- Read as much as possible. Yes, I know this is obvious but it really is by far the best way to improve your English level. When you are reading you expose your brain to correct vocabulary and grammar usage. It is also much easier to remember new language when you see it in context, rather than in lists of words and/or grammar and vocabulary exercises. Over time, this will improve your language ability.
- Read as often as possible. It’s important to read everyday. You will improve much faster by reading everyday for 15 minutes than by reading once a week for 2 hours.
- Read about things you like. You should read about topics that interest you in order to stay motivated, but do try to read broadly (not just about one or two topics). Make a list of all the topics / subjects that interest you and make a plan to read about Topic A on Day 1, Topic B on Day 2 and so on. However, you also need to ….
- Read about common IELTS topics. You also need to read about common IELTS topics, as you will need to develop your vocabulary related to these topics. You can do this easily and for free using Flipboard – an application available for both computers and mobiles. Simply sign-up (free) and then search for topics to follow (there are hundreds!). Follow topics you are interested in and also follow common IELTS topics, including:
- Increase your vocabulary range – especially synonyms (words with the same / very similar meanings). This is probably the most important reading tip. You need a large vocabulary to do well in all sections the IELTS test. In the IELTS Reading Test most of the questions contain synonyms / paraphrase of the answers in the text. Therefore, you need to be able to scan texts quickly to find synonyms in the questions and in the texts. Again, increasing your range of vocabulary, especially synonyms, is the most important area to improve. A good range of vocabulary will also increase your band scores in listening, writing and speaking. It really is the foundation of success in IELTS. You should keep a vocabulary notebook and aim to learn at least 5-10 new words each day. Make a note of synonyms for words you learn. How? See Tips 1-4. Read about topics of interest to you and common IELTS topics, make notes of new words in your vocabulary notebook, including synonyms and example sentences (it’s easier to remember words in context). Review your notes regularly to make sure that you remember new language.
- Understand how to answer the different types of question in the IELTS Reading Test.
- Understand ‘skimming’ and practice this key skill. Skimming is very quick. When you skim you are only trying to find out what a text is about / what the topic is. You might read the heading, any sub-headings and the first few lines of the first and (maybe) final paragraphs. Just enough to get the main idea of a text and no more. You can practice this skill with a newspaper. For each article in the newspaper, try to find out what it is about / get the main idea by reading as little as possible.
- Understand ‘scanning’ and practice this key skill. Scanning is also very quick. When you scan you are trying to find a detail / specific information within a text. For example, you might be reading a match report for a football game, but you only want to know what the score was, so you scan until you find it. Or, you might be reading an article about an upcoming music festival, but you only want to know if your favourite band will be playing, so you scan to try and find the name of that band in the text. This is the most important skill to develop for the IELTS reading test as you need to be able to find answers in the texts quickly (without having to read the whole thing). Again, you can practice this skill with a newspaper (or any other text) but you will need a friend to help you. Find an interesting newspaper article and get your friend to make a list of 5-10 words or short phrases from that article. You then have to scan the article and circle the words as quickly as possible.
- Do IELTS Academic Reading practice tests. You can find many of these online. See Lesson 6. Be careful though, you should use these to test your level, not to improve your skills. I recommend doing no more than one practice test per week. For each practice test you do, go through it three times. First, under test conditions: Focus and answer as many questions as you can in 60 minutes. Remember: Read as little as possible. Scan the text to find the answers. Second, go back to it again (maybe the next day) and go through it slowly, reading carefully, checking your answers and answering any questions you missed. Third, with the answers: Again go through the test slowly and underline all the answers in the text. Think about any questions you answered incorrectly and why you got them wrong. Try to learn from your mistakes.
- Don’t JUST do reading practice tests. First, it would be a very boring and demotivating way to prepare and second, as noted above, you need to read widely and often in order to improve your skills. Only do a practice test when you want to test your level. See the Resources in the next section.
Reading Resources: Developing your Reading Skills
Remember, when preparing for IELTS you should spend at least 80% of your time developing your skills using resources that are not specific to IELTS and only 20% (or less) doing IELTS practice tests. So, here are the best online resources to help you improve your general reading skills:
- Flipboard – As mentioned above, this application is great for IELTS. In fact, I think you could do most of your reading preparation using just this app, as long as you read often and make notes of new vocabulary. You can download it on your phone or computer and choose the topics you want to read about.
- Kindle – Reading for pleasure is important and sometimes we don’t want to read news or magazine articles. You don’t have to own a kindle – you can download the kindle app for free. Using the app on mobile or computer, you can read wherever you like. Also, there are plenty of books you can download free, just search amazon for ‘classics free kindle books’.
- News – There are a few high-quality news organisations which have free content that can help you to improve your reading and learn lots of new vocabulary. Here are a few of the best:
- Magazines about relevant topics:
If you read something from the list above consistently, everyday, your English will improve.