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IELTS Reading Preparation – Format, Scoring, Practice Tips

IELTS Reading – We are losing the habit of reading and the extensive attention span needed for it is getting rare with the changing times. However, the IELTS reading test needs a methodical, quick and efficient approach to reading, that too in English, a non-native language you might not be comfortable with. While the IELTS listening, reading and writing tests happen one after the other on the same day, the speaking test might also be held either on the same day or seven days before or after that, based on the local scheduling. Being the second held test on the IELTS test day, the candidate needs to be alert and informed about what to expect in the reading test and the right approach in order to achieve a good band score.

Before getting into the nitty-gritties of the IELTS reading test, let’s have a brief overall understanding of the IELTS test –The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) opens doors to the world for people who want to study abroad, work or simply migrate to countries where English is the main dialect of communication. These nations primarily include Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the USA. One has to have a good band score in the IELTS exam to secure a college or university of their preference. IELTS has a certain goodwill world-wide and is a respected medium for judging the applicant’s complete English language proficiency on the basis of his/her listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

Read further to understand the format of the IELTS reading test in detail, its scoring method, the tips and tricks to get a high score and more.

Read the latest articles on IELTS : IELTS writing and IELTS Speaking

IELTS Reading – Purpose

The IELTS reading test evaluates a wide range of your reading skills. This includes:

  • Efficiency in grasping the general sense of a passage.
  • Quickness in reading for the main ideas
  • Ability to read for details
  • Understanding inferences and implied meaning
  • Identifying writer’s opinions, attitude and purpose

IELTS Reading – Academic vs General Training Format

The content of the reading test is different for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests. However, both these forms of the IELTS reading Test includes 40 questions spread over 3 articles. The candidate will be asked to read three different passages and respond to related questions.

Let’s look at the key difference between the content format of IELTS Academic vs General Training reading test.

IELTS Academic Reading Test – The Academic reading test holds 3 long sections or texts which vary from descriptive and factual to discursive and analytical. These passages might be picked from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. Chosen for a non-specialist audience, these texts are appropriate for people entering university courses or seeking professional registration.

IELTS General Training Reading Test: The General Training reading test also holds 3 long sections or passages. However, they pertain to the subjects that we come across everyday in an English-speaking environment. These texts might be taken from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks and guidelines.

Want to get details on syllabus of IELTS exam ? Read the article IELTS Syllabus here.

IELTS Reading – Duration

Both the IELTS Academic and General Training reading test takes 60 minutes including the transfer time. Unlike the IELTS listening test, there is no additional time to transfer answers. So, the applicants have to write them directly to their answer sheet as they proceed through the test.

The candidate should take not more than 20 minutes on each one of the sections.

Question Types in IELTS Reading Test

The kind of tasks remain the same in IELTS Academic and General Training test. You must be prepared for the following kinds of questions:

  • Fill the gaps in a written passage or in a table
  • Match headings to paragraphs, diagrams or charts
  • Complete the sentences
  • Complete the summary
  • Answer multiple choice questions
  • Information identification
  • Short answer questions

    IELTS Reading – Scoring Method

Every correct answer receives one mark each. Scores out of 40 questions are then converted into the IELTS 9 band scale. The average of your individual band score in the IELTS speaking test along with the 3 other IELTS tests forms the final and complete IELTS band score.

Do remember that the scores are reported in whole and half bands. For instance, your score might be 6, 7, 8 or 6.5, 7.5, 8.5.

The table below shows the estimated number of marks you need to score in order to achieve a particular band score in the reading test:

Band Score Number of correct answers out of 40

(Academic Reading Test)

Number of correct answers out of 40

(General Training Reading Test)

9 39-40 40
8.5 37-38 39
8 35-36 37-38
7.5 33-34 36
7 30-32 34-35
6.5 27-29 32-33
6 23-26 30-31
5.5 19-22 27-29
5 15-18 23-26
4.5 13-14 19-22
4 10-12 15-18
3.5 8-9 12-14
3 6-7 9-11
2.5 4-5 6-8

IELTS Reading – Practice Tips

Even when a candidate is a good reader in regular life, he/ she needs to look at the IELTS reading test very strategically. To begin with, read the instructions on the question paper very carefully. You must be familiar with the different question types beforehand to avoid any delays or careless mistakes during the test.

Read the preparation tips below to achieve a high band score in your IELTS reading test.

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Practice Skimming: Skimming refers to the reading technique that includes reading through a text within the shortest time possible to identify key themes or general ideas. This means paying attention to:

        • Titles
        • Subtitles
        • Keywords
        • Topic sentences

Practice Scanning: Scanning, just as the word implies, refers to looking for very specific information, perhaps a number, name or date, without reading every word in the given article. For instance, when you need to know how much something costs, just run your eyes quickly down the article in search of a currency indicator and then decide if this is referring to what you are looking for. While skimming helps in gaining an overall view of the written text, scanning helps in tracing down specific details needed.

Read extensively: One must read as much, as often and as quickly as they can. The more you read in English language, the better it is. The aspirants can practice managing their time by timing their reading time, writing down key words and main ideas and practicing their scanning and skimming skills. Remember that there are no shortcuts and secret techniques to become a smarter reader. Time, practice and persistence helps in making one a skilled reader.

While the above points describe what one needs to do and prepare for prior to the IELTS reading test, the points below give you the correct approaches to apply during the test to achieve good results:

  • Don’t read in detail/intensively at the start: It’s a common mistake to start with the IELTS reading test by reading an article intensely. When you begin with the reading test, skim the article first. Get an overall understanding about the theme of each of the paragraphs. Make notes around the written text to help yourself in this process. This itself will help you answer several questions. After this, have a quick look at the questions and start reading to find specific details needed. Use your skimming and scanning skills to trace the right paragraph in the article. Then, you must read in detail to find answers to other questions.
  • Mark the key words: Make sure that you identify and mark some of the key words while going through a text. Marking the key words is an important part of the skimming and scanning process. These key words could be:
      • Nouns and verbs
      • Names (places, scientists, people and more included in the passage)
      • Locations (towns, cities, states, countries etc)
      • Dates and years
      • Numbers or figures
      • Capitalized or italicized words/phrases

You may underline key words after reading the questions carefully and understanding their ‘focus’. This strategy is especially applicable to multiple choice questions. For example, the focus is highlighted in the following question –

“What is most at fault for the downfall of the economy?”

  1. Unstable political system
  2. Industrial and agricultural downturn
  3. Bad budgeting schemes
  4. None of the above
  • Paraphrasing: Please keep in mind that the keyword in the question could be a synonym or similar-meaning word to the one given in the passage. For example, the question might include the word “husband” while the passage might have the word “spouse” in the same context. Therefore, paraphrasing is also another important skill in answering your questions quickly without any confusion.
  • Time management: The IELTS reading test takes 60 minutes including the time taken by the candidate to transfer the answers. This needs effective time management. The candidate should give a maximum of 20 minutes to each one of the sections. Keep a check on the time taken to read the passages. One should keep in mind that the articles get increasingly difficult as the test progresses. Hence, it is important for the candidate to try and keep the maximum time for the last article.  In case you can’t figure out the answer to a question, it is better to skip it and move on to the next question, without spending too much time worrying over it. Leave the question pending for later inspection.
  • Abide by the rules: Ensure that you follow the rules in case of questions that ask you to write your answer in a specific number of words. Count your words to ensure the word count and do remember that words like ‘I’ ‘and’ ‘a’ is also considered a word.
  • Never leave multiple choice questions unanswered: If the time has elapsed and there’s not much time left to check the articles to attempt on multiple choice questions, the candidate should guess the answers instead of leaving them. You might just surprise yourself with the right answer!
  • Avoid spelling mistakes: Spelling mistakes always count during the scoring. Hence, keep a look out for any spelling errors during the test.

IELTS Reading – Video Resources

Check out the video below to understand how to prepare for the reading section of the IELTS exam with the help of skimming, scanning and other reading skills.

Check out the video below to practice multiple choice questions asked during the IELTS reading test.

Check out the video below to know about the keyword technique, a tried-and-tested method to find the correct answers in the IELTS reading exam.

Check out this video by an Indian instructor to learn how to make the right guesses when you are not left with enough time during the IELTS reading test. The speaker advises the candidates to not leave out any questions when the time is short. The video aims at helping you learn how to make intelligent guesses.

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IELTS Reading – FAQs

Q. How can I improve my reading skills for IELTS?

A. To improve your reading skills for IELTS, you must follow the following:

  • Practice skimming. It helps in gaining an overall view of the written text
  • Practice scanning. It assists in tracing down specific details needed.
  • Read as much as possible to get comfortable and make a habit. It’s best to time your reading, so that you’re able to manage time better during the reading test.
  • Mark the key words to identify answers to questions easily.
  • Keep a lookout for synonyms. This will help you catch a similar word in the question and the passage, making the process of finding answers easier.
  • In case you can’t figure out the answer to a question, skip it and move on to the next question to save on time. You could come back to the missed questions later.
  • Avoid spelling mistakes

Q. How long is the ielts reading test?

Both the IELTS Academic and General Training reading test takes 60 minutes including the time taken to transfer the answers on the answer sheet. There is no additional time for transferring answers. So, the applicants have to write the answers on their answer sheet while going through the passages and the questions. To complete the reading test properly, the candidate should take not more than 20 minutes on each one of the sections.

Q. How many passages are there in ielts reading?

There are a total of 3 passages or articles in the IELTS Reading test.

Q. Is IELTS general reading easier than academic?

A. IELTS General Training reading test is easier when compared to the IELTS Academic reading test. This is because the content in the passages of the General reading test is relatively easier.

Q. What is the difference between academic and general ielts reading?

The content in the passages of the General reading test is relatively less complex and pertains to everyday topics. The passages in the Academic reading test are more factual, argumentative and analytical. The scoring methods of these two kinds of reading tests also differs. Because of the difficulty level of the Academic reading test, you need comparatively lesser number of right answers to achieve a good band score. For example, to achieve an 8-band score, the candidate needs to have up to 36 right answers out of 40 in the IELTS Academic reading test. On the other hand, the IELTS General Reading test needs up to 38 right answers for the same band score.

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Varalika Vij