I once talked to a near-native English speaker who approached me about IELTS reading tips because she failed the reading section. She had a 7.5 band score or higher in the other sections, and frankly we were both shocked with her reading score at first! However, when I asked her how she had prepared for IELTS reading, she just looked at me blankly. It turned out that she hadn’t prepared for this section at all! Why? She is an avid reader and she figured that this alone would be enough to get her through the IELTS reading section with flying colours.
The thing about the IELTS reading test is this: it’s more than just a test of your reading ability. It’s about using a combination of skills to problem-solve and answer a question. Just because you enjoy reading for pleasure, it doesn’t mean you’re all set to ace the test. It’s incredibly important to practice and perfect the reading skills you’ll be tested on, and I’d like to give you a couple of tips to help you get started.
IELTS Reading Tips: Know the Format!
This one should go without saying, but I’ve met quite a few test-takers who didn’t research the IELTS reading format before they took the test for the first time. Again, they were just relying on their love of reading to translate into the reading skills needed for this section. The thing is though- you only have one hour to read three texts and answer 40 questions. That is a tall order for anyone! You need to spend every minute of this time tackling the content of the questions, not wasting time on working out what the questions are asking in the first place!
It’s quite simple to find the breakdown of the IELTS reading section online, so I won’t go into too much detail here. If you need an explanation of any of the different tasks in particular, I recommend you visit our IELTS reading lessons on YouTube.
Here is a list of the different tasks you will see on the reading section:
- Matching Questions
- Matching Information
- Matching Headings
- Matching Features
- Matching Sentence Endings
- Multiple Choice/ Identify Information Tasks
- Completion Tasks
- Sentence Completion Task
- Summary, Notes, Table, Flow-chart Completion Tasks
- Diagram Completion Task
- Short Answer Task
If any of these tasks are unfamiliar to you (and you haven’t practiced each one extensively!), you are not yet ready to take IELTS. If you want to get a sense of the difficulty of these question types, you can find practice questions for IELTS reading in the E2Language free trial course.
IELTS Reading Tips: Find the “Needle in the Haystack”
In the IELTS reading section, you will be presented with a complete overload of information. It’s your job to sift through this information to find only the most important points. But what are the most important points, and how the heck do you find them? It’s simple:
The most important points in a passage are the ones that relate directly to the questions being asked of you.
Therefore, you can learn everything you need to look for by reading the questions and answer options before you read the text. Just from doing this, you’ll have a sense of what the passage is about.
A question might read: “What was the primary reason for the fall of the Roman empire?”
Let’s look at the information we now have, thanks to this question:
- The text will talk about the fall of the Roman empire
- The text will probably identify several reasons contributing to the fall of the Roman empire
- It’s our job to find the most important reason for the fall of the Roman empire for this question
See how this information can help us focus our energy on what’s important in the passage already?
The answer options can be helpful too:
The answer options might read:
- Economic troubles
- Over expansion
- The invasion of the Barbarian tribes
- The rise of the Eastern Empire
- All of the above
By reading the answer options, you already know what to look for when you read the passage. You can then use the process of elimination to find the answer. Make sure you don’t just choose the first answer option you find in the text! Remember, the question is asking for the primary (or most important) reason for the fall of the Roman empire. That means you should be looking for clues in the text that suggest importance.
- “The biggest contributor to the fall of the Roman empire was likely the rise of the Eastern empire….”
- “The Eastern empire appears to be the greatest reason behind the fall of the Roman empire..”
- “Although economic troubles and general over expansion contributed to the failing of the Roman empire, the rise of the Eastern empire was the causal factor…”
Note: very rarely will the answer options use the same key words as the passage. This is why it’s incredibly important to work on your vocabulary as much as possible. The more synonyms you know, the better! Get comfortable using a thesaurus when you read and write- it will make a big difference to your vocabulary skill.
IELTS Reading Tips: Make Your Own Practice Test
Although it’s definitely important to try practice questions from reliable sources (like E2Language!) on the internet, there is a lot of junk out there too. Why waste your time? Here is something you should try that will boost your reading skill AND your understanding of how each reading question works:
Read the article carefully, making notes about what you consider the most important points to be.
Write a question about the article you just read using the different IELTS reading question formats.
For example, if the article was about the effect of food advertising on obesity in America, your question could look like this:
Junk food advertisements are found to impact Americans’ health more than healthy eating campaigns.
- Not Given
Food advertising has proven to have a profound effect on the …………
The advertisement of unhealthy foods in America has led to:
a) Higher obesity in the general public
b) No marked change in obesity since 1990
c) An increase in a sedentary lifestyle, which has been linked to obesity
d) An increase in junk food purchases
e) Both c and d
When you create your own questions with the information you think is most important about the passage, you’re not only practicing your reading-deduction skills, but also the format of the test. You’ll be surprised how effective this trick is. And why is it effective? Because it makes you do the work that the IELTS creators do. And like any work- the task gets easier with practice.
If you have any further questions about IELTS reading (or IELTS academic in general), be sure to visit our free forum! We’re always available to answer your questions.
Make sure you also check out our IELTS practice test webinar for more useful IELTS reading tips.
Do you know any IELTS reading tips If so, we’d love to hear them!
Written by: Kaia Myers-Stewart