Mock Test 2.3 (Academic Reading)


You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 28-40, which are based on Reading Passage 3 below.


Company Innovation


A.      In a scruffy office in midtown Manhattan, a team of 30 artificial-intelligence programmers is trying to simulate the brains of an eminent sexologist, a well-known dietician, a celebrity fitness trainer and several other experts. Umagic Systems is a young firm setting up websites that will allow clients to consult the virtual versions of these personalities. Subscribers will feed in details about themselves and their goal; Umagic’s software will come up with the advice that the star expert would give. [Crack IELTS with Rob] Although few people have lost money betting on the neuroses of the American consumer, Umagic’s prospects are hard to gauge (in ten years’ time, consulting a computer about your sex life might seem natural, or it might seem absurd). But the company and others like it are beginning to spook large American firms because they see such half-barmy “innovative” ideas as the key to their own future success.


B.      Innovation has become the buzz-word of American management. Firms have found that most of the things that can be outsourced or re-engineered that have been (worryingly, by their competitors as well). The stars of American business tend today to be innovators such as Dell, Amazon and Wal-Mart, which have produced ideas or products that have changed their industries.


C.      A new book by two consultants from Arthur D. Little records that, over the past 15 years, the top 20% of firms in an annual innovation poll by Fortune magazine have achieved double the shareholder returns of their peers. [Crack IELTS with Rob] Much of today’s merger boom is driven by a desperate search for new ideas. So is the fortune now spent on licensing and buying others’ intellectual property? According to the Pasadena-based Patent & Licence Exchange, trading in intangible assets in the United States has risen from $15 billion in 1990 to $100 billion in 1998, with an increasing proportion of the rewards going to small firms and individuals.


D.      And therein lies the terror for big companies: that innovation seems to work best outside them. Several big established “ideas factories”, including 3M, Procter & Gamble and Rubbermaid, have had dry spells recently. Gillette spent ten years and $1 billion developing its new Mach 3 razor; it took a British supermarket only a year or so to produce a reasonable imitation. “In the management of creativity, size is your enemy,” argues Peter Chernin, who runs the Fox TV and film empire for News Corporation. One person managing 20 movies is never going to be as involved as one doing five movies. He has thus tried to break down the studio into smaller units – even at the risk of incurring higher costs.


E.      It is easier for ideas to thrive outside big firms these days. In the past, if a clever scientist had an idea he wanted to commercialize, he would take it first to a big company. [Crack IELTS with Rob] Now, with plenty of cheap venture capital, he is more likely to set up on his own. Umagic has already raised $5m and is about to raise $25m more. Even in capital-intensive businesses such as pharmaceuticals, entrepreneurs can conduct early-stage research, selling out to the big firms when they reach expensive, risky clinical trials. Around a third of drug firms’ total revenue now comes from licensed-in technology.


F.      Some giants, including General Electric and Cisco, have been remarkably successful at snapping up and integrating scores of small companies. But many others worry about the prices they have to pay and the difficulty in hanging on to the talent that dreamt up the idea. Everybody would like to develop more ideas in-house. Procter & Gamble is now shifting its entire business focus from countries to products; one aim is to get innovations accepted across the company. Elsewhere, the search for innovation has led to a craze for “intrapreneurship” – devolving power and setting up internal ideas – factories and tracking stocks so that talented staff will not leave.


G.      Some people think that such restructuring is not enough. In a new book Clayton Christensen argues that many things which established firms do well, such as looking after their current customers, can hinder the sort of innovative behavior needed to deal with disruptive technologies. Hence the fashion for cannibalization – setting up businesses that will actually fight your existing ones. [Crack IELTS with Rob] Bank One, for instance, has established Wingspan, an Internet bank that competes with its real branches (see article). Jack Welch’s Internet initiative at General Electric is called “”.


H.      At Kimberly-Clark, Mr Sanders had to discredit the view that jobs working on new products were for “those who couldn’t hack it in the real business.” He has tried to change the culture not just by preaching fuzzy concepts but also by introducing hard incentives, such as increasing the rewards for those who come up with successful new ideas and, particularly, not punishing those whose experiments fail. The genesis of one of the firm’s current hits, Depend, a more dignified incontinence garment, lay in a previous miss, Kotex Personals, a form of disposable underwear for menstruating women.


I.       Will all this creative destruction, cannibalization and culture tweaking make big firms more creative? David Post, the founder of Umagic, is sceptical: “The only successful intrapreneurs are ones who leave and become entrepreneurs.” [Crack IELTS with Rob] He also recalls with glee the looks of total incomprehension when he tried to hawk his “virtual experts” idea three years ago to the idea labs of firms such as IBM- though, as he cheerfully adds, “of course, they could have been right.” Innovation – unlike, apparently, sex, parenting and fitness – is one area where a computer cannot tell you what to do.


Questions 28 - 33

The Reading Passage 3 has nine paragraphs A-I.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A-I, in boxes 28-33 on your answer sheet.


NB    You may use any letter more than once.


  • 28.  Approach to retain best employees

  • 29.  Safeguarding expenses on innovative idea

  • 30.  New idea might be proved wrong

  • 31.  Example of three famous American companies’ innovation

  • 32.  Example of one company change its concentration

  • 33.  Example of a company resolving financial difficulties itself


Questions 34 - 37

Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 3?

In boxes 34-37 on your answer sheet, write


TRUE                 if the statement is true

FALSE                if the statement is false

NOT GIVEN        if the information is not given in the passage


  • 34.  Umagic is a new representative of innovative small company.

  • 35.  Amazon and Wal-Mart exchanged their innovation experience.

  • 36.  New idea holder has already been known to take it to small company in the past.

  • 37.  IBM failed to understand Umagic’s proposal of one new idea.


Questions 38 - 40

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

Write your answers in boxes, 38-40, on your answer sheet.


38. What is author’s opinion on the effect of innovation to companies in paragraph C?

  • It only works for big companies.
  • Fortune magazine has huge influence globally.
  • It is getting more important.
  • Effect on American companies is more evident.


39. What is Peter Chernin’s point of view on innovation?

  • Small company is more innovative than big one.
  • Film industry need more innovation than other industries.
  • We need to cut the cost when risks occur.
  • New ideas are more likely going to big companies.


40. What is author’s opinion on innovation at the end of this passage?

  • Umagic success lies on the accidental “virtual expert”.
  • Innovation is easy and straightforward.
  • IBM sets a good example on innovation.
  • The author’s attitude is uncertain on innovation.




Please click the red words below for other Sections of this Mock Test:

Mock Test 2 | Academic Writing Task 1
Mock Test 2 | Academic Reading Passage 1
Mock Test 2 | Academic Reading Passage 2


Result: / Exit

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