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Learn the best tips + do a free practice question in the IELTS Academic Reading

As an IELTS teacher and course designer, I have had a lot many test-takers ask me about the IELTS Academic Reading. So, here I’m going to go through a few of the most common questions I have come across and provided you with best tips and strategies to apply to some of the trickier IELTS Academic Reading questions.

Question 1:

Do I have to read the whole passage from beginning to end?

The answer is NO! The IELTS Academic Reading section has three long passages and they become increasingly more difficult as they go. That means, that the first one will be a bit easier than the second and that the last one will be more difficult than the second one. This means that if you spend too much time on the first passage (a mistake many candidates make their first time), you will likely run out of time before you get to the third and final passage. So, you don’t have to, and nor should you, read each passage from beginning to end. By now you’re probably asking, how do I answer the questions if I don’t read the whole passage? Well lucky you asked because that’s the next question!

Question 2:

Can I answer the IELTS Academic Reading questions without reading the entire passage?

Yes! I’ll let you in on a little secret: You can answer the questions without reading the passage from top to bottom because as you know, you will not have enough time to do this with all three passages. So, instead of doing that, you can apply certain skills and strategies that will help you.

The two most important reading skills to know are skimming and scanning. You then use these skills to strategically answer the IELTS Academic Reading questions.

Let’s look at each one of these and apply them to a practice question.

Skimming

Skimming is running your eyes over the text, or surface reading. You’re not looking for details, but just getting a general idea of what the passage or paragraph is about.

Let’s try it with the Matching Heading question. Skim the passage below to find the general idea of each paragraph. Doing this will help you choose the correct heading.

Which paragraphs contains the following information?

Write the correct letter A-C next to questions 1-3 below

IELTS Academic Reading Skimming

1.Section A

2.Section B

3.Section C

A. Many people enjoy swaying along to the music in a nightclub. For these extroverts, a night spent dancing and talking to friends is a fun evening. But for introverts, this is the stuff of nightmares. Small talk, dense crowds and loud music can be terrifying. Even partying at home with a group of friends, though fun, can be draining. Some people would much rather be tucked up in reading a book. This is a primary difference between extroverts who on the one hand who feel energised from stimulating environments and interaction, and introverts on the other hand who feel drained and low in energy as a result of such situations.

B. Why do introverts and extroverts react so differently to the same situation? The answer has to do with some key differences in the way their brains are wired. One major difference between the brains of introverts and extroverts is related to their response to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards like earning money or attracting a mate. It creates a sensation of pleasure as a reward for success in these endeavours. When dopamine floods the brain, both introverts and extroverts become more talkative and motivated to take risks. Introverts have the same quantity of dopamine present in their brains as extroverts. The difference is in the functioning of the dopamine which is more active in the brains of extroverts. Extroverts thrive on the dopamine-charged good feelings created when they engage the sympathetic side. Introverts rely more on a different neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Like dopamine, acetylcholine is linked to pleasure; the difference is that acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time. It also helps explain why introverts like calm environments; it’s easier to turn inward when we’re not attending to external stimulation. When an introvert is lounging at home in quiet solitude, lost in a book or watching Netflix, they are basking in the pleasant effects of acetylcholine

C. Another piece of the introvert-extrovert puzzle has to do with the nervous system.  Both introverts and extroverts use both sides of their nervous systems at different times, just like they use both neurotransmitters. But extroverts tend to favour the opposite side of the nervous system; the sympathetic side, known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ system. This side mobilises us to discover new things and makes us active, daring, and inquisitive. The brain becomes alert and hyper-focused on its surroundings. Blood sugar and free fatty acids are elevated to give us more energy, and digestion is slowed. Thinking is reduced, and we become prepared to make snap decisions.

Click here to view the answers and explanation

  1. Section A (iv)
  2. Section B (i)
  3. Section C (iii)

Without reading the whole passage in detail, but just skimming the surface, I was able to gather that paragraph A compared the difference between extroverts and introverts so the heading Introversion vs. Extroversion (iv) would be the most appropriate heading. I could also see that the first few sentences in section B mention the brain and brain chemistry, so I can safely assume that the heading It’s all in the Brain (i) would best capture the main idea of that paragraph. Finally, section C mentions the nervous system. Heading (iii), All About those Nerves best summarizes that idea. Remember, a paragraph heading is a one-phrase summary of the paragraph.

Another important reason to skim is that you don’t have time to read the entire passage, and skimming familiarises you with the passage and where information is located. This is important because when you are looking for the answer to a question, you will know where to look! This will make sense when we look at the next reading strategy – scanning.

Scanning

Scanning is looking for keywords in a passage that relates to the question. It is helpful when you want to find specific information in a limited time. There are five little steps to doing this:

  1. Read the question and identify the keywords.
  2. Find the paragraph that contains that information (by skimming)
  3. Scan the for the keyword, or a synonym and stop when you find it
  4. Read the sentences before and/or after it.
  5. Go back to the question and answer it using the information you located.

Let’s practice with a multiple-choice question:

Step 1) Read the question and identify keywords  

  • What is the role of dopamine in the brain?

A It causes nightmares.

B It causes people to think deeply and introspectively.

C It is responsible for the “fight, flight or freeze” response.

D It is responsible for reward-motivated behaviour.

The keywords are: Dopamine and Brain

Step 2) Find the paragraph that contains that information (by skimming)

You already know which paragraph the answer will be in! Because you’ve already skimmed the passage. The question here asks about the brain. Remember which paragraph talks about the brain? ….. Paragraph B. So, you don’t have to go looking through the whole passage to find the answer. Just go directly to the relevant paragraph.

Step 3) Scan the paragraph for the keywords and stop when you find them

IELTS Academic Reading paragraph

Step 4) Read the sentences around the ones that contain the keywords

IELTS Academic Reading keywords in paragraph

Step 5) Go back to the question and choose the correct answer

  1. What is the role of dopamine in the brain?

A It causes nightmares.

B It causes people to think deeply and introspectively.

C It is responsible for the “fight, flight or freeze” response.

D It is responsible for reward-motivated behaviour.

Click here to view the answers and explanation

The answer is D – it is responsible for reward-motivated behaviour. The paragraph says: Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards like earning money or attracting a mate. It creates a sensation of pleasure as a reward for success in these endeavours.

Question 3:

How do I manage my time to make sure I answer all of the questions in the IELTS Academic Reading section?

This question is similar to Question 2, but it’s related more specifically to questions within a particular section rather than the whole reading section. If you come across a certain question that you are struggling with and is taking a while to answer (such as the matching headings question), you can leave it, continue with the rest of the question, and then at the end, come back to it. An important tip to remembers is that you don’t want to waste too much time on a tricky question and then lose time to answer the rest.

Question 4:

Do I need to know a lot of academic vocabulary?

Having a wide range of vocabulary will help you in the IELTS Academic Reading section. It is recommended that you read at least one academic article a day when preparing for the test. As you read, pay attention to new words – how they are used, as well as the words that surround them. This will help you understand how vocabulary and grammar work to give meaning to a sentence. As you read, use critical thinking skills to connect information, infer meaning and bring different ideas together to create meaning.

How do you do this? Well, let’s look at an example text and short-answer question that would appear in the IELTS Academic Reading section. Take a look at the paragraph below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the text for each answer.

          What are two things that are heightened to increase energy and hinder digestion?

           5 ……………………..

           6 ……………………..

Firstly, let’s identify the keywords in the question: increase energy and hinder digestion.

It is possible that you don’t know what the word hinder means. It would be helpful if you did, but if you didn’t, you can use some critical thinking to infer or guess the meaning from context. Plus, there are other keywords in the question that will help you, so use them when looking for the answer.

Scan the paragraph below for the keywords:

IELTS Academic Reading hinder

Click here to view the answers and explanation:

5 Blog sugar

6 Free fatty acids

So, you can see from the paragraph that hinder means to slow. You can infer this from the information given in the passage. Inferring (guessing from context) from his vocabulary will help you with the answer, as will using the other keywords in the question.

 

Question 5:

What is the hardest type of IELTS Academic Reading question?

The reading questions that I get asked most about is the True/False/Not Given question. So, let me break it down.

          Does the information in the statement match the information in the passage?

         TRUE if the statement agrees with the information

         FALSE if the statement contradicts the information

         NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this statement

So, what exactly does true, false, or not given mean?

True = the same meaning

False = mentioned, but not the same meaning

Not Given = Not mentioned at all, or not mentioned specifically

True = the same meaning

Mozart created 600 works → Mozart created hundreds of musical compositions = True

*600 is hundreds.

False = mentioned, but not the same meaning

Mozart began composing music at the age of 5 → Mozart started writing music when he was 7 years old = False

*The information in the two sentences contradict each other.

Not Given = Not mentioned at all, or not mentioned specifically

Mozart is an important and influential figure in classical music → Mozart is the most famous classical musician = Not Given.

*Mozart’s influence on classical music is stated, but it does not say he is “the most famous”. This information is not provided.

Now you can practice and achieve a high band score in the IELTS Academic Reading section!

Look at the paragraph below.

Does the information in the statement match the information in the passage?

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this statement

7 Introverts and extroverts rarely become friends with each other.

8 Introverts are energised by socialising at home with friends.

9 The main difference between introverts and extroverts is how stimulated they feel in lively environments.

IELTS Academic Reading TFNG

Click here to view the answers and explanation:

7 Not given (not mentioned)

8 False (information in passage contradicts this: Small talk, dense crowds and loud music can be terrifying. Even partying at home with a group of friends, though fun, can be draining. Most of them would much rather be tucked up in reading a book.)

9 True (same meaning as the primary difference between extroverts who on

the one hand who feel energised from stimulating environments and

interaction, and introverts on the other hand who feel drained and low in

energy as a result of such situations)

 

 

I hope that clears up some concerns you may have about the IELTS Academic Reading section. If you are an IELTS Academic test-taker, you can check out some tips on IELTS Academic Writing here

All the best!

 

Written by Jamal

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3 thoughts on “Best IELTS Academic Reading Tips + FREE Practice”

  • Hello Jay,i really love your videos.you are the best out there.
    I have a problem regarding Ielts Reading.I can’t finish all three passages on time . What should I do? I did attempt three times already and could not achieve 7.0 in reading . I have got more than 7.0 in all three sections., however, it takes 45-50 minutes for me to solve first two passages and then I don’t have enough time . I tried on practice – if I use about 70 minutes , I do finish and get more right more than 32 at least. So timing is my problem. And I don’t know how people does those skimming and scanning. I tried a lot of times by using these skimming scanning techniques . However my brain doesn’t understand the system I feel horrible and depressed in that very moment. So pleas help me. What should I do for the reading section. My level of English is not that bad. I understand most of the academic words too, but I have to read very slowly to understand those. Please Jay , Answer me.FYI, i am a medical doctor who wants to work in the UK as a practicing clinician.

    Regards,
    Van

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