Are you struggling to
- read 3 difficult texts (5 in General Training!)
- answer 40 difficult questions (12 different types!)
- transfer your answers accurately
in just 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!).
10 time-management techniques for the IELTS Reading test
This lesson gives you some ways to speed up your reading during your preparation, and gives you test-day strategies that WORK.
1. Work out how many correct answers you need.
This is not exactly a time-management technique, but you need to stop worrying about getting ALL the answers correct.
You only need 23/40 (Academic) or 30/40 (GT) to get Band 6.
[See my IELTS Band Score Calculator]
So they’re not expecting you to get 40 correct answers in 60 minutes.
Time management technique: Don’t waste time on an answer you can’t find.
Move on and find an easier question that you CAN answer!
2. Learn about text types and question types
Reading speed comes from:
- Understanding the text (vocabulary, synonyms, parallel structures, paraphrasing etc)
- Knowing what you need to do with the text (recognising text structures, topics, question types)
So when you’re preparing for the test, 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 that IELTS uses, 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.
3. Learn about text structures
At the start of all my Reading Lessons, I talk about the structure of the text.
IELTS texts can be divided into two basic types:
- Descriptive (factual, chronological)
- Discursive (theoretical, based on research and evidence)
If you know how IELTS 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.
4. Skim the questions first
Is it better to look at the questions first? Or read the text first?
There is some disagreement about this, but 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).
5. Practise different question types
We all hate True/False/Not Given questions, 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 or subjective opinions 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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6. Use textual clues
When you’re skimming a text, use ‘clues’ to help you:
i. The title and sub-title (if there is one)
The title will normally tell you what type of text it is and therefore how you should approach it e.g.
Descriptive Texts (chronological order, factual information with names and dates)
Discursive texts (theory-evidence, problem-solution structure)
- What destroyed the civilisation of Easter Island?
- Is there anybody out there? The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
- Autumn Leaves Canadian writer Jay Ingram investigates the mystery of why leaves turn red in the fall.
ii. First lines in each paragraph
This is a good way to skim the full Reading (by reading the first lines of each paragraph). The first line often (but not always) helps you Match Headings. There’s a really good example of this here.
iii. Capital Letters
First names, company names, places, abbreviations e.g. UFOs [Unidentified Flying Objects]
Capital Letters are especially useful for Matching People of course!
Dates, statistics, costs etc can help you find information really quickly.
In the images below, you can see how the text is divided in the same order as the 2 sets of questions.
Look at Question 8 below – it gives 4 numbers as multiple choice answers, so you can quickly find where you need to read (and ignore the rest) by using these textual clues.
(Illustration shows this test)
These are often used for unusual words that they will explain for you – they can help you find the information quickly e.g. to complete table in this Stepwells passage
e.g. Most stepwells are found dotted around the desert areas of Rajasthan (where they are known as baori).
TABLE: ‘One of 21 baoris commissioned by Queen Navathatji’
vi. ‘Inverted commas’
These are words that they don’t expect you to know, and they often explain the term by saying
– commonly known as ‘____’,
– often referred to as ‘_____’
The answer is often a gapfill answer.
Learn to recognise these prompts and to ignore words you don’t understand – you probably don’t need them.
7. Practise timing yourself
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.
8. Keep building your vocabulary
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!
9. Read more often and use reliable texts.
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.
10. 3 tests instead of 1?
Finally, here is the advice that another IELTS expert gives in our interview about how to improve your IELTS score
‘You should consider the reading test as three tests not one test because one of the biggest problems students have is they get only about half of the way through the third passage and only answer 30 questions, not 40.
If you can train yourself to read the passage and answer the questions in 20 minutes, done, move on to the next one. Done. I think that that can help people to do the test more quickly.
In terms of reading more quickly, reading is processing information. And any kind of processing can be done faster, you can do it faster, you can train yourself to do it faster. And the way to train yourself to read faster is to read a lot more, to read anything, read newspapers, read novels and read academic texts.
Be a reader. Get into the habit of reading different types of materials a lot and you will be able to process information more quickly.’
Learn how to answer all IELTS Reading question types
My IELTS Reading Course will help you complete the reading test more efficiently and accurately.
Each lesson focuses on a different question and text type, and gives you tips and advice to help you cope.
Get the course included with an all-access pass to ALL of the courses in the Members Academy.
And did you know that when you join the Members Academy you get premium upgraded student accounts for Newsela (newspaper articles for learners) and CommonLit.org (fiction and non-fiction texts and activities for learners) included too?