IELTS Reading: Essential Grammar Concepts 

 May 20, 2024

By  Jonathan

The IELTS Reading test assesses your ability to quickly comprehend and process written texts on various topics. While you might instantly think of vocabulary as the key focus area, overlooking grammar can create serious roadblocks to achieving your target score. A sound understanding of English grammar structures will empower you to decode information accurately and efficiently, even when dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary or complex phrasing.

Why Grammar Matters in IELTS Reading

  • Understanding Relationships: Grammar reveals the connections between different parts of a sentence. Misunderstanding how a pronoun ties back to a noun, or how clauses relate to each other, can distort the overall meaning.
  • Pinpointing the Main Idea: Identifying the subject and verb within a sentence allows you to grasp the core idea being presented, which is vital for answering comprehension questions.
  • Decoding Complex Sentences: Academic or technical texts often contain longer, complex sentences. Understanding how these are constructed helps you break them down into more manageable chunks for easier comprehension.
  • Distinguishing Fact from Opinion: Grammar clues, like modal verbs (e.g., “could”, “might”), can signal possibility or speculation, distinguishing these from factual statements.

Key Grammar Areas to Focus On

  • Sentence Structure: Review the basic types of sentences – simple, compound, and complex. Knowing how to identify subjects, verbs, and their relationship to each other is foundational for any reading task.
  • Tenses: Pay attention to how verb tenses are used, especially the difference between the past, present, and future. This gives you a timeline for events described in the text. Additionally, be aware of the present perfect (have/has + past participle) as it’s commonly used to discuss recent or ongoing situations relevant to the text’s topic.
  • Conditionals: Understand basic conditional forms (e.g., ‘If I study hard, I will pass the exam’). These are often used to discuss hypothetical situations, possibilities, and consequences.
  • Passive Voice: Academic texts frequently use the passive voice (e.g., “the experiment was conducted”). Recognise how this changes the focus of the sentence, often placing more emphasis on the object or the result of an action.

Common Grammar-Related Errors

  • Missing the Subject: In complex, lengthy sentences, it’s easy to lose track of the main subject. This can make it difficult to answer “who” or “what” the sentence is truly about.
  • Confusing Pronoun References: Pronouns like “it”, “this”, or “they” can make you think a text is referring to something specific, when in reality it’s connected to a different part of the passage.
  • Ignoring Time Markers: Overlooking words like “before”, “after”, “since”, and “while” can disrupt your understanding of the sequence of events described.

Strategies for Tackling Grammar

  • Slow Down: If a sentence seems convoluted, pause. Break it down into smaller parts, identifying the main subject and verb.
  • Rely on Context: Think about the overall theme of the text to clarify ambiguous pronoun references or challenging vocabulary.
  • Look for Markers: Underlining or circling words like conjunctions, modal verbs, or prepositions can highlight relationships within a sentence.
  • Focused Practice: In addition to general IELTS reading tasks, complete grammar-specific exercises targeting areas like tenses, passive voice, or conditional forms.

How Does This Impact My Test Preparation?

It may be tempting to focus solely on ‘topic-specific’ vocabulary lists when preparing for the IELTS Reading test. Here’s why grammar study deserves equal priority:

  • Core Understandings: Even if you memorise a definition, applying new vocabulary within the context of a grammatically complex sentence can still make understanding elusive.
  • Transferable Skills: Unlike niche topic vocabulary, stronger grammar skills benefit you across all sections of the IELTS, plus in real-life use of English afterward.
  • Time Efficiency: Struggling with sentence structure slows down your reading speed significantly. Having confidence with grammar frees up time to process information and answer questions accurately.

Beyond the Test

Even if your sole focus is achieving a high band score in the IELTS Reading test, strengthening your grammar has enduring benefits. It allows you to consume and comprehend academic papers, news articles, and complex literature with greater ease and accuracy, empowering you far beyond the exam environment.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.