12 Important IELTS Reading Test Strategies you must know

A football enthusiast who tries his best to abide by life's beauty and comply with its hurdles, hoping it won't let him down. Mahir is an IELTS instructor of 10 Minute School.

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If you are appearing for the IELTS exam soon, you will find this very useful. The following article contains 12 important tips that will help you ace the Reading Section of your IELTS exam. The 12 strategies have been divided into two sections, Preparation and Exam-taking,  to help you implement them effectively.

Many find IELTS reading section to be the most difficult section as time is very limited in this sub-test of IELTS. Within just 60 minutes, you have to complete reading and understanding 3 passages and answer 40 questions! I believe it is, to some extent, difficult for non-native English speakers due to the time constraint and the number of unknown words in the passage. But, by properly applying the following strategies, one can easily secure 8/8.5 or even 9 in the IELTS reading exam.

Types of Question:

The IELTS academic reading test consists of three reading passages and a total of 40 questions. You will have one hour to read all three texts, answer the questions, and transfer your answers from the reading paper onto an answer sheet.

a) Short answer questions
b) Fill in the blanks
c) Multiple choices
d) Complete a sentence
e) Matching headings to paragraphs
f) Matching opinions to names
g) Yes, no or not given
h) True, false or not given

The 12 Strategies:

Being an IELTS instructor, I have often been asked how to study for IELTS reading section as it is usually difficult to complete this section within the limited time. Sometimes the passages contain unfamiliar words which makes it even more difficult to understand its gist and answer the questions. The 3rd passage is usually the hardest. If time is not properly distributed for the three passages, then one will surely not be able to complete the 3rd passage as it obviously requires more time to answer. So, here are some strategies which if followed will definitely help you complete all the questions within the given time.

Preparation Stage

1. Technique and method-

A lot of candidates prefer to read the text first, and only then answer the questions while some say it’s better to read the answers first. I usually read the answers first as that it the way I practiced. Practice IELTS Reading samples and determine the method that fits you best.

Good exam skills are crucial for doing well in the IELTS reading exam.

2. Instructions-

Pay attention to the word limit; for example, if you are asked to complete a sentence using no more than two words if the correct answer is ‘gold chain’, the answer ‘chain made of gold’ would be incorrect. Pay attention to the details. Look thoroughly through the text. Any special features such as capital letters, underlining, italics, figures, graphs, and tables are likely to matter.

For example, the instructions might state ‘write two words and/or a number’. This could mean:
One word
One word and a number
Two words
Two words and a number

3. Skimming & Scanning-

Skimming refers to looking for the main ideas and scanning means to look for the specific detail only. Skim and scan the text to look for general information. You don’t need to read every word attentively. Think about the general information and not the detail.  Skim the title, content words and the basic structure of the sentences/clauses. Remember, you just need to answer the questions, nothing more. Do not try and read every word; remember, you are reading for a purpose.

4. Vocabulary-

Do not worry if the text seems unfamiliar to you or you don’t know some words. Every answer can be found in the text, you don’t need any additional knowledge to succeed. But a good command of vocabulary is needed for reading test as unfamiliar words might just confuse you about the answer and kill your time.

During Exam

5. Timing-

You have only 60 minutes to read three passages and answer 40 questions. You won’t get additional time so make sure manage your time properly. I advise my students to try and get each section finished in 20 minutes. This breaks down to 17-18 minutes to read and answer the questions and 2-3 minutes transferring your answers. You can also choose to save your time in the first passage and utilize it in the 3rd one as the last passage is the toughest. If you do not know the answer to a question, do not waste time over it; move quickly onto the next one.

6. Question order-

Keep in mind that the questions follow the order of the text in most cases. So, the answer to question 3 will come after the answer to question 2 and so on. The only type of question which will not follow order is the Matching Headings Questions.

7. Spelling and Grammar-

Check your spelling & grammatical mistakes. You will get zero points for the answer if it’s spelled incorrectly. The word(s) you use must be taken from the Reading text; you must not change the form of the word(s) in the text. Be careful to use singular and plural correctly. Check if the words grammatically fit with the sentence.

8. Don’t leave blanks-

Answer all the questions, even if you’re not sure in your answer. Attempt all questions; there are no penalties for incorrect answers, so you have nothing to lose. During my IELTS exam, I guessed 3 answers as I couldn’t find these in the passage and wasn’t willing to waste my time behind these.

9. Cross out the wrong answers-

If you saw an answer that you’re sure is wrong, cross it out. This will lessen your option and will help you to find or match the answers. You won’t get confused and will be able to save your precious time.

10. Mark the keywords-

When you skim over the text, mark or circle the most important phrases or words. It will help you to save some time when you will search for answers. Look out for the title, headings and any special features such as capital letters, underlining, italics, figures, graphs, and tables.

11. Don’t assume-

In IELTS reading exam you will be judged based on your understanding of English language; not on your knowledge. The story or the topic of the passage might be familiar to you but that doesn’t mean that you should predict and assume answers to save your time. For example, my first passage was about KT extinction about which I already knew. Though some of the answers I could guess correctly, there were two answers which I guessed wrong. Thankfully I searched for the answer in the passage and found the correct answers.

12. Be cautious when transferring your answers-

In the reading test, you won’t be given any extra time to transfer the answers to the answer sheet. A common mistake is to spend too much time on reading and answering questions and leaving very little time to transfer the answers. During this time what is suggested to do is if you complete the answers of one passage then write those down immediately in the answer sheet and then move on to the next passage.

I also advise my students to practice with an IELTS answer sheet and see how much time it takes them to transfer their answers. I myself wrote the answer to question no. 14 in place of 15 and didn’t realize it until I had moved on to answer the question no 18. Luckily, since we write with pencils and are allowed to use erasers, I erased all my answers from 14 to 18 and carefully answered them.

Good exam skills are crucial for doing well in the IELTS reading exam. Time is limited and so under the exam conditions, it isle important to use that time efficiently. Following these strategies in the Reading Test, you will be abto maximize your time, which will leave you with enough time to attempt all the questions as well as some time in the end for checking. Last but certainly not the least, practice more and more. This will make your reading more efficient and this, in turn, will increase your chances of answering the questions correctly. Good Luck!

This article’s audiobook is read by Sadia Raisa.

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