10 tips to improve your IELTS reading score

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10 tips to improve your IELTS reading scoreHere are 10 tips to improve your IELTS reading score.

1. Improve your IELTS reading with better timing

Did you run out of time and not manage to cover all of the texts? This is one of the most common issues candidates face when taking the IELTS reading test. The key here is to focus on your technique, and keep in mind that 60 minutes to answer 40 questions from three different sections is not long enough to read in a leisurely way. You need to be able to read at speed, even if that means you don’t understand 100% of what you read. Often, answering the questions relies on you being able to identify the area where you can find your answer and doesn’t require you to read everything in depth. Also keep in mind that there may well be one or two questions in each section that are causing problems for you – accept that you may not have time to answer them and move on to the next question.

DO: practice speed reading, skimming and scanning, understand that you will not have time to read leisurely, accept that you may not understand 100% of the text you scan.

DON’T: slowly and carefully read the texts, spend more than 20 minutes on each section, get stuck on a question and spend more than 2 minutes trying to find the answer.

2. Did you answer all of the questions?

Although Point 1 in the checklist advises you to skip questions if you can’t find the answer, that doesn’t mean you should leave the answer blank on your answer sheet. In the final minutes before the end of the reading test, put an answer that (a) seems logical (b) suits the requirements of the question – e.g. if the instructions say NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS, your answer isn’t three words (c) very often is a word or words from the text. Remember that you do not lose points for giving the wrong answer, so there’s no harm in taking an educated guess!

DO: Put an answer for EVERY question

DON’T: leave an answer key blank


3. Is there one particular question type that is causing more difficulty than others?

By looking at your answers, check if there is a particular question type that you seem to make more errors with more often than others. For the majority of people, headings style questions and True, False, Not Given questions are the most complicated and result in the most wrong answers, but check for yourself to find your specific areas of improvement. Then go to that section of our our website, or use any other reliable resource, and make sure you study all the subtle nuances of that question type. For example, did you know that True, False, Not Given questions always come in the order of the text? Knowing some tips and hints for each question type can definitely help.

DO: identify question types that you find difficult, study any tips and hints about those question types, practice them repeatedly

DON’T: keep making the same errors with the same question type!

4. For questions you answer incorrectly, do you understand why the given answers are correct and why your answer was incorrect?

Analysing your own work, focusing on the answers you got wrong, retracing why you put that answer and spending time looking at why the correct answer was correct will help you work a lot faster through the reading test. Taking practice tests is a good plan, but you need to spend at least the same amount of time working through the test after you know the answers. To improve your IELTS reading score, you need to know where you are losing points!

DO: spend as much time analysing your incorrect answers as you did taking the test, even if that means reading the text repeatedly until you can see the logic of the correct answer.

DON’T: simply move on to a new practice test hoping it will improve – without looking at your own mistakes, your result is likely to stay the same!

5. Improve your IELTS reading skimming and scanning skills

Understanding the question is key to getting the correct answer – you need to spend time carefully and closely reading the question. You need to read the question with much more caution than the text in general, so if it helps, carefully mark EVERY word – underlining, circling, scribbling, whatever works for you – all of this helps your brain identify all aspects of the question. Here’s an example using a True, False, Not Given question:

Many people believe that the rail network has been slightly improved.

In order to correctly answer this question, you need to identify the following points:

  • It’s not EVERY person that has to believe this (‘Many people’, not ALL people)
  • it relates to the rail network
  • it uses to the present perfect passive (has been) so refers to something that started in the past and is continuing now or has a current effect
  • it refers only to SLIGHT improvement.

Missing any one of these points can lead to a wrong answer – so read the question carefully.

DO: Read the question word for word, using your pen or pencil to mark the words you think are relevant

DON’T: skim the question and jump straight to the reading text

6. Am I taking too long to read the text or questions?

Remember that in the IELTS reading test, you don’t actually have time to read – you need to be able to skim and scan, and use speed reading techniques to absorb the information as fast as possible.You also need to be disciplined – if you are spending 30 minutes on one text and questions, then you will not have time to complete the other 2 sections accurately, so get in the habit of moving on if you can’t find the answer. It’s better to lose one point on a difficult question than to lose two or more points on easy questions because you ran out of time!

DO: practice speed reading, skimming and scanning, understand that you will not have time to read leisurely, accept that you may not understand 100% of the text you scan.

DON’T: slowly and carefully read the texts, spend more than 20 minutes on each section, get stuck on a question and spend more than 2 minutes trying to find the answer.

7. Is it the text or the questions that I am misunderstanding?

Depending on your technique, you might first skim the text then turn to the questions, or start with the questions then turn to the text. When you find an incorrect answer, spend some time considering whether you misunderstood the text or the question, and change the amount of time you spend on each part respectively. For example, if your answer is wrong because you misunderstood the question, then allow a little extra time in the next practice test to read the questions a second or third time before deciding on the answer.

DO: Find out if you answered incorrectly because I misunderstood the question or the text.

DON’T: just accept that the answer you had was wrong without investigating why.

8. Is it a vocabulary, syntax (sentence order) or other problem?

So you have an incorrect answer because you did not understand a section of text. Now look back at the text and decide why you had problems with it. If it was because of some vocabulary you didn’t understand, then did you apply the skills for unknown vocabulary? If it was the sentence structure – perhaps it was a long, academic sentence – did you break it down into smaller pieces? Turning longer, academic sentences into shorter, simple sentences can often help you understand a lot more clearly. This takes practice, so start doing that from today! Or was there another problem – qualifying words, prefixes or indirect sentences? By spending some time analysing your own errors, you will improve your skills not just for IELTS but for your general level of English.

DO: look at skills for dealing with unknown vocabulary and grammar structures.

DON’T: miss out on a learning opportunity by not reviewing incorrect answers.

9. Make good use of the title and any subheadings that are in the reading passage

Most reading sections will have a title and some will also have illustrations and subheadings – make sure to spend some time looking at them as they will often give you a good idea of what the text is referring to.

DO: look at the headings, subheadings or any images.

DON’T: jump straight into the first paragraph.

10. Improve your IELTS reading with a clear technique

There are a number of different theories about the best way of approaching the IELTS, but in our experience as IELTS trainers, the best approach is not fixed – you need to try a few different methods, find out which works best for you then stick to it. Repetition when preparing for the IELTS test is the most important point, so once you find the technique that suits you, stick to it! Here are two techniques you should try:

Technique 1
Skim the text before reading any of the questions, identifying what each section or paragraph relates to. Don’t spend too much time reading in detail. Once you have an idea what the text relates to, go to the questions. Focus only on one question type (for example, if questions 1 to 4 are multiple choice and 5 to 7 are short answer questions, focus only on questions 1 to 4). Because you have already skimmed the text, you should know the approximate area in which to find the answers.

POSITIVES: when you are focusing on find answers, you already have a clear idea of what the test is about so it should be easier to locate and confirm your answer.
NEGATIVES: the problem with this technique is time – you may find you are up to 10 minutes into the reading test and still have no answers to any of the questions, and this can sometimes cause candidates to panic and rush their answers.

Technique 2
Look at the first few questions, identifying keywords and qualifying words and getting a clear idea of what you are required to do (word limit in the answer, for example). Then go to the text for the first time, scanning for something that relates to question.

POSITIVES: you will be answering questions within the first two minutes and don’t need to spend time reading sections of the text that don’t relate to any of the questions.
NEGATIVES: even by the end of the test, you may not have a clear idea of everything in the text – only the sections which relate to the answers.


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