One of the most common complaints that I hear about IELTS reading is that it is hard to finish the test in just one hour. In fact, many people agree that it would be an easy test if you had 90 minutes! Really, the hardest part is finding those tough answers in a limited amount of time.
Today, I am going to take some time to show you how to save time in IELTS reading by using a few useful strategies and doing a lot of practice.
IELTS Reading Time Management Tips
Right, let’s jump into the important stuff: how to do the IELTS reading test within one hour by applying a few useful time management tips.
1. Practice Reading Often Before the Test
Ok, we’ll start with a really obvious piece of advice. The more you read, the better you will become at reading. Specifically, you will become a faster reader.
This is true not just of reading, but most things in life. When you run every day, you build up the muscles and techniques to run faster and longer. When you play guitar, your hands build up calluses that protect your skin and let you play longer and faster.
When it comes to IELTS reading, you should prepare by reading frequently in the months before your exam. You should do lots different types of reading, with different focuses (reading for gist, specific ideas, vocabulary, etc), but overall you will find that your reading speed increases.
2. Get Familiar with the Test
One of the problems that people first face with IELTS is that it seems new and strange and difficult. It is not like your high-school English tests, but instead has specific question types and requirements that take a while to get used to.
It is important that before you take IELTS for the first time, you are totally ready for it. This means getting your general English skills to the right level and also learning about the test.
Part of this involves knowing the time limits, the question types, and the sorts of reading passage that you might encounter. Once you know all of this, you will be much more prepared.
I recommend doing many practice tests before you sit the real one, but don’t just do them all day and night… You should do them maybe once a week in between more useful study methods.
3. Boost your Vocabulary Skills
Having a good vocabulary is important for IELTS as it is important for any other English test. However, it is perhaps more important for the reading exam than any other section. That is because the reading test will present you with thousands of words and not knowing many of them could cause you to panic.
Think about it: You start reading a long essay about agriculture and it is full of words related to the growing of plants and the raising of livestock. You haven’t studied this sort of vocabulary and you feel terrible! It is only natural to panic and waste time fretting over individual words.
Obviously, having a big vocabulary would have made it easier because you would be more familiar with those strange new words. However…
4. Learn how to Overlook or Figure out Vocabulary
You also need to know this really, really, really important fact for IELTS reading:
You don’t actually need to understand every word of the reading passage!
This is super important and many candidates don’t realise it. In fact, it is expected that you will not understand a lot of words and that is not a problem. You could still get 40 questions right and not understand plenty of vocabulary!
There are two keys here:
- You should not be distracted by difficult words unless they are important to answering a question.
- You should be able to guess at the meaning of difficult words by looking at the context.
I am an English teacher, a writer, and an editor, so I have a pretty good vocabulary. However, I often encounter new words when I read books or articles. There are hundreds of thousands of words in English, so this is totally normal. The important thing is that I can guess most of their meanings or just ignore the unimportant ones.
You need to figure out how to do the same for IELTS reading; otherwise, you may find that you waste precious time panicking over unnecessary words.
Here’s a video about figuring out difficult vocabulary:
5. Develop and Practise Speed-Reading Techniques
Once you have done all of the above, you can begin to develop some more specific methods for reading quickly. People have different ideas and honestly if there is something that works well for you and not for others, then you should probably keep doing it. However, here is a generally accepted framework:
- Skim the article quickly for a general idea of its meaning and content.
- Read the questions quickly to see generally what they ask you.
- For each question, highlight the keyword and then search for it or synonyms in the passage.
- Once you have located the right part of the text, search quickly for the most logical answer, eliminating incorrect options if it is an MCQ.
- If it takes you too long to find an answer, take a guess. (You can come back later if you finish quickly.)
Remember that you will have one hour to complete three reading passages, so you should spend 20 minutes on each one. If you complete the earlier ones quickly, you can spend longer on the later ones. If you finish them all quickly, you can go back to double-check difficult questions.
Looking More Closely at IELTS Reading Strategies
When it comes to time management, all of the above is very important and the better your English reading skills, the easier the test will be. You will also have gathered that practice is very important. However, you should have your own approach perfected for time management.
The one that I recommended above is a pretty sound method, but other teachers might have different ideas. For example, many teachers suggest reading the questions first, then the passage. That is ok as long as you incorporate the basic principles:
- Read quickly for the general idea
- Go back for specific details later
- Do not waste time on unimportant parts
Ultimately, this involves a balance of time vs accuracy. As this is an exam and you want to get as many answers right as possible, you should not totally sacrifice accuracy for speed, but speed is very important. It would be a disaster to only finish 20 questions. Even if you got 100% right, you would have scored band 5.5, but realistically you would get fewer than that. Surely it would be better to finish 40 questions and get 80% right, scoring 7.5.
Other Things to Consider
There are many more aspects of IELTS reading that we could get into, but I will mention just a few more briefly before finishing this article.
One thing that you really should consider are the non-textual clues to meaning and content. By this, I mean the pictures, headings, and captions that might appear around a piece of writing. By looking at these very quickly before you start reading, you will give your brain some clues to the content that might help you to read faster and absorb more information.
Many teachers also tell you to explore the first and last sentences of each paragraph, but other teachers suggest doing it differently. They point out (correctly) that the first sentence of a paragraph does not always give big clues to its overall content. Anyway, if you are an effective skim-reader, then you will not need to limit yourself in that way.
When it comes to preparing for IELTS, you need to think about time management and how to save time in IELTS reading. There are various things to consider but importantly you must practise often, boost your general English skills, and then learn some good approaches to help speed up your reading abilities.