If you can read and follow this blog post then you are certainly doing all right with your English reading, but how do you tackle the reading section of the IELTS test to prove it?
Many people find the reading part of the test tough-going because they haven’t prepared well enough for it. Below we look at the structure of the reading section and then pass on tips for you to prepare and take the test to achieve the results that reflect your true abilities.
IELTS Reading Test Structure
The Reading section is split into 3 sections, where you must read paragraphs totalling around 1500-2000 words and then answer a total of 40 questions.
This is the section where more students run out of time than anywhere else in the IELTS exam; you only get 60 minutes to complete the questions, including time to transfer answers to the answer sheet.
The texts you will read come from books, journals, magazines and newspapers; there are four basic types used:
- Analytic texts – discussing why something happened
- Descriptive texts – describing a situation or how something is done
- Discursive texts – expressing different opinions about an issue
- Narrative texts – explaining a chronological sequence of events.
Question types vary considerably and include the following: multiple choice; identifying information and writer’s views/claims; matching information, headings, features and sentence endings; completion of sentences, summaries, tables, flow-charts or diagram labels; and short-answer questions.
7 Test and Preparation Tips
Because of time constraints with the Reading section, it’s very important to prepare well and then follow some sensible exam-taking strategy. The following tips should help:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Targeted practice is vital in all of the sections of IELTS exam. Practice reading and comprehension, using as many general academic texts as possible, from textbooks, journals, magazines and newspapers. Many students find the online free versions of New Scientist, The Economist and National Geographic magazines excellent places to start. Do this daily of possible. Without the necessary practice, you will not be familiar with the formal English style used in these types of texts.
2. Practice Actual Exam Tests & Learn to Categorise
You can practice using actual texts used in past exams, which are available online. This will allow you to categorise the type of text you are reading in your actual exam, predict its structure and increase your speed of comprehension; something is always easier if it’s familiar to you, so get to know the four types of text you will receive – analytic, descriptive, discursive and narrative.
3. Skimming and Scanning
As you step up your practice it’s important, once you have familiarised yourself with the types of texts and the general language used, to focus on skimming and scanning; your full comprehension of every paragraph is not necessary, but the ability to skim for general meaning or scan a paragraph to pick out the relevant information to answer a question is vital.
4. Learn to Manage Your Time
When practicing past reading exams make sure you practice under the same time constraints as in the real thing –strictly sticking to 60 minutes total. The passages get progressively more difficult so try to spend 15 – 17 minutes on Section 1, 20 minutes on Section 2 and 23 – 25 minutes on Section 3. Developing a good technique for reading and answering each section in the allotted time and then moving on to the next will be a huge benefit in the real exam.
5. Overview , Read Questions, Read Again
Before attempting to answer any questions, read the headline, opening few sentences and closing sentence or two, to get a general understanding of what it’s about; you don’t have to know the meaning of every word – aim for general understanding of the topic at this stage; then read the questions; then skim and scan the passage to pick out the information that answers the questions, using a pencil to highlight key information as you go.
6. Stay Calm and Answer all Questions as Instructed
If you are running out of time on the third section, don’t panic. Don’t spend too long answering any single question – if you don’t know the answer then guess or come back to it later if you have time. Make sure you answer all the easy-to-guess questions like YES NO NOT GIVEN and then the more complicated questions afterwards. Take care to answer all the questions as instructed – if it says use three words then use three words or you will get zero marks.
7. Fill In the Answer Sheet in Pencil
As you go you can fill in the answers in pencil on the mark sheet; you can always amend the answers if you change your mind later…but remember you don’t have extra time to transfer your answers to the mark sheet later.
Follow the above tips and you should have few problems in demonstrating how good your reading really is! Good luck!
If you’re going to take the IELTS test soon, check out our free report with practical tips and strategies for preparing yourself and taking the test. You can download it here.