- Effective time management and speed reading techniques can greatly benefit you in the IELTS reading exam.
- Use a mix of both timed and untimed practice tests to familiarize yourself with the stressful test-taking environment.
- Consider enrolling in an online IELTS course to speed up your IELTS preparation.
The combination of time constraints, test stress, and text passages that are often dense and difficult can make it challenging to get a high score on IELTS reading.
However, there are steps you can take to improve your IELTS reading score at home. Some of these are standard advice that every IELTS student should know, while others are a bit less commonly known tricks. Either way, I’m fairly confident that if you follow these steps, your IELTS reading score will improve.
If you’d like to fast-track improving your IELTS score across all sections, I highly recommend taking “Understanding IELTS“: an online IELTS course developed by the British Council and FutureLearn. While it’s not free, it’s considerably cheaper than tutoring, and it provides a more detailed look into many of the IELTS strategies covered in this post.
Now, let’s jump right into the topic at hand.
Follow these steps to improve your IELTS reading score:
- Understand the format of IELTS reading
- Improve your reading speed
- Build your vocabulary
- Identify keywords in the passages
- Learn time management
- Complete untimed and timed practice tests
Understand the format of IELTS reading
Before you can start improving your IELTS reading score, it is important that you first understand how the exam works. In the IELTS reading section, you only have one hour to answer 40 questions from three passages. That’s the very basics of it, but more importantly: the section contains exactly 14 types of IELTS reading questions. Get familiar with each and every one of them to ensure the best chances of success during the IELTS.
These are the 14 types of IELTS reading questions:
- Matching Headings. Here, you are given a list of headings. Which one matches the paragraph or section in the passage you are reading?
- True False Not Given / Yes No Not Given. Here, you are given a piece of information or opinion. Is the statement written in the passage you are reading?
- Matching Paragraph. Here, you are given a question that contains information. What paragraph does the information come from?
- Summary Completion. Here, you have to complete a summary of the passage by filling in a blank box with words.
- Sentence Completion. Here, you have to complete a sentence by using the words given in the passage.
- Multiple Choice. Here, you are given three to four answer options and you have to choose the correct answer based on the text passages.
- List Selection. Here, you are given a list of words and you’ll have to choose an answer that matches the list.
- Choosing a Title. Here, you are given a list of titles and have to decide which is the most fitting for the text you are reading.
- Categorization. Here, you are given a list of categories and you have to decide which category the information belongs to.
- Matching sentence. Here, you are given a list of endings and you’ll have to match the beginning of the sentence with the correct ending.
- Table Completion. Here, you have to complete the given table using words from the passage.
- Flow Chart Completion. Here, you’ll have to complete a flow chart using words from the passage.
- Diagram Completion. Here, you’ll have to label a diagram using words from the passage.
- Short Answer. Here, you have to give short-form answers to questions related to the passage.
This was a very basic rundown of the various types of IELTS reading questions. To get a more in-depth understanding, I suggest you go through each type of question in a more detailed manner. On FutureLearn, The British Council’s “Understanding IELTS: Reading” does a great job at covering all the nuances of the IELTS reading format within a 3-week curriculum.
Improve your reading speed
Speed reading is a skill that’ll benefit you not only in the IELTS exam but also in your everyday life. Being able to read quickly will help you absorb knowledge more efficiently and save you time whether you are studying or working.
There are many ways to improve your reading speed, but I will mention two of the most commonly used techniques here: skimming and scanning.
Skimming is when you quickly read a passage to get an idea of its main points. This is what you do when you are short on time and need to get a gist of the text. A common form of skimming is basically reading the headings, subheadings, and the first sentence of each paragraph. This technique works great in the time-constrained format of the IELTS exam as it helps you quickly navigate through the passages without losing time.
Scanning is when you quickly look for a specific piece of information in a text. This is also something you’ll need to do in IELTS reading, as you’ll often be asked to find a particular detail in one of the passages. This technique requires that you be familiar with the text structure and that is why your scanning capabilities are greatly improved by going through practice tests over and over.
Using skimming and scanning to improve your reading speed is one of the simplest yet effective ways to improve your IELTS reading score quickly. But, these techniques do require some practice in order to work.
Build your vocabulary
A lack of English vocabulary is one of the biggest reasons why IELTS test-takers are unable to score high in IELTS reading. Developing your English vocabulary will serve you well not only in the IELTS reading section but also in all other sections. Plus, a large vocabulary is immensely beneficial in any situation where you have to speak, read, or write in English.
But, what can you do if your vocabulary is limited?
There are a few things you can try:
- Read books, articles, and any other resources in English. To make this work, you’ll need to actively write down any words you could not understand in the text and look them up later. Then, you’ll want to incorporate these words into your active vocabulary in order to cement them into your brain.
- Watch movies and TV shows in English with subtitles. While this is not necessarily the most efficient method of practicing English, it’s very easy to stick to and that gives it some value in and of itself.
- Use a word-of-the-day app. This is a great way to add new words to your vocabulary on a daily basis. Inc.com has put together a great guide to some of the most common word-of-the-day vocabulary building apps.
Building your English vocabulary is a lifelong process. Try not to get disheartened when you don’t know a word and make sure to celebrate every victory, no matter how small.
Identify keywords in the passages
Looking back at the 14 IELTS reading question types, we can see that all of them require you to find answers from the passages. Every question contains keywords and by identifying these keywords, you can save yourself time when answering IELTS reading questions.
Once you identify the keywords contained in the question, you can use skimming to quickly find the information you’re looking for without having to read the entire passage over and over. While doing so will not automatically give you the required answer, it helps you in time management: another key step to improving your IELTS reading score.
Learn time management
Time management is the key to success in any timed test, whether it’s the IELTS, SAT, or LSAT. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by that ticking clock, especially when you are under pressure. With IELTS reading, time management is particularly important as IELTS test-takers are allotted only one hour to answer all 40 questions.
That is why if you want to improve your IELTS score, you’ll need to learn how to manage your time efficiently. This means knowing when to read quickly and when to focus on understanding the text fully. It also means being able to judge how much time you have for each question and working accordingly.
Using speed reading techniques such as skimming and scanning, as mentioned before, will help you out in time management. But, to ensure the best chances of success, you’ll also want to practice under both timed and untimed conditions. This will allow you to see where you are losing the most time and where to make improvements.
Complete untimed and timed practice tests
Practice makes perfect, and the IELTS reading section is no exception. Practice tests are incredibly valuable for any type of exam as they put you into the exam-day mindset of knowing that your IELTS score is on the line. Complete as many IELTS practice tests as you can to familiarise yourself with the different types of questions and to have a general idea of how IELTS reading is structured.
Doing so will increase your familiarity with IELTS reading passages, improve your English vocabulary, and boost your reading comprehension over time as you read complicated text passages from a wide range of authors.
Broadly, practice tests can be categorized into untimed and timed practice tests.
- Untimed practice tests allow you to take your time and focus on understanding the text fully. This is ideal for beginners who are struggling with IELTS reading as it allows them to get a better sense of the passages and questions without having to worry about the clock ticking.
- Timed practice tests, on the other hand, simulate the IELTS exam conditions and are great for learners who are already familiar with how the test works. Doing timed IELTS reading practice tests on a regular basis is one of the best ways to improve your IELTS score as you’ll get more and more familiar with the exact conditions that you’ll be facing during the actual test itself.
Using a mixture of both untimed and timed tests enables you to get the most out of your IELTS reading practice. Both the British Council and IELTS have practice tests available online.
By following the steps mentioned in this article, you’ll be well on your way to improving your IELTS reading score in no time. While there is no a “secret trick” that’ll double your score within 24 hours, these tips will help you to develop the skills and strategies needed to achieve your desired IELTS reading score. But, you still have to put the required time and effort into the learning process to succeed.
Remember, practice makes perfect! Good luck!
Founder & CEO of E-Student
Sander has a background in medical diagnostics, a love for MOOCs, and a particular interest in evaluating online learning methods and platforms. His publications on E-Student have been cited in scientific journals such as the JML Journal of Medicine, Life and Annals of Medicine and Surgery, and the IEEE. He has also been featured in various news outlets such as The Baltimore Sun, Independent Australia, and RBK.
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