Many, many people think that the reading section is the hardest part of the IELTS exam.
Yes, they feel that it’s even more difficult than the speaking, writing and listening sections!
It’s true that you have to work very fast and that reading requires a lot of concentration.
Yes, you need to keep yourself very focused to find the right answers to many questions.
But there are things you can do to get better at reading. Before you steal the tips, let’s have a look at the big picture.
• Fill in the answer sheet as you go.
In the exam room, you’re going to receive two things: (1) a booklet with all the questions and (2) an answer sheet. The answer sheet is the most important document because all your answers must be recorded in it. If you only write your answers in the booklet, your answers won’t be taken into account and scored.
Many test-takers waste a lot of time by writing the answers in the booklet first and then transferring them to the answer sheet. And quite a lot of test-takers find out that they don’t have enough time at the end to transfer all of their answers onto the answer sheet. Imagine what a waste it would be to have all the answers but no time to write them down where it really matters!
So, what we advise you to do is to fill in the answer sheet as you go, not at the end. Have the booklet in front of you so you can read the texts and questions comfortably, and also keep the answer sheet somewhere handy so you can write all the answers down as you progress with the test.
• Leave difficult questions for the end.
If you spend a lot of time on questions that you find difficult, you’ll be wasting valuable exam time. You won’t be able to answer all the easier questions and you’ll lose points! If you don’t know the right answers to some questions, leave them and move on. This way, you can focus on all the questions you do know the answers to. You can return to the difficult questions at the end if you have the time.
• Don’t start reading the text before looking at the tasks.
When you start reading, you should do so with some questions in mind. Otherwise, you’ll read the text, then the questions, then the text again. You’ll end up reading the texts too many times, and you simply don’t have time for that. Read the tasks and questions first, before you read, and think about the information you need to find to answer those questions while you’re reading.
• Practice doing lots of reading tests.
This is the best way to use your time before the exam! You’ll learn how to take the test before taking the real test. You’ll know where your strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll also know what to do for each task, and how to answer each type of question. This way you’ll know how to best divide your time and won’t stress too much about working against the clock.
Whenever you start doing a task, make sure you read the instructions and the examples carefully.
Most tasks look the same, so you’ll recognize them at first sight after doing some practice tests. However, there are some details you need to pay special attention to. Here is what you should pay attention to in three of the most common task types:
• True/false/not given:
If you select “true,” then the whole sentence must be true. There are a few tricky questions in which not all of the details are true. Some may be true while others are false. In these cases, the answer will be “false.” • Matching tasks:
Don’t cross out the options you’ve already used. This may seem like a fast way of doing the task but it can lead to mistakes. Instead, reconsider all the options for each question. This way you’ll have the opportunity to correct your own mistakes by seeing if each word option is a better fit for another question.
• Gap filling tasks:
Make sure you don’t go over the word limit for each gap.
Scanning is a reading method that allows you to find information faster. When scanning, you no longer read everything word for word. You just move your eyes across the text smoothly in a wavelike motion. You don’t stop to read details and you don’t waste time with unnecessary information. This is a great method for understanding the main ideas of a text and for finding the information you’ll want to read in more detail.
When you really want to understand a text, you’ll want to understand what each paragraph says. Each paragraph has a main idea and that idea is expressed in the topic sentence. You don’t have time to read all the details and that’s okay because most of them aren’t needed to answer the questions correctly. What you really need to understand each paragraph is the information in the topic sentence.
So, where do you find the topic sentence?
Usually, it’s the first sentence of a paragraph, but it can also appear at the end. It’s the sentence that expresses the main idea of the whole paragraph. Topic sentences are easy to recognize because they sound like they’re announcing what’s coming next. Something like “There are many advantages to using intranets in companies nowadays” is the topic sentence of a paragraph that’s going to discuss advantages of intranets. To maximize your time, look for it in the first sentence, then the second one and then the last one. Do this while you’re reading.
Scanning can also help you find key words and numbers fast. While numbers are usually easy to locate, with key words you have to use your memory to find the approximate location where you read that earlier and then look for the word being discussed in more detail. You should also be looking for key words and numbers in figures, diagrams and footnotes.
Don’t panic if you come across unknown words.
Even native speakers don’t understand every single word in every text they read and that’s okay because all those words don’t matter most of the time.
Remember that this isn’t a vocabulary test!
You aren’t allowed to use dictionaries in the exam but this shouldn’t be a problem at all. You’d be wasting a lot of time in the exam by looking up every word you don’t know. So, you should forget about using them while practicing reading at home as well. When you’re practicing reading anything or taking a IELTS practice test, do not use a dictionary. Make yourself complete all your reading practice first. Then, once you have completed the activity, you can return to the text and look something up afterward.
You should be training yourself to read faster and understand overall ideas in the texts. You can understand the meaning of a sentence or paragraph even if you don’t know every single word!
If you want to improve your vocabulary, you can work on that separately after completing the IELTS reading practice test you’re working on. There are texts with some really important words which are considered specific knowledge from a certain field and which are given in a glossary at the end of the text. Whenever you see a glossary, you should read it to improve your understanding of such texts.
You may also come across questions which used rephrased ideas or synonyms of words that appear in the texts. For example, you may have a paragraph about the disadvantages of exposing kids to too much television. The question may not use the word “disadvantages” like the text does, but it might use a synonym such as “downsides” or “drawbacks” instead. So you’re definitely better off if your vocabulary is rich, but you still have to be cool about finding unknown words.
Learn as much vocabulary as you can, but don’t stress if you don’t know every single word in a text.
There’s only one way to do this and there’s no hiding from it: the more you read, the better and faster you get at reading.
You should be doing practice tests to work on reading texts and questions. Even in your spare time when you’re relaxing and reading fun texts, like novels and comic books, try reading a bit faster every time. You may even want to time yourself to check if you’re making progress with your reading speed.
You may already have your favorite reading sources, but it’s a good idea to read texts and articles that are more like the IELTS texts in terms of length and complexity. Check out some scientific or economic and political articles which are also great for staying in touch with the news.