help. ‘I know certain pieces that are kind of “sticky” to me, so I will not play them in the early morning for fear that they will run around in my head all day,’ says Steven Brown, who trained as a classical pianist but is now a neuroscientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He says he always has a song in his head and even more annoying, his mind never seems to make it all the way through. ‘It tends to involve short fragments between, say, 5 or 15 seconds. They seem to get looped for hours sometimes,’ he says.

Brown’s experience of repeated musical loops may represent a phenomenon called ‘chunking’, in which people remember musical phrases as a single unit of memory, says Caroline Palmer, a psychologist at Ohio State University in Columbus. Most listeners have little choice about what chunks they remember. Particular chunks may be especially ‘sticky’ if you hear them often or if they follow certain predictable patterns, such as the chord progression of rock ‘n’ roll music. Palmer’s research shows that the more a piece of music conforms to these patterns, the easier it is to remember. That’s why you’re more likely to be haunted by the tunes of pop music than by those of a classical composer such as J. S. Bach.

But this ability can be used for good as well as annoyance. Teachers can tap into memory reinforcement by setting their lessons to music.  For example, in one experiment, students who heard a history text set as the lyrics to a catchy song remembered the words better than those who simply read them, says Sandra Calvert, a psychologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
This sort of memory enhancement may even explain the origin of music. Before the written word could be used to record history, people memorised it in songs, says Leon James, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii. And music may have had an even more important role. ‘All music has a message.’ he says. ‘This message functions to unite society and to standardise the thought processes of people in society.’ 

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Questions 1-3

Choose the correct answer, A, B, C or D.

Write the answers in boxes 1-3 on the answer sheet.

1. The writer says that song-in-head syndrome’ may occur because the brain

    A. confuses two different types of memory.

    B. cannot decide what information it needs to retain.

    C. has been damaged by harmful input.

    D. cannot hold onto all the information it processes.



The Keyword, ‘song-in-head syndrome,’ appeared in paragraph E and while moving to the next paragraph writer answers why this situation is happening. And ‘because the brain’ is also there in the question, it can be assumed that the brain is unaware of what information is required, and similar to that is ‘cannot decide what information it needs to retain.’

2. A tune is more likely to stay in your head if

    A. it is simple and unoriginal.

    B. you have musical training.

    C. it is part of your culture.

    D. you have a good memory.

Ans: A


There is no information in paragraph C on how a tune stays in your head, whether you have musical training, a good memory, or it is part of your culture. Furthermore, something trivial is likely to be unoriginal, and if it repeats throughout the song, it is a simplistic tune.

3. Robert Zatorre found that a part of the auditory cortex was activated when volunteers

    A. listened to certain types of music.
    B. learned to play a tune on an instrument.
    C. replayed a piece of music after several years.
    D. remembered a tune they had heard previously.

Ans: D


Paragraph D indicates that replaying the theme from the TV show in the volunteer's head activated the same auditory cortex. It also seems that the music was replayed in their heads and not on any sound device. Therefore, the answer is D.

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Questions 4-7

Look at the following theories (Questions 4-7) and the list of people below.

Match each theory with the person it is credited to.

Write the correct letter A-F in boxes 4-7 on your answer sheet.

4. The memorable nature of some tunes can help other learning processes.

5. Music may not always be stored in the memory in the form of separate notes.

6. People may have started to make music because of their need to remember things.

7. Having a song going around your head may happen to you more often when one part of the brain is tired.

List of people

A.   Roger Chaffin

B.   Susan Ball

C.   Steven Brown

D.   Caroline Palmer

E.   Sandra Calvert

F.   Leon James

Ans4: E


Because it is relevant to the learning process, similar information is provided in para H. According to this, students learn history more effectively related to lyrics. As a result, it is clear that this technique is used to learn quickly, and the answer is E.

Ans5: D


The word important for finding the answer to this question is ‘memory’. Caroline Palmer, in paragraph G mentioned ‘chunking’ and ‘musical phrases.’This makes it clear that people remember musical phrases as a single units of memory and not separate notes.

Ans6: F


This information is available in the last paragraph and gives us an idea about how lyrics in catchy songs are memorable and our ancestors might use tunes to remember history. Alternatively, it may be correct to say that in the past, music was used to remember things. 

Ans7. B


The only way to find the answer to this one is by locating the paragraph with the information about the tiredness of one part of the brain. According to Susan Ball, this section is the frontal lobe, which can get weary or sad, and the mention of it is provided in paragraph C. It is also mentioned that it could happen due to song-in-head syndrome.

Questions 8-13

Reading Passage 321 has nine paragraphs labelled A-l.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter A-l in boxes 8-13 on your answer sheet.

NB. You may use any letter more than once.

8. a claim that music strengthens social bonds

9. two reasons why some bits of music tend to stick in your mind more than others

10. an example of how the brain may respond in opposition to your wishes

11. the name of the part of the brain where song-in-head syndrome begins

12. examples of two everyday events that can set off song-m-head syndrome

13. a description of what one person does to prevent song-in-head syndrome

Ans8. I


A similar form of ‘social’ is mentioned in paragraph I as ‘unite society. People believe music strengthens social relationships since its messages assist in uniting society.

Ans9. G


This question asks how the brain memorizes some parts of the music. This looks similar to Caroline Palmer’s keywords ‘chunks’, ‘musical phrases,’ and ‘stick.’ As per her, bits or chunks of music can be sticky for two reasons.

Ans10. E


Paragraph E talks about the tiredness of the brain and how it says, ‘The more you try to suppress a thought, the more you get it.’ It implies that the brain may respond differently to our wishes.

Ans11. D


Paragraph D mentions the beginning of the annoying playback, which originates in the auditory cortex. These words are similar to the keywords ‘song-in-head syndrome’ and ‘begins.’ Hence, the answer is D.

Ans12. A


The first few sentences indicate the writer telling about situations in which many people are stuck, leading to the medical name of this condition. Therefore, it can be said that examples of two everyday events are likely to be in the first paragraph.

Ans13. F


The song-in-head syndrome is mentioned in paragraph E, along with the less possibility of suppressing the thoughts in general. Hence the answer is F.

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