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IELTS Reading

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Created Date: Sun 08 Apr 2012

Reading is one of the most common activities including college work and office work. Hence, the reading test has been the focus and considered by many to be the most difficult part of IELTS. Regardless of your current level of reading, you can still improve it. Even though improving reading skills can take a long time, it's not an impossible task.

There are 2 cases in which you can't succeed in the IELTS Reading Test. The first one is your vocabulary and grammar are not good enough. Hence, you can't understand clearly what the reading essays are about. Your problem now is about understanding English.

The second case is you have fairly good levels of grammar and vocabulary but you can't catch up and do not have enough time to finish the test or the reading questions are just too confusing. Your problem now is mostly about TIME.

If you are in the first case, your primary job is to improve your level of English first. Without a strong background, you can't get a good mark for the IELTS Reading regardless of whatever tips/tricks you can learn.

IELTS Reading Levels

As can be seen, you need to quickly move from level 1 to level 2 in order to succeed in IELTS Reading Test. However, for both levels, you always have 2 things to master:

1) Improve your grammar and vocabulary.

2) Understand IELTS Reading Tips and practice Scanning and Skimming (more on this later).

IELTS Reading Levels Practice

As demonstrated, for the first level, you spend most of the time on improving your level of English. And for the second level, you should pay more attention to critical IELTS Reading Skills including Scanning and Skimming. However, at both levels, you should simultaneously practice all the skills. There is no harm in doing that and it can also save your preparation time.

In this article, we are not going to show you how to improve your level of English (level 1). Rather, we focus more on how to practice IELTS Reading Skills (level 2). To give you a better understanding, we divide this paper into the following sections:

1) Take a sample test: why you need to take a sample test before you study the reading tips.

2) Common misconceptions/tips: IELTS Reading Test is not about having a comprehensive understanding on a given Reading Topic. Therefore, when applying common reading practices, you are making serious mistakes.

3)IELTS Skimming Skills: Skimming is to understand the key ideas without trying to understand the details.

4)IELTS Scanning Skills: Scanning to find relevant and specific information by reading through the reading passages quickly.


"Why do I have to take sample test before studying reading tips? Anyway, I'm not going to do well without preparing."

Right! You are correct in that you are not going to have a good result at the first time. However, what you are going to learn by doing this is:

+ You know the types of reading questions

+ You know how stressful the reading test will be. You might be laughing, saying that this is obvious. Not really! Between finishing 30 out of 40 reading questions, and 20/40; which one do you think you might need more effort in preparing? Of course, it's stressful but without taking a sample test, you don't know how short you are on time.

+ STRONG MIND: Really? Yes! After failling some times, you will see it's still possible to have high marks even though you missed or were not sure for some questions.

It happens that many students get frightened when they fail to answer 2 or 3 questions at the very beginning. As a result, they become less confident to do the rest of the test.


Hence, taking sample test is criticle in your IELTS Success. You will be mentally prepared and you have the motivations to study.


You can argue that it is all about skills. No tips/tricks can help. It's not totally true. The tips we are going to show you are not magic at all. They are what other IELTS learners have experienced during the test. By following this, you could avoid common mistakes that other candidates have committed. Hence, after the test, you should not feel regret because you have done it right and with all your effort.

a) Don't read the whole passage

"How can I answer the reading questions without understanding the passage?"

Yes, you can. That's why we are writing this article. Suppose you don't believe in this and still want to read everything, we will show you why it's not possible. You have 40 reading questions to answer in 60 minutes. To read the 3 passages with a total of 2000 to 2750 words, you have to spend roughly 15 minutes (average readers only reach 200 words/min with a typical comprehension of 60% - Therefore, you only have 1 min/question if you want to read everything thoroughly.


=> NO!!!

IELTS Reading Timing

With 60% comprehension, you can't answer any questions without reading the whole passage again. Bear in mind that it takes you 15 seconds to read and understand any questions and another 15 seconds for reasoning because the questions are not straight forward. You need to think carefully. CAN YOU GO THROUGH THE WHOLE PASSAGE IN 30 SECONDS TO FIND OUT THE DETAILS YOU WANT?

b) No word-by-word reading

Similar to the first advice right? Almost!

The only difference is that this is from another perspective. Many college students fall into this trap. It is statistically proven that the comprehension level expected during word-by-word reading is not at all clearer or any better than inference reading. Reading a few first sentences can probably give you a general understanding of what the paragraph is about. Hence, you need not spend time on reading the full text of the whole passage in order to get a basic understanding only. Besides that, if you choose word-by-word reading, the more you read, the more you forget. Probably you will also feel more tired and will not be able to finish the rest.

IELTS Reading Strategies

c) Always finish all the questions

Yes, you can encounter difficult questions which you do not know the answer. If you skip these questions, you have 0% probability to get the marks. If you answer them, you have 50/50 chance to get the marks.

There is no negative marking for incorrect answers.

d) Do not get stuck on any questions

If you can't get the answer, MOVE ON. If you keep trying, you will:

+ loose time for other questions

+ feel less confident doing the rest

+ even you give the answer, it is very likely wrong because basically the reading question is difficult. WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you move on, you can:
+ answer more questions.

+ come back later. The more reading questions you answer, the more understanding you can get. After that, you can come back and answer the question.

e) The answers USUALLY appear in the same order as the questions

This is very likely but not always. For example, the answer to question 6 will be earlier in the text than the answer to question 20.

IELTS Reading Question Answer Order

f) Do not use common knowledge

There are questions which give you 3 possible answers YES/NO/NOT GIVEN. Even though you know the answer should be either YES or NO due to common knowledge, you should choose NOT GIVEN if it's not mentioned in the text. Hence, if you use common knowledge, you could loose marks. This is the reason why I said IELTS Reading Test is not about your comprehension but more about how quickly you can find out relevant information which also happens when studying in universities/colleges.

g) No extra time is allowed for transferring the answers. You should always write your answers in the answer sheet.

h) Improve your grammar: with good grammar, you can quickly identify the key ideas. Some sentences are made complex. If you can extract the main nouns and the main verbs, you can get the key ideas.


The most important thing to understand is that IELTS Reading Test does not assess the level of your understanding of the passages. Rather, it tests your ability to read and find out relevant information in a very limited amount of time. Specifically, it exams 2 skills called Scanning and Skimming.

As a college student, you are expected to read more and more books which you may not be able to buy all. Hence, you need to go to libraries to borrow them within a very short time. In this context, you also have to use the 2 skills to find out only the information you are looking for.

That is the reason IELTS examiners try to exam your skills on this but not about how much you understand EVERYTHING. Now we will advise you on how to improve skimming skills by first giving you basic rules to skim read, then talking about materials that you can use to practice this skill.


+ Read the title: guess what the whole passage is about.

+ Read only the first sentences. For the last paragraph, you can read the first and the last sentences.

IELTS Reading first sentences only

+ Based on the first sentence, guess the meaning of the whole paragraph.

+ Based on your guesses, link and make a connection throughtout all the paragraphs to see the logical structure of the whole essay.

+ Because Skimming only gives you 30% comprehension on the first time, you should skim read a second time to improve your understanding. You need not read the passage 3 times.


+ Many people suggest famous websites such as CNN, BCC, ABC. They are indeed very good resources by which you can study new vocabulary as well as updated news around the wolrd.

+ However, in my opinion, you should get books related to your major. Reading books like that can both improve your IELTS skills and help you prepare before you study higher. Since many IELTS learners plan to study abroad, it should be the best option because you can save time on reading books related to your major before you go abroad.


Scanning is to find specific information. Which is the specific information? It is the information that you can use to answer a reading question.

Oh! Now we are talking aout how to answer reading questions. Having said that, I mean scanning should be performed after skimming.

You should skimmmed the passage twice so you can have some fundamental understanding. You then use scanning to find information to answer reading questions.

In order to practice scanning skills, we again recommend that you use textbooks related to your major. Generally, a well written textbook has every chapter divided into 3 parts: Introduction, Body and Review Questions.

Firstly, you skim read a chapter twice or more depending on its length. You then go to the section for review questions and go through one by one. Instead of finding the correct answer, all you have to do is to find WHERE you can get the relevant information. You NEED NOT find the answers, ONLY WHERE THEY ARE.

HOW TO IMPROVE IELTS READING SKILLS is a very lengthy topic and perhaps one of the most controversial issues. There are many articles and resources giving advice on this but there still seems to be a very large demand. The reason is that we have to combine instructions with hands-on experience so that IELTS learners can benefit and master all the skills before taking the exam. This article has given you a fundamental understanding about IELTS Reading. In the next article, we will give you materials that you can use to exercise the skills you have been taught today. Thanks and all the best for your study.


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IELTS Writing Sample

Mandatory Financial Education

IELTS Writing Sample - Task 2

Financial education should be mandatory component of the school program. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?
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