Unlocking the history of locks and keys – IELTS General Reading Passage

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 28-40, which are based on Reading Passages below.

Write answers to questions in boxes 28-40 on your answer sheet.

GT Reading Sample – “Unlocking the history of locks and keys”

Read the text below and answer Questions 28-40.

Unlocking the history of locks and keys

A.  Keys have always represented authority, security, and power. Kings, emperors, court nobles, and cities and towns across the globe have incorporated the symbol of the key into banners, coats of arms, and official seals. The delivery of keys to a castle, fortress, or city was a symbolic event, as is the presentation of the Key-to-the-City today to a visiting dignitary. It was a way of showing people that they were both welcome and trusted.

B.  Many centuries ago in ancient Egypt, the importance of the ‘head of the household’ was determined by the number of keys he owned. These were large keys and were carried by slaves on their shoulders. If he had several slaves or key bearers, he was considered to be a man of great wealth and distinction. And in this tradition, through the ages, the lock and its key have become an intricate part of our culture. Locking up personal property, the key symbolizes our desire for privacy and security for our possessions. 

C.  The earliest known locks date back well over 3,000 years. They were made of wood and were large and crude in design, yet their principle of operation was the forerunner of the modern pin-tumbler locks in use today. Since the earliest times, chests were secured with strong and often very large locks. They were used to protect precious metals, money, jewels, to store clothing, and church vestments, archives and arms, linens and other household articles, bridal dresses, and even for the burial of important people. Chest locks were ornamented for household use or were very plain and sturdy for chests that were to be transported. So the design and appearance of a lock usually depended on the use to which that lock would be put. 

D.  Padlocks were known to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other cultures including the Chinese, and were particularly favoured because they were portable. It is generally believed that the padlock was first used as a ‘travel’ lock to safeguard merchandise from thieves along ancient trade routes and seaboards and waterways where commerce was centred. Brass and iron padlocks found in Europe and the East were popularized by the Romans and the Chinese. 

E.  Another type of padlock, the push-key padlock, was of simple construction, the bolt being kept in the locked position by the projection of a spring or springs. To unlock, the springs were compressed or flattened by the key, which freed the bolt and permitted it to slide back. Padlocks were often highly decorated with dragons, horses, dogs and even elephants, and were presented in pairs as gifts, with congratulatory messages. For better efficiency, letter locks, otherwise known as combination padlocks, were later developed, which eliminated the need for an actual key and worked by aligning letters or numbers on revolving disks. Padlocks were used throughout the centuries to lock up prisoners as well as possessions. They were usually made of iron, bronze or brass, and were rough in construction, but had the disadvantage of being easy to defuse. 

F.  Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, there was little significant improvement made in the design of locking mechanisms, although ornamentation became increasingly important. Craftsmen at this time excelled in metalwork and designed and produced locks for gates, doors, chests and cupboards. This was the age of the ‘Masterpiece’ lock, that had to be designed and produced as one-of-a-kind by a journeyman(1) locksmith, in order to qualify him as a Master. Masterpiece locks, which were never actually used on a door, were often displayed without covers to show the component parts of the mechanisms, their functions, the decoration and the method of assembly. 

G.  During the era of the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, master locksmiths were inspired to produce the most intricate and the finest ornamental locks of all time. This was the period when iron craftsmen and lock artisans were highly sought after and became internationally famous. They excelled in the forging, embossing, engraving, and etching of metals, and were invited to make locks and keys for many of the great courts of Europe. 

Beating the burglars 

When lock-picking(2) became prevalent in the 18th century, the inventor met the challenge of confounding the burglar with increasingly complicated locking mechanisms. Among the new improvements were keys with changeable bits, as well as alarm bells and what were known as ‘puzzle’ padlocks. These early puzzle padlocks had from three to seven rings of characters or letters which released the lock when properly aligned. Dial locks were similar in operation, and both types were set to be unlocked by words or patterns of numbers known only to the owners or responsible persons. 

The introduction of digital technology in the late 20th century revolutionised the science of locks and security systems. But despite the advances made in this field, most of us still rely on conventional keys to lock our front doors or start the car, possibly because we prefer the mechanical satisfaction of turning a key to remembering a security number. 

(1) apprentice, someone who is learning his/her trade 
(2) the art of opening a lock without a key, usually illegally

Questions 28-34
The Reading Passage has seven paragraphs, A–G.
Which paragraph contains the following information? 

Write the correct letter, A–G, in boxes 28–34 on your answer sheet. 

28. the reason why a certain lock was used to protect goods for sale
29. an explanation of how a particular lock works
30. examples of the relationship between form and function
31. a time when locksmiths were in big demand
32. reference to an ancient ceremony
33. how certain lock-making skills were tested
34. the use of keys as a measure of a person’s social status

Questions 35 and 36
Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.
Write your answers in boxes 35 and 36 on your answer sheet.

35. According to the writer, early padlocks were popular because they were
     (A) made of wood.
     (B) extremely secure.
     (C) easily transported.
     (D) common to many cultures.

36. What does the writer say about Masterpiece locks?
     (A) They were used to demonstrate design features.
     (B) They were made to lock up small items only.
     (C) They were made for the royal families of Europe.
     (D) They were produced to last for centuries.

Questions 37-40
Complete the notes below.
Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the text for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 37–40 on your answer sheet.

          Anti-burglar devices

Security mechanisms have included:
• keys with changeable bits
• 37 …………………………
• puzzle padlocks
• 38 …………………………

In recent years, alternative methods of security have been made possible by 39 ………………………… .
However, people continue to prefer 40 ………………… .

28. D
29. E
30. C
31. G
32. A
33. F
34. B
35. C
36. A
37. alarm bells
38. dial locks
39. digital technology
40. conventional keys