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How to prepare for the IELTS reading test?

Getting ready for an IELTS test means familiarising yourself with all the test components involved. Fine-tuning your skills is important for achieving the score you want. We explain how to prepare for the IELTS reading test.

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Preparing for an IELTS test inevitably involves questions of how to ensure success and get the best score. One critical factor to remember is that each component of the IELTS test is weighted equally. While you may feel you’re stronger at one skill than another, you should still take time to practice and revise each component. The question is, how? That’s where we come in. Here we give you some practical advice on how to prepare for the IELTS reading test.


What does the IELTS reading test cover?


The IELTS reading test is an examination of several skills. The test is designed to evaluate both your comprehension of information and language, as well as your vocabulary. You need to be able to synthesise, interpret and respond to information.


The IELTS reading test examines how well you can read and contextualise information. This extends to how information is organised in texts and your ability to summarise what is communicated. You have to be on your toes as IELTS examiners are known to include words that you may not be familiar with to see if you can infer meaning by association.


Find out how to prepare for an IELTS test.


What types of questions are asked in the IELTS reading test?


Some of the types of questions you will be asked in the IELTS reading test include:


  • Completing information on a diagram, flow chart or table

  • Retrieving specific details from a text

  • Identifying arguments and opinions

  • Matching headers, features and sentences

  • Completing sentences

  • Multiple-choice questions

  • True or false questions


The reading test has 14 different question types. You will need to answer a total of 40 based on three passages of text. If you get more than 30 questions correct, then your IELTS score for the section will be 7.0 or above.


Get more information on how the IELTS test is structured.


Manage your time 


We cannot emphasise the importance of this enough. You’ve got one hour to complete the 40 questions, so timing is crucial. While you may want to aim for perfection, spending too much time on one question could mean you rush through others and miss crucial details. This can be the difference between getting the score you want and missing out.


A general guideline is to spend 20 minutes on each of the three passages. Take about 12 to 14 minutes to read the texts and interpret the information with the questions in mind. Then take the next six to eight minutes filling in your answers. Don’t forget that some questions are easier to answer than others.


So, during your preparation, you should always practice all types of questions. That way you find out which ones you’re faster at doing and allocate your time accordingly. Most importantly, be aware of timing, but don’t panic.


Discover how to interpret and understand English language test scoring.


Develop your reading skills 


A common pitfall when preparing for the IELTS reading test is to focus all your attention on IELTS. The trick is to practice and develop the skills that will be tested using different types of texts and examples. Learning how to scan and skim text for crucial information is a great asset to take into the IELTS reading test. Skimming and scanning are not about understanding everything in the text but about the layout, structure and key points.


A good tip is to underline key words as you read over the text. This can help you identify information quickly when you re-read a text and to identify answers. Further, improving your reading speed is useful on IELTS test day. With the IELTS test closely timed, reading quickly while taking in the information and understanding it gives you a better chance of reaching your desired score. Take time to read English language websites, books, documents and newspapers to improve your speed and comprehension.


Explore more on how you can improve your English comprehension.


Practice your vocabulary and grammar


Paying attention to developing your English vocabulary and grammar is another way to ensure success on test day. Having a good vocabulary allows you to comprehend the meaning of a word and how it is used contextually. This is part of what the IELTS reading test evaluates. A good tip is to write down words and phrases, including synonyms, and double-check on anything you don’t understand.


When you’re asked to complete sentences or summaries in the IELTS reading test, knowing how punctuation works and denotes meaning is important. This is especially true when reading through a passage of text as it helps you identify opinion, argumentation and emphasis. Understanding grammar comes with reading practice and going over IELTS practice test examples.


Get a sense of the English language scores needed for popular degrees.


Practice different types of test questions


The more you practice, the better you get. It’s a good idea to start preparing about four to six months before your test date. Work on question examples regularly, using both timed test conditions and not. Try to use a mix of all of the types of questions you’ll be asked and note any question you find difficult or need to clarify. Practice also allows you to reflect on any common mistakes you may be making that stand in the way of you achieving the score you want.


You also have the option of taking an IELTS reading practice test for free. It's a great way to get a sense of what level you are at and what you will be doing on IELTS test day. The key to the practice test is not only getting used to the questions but also the instructions. You need to know what an IELTS examiner is looking for. 


Practising regularly and dedicating time each day to working on your English language reading skills give you an excellent chance of doing well in the IELTS test reading section. If you feel like you could do with more help you may want to consider a pre-sessional English course. You can also see what IELTS scores you’ll need for your desired degree with our course matcher tool.


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