So you’ve practiced, you’ve read a lot of different articles and journals, you’ve even taken the IELTS test – often a number of times – and you’re still not getting the result you’re looking for in the IELTS reading test. What’s going wrong?
Here’s a handy 5 point checklist to work through when taking practice tests to help you identify your weakness and strengths.
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.
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. Skim and scan the text, read the question
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, 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
Tip 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!
Tip 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.
Tip 8: Is it a vocabulary, syntax (sentence order) or another reason why I have not understood?
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.