Do you have to read everything?  No!

The number one secret to succeeding in the reading portion of the exam is this: you don’t have to read all of the text. In fact, the IELTS is designed so that unless you are an extremely fast reader, it is not possible for you to read all the text and answer all of the questions. Furthermore, the type of questions on the test are not the kind you can answer after reading the whole article/report/essay. The questions are very detailed and you will need to search the text carefully for the information. So even if you read carefully the first time you will have wasted your time because you still have to go back to the text.

Always read the questions first

Imagine instead of a text you are given a very detailed picture and 15 questions about it. What would you do? Would you spend 10 minutes staring at the picture and trying to remember everything in it, then read the questions and try and answer them? Of course not! You would glance at the picture, then read the questions carefully and use the questions to determine which parts of the picture to look at so you could answer the questions efficiently! Always read the questions before you start reading, then quickly scan the text until you find the relevant passage.  Go back to the question one more time and then find the answer in the text.  No guessing is ever required in the IELTS. Every single answer will be found directly in the text, so never choose your answer without checking the text.

Most questions are answered in order

The structure of the test will help you locate the passages for questions you haven’t been able to answer. The questions in each section of the reading test are grouped into clusters (Questions 14-20 or questions 31-36, for example).  These clusters will ask about different areas of the text and the clusters are not necessarily in the same sequence as the reading passage.  But within these clusters, some question types will always follow the order of the text so if you have found the answer to numbers 24 and 26 but not number 25, you can be confident that the correct passage will be between the places where you found the answers for 24 and 26.  Question types that always follow the order of the text:

  • Sentence completion
  • Short answer questions
  • Multiple choice
  • True/false/not given
  • Yes/no/not given

If you remember this, you will be much more confident when choosing “not given” answers.  If you have answered the question before and after it, you can be certain that the answer is not given in the text.

Matching paragraph headings–the best questions on the exam

One type of question which is not in the order of the text is the paragraph headings type. By practising these questions, you can improve your reading skills dramatically. Every paragraph in an IELTS exam has a topic sentence. Usually it is one of the first or last two sentences in the paragraph, so you don’t have to read the middle. When you think you have found it, match it to one of the paraphrased headings. Don’t just guess at what “feels right” or “seems like a good answer”, there will always be clear evidence in the text and you should never choose your answer until you have found it. If you can’t find the answer to paragraph A, then read the first and last two sentences of paragraph B and try to find that answer. Answer the easy questions so you have fewer choices of answers for the more difficult ones. Always try and make things easier for yourself.

Manage your time wisely

Time management is another key to success. There are 3 sections and 60 minutes to complete them. But we know that each section is more difficult than the previous one so we don’t want to spend the same amount of time on the hard section as we do on the easy section. Rather than taking 20 minutes for each, I suggest taking 15 minutes for part one, 20 minutes for part two and 25 minutes for part three. By giving yourself a schedule and taking practice tests with a clock, you will be more confident on the day of the exam.

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