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If you want to achieve a high band score in IELTS Reading, you need to learn a few Reading practice skills that will help you master all of the question types in the IELTS Reading test. 

In this article, we help you prepare for IELTS Reading by guiding you through the essential Reading practice skills to use.  

After giving a brief overview of the IELTS Reading test, we will focus on:

  • how to familiarise yourself with the text and questions and know what information you’re reading for. 
  • how to use different reading techniques to find answers quickly and why recognising synonyms is the key to a high score.
  • how to review your performance and do better next time!

You will need to practise these skills yourself using real practice questions. To get access to IELTS Reading practice questions, sign up to E2 Test Prep for free to begin practising today!

IELTS Reading Test Overview

The IELTS Reading test is a challenging section of the IELTS exam. The amount of text you have to read can seem overwhelming. You may also worry that the texts are about unfamiliar topics and are full of words you don’t understand. That’s why preparing and practising for the test is essential.

For an overview lesson explaining the IELTS Reading test in detail, watch this video: 

IELTS Reading takes 60 minutes, and importantly, you have to manage your own time in the test. There are three sections, so you should spend a maximum of 20 minutes on each section. You will answer 40 questions in total, with around 12 to 14 questions in each section of the test. There are 11 possible types of questions, and although you won’t get all of the different types in one test, you should be prepared for all of them.

In the Academic Test, each section contains one reading text, or passage, and two or three sets of questions. In the General Training Test, Sections 1 and 2 contain two or more shorter texts and each text has one set of questions. Section 3 has one longer text and two or three sets of questions.
Reading scoring in IELTS is pretty simple – you get one point for each correct answer.

Before You Answer the Questions – Step 1 of Reading Practice 

It is easy to feel anxious about having to read a long and complicated text and answer questions about it. Here are some skills you can use to help you to feel more confident and get the IELTS Reading band score you need.

1. Skim-read the Text First

In IELTS Reading, you should always start each section by reading the text very quickly. We recommend you get into this habit when you are doing your IELTS Reading practice. The key here is speed. You should skim-read the text to get a general overall understanding of its topic and structure. At this stage, having a detailed understanding of the ideas in the text is not the goal. 

Why do we recommend this strategy for the IELTS Reading test? It helps you gather useful information about the topic and the way the text is organised. The reading passages usually have titles and sometimes include a subheading with a description of the text. These tell you about the topic of the passage and give clues about what type of text it is – for example, an article or a book review. Reading these can help you to start thinking about the topic and the kind of language the passage might include. This activates your brain, which is great for your focus. Also, as you quickly read over the text, you will get a general understanding of the ideas it covers and how those ideas are organised. This will help you save time when you answer the questions, as you will already know where in the text to look for the answer to a specific question.   

2. Check the Instructions

As we mentioned, there are eleven different types of questions, and each one requires a slightly different reading strategy. But there are some strategies, like checking the instructions, that are important for all the question types. Learning and practising these will help you improve your band score for IELTS Reading.

Always take a few seconds to check the specific instructions for the Reading task. If you are already familiar with all the task types in IELTS Reading, checking the instructions will quickly orient you to the task and give you a boost of confidence that you know what you have to do. More importantly, some instructions change slightly from task to task, so you need to check them to make sure you don’t accidentally lose marks. For example, in some questions, such as sentence, summary or flow-chart completion, you have to write an answer in a gap. You MUST check the instructions for these questions to find out how many words and numbers you are allowed to write for each answer. In the IELTS Reading Test, these instructions will look something like this:

Questions 5–7
Complete the summary below.
Choose ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer.

Research and results

For a span of two years, researchers observed the daily routines of 80 individuals, recording an average of 5 ……………..  separate measurements per day for each participant. This led them to discover that personal biosensor devices, such as smartwatches, effectively indicate the 6 …………….. of ailments like colds and may even hint at the emergence of complex health issues such as 7 …………….. .

You can see that the instructions for this particular task say ‘Choose ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER’. Other similar tasks might say simply ‘Choose ONE WORD ONLY’, which means you cannot write a number. Alternatively, you may see ‘Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER’, which is a bit more complicated, because it means you could write:

  • one word
  • two words
  • a number
  • one word and a number
  • two words and a number

Let’s look at how the specific instructions affect the answers you write, using the questions in the example above. For Question 5, let’s imagine the correct answer is ‘200’. You can write that in letters, ‘two hundred’, or you can use the numerals ‘200’ – IELTS accepts both. You couldn’t write something like ‘200–250’ because the instructions say you can use a number, meaning one number, but you have used two numbers. Likewise, in Question 6, you might write the answer ‘presence’, which would be acceptable because ‘presence’ is one word. However, if you wrote ‘strong presence’ or ‘the presence’, your answer would be incorrect because you have used more than one word.

So you can see that taking a moment to check the instructions is really essential to help you avoid making unnecessary mistakes that could lower your IELTS Reading band score.

3. Focus your Reading

To answer the questions successfully, you need to know what you’re reading for. Your focus will change depending on the type of question, but the general principles of how to focus your reading are similar no matter what question you are answering. 

First, you need to get an overall understanding of the task. Look over the task – based on your knowledge of the reading text, which part of the text is this task focusing on? For example, note/table/summary completion tasks may have titles, headings or bullet points, which can point you to a specific paragraph or section of the text. Multiple choice questions sometimes mention a particular paragraph or section of the passage.

Second, you need to get a more detailed understanding of the specific questions you have to answer. There are lots of IELTS reading tips for answering the questions, which depend on the task. For example, you may want to 

  • skim read the questions and underline or highlight the keywords related to the information you need to read for.
  • predict what kind of word(s) or information you need to write in a gap.
  • study an image (such as a diagram or flow-chart) and make sure you understand what it shows.

There is one type of question where we don’t recommend reading the questions in detail before you start the task, and that is the Matching Headings task. For this task, it is better to read each paragraph in detail and then match it to the correct answer. To find out why we recommend this strategy and to learn effective methods for approaching every other type of question in IELTS Reading, make sure you check out the Method lessons in the IELTS courses at E2 Test Prep.
You might think that all this preparation is a lot to do before you even start answering the questions. You may worry you are wasting time in the IELTS Reading test. The good news is that the more often you do IELTS Reading practice using these skills, the better you will get at quickly and effectively preparing yourself to answer the questions. Plus you will find that using these strategies actually helps you save time!

While You Answer the Questions – Step 2 of IELTS Reading Practice 

Now that you have a good general overview of the reading text and know what you are looking for, you are ready to face your next challenge. This involves answering the questions quickly – in less than 90 seconds per question, in fact. Here are a few key strategies that can help you with this.

1. Scanning and Reading for Detail

In IELTS Reading, you simply don’t have time to read the entire passage in detail, but you don’t need to. You only need to find and understand the parts related to the questions. Answering the questions effectively relies on your ability to do two key things:

  • quickly identify the specific part of the passage that contains the answer
  • understand that part of the passage in detail

What to Practise: These skills require different reading techniques. For example, to locate the part of the passage you need to look at, you will need to use scanning, or search reading, skills. Let’s look again at the Summary Completion task.

Research and results

For a span of two years, researchers observed the daily routines of 80 individuals, recording an average of 5 ……………..  separate measurements per day for each participant. This led them to discover that personal biosensor devices, such as smartwatches, effectively indicate the 6 …………….. of ailments like colds and may even hint at the emergence of complex health issues such as 7 …………….. .

There are several clues you can use here to help you find the relevant section of the passage quickly. For example, the title of the summary is ‘Research and results’, so you can scan the text for the paragraph or section that talks about how the research was conducted and what the findings were. You could also move your eyes quickly over the text to find the number ‘80’, which will help you locate the specific sentences that describe the experiment. 

When you have found the relevant part of the text, you need to read for detail, also known as careful reading, to make sure you understand the text correctly and to find the answer to Question 5. You would then repeat this process for Question 6. First, scan the next part of the text to find the information you need, which may involve looking for a mention of ‘colds’, and then read in detail to understand the text and find the answer. We have a really useful blog post on how to manage your time in IELTS Reading, which looks in detail at the different types of reading you need to do in the IELTS Reading test. Make sure you check it out, and then use these reading skills in your free IELTS Reading practice at E2 Test Prep.

2. Understanding Synonyms and Paraphrases

One reason why the IELTS Reading test is challenging is that it tests your ability to recognise and understand synonyms and paraphrases of key words and ideas. Most of the time, the words used in the questions are different from the words used in the reading text. You need to be able to read the question and then find a word or phrase in the text that has the same meaning expressed using different words.

IELTS Reading does this in different ways. One way is to use a word or phrase in the text that is a direct synonym of a word or phrase in the question, for example:

Text: Mozart created 600 works.
Question: Mozart wrote hundreds of musical compositions.

Here, created means the same as wrote, hundreds of is another way of saying 600, and musical compositions and works mean the same thing.

This technique relies on your knowledge of a wide range of vocabulary that you can use to recognise synonyms. Other techniques used to paraphrase ideas in IELTS include using different grammatical structures in the questions and the reading text, and summarising several sentences from the text into one statement.
What to Practise: Of all the IELTS Reading tips we could give you, this one is the most important. You must be prepared to recognise synonyms and paraphrases. Make sure you are aware of all the different techniques IELTS uses, and practise identifying synonyms as  you read. Of course, to be able to recognise synonyms, you need a wide vocabulary. Keep a record of topic areas where you need to improve your range of vocabulary.

3. Keep Your Focus

You may lose your focus during the IELTS Reading test. This could happen for many reasons: maybe your mind wanders because you suddenly feel hungry, maybe distractors in the questions cause you to become confused about the correct answer, or maybe you get stuck on a sentence in the text you don’t understand and start to panic. If this happens, you risk losing your concentration altogether.

What to Practise: If you find your focus slipping while doing IELTS Reading practice, here’s what to do. First, remember that leaving one question blank will only cost you one mark, so don’t panic! Skip the question and come back to it later, or write your best guess of the right answer, and then forget about it. Likewise, if you start worrying because you don’t understand a particular word or sentence, just forget about it, and read the next sentence or section of the text. Sometimes it will contain information that helps you understand the previous sentence a bit more clearly. If not, just focus on the next question. The ability to move on from a problem or mistake requires some discipline, so make sure you do lots of IELTS Reading practice so you can build up this skill. You can access free practice materials at E2 Test Prep.

After You Answer the Questions – Step 3 of IELTS Reading Practice 

When you’ve finished answering the questions, there are a couple of things you should do to prepare yourself for test day.

1. Check Your Answers

After you have finished a section in the IELTS Reading test, you should give yourself a little bit of time to check your answers. So when you’re preparing for the exam, you should practise running through a quick checklist so you can use this time effectively. You need to check:

  • your spelling – you won’t get a mark if you have spelt the word incorrectly.
  • your grammar – if you make a grammar mistake that affects your answer, you won’t get a mark. For example, if the word is supposed to be plural (e.g. shops) and you write a singular word (shop), it will be marked as incorrect. 
  • that you have followed the instructions, e.g. you haven’t written more than the stated number of words.
  • that you have answered every question. If you haven’t, make your best guess.

2. Review Your Results

You might think that when you have finished answering the reading questions and checking your answers, your reading practice has finished. But in fact, there is one more task you need to do to improve your reading skills and achieve your desired IELTS Reading band score. You MUST review your results and make sure you understand why your right answers were right and why your wrong answers were wrong. It’s very simple – if you don’t know why you got the answer wrong, it’s likely that you will make a similar mistake in your next practice. You need to work out what your weaknesses are so that you can work on improving them in your next IELTS Reading practice.

For example, did you get answers wrong because you didn’t recognise synonyms in the reading text that matched words or phrases in the questions? This could be a sign that you need to work on expanding your vocabulary before your next reading practice. Or perhaps you found a word from the question in the reading text that made you think it was the right answer, but actually it was wrong. If that happens often, you need to practise making sure you keep reading for detail to check that the text doesn’t contradict a previous point or give some different information.

Always have a goal for your practice. Using the previous examples, your goal might be, ‘I want to focus on recognising synonyms in the reading text’ or ‘I want to focus on reading for detail before I choose the answer’. This is the best way to improve the specific reading skills that can make all the difference to your band score for IELTS Reading on test day.

Where to Find More IELTS Practice

You now have a really good idea of how to effectively prepare for the IELTS Reading test. Now you need to put all the strategies you’ve just learnt into practice. So for more IELTS preparation, head to our IELTS Academic or IELTS General page and sign up for free. We’ve got practice questions, method lessons and live classes with expert teachers – everything you need to help you get the IELTS Reading score you need.

Author Bio: 
E2 is the world’s leading test preparation provider. Our expert teachers are fully accredited English teachers, with TESOL, British Council or IELTS certification, and years of IELTS examiner or IELTS teaching experience.

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