How to Prepare for the IELTS Reading Test

Although most students seem to be more worried about the writing and speaking tests, many ask me how to prepare for the IELTS reading test. This exam is much more difficult than it seems, and being prepared is absolutely essential. This guide should help you get ready for your own IELTS reading exam.

Know the Exam Format

The first thing you should do is get to know the test format. Even if you are really confident in your reading skills, you need to be familiar with the exam layout in order to succeed. Here are the key details you must know:

  1. There are 3 reading texts with a maximum word count of 2,750 total
    • these come from non-specialist sources like articles, newspapers, etc
  2. You need to answer 40 questions
    • you get 1 mark for each correct answer
  3. The time limit is 60 minutes, giving you 20 minutes per text

What Types of Question Are There?

You must also be familiar with the question types for the IELTS reading test. These include:

  • multiple choice
  • identifying information
  • sentence completion
  • identifying author’s views
  • matching headings
  • table completion
  • note completion
  • summary completion

There are more, but those are the most common types of question you will encounter. It is almost certain you will be asked to for a multiple choice question or to match headings, as these are among the most popular types.

Tips for Passing the IELTS Reading Test

Learn to Read Quickly

If you only have 60 minutes to finish the IELTS reading test, you need to be able to find information quickly. This means developing your reading skills: skimming, scanning, and reading for detail. Too many of my students start of their IELTS reading practice by slowly sifting through a whole test, trying to understand every word! This is the exact opposite of what you need to do. Instead, you should quickly look over the passage and only seek out what you need. The key here is to practice your reading skills over and over until you are an expect at finding the right information.

Reading quickly doesn’t just mean going through the text fast… You also need to be able to process the questions quickly, too. Remember that there are 40 and they are all worth just 1 mark each. If you really struggle with an answer, it is not worth spending too much time on it. Just move on to the next question.

Practice Reading in English Every Day

If you really want to be faster at reading, get used to reading in English a lot. Don’t just read textbooks – instead, read the news in English. Read novels in English. Read reviews and jokes and webpages in English. Read everything in English! It’s the quickest way to boost your reading speed. There will always be words you don’t understand, but there are times for picking up a dictionary to figure out the new vocabulary, and times to skip it over and move on.

Build Your Vocabulary

Having a large vocabulary can really help you in the reading exam because knowing synonyms is just about the most important skill you can have. One of the key features of the IELTS reading exam is that the questions will use different words to refer to ideas in the text. This means you need to be able to underline a key word in the question and then think of words with a similar meaning to search for the in the passage. If you can do this – and do it quickly! – you are destined for IELTS success!

Don’t Leave Blanks

When answering questions, you will often find that you don’t know an answer. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave a blank space on the answer paper. Instead, just take a guess! This is so important because a blank space means no mark, whereas a guess could be one mark. This is especially true for certain types of question like T/F/NG. You have a 33% chance of being right! If you really don’t know the answer, figure out what the most likely one or two answers could be, and just guess. It may be a really important extra mark for you.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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