What Are The Most Effective Strategies And Skills For The IELTS Reading Test

The Reading Section of the exam tests your reading comprehension skills. You will have to answer different types of questions based on different reading texts/passages. The texts are all authentic and taken from trustworthy sources. The IELTS reading test comprises of 40 questions divided into 3 sections. You have one hour to answer all questions and there is no extra time given to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

The texts encountered in the IELTS exams are chosen to reflect the type of content you might naturally come across as a student or resident of an English-speaking country. However, the types of text vary depending on whether you are writing the IELTS Academic or General Training tests.

There are 11 different types of IELTS reading questions. They include:

  1. Multiple-choice questions
  2. Matching Headings
  3. Matching Features
  4. Matching Information
  5. Matching Sentence Endings
  6. True/False/Not Given questions and Yes/No/Not Given questions
  7. Summary, Table, Note, Flowchart Completion
  8. Diagram Labelling

In this article, we will take a look at the best strategies you should use to score well when answering any type of question in the IELTS Reading Test. The tips included in this article are useful for candidates from Singapore and internationally as well.

The Need For Reading Strategies Explained

Many students question the need for a reading strategy in the first place. They incorrectly assume that the reading test is like any other reading comprehension passage they might have encountered at school. So they answer in that very same manner i.e. they read the passage and then answer the questions. However, most of the reading passages in the Academic Reading test are far more challenging than most passages you might have faced at school.

Most students who take the IELTS exam do not really have a strong enough grasp on English to retain and fully understand a passage and the questions within the required 20 minutes. In fact, most native speakers would struggle with reading, understanding and answering questions based on texts that total to approximately 2,750 words in total. They simply cannot read fast enough, so for this reason good strategies and techniques are needed to actually read less and save a lot of valuable time.

1.      Skimming For A General Understanding Of The Text

Skimming is a pre-reading activity that involves quickly going through an entire passage just to get a general feel for the passage.

We skim-read by basically locating the main idea of each paragraph. These main ideas are usually found in the first two sentences of a paragraph. We use these main ideas to understand what the entire paragraph is about. We then go through the rest of the paragraph without reading detail. During this process, we merely take note of important words or phrases within the paragraph, like names or numbers without reading the whole passage. This gives us a general idea about where certain information should be (or could be) located in case we need to find a piece of information for one of the reading test questions.

2.      Keyword Identification 

After we have skimmed through the text, we then take a look at the questions that relate to it. When analysing the questions it’s important to take note of important keywords.  Keywords are words that match information between the text and the question. They are usually words like verbs or nouns. Unique words like the names of people or places or scientific terminology are almost always keywords. Keywords help us quickly match our questions to the correct/relevant spot in a passage where that particular answer might be found but they might not always be mentioned in exactly the same way. For example, a question might ask about staff policies, but the text might not use the word staff. The word staff might be mentioned as employees or workers instead.

Keywords also help us to find the focus of the question. This guarantees that we will find the relevant place in the text to find our answer when we match the question keywords to a similar word in the text. So it is important to think about how these keywords might be paraphrased in the text e.g. employees might be staff or global issue– might be paraphrased as worldwide dilemma etc. Paraphrased words are words that mean roughly the same thing.

3.      Scanning

The last useful strategy that we will discuss is called Scanning. Once we have our question keywords, we need to match them to the text in order to find our answer. We also need to be aware of the type of information we are looking for in an answer. Different question types require different information. Some questions need a word like a place, name, a number etc. while some questions require information like the writer’s viewpoint.

Scanning starts when we return to the passage after reading the questions and have already found our question key words. We use it when we know what we are searching for (similar to finding a word in a dictionary).

Since we have already skimmed for a general understanding of the text, we should have a good idea about where certain information should be. We then have to match our chosen keywords to the relevant spot in the text. Once we have successfully done so, the answer to that particular question is usually found nearby in that part of the test. We then read that specific paragraph in detail to find proof or justification for our answers. However, it important to read on a bit further just in case there are any words that contradict the given statement.

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.