Time management is a huge issue in the IELTS Reading Test.
How can you possibly
- read 3 difficult texts (5 in General Training!)
- answer 40 difficult questions (12 different types!)
- transfer your answers
in 60 minutes? When you’re already exhausted from the Listening Test and still worrying about the Writing and Speaking Test? (And you probably didn’t sleep well the night before!).
This lesson gives you some ways to speed up your reading during your preparation, and gives you test-day strategies that WORK.
How many questions do you need to get right?
Let’s stop worrying about getting ALL the answers correct.
You only need 23/40 (Academic) or 30/40 (GT) to get Band 7.
[See my IELTS Band Score Calculator]
So they’re not expecting you to get 40 correct answers in 60 minutes.
Action point: Don’t waste time on an answer you can’t find.
Move on and find an easier question that you CAN answer!
How to read faster
Reading speed comes from 2 things:
- Understanding the text (your knowledge of vocabulary, synonyms, parallel structures, paraphrasing etc)
- Knowing what you need to do with it (recognising text structures, topics, question types)
So when you’re preparing, you need to work on a combination of these.
Building your vocabulary is essential. It’s also essential to become familiar with the types of texts they use, and how the questions work.
Click on the TAGS section of the sidebar on this page to find examples of the different types of questions.
Learn about text structures
At the start of all my Reading Videos on YouTube, I talk about the structure of the text. These are either:
- Descriptive (factual, chronological)
- Discursive (theoretical, based on research and evidence)
If you know how these texts work, you will learn how to predict answers and know where to find them quickly in the text. This is a huge part of your time management strategy.
Skimming the questions
Is it better to look at the questions first? Or read the text first?
I asked IELTS teachers on Twitter, and 75% said you should look at the questions first.
This is good advice. The questions are divided according to the text, so if you look at them first, you will know which parts of the text to focus on and which you can ignore (see my video above as an example).
Practise with different question types
We all hate True/False/Not Given, but when you’ve done enough practice, you’ll see that there are patterns that will help you quickly guess the answer e.g.
- the first question is rarely NOT GIVEN
- NOT GIVEN questions often contain comparisons which are not in the text
- FALSE questions often contain ‘quantifier’ expressions e.g. ‘ALL the experiments failed’ (Text – ‘Few of the experiments were successful’)
So you need to learn how these work together with other rules about different question types (e.g. ‘You can use any letter more than once’ ‘Use no more than two words and/or a number’)
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Use textual clues
When you’re skimming a text, use everything to help:
- The title (if there is one)
- The sub-title (ditto)
- First lines
- Capital Letters
- ‘Inverted commas’
and learn to ignore words you don’t understand – you probably don’t need them.
There’s no point trying to read faster when you’re preparing.
The best preparation you can do to improve your reading skills is to take your time over each text, making sure you understand as much as you can, learning essential words and using a dictionary when you need to.
BUT leading up the the exam, you will have to improve your time management skills and train yourself for the time limit.
Start by just doing 20-minute texts.
Then build up to 3 texts in 60 minutes, using an alarm to stop and move to the nex text after every 20 minutes.
Now you can focus on strategy. Some people spend less time on Task 1 (18 mins) and more time on Task 3 (22 mins).
Some people do the opposite, because they can get more correct answers in Task 1, which is slightly easier.
This all depends on your level and experience, but make sure you practice your strategy BEFORE test day so that you find what works best for you.
In the video above, you can see me using these time management strategies with a General Training Part 3 called ‘The Birdmen’.
You can see how the questions are divided according to the text, and how you can easily use the names and dates (capital letters and numbers) to find the answers.
But you still need a good vocabulary to get all the questions correct.
Strategy will never replace understanding, though with a little practice, it will definitely help!
If you’re not good at something, do it more!
Reading is a skill, and like any other skill, you get better the more you do it.
But make sure you’re reading the right stuff.
If I were you, I’d do any real practice test that I could get my hands on leading up to the IELTS test.
To be sure you’re practising with only reliable tests, I would stick with the Cambridge Practice Test Books.
I’ve tried other options, and they are never quite the same, as I show in this video.
How to answer ALL question types
My Reading Skills course consists of 28 lessons, including a full video lesson about time management.
Each lesson focuses on a different question type, and gives you tips and advice to help you cope.
Buy the course separately, or get it included with an all-access pass to ALL of the courses in the Academy.