Reading Test Tips
Courtesy: Sir Faisal (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• The Reading Sub-test takes 60 minutes and is in 3 sections. There are 3 passages with a
combined length of 1500-2500 words and a total of 40 questions.
• The reading passages become more difficult as you progress through the test.
• The passages are taken from journals, magazines, books and newspapers. All the topics are of general interest and are not specialized texts.
• The reading passages may contain diagrams, charts or graphs, and at least one passage will include an argument. If a reading passage contains technical or specialized words, a glossary is usually provided.
• The questions may come before or after the reading passages in the examination booklet, and instructions and examples are given at the beginning of a new group of questions.
• You must write your answers during the Reading Sub-test on the Answer Sheet provided.
TIP 1 (Important): DO NOT READ THE READING PASSAGE FIRST- It is a mistake to
begin reading a passage without first having a reason to read. There are 3 parts to the Reading Test, and many candidates begin each part in the same way - by reading the passage.
They might read it in detail, or scan it quickly to find out what the topic of the passage is and to get a general idea of the contents. However, candidates who do this first have forgotten the need to predict information. They do not have a good enough reason to read the passage so soon.
Always have a reason to read a passage before you begin to do so. Have a question in your
mind - something you are looking for - otherwise you will not be managing your time well.
TIP 2: READ THE TEST IN A LOGICAL ORDER- The following sentence gives a
suggested order in which to look at the information in any of the 3 parts of the Reading Test:
"TO HAVE BRIGHT PROSPECTS, INTELLIGENTLY ANSWER EACH QUESTION".
Read each part of the test in the order given by the first letter of each word of the sentence:
T - The Title of the reading passage should give you a rough idea about the main topic of the passage. If you do not understand the meaning of the title or some of the words it contains, it does not matter. Try and work out the meaning of the title while you continue to read.
H - The Headings for each section of the passage refer to what is contained in each section,
and where information can be located. They also help you to predict what the passage is about.
B - Bold printed words indicate that those words are of some importance. They can also help you to predict information contained in the passage.
P - It is said that a Picture is worth a thousand words. Always look at illustrations, figures,
tables, graphs and diagrams that accompany a reading passage. They often summarize, add important detail, or make information in the passage more clear.
I - The Instructions contain important information that you must read. If you do not read the
instructions, you will almost certainly answer some of the questions in the wrong manner.
The instructions may also contain clues about the information contained in the passage.
A - What kind of Answers do you need to give? The instructions will tell you. The kind of
answers that are required also tell you more about the information within the passage.
E - The Example not only provides you with the correct way to answer the questions, it tells
you, in summarized form, more about the passage itself. You are not wasting time by examining the example and the answer it gives.
Q - Finally, the Questions themselves provide valuable hints about the ideas contained in
the passage as well as specific information to look for on your first reading.
All of the above should be quickly examined before you read the passage in any detail. It will make scanning the passage much easier, and will help you to predict a large amount of
TIP 3: CONSIDER THE PASSAGE LAYOUT- In the Reading Test the questions may come
before or after the passage. You need to know:
• Where each of the 3 sections of the Reading Test begins and ends
• How many questions there are in that part of the test, and where they also begin and end (so
that you do not forget to look at questions)
• How long to spend on a group of questions (you may be given an advised amount of time for
particular groups of questions)
• Which questions to answer first.
There are 8 basic types of IELTS reading question tasks:
• matching tasks • multiple choice tasks • short-answer question tasks
• true/false tasks • sentence completion tasks • classification tasks
• gapfill tasks • table, chart or diagram completion tasks
Each reading passage requires a certain strategy or approach in order to make the best use of your time. The strategy to use depends on the type of question tasks that accompany each passage. You should be flexible enough to use a different approach if it suits the question task.
With some passages, it is best to spend time reading certain portions of the passage in some detail. This might be the best approach for a particular sentence completion task, for instance.
With other passages, it might be better to search the passage for the question topic
keywords/phrases (referred to as signpost keywords/phrases in this book), and to look closely around those keywords for further matching keywords/phrases to obtain the answer you require. This is usually the best way to answer matching task question types.
It is impossible to say which is the best strategy for a group of questions in advance. By
studying the reading hints in this book, it should be possible to find the best strategy to use in a given case.
Examine the layout of each part of the test before you read the passage within it
TIP 4: SCAN THE READING PASSAGE - Scanning is the method to use when you need to
search a page quickly for information that you require. You may be looking for the general idea of the information on the page (skim quickly through the information), or you may wish to scan for specific information. In either case, the method is to sweep your eyes across the page slowly and smoothly, starting at the top left, and working your way across and down the page in a wavelike motion.
Practise scanning by applying the scanning technique to this page and other pages of writing of your own choice.
Did you understand the general idea of the topics on the page you just scanned? Did you move smoothly and steadily?
Do not read every word and do not rush. You are simply guiding your eyes with your finger or pen, and picking up information as you go, occasionally stopping for a moment to read
something important that you have found, and continuing slowly back and forth, across and
down the page. It takes a little practice at first, but it is the best way to move quickly through a text without getting stuck and wasting time reading a lot of unnecessary information. You are more likely to find what you are looking for because you will have covered all parts of the page.
When scanning, guide your eyes across the page by using your first 3 fingers, or your index
finger alone, or even the tip of a pen or pencil. This will prevent your eyes from wandering about on the page. You can increase your general reading speed too, by following your finger with your eyes across the page as you read. Many studies prove how much quicker people read when guiding their eyes across the page. You might be surprised to discover how much faster you will be reading.
TIP 5: READ THE TOPIC SENTENCES FIRST- When you are ready to search the reading
passage for more information, you have to know which parts of the passage to read first.
Remember, you do not usually have time to read every word of the passage, especially if your reading speed is only average.
A reading passage consists of a number of paragraphs, each of which has a main idea or topic that tells the reader more about the main topic of the passage. You should make certain that you understand the topic of each of the paragraphs in the passage by searching for the topic sentences.
The topic sentence is usually, but not always, the first sentence of a paragraph. In fact, the
topic sentence might be any one (or two) of the paragraph sentences. In general, when
searching for the topic sentence it is wise to follow a particular search order:
Check the first sentence -» then the second sentence -* and then the last sentence
If you still have not discovered the topic of the paragraph, you will have to read the whole
paragraph to find out what it is about.
The introduction is a paragraph with a special purpose: it contains the main idea or topic of the entire passage. If the passage is an argument, it should also state the writer's opinion. Note that the first sentence of the introduction is usually the topic sentence.
In addition, the conclusion often summarizes the main points of the passage, and is often
worth reading directly after looking at the introduction.
TIP 6: READ AROUND THE KEYWORDS/PHRASES - Sometimes the answer to a
question can be found without a detailed reading of a paragraph that might contain the answer.
First, choose the keyword/phrase from the question, and locate the first instance of it in the
reading passage, reading around it to discover the answer. Next, read the sentence the
keyword/phrase is within. Then, if necessary, read the preceding and succeeding sentences. If the answer is not found by reading around the first location of the keyword/phrase, search for the next instance, and repeat the process. Continue until the answer is found.
TIP 7: MATCHING TASKS - There are many different ways in which matching task questions can be written in the IELTS test, but, in fact, they can be divided into 2 types:
Type 1 - with a list of items to choose from equal in number to the matches to make.
Type 2 - with a longer list of items to choose from than the number of matches to make.
Tasks with more items than necessary from which to choose answers (Type 2) are, naturally, more difficult than tasks with an equal number of items to match (Type 1). In both types, there are often 2 or 3 similar items for each question from which you will have to choose the correct answer.
Matching Task Method - for Types 1 and 2
Step 1. Read the instructions carefully. You need to have as much information as possible
about the matching task before you begin.
Step 2. Complete the task in the order in which the answers will be given in the passage.
It is important to determine the best order in which to do the matching. Random order is
not a good idea; a systematic approach is always best. The fastest method is, if
possible, to match the items in the order in which the answers to the questions will
appear in the passage.
Step 3. Cross off the answers to the example first, but only if an answer cannot be used more than once. Having crossed the example off the list of items, you should then proceed to the first place in the passage where a match is to be made, and seek the match from the
list of items.
Step 4. Give yourself a number of choices from the list of possible matches. If you do not, you might easily decide on the first match you think is the answer, but often there are two or
three matching items that might match. Of course, only one will be correct.
TIP 8: LOOK FOR CHANGES IN THE SENTENCE ORDER - The information contained
in a question sentence (or part sentence) is sometimes written in a different order to that in
the equivalent sentence in the passage. This switching of information can be confusing in a
TIP 9: LOOK FOR PATTERNS OF WORDS AND PHRASES - Finding the answers to
questions in the Reading Test largely depends on your ability to recognize the shapes and
patterns in groups of words. There are basically 3 kinds of "patterns" to recognize:
Pattern Type 1: corresponding words with exactly the same pattern
Pattern Type 2: corresponding words with a similar pattern
Pattern Type 3: corresponding words, but with a less recognizable pattern
FIVE QUICK HINTS
Read the Glossary
Occasionally a reading passage comes with a glossary of words in the passage that may be
technical or not easily understood. Do not forget to check a glossary for the meaning of a word.
Also, the IELTS Academic Module, being a formal academic test, contains a number of words often found in such tests, that is, vocabulary commonly used when studying at post-secondary (tertiary) level.
Check Difficult Vocabulary
You may not understand every word in the reading passages. Even native English-speaking
people might have difficulty fully understanding all the vocabulary presented in an IELTS test.
You are not allowed to use a dictionary in the examination room, nor is it a good idea to use a dictionary during the first attempt at the tests in this book (or any other practice IELTS test
book). Later, of course, it is useful to study the passages carefully and check unknown
The best approach is to guess the meaning of the word from the context, that is, from the words that surround it. However, this is not always an easy task. If you still have no idea what the word means, ask yourself if it contributes a positive (+) or negative (-) meaning to the sentence. This is usually enough to assist you to work out the meaning or intention of the writer.
Search for Numbers First
Numbers are easier than words to locate within a reading passage. If a number is mentioned in the question, use the keyword approach and search for the key "number" in the passage. Check around each use of the number to see if the answer you need is located nearby. Remember though, that numbers can also be expressed in word form in a reading passage.
Remember Maximum Word Requirements
If the instructions inform you that the maximum number of words to give as an answer is, say, three, you can assume that at least one answer, and probably more, will contain three words exactly. Therefore, look for phrases that contain the maximum number of words allowed.
Check Figures and Diagrams for Answers
Do not forget that the answers you are looking for may be given in a figure, diagram, illustration, graph, table or chart that accompanies the reading passage. Always check footnotes, too.