IELTS Reading Test: Information and Tips

The IELTS Reading Test is the second part of the IELTS exam.

In this post you are going to get all the essential information about the IELTS Reading Test, plus some tips.

 

IELTS Reading Test: Key Facts

  • The IELTS Reading Test lasts for 60 minutes
  • You need to answer 40 questions
  • The questions (and texts) get harder as you go through the test
  • The questions generally follow the same order of information as the text
  • In the Academic Test, there are 3 texts
    • These texts will be on a variety of different topics
    • At least one of the texts will contain a logical argument
    • The first text will be the easiest to understand; the 3rd text will be the hardest to understand
  • In the General Training Test, there are 3 sections:
    • Section 1 contains 2 or more short, information texts, such as public information leaflets
    • Section 2 contains  2 information texts, often related to higher education (e.g. university facilities) or jobs (e.g. health and safety at work)
    • Section 3 contains 1-2 longer texts on any subject
  • To get Band 7, you will need to get around 30 marks out of 40, although this number varies according to the difficulty of the test

The IELTS Reading Test assesses your ability to understand a variety of texts at both a general level and also of specific details.

IELTS Reading Test: 8 Essential Tips

If you are aiming for a high band score in the IELTS Reading Test, you need to do certain things well. Here are my top tips for getting a high band score in the IELTS Reading Test.

  1. Don’t spend too long on one question: try to answer quickly; if you can’t answer quickly, move to the next question and return to it later.
  2. The texts and questions get more difficult as the test progresses. So try to answer the earlier questions as quickly as you can, so that you have more time for the harder questions later on.
  3. After finishing each text or section, check your answers and try to answer any questions you missed.
  4. Write your answers directly on to the answer sheet as you go through the test. Do not wait until the end of the test to write your answers on the answer sheet – you will NOT be given extra time to transfer your answers to the answer sheet, and so you may run out of time and lose marks because you didn’t write all your answers on the answer sheet.
  5. Use a pencil in case you need to make a correction.
  6. Many questions state how many words to write (e.g. “one word only” or “no more than two words”). Pay attention to the number of words needed in each answer. If you write two words when you should have written only one word, it will be marked as wrong.
  7. Check the spelling of your answers! An incorrectly-spelled word will be marked as wrong. The spellings are in the texts, so you should have no excuse!
  8. Do not try to read the whole texts word-by-word. You do not have time to do this. Instead you need to skim and scan the texts. What is skimming and scanning? Read on…!

Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and scanning are 2 reading skills while help you to understand a text. However, we do not use them when doing everyday reading, such as a novel or a non-fiction book. However, they are useful when reading academic texts…and for reading tests like the IELTS.

Let’s start with skimming, or skim reading:

Skimming

The purpose of skim reading is to identify the main theme of the text and of each paragraph. i.e. to find out what each paragraph is about.

You do NOT need to read the whole paragraph to find this out. Instead, you can ‘skim’ a text. Here are 3 common ways to skim a text:

  • read the first sentence of each paragraph
  • look at any headings
  • look for content words: these are words that help you identify the content of each paragraph. Nouns are very powerful content words and some verbs can be useful too. Underline the nouns and verbs that tell you about the content of each paragraph.

Here are 3 Ways To Improve Your Skimming Skills

Firstly, try not to underline too much text. Underline essential words and phrases, but not whole chunks of text. For example:

Too much underlining (this is a very common mistake!):

The effects of lack of investment in the health service can be seen in the poor condition of hospitals and the low level of pay for nursing staff.

About the right amount of underlining:

The effects of lack of investment in the health service can be seen in the poor condition of hospitals and the low level of pay for nursing staff.

Remember, when you are skimming a text, you are only trying to identify the purpose of each paragraph, not the details.

Secondly, to stop you reading every word, cover the right side of the text with your hand.

Thirdly, ignore words you don’t know – if you focus on words you don’t know, it will slow you down.

Scanning

The purpose of scanning is to find the part of the text that will help you answer a question.

As with skimming, you should NOT read every word – you are simply ‘hunting’ for information that will help you answer a question.

IELTS Reading Test - Scanning Text

The best way of scanning in the IELTS Reading Test is to look for vocabulary in the text which has a similar meaning to vocabulary in the question.

This is because questions usually paraphrase vocabulary from the text, e.g. by using synonyms or carrier nouns.

Here is an example of this from Cambridge IELTS 17 Academic Reading Test 1. On the left of the image below is the text. On the right are the questions. The arrows show the vocabulary in the question which have a similar meaning to vocabulary in the text.

For example, question 1 includes the phrase “increased rapidly”. To find the answer to question 1, you first need to scan the text for a phrase which has a similar meaning to “increased rapidly”. In the text, the phrase “grew at as astonishing rate” has a similar meaning to “increased rapidly”. So now you know where in the text to look for the answer to question 1. (Hint: the answer appears immediately before “grew at an astonishing rate”!)

IELTS Reading Test Scanning

Practise Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and scanning are skills which we often don’t use in everyday life, but they are essential in the IELTS Reading Test. So you should practise these skills – practise skimming and scanning a text without actually answering any questions.

It’s also important to improve your vocabulary. In particular, try and learn the most important carrier nouns.

Question Types

The questions in the IELTS Reading Test will test your general understanding of the text as well as specific details. Some questions test your ability to identify specific information (e.g. short answer questions and sentence completion) while some test your ability to understand the whole text, section or paragraph (e.g. matching headings). Some question types do both.

A variety of different question types are used in the test:

  • Match headings to paragraphs / sections
  • Multiple choice
  • Short answer questions
  • Yes / No / Not Given
  • True / False / Not Given
  • Completing a table / summary / notes / diagram
  • Classification
  • Matching lists / phrases
  • Sentence completion

Frequently Asked Questions about the IELTS Reading Test

How long is the IELTS Reading Test?

The IELTS Reading Test lasts for 60 minutes.

Do I have extra time to transfer my answers to the answer sheet?

No. You should put your answers on the answer sheet as you answer the questions.

Do the texts and questions get harder?

Yes. In the General Training Test, the texts and questions in each section get harder. In the Academic Test, the texts and questions get harder.

What kinds of texts appear in the IELTS Reading Test?

The Academic Reading Test contains texts taken from books, magazines, newspapers and academic journals. They contain quite a lot of academic vocabulary, but they are written for the general reader (i.e. non-specialists). One text will contain a detailed argument for a view (such as a book review or opinion).

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Charlie is a former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds an MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 100,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.