If you are aiming for IELTS Band 7 or higher, you need to prepare for the test in the right way and apply the right strategies during the test. In this post we will cover the best IELTS reading tips for both before and during the IELTS Academic Reading Test.
IELTS Reading Tips – Before the Test
- Read about things you like AND about common IELTS topics. You should read about topics that interest you in order to stay motivated, but you also need to read about common IELTS topics, including: Health, Education, Environment, Technology, Society, Transport, Crime, Government and Globalisation. 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.
- Make a habit of reading in English every day for at least 15 minutes. Consistency really is the key to getting a high score in IELTS!
- 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. 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. 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. We cover this inside the Beyond Band 6 free IELTS Preparation Course.
- 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 a few IELTS Reading practice tests. To get IELTS Band 7 or higher, you need to score 30+ out of 40. 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.
IELTS Reading Tips – During the Test
- Read as little as possible. During the exam you should read as little as possible. Think of the IELTS test as a game – a race against time. Your mission is to find as many answers as possible within the time limit – not to read as much as possible. In order to do this you need to skim and scan and only read short sections of text. If you try to read everything in detail you will run out of time and get a low score.
- Remember to scan for synonyms / paraphrase. Most IELTS Academic Reading questions require you to scan for synonyms / paraphrase – you won’t find the same words in the questions and the texts.
- Read the instructions carefully. If you don’t follow the instructions you will lose marks. For example, if the instructions state, ‘Write NO MORE THAN two words and/or a number’ and you write three words then your answer is wrong – even if the correct answer is ‘pine tree’ and you write ‘a pine tree’. Also, if the instructions state, ‘Write TRUE, FALSE or NOT GIVEN and you write ‘YES’ then your answer is wrong even if the correct answer is ‘TRUE’.
- Know how to deal with unknown vocabulary. Even very high level students will not know every word in the reading texts – there are just way too many. There are two things you can do. First, just ignore the word. You can do this when it is in the text but unrelated to any of the questions. Second, try to guess the meaning from the context. Can you tell what kind of word it is – verb, noun, adjective, adverb, etc? Do the other words around it help you to guess what it might mean?
- Focus on meaning. Sometimes words in the questions will match words in the text, but not be the correct answer. You need to focus on the meaning of the question, not just the words. This is especially true for multiple choice questions, where one or more of the options will contain words from the text but not the same meaning.
- Don’t leave any answers blank – guess! This is especially important near the end of the test if you are running out of time. Look at the final sets of questions before you answer them – if questions 32-36 are T/F/NG and questions 37-40 are sentence completion using words from the text, for example, then you should do the T/F/NG questions last – because you can guess these answers (and have a one in three chance of being correct)!
- Be aware of the time. Don’t take too long on any one question. Just skip it. You can always go back to it later. Also, you should take around 20 minutes per text.
- Do not answer questions based on your own knowledge – only on information contained in the reading texts. Even if you are sure you know the answer to a question – you must be able to find it in the text.
- Stay calm. You should work through the test in a focused and calm manner. Try to be quick but not rushed and don’t panic if you can’t find an answer, just move on to the next question. Some questions will be easy, others very difficult. Remember – you are not trying to get 100% correct (unless you need Band 9!) so don’t stress out if you miss a few questions. Practising the test under strict time conditions will help with this.
- Be careful with your spelling. Answers that are spelt incorrectly are automatically marked as wrong. Check that you have spelt all answers correctly.