The basics
STUDY ABROAD : Applying to University - Must read

Top tips for IELTS reading test preparation

Are you preparing for the IELTS reading exam? Read our comprehensive guide to how the exam is structured and graded, plus some tips to help you prepare...

Student preparing for IELTS reading test

When you’re studying at a higher education level, being able to read English at a satisfactory level is vital so you can carry out the work that you need to do as part of your course – this is especially important if you’re studying a subject like English or Law. This is why the reading portion of the IELTS exam is arguably the most important of the four sections.




Note, the format of the IELTS writing exam is the same no matter if you’re taking the Academic or General Training versions of the test.


You will have 1 hour to complete 3 sections. Each section will require you to read a short passage of text on a particular subject and answer questions based on the content of this text. You won’t need any prior knowledge of the subject which the text is about; everything you will need to answer the questions correctly will be in the texts or additional resources such as graphs and diagrams. The texts could be quite varied, ranging from a list of rules to a factual, descriptive piece about a topic.


You’ll be given suggestions as to how long you should spend on each section, so keep an eye on the time as you complete the exam.


The questions will be in a few different formats, including:


  • Fill in gaps
  • True or False
  • Yes or No
  • Matching corresponding statements





How you’re assessed

Each question will be worth one mark (40 marks overall).These will then be converted to the IELTS 9-band scale. Scores are reported in whole and half bands.



Tips for the IELTS reading test

Different answers for different questions

There are 8 or 9 different types of reading question that examiners may use. Before the exam, you should make yourself familiar with each type of question as they are slightly different. Read the questions carefully and pay special attention for words that might change the whole sense of the questions such as ‘always’, ‘often’, etc.


Other questions, for example, specify that you must not use more than three words in your answer, so pay attention to these instructions.



Read, read and read

Most applicants are very worried about the level of complexity they might find in the test. However, the test is taken by people from all backgrounds and the topics have been selected with that in mind. So, try to do as much general reading as possible. Focus on reading short articles on topics that interest you or on topics that are common in IELTS – newspapers and magazines are a great resource. When reading instructions, rules or terms & conditions, always choose to read them in English rather than your native language – this way you’ll be accustomed to reading a range of texts in English.


If you read enough English commonly used in written English before the exam, you will become more and more confident in looking at texts where you don’t understand every word. The test does NOT assess your comprehension of the paragraphs, but your ability to select and use information according to the questions presented.



Read the questions first

Once you are presented with the reading materials, you will have limited time to read and answer the questions. That’s why you need to prioritise your steps to maximise your time.


  • Read the title and headings so you have a first clue into the text.
  • Then read all the questions and all the choices given for multiple choice
  • Skimming and scanning - Skimming is reading quickly for general meaning and scanning is looking for specific information. Once you have an idea of your questions you can skim and scan for information to answer correctly in a limited amount of time.
  • Don’t forget to focus on the question, so you don’t get distracted with additional information.
  • With some exceptions, the questions normally follow the text. This is a very practical piece of advice and could save you a lot of time.



What if you find a word you don’t know?

Don’t panic when you encounter an unknown or difficult word. Skip over difficult words which are not essential for your understanding of the text. Try to guess their meaning using the overall context of the text and sentence as well as the form of the word – e.g. is it a noun or verb. In most cases, the questions will give you clues of what you should be looking for. The clue is to look for synonyms or paraphrases of an answer already in the text, so keep an eye on those.



Before time is up...

Don't forget to transfer your answers onto to the answer sheet! It can be quite obvious but good to point out. For the reading exam, you will be given your reading materials and answer sheet. You will not be given extra time to transfer the answers to the answer sheet at the end of the exam. Any answers in the reading materials are invalid.


Read less to read more. Too many candidates try to read every word of every text. That will take even the fastest readers too long. Read the questions first then look for the answers to the questions in the text. Focus on the first and last sentences in each paragraph to gain an understanding of its content.



Tip from an expert: Bryan Dowie, Road to IELTS

‘Read less to read more. Too many candidates try to read every word of every text. That will take even the fastest readers too long. Read the questions first then look for the answers to the questions in the text. Focus on the first and last sentences in each paragraph to gain an understanding of its content.’



Don’t stop there! Read our tips for the other sections of the IELTS test...

IELTS speaking

IELTS listening

IELTS writing



Find out more:

For access to more information and sample tests, please visit the IELTS official website

You can also visit Road to IELTS for tips, videos, exercises and other IELTS preparation resources

Search for a course

Choose a country
Study level*
About Author

Student preparing for IELTS reading test

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.