Like the listening test, there are no shortcuts to a good reading test score – the only route is hard work. However, with the reading test, there are no excuses; you can practice reading where you want and when you want. However, the following tips will help you approach the reading test.
1. Just having a very basic gist of what a text is about before you start reading will make it easier to understand. Looking at graphs, tables and any illustrations will often give you a good idea of the topic of the text.
2. Remember – there is no transfer time for the reading test. Make sure you put your answers down on the answer sheet – not the question paper. (See an example of the answer sheet below.)
3. The reading test is designed to be general and designed for people with a variety of educational backgrounds. This means you don’t need any specialist knowledge to understand any of the texts. However, some readings may be more familiar than others.
4. If you are reading and answering texts out of sequence, take special care to ensure you don’t write your answers in the wrong places on the answer sheet.
5. If you are not sure of the answer to a question, it is natural to read the text carefully to try to find the answer. If you dwell on a question in this way, you may run out of time. Remember, the reading test is 60 minutes long and there are 40 questions. If you spend one minute of each question that gives you 20 minutes to read a lot of text. If you really cannot find the answer to a question easily, move on to the next question.
6. Although there is no grammar component to the IELTS Test, grammar is important. As with the listening test, you can predict possible answers using the grammar of a question and use the reading text to check which answer is correct. Look at this example.
There have been at least 500 ……….. to correct this problem.
a) Attempts b) Versions c) Tries d) Table Monolith
The fact that ‘500’ precedes the missing word might suggest it should be a plural noun or an adjective. There are no adjectives in the answers and only three plural nouns: Attempts, Versions, and Tries. Now you can use the text to check the answer.
7. As with the listening test, do not deduce the answer. This is especially true in True / False Not given questions. The answers are in the text, you do not need to work them out. For example:
“The introduction of new government policies gave people better lives: they had jobs and more money to spend.”
Now look at the answer:
The introduction of new government policies had positive long-term benefits on peoples’ lives. True / False / Not given
If people had jobs and more money, surely this is better for them, and so it is natural to consider this a ‘true’ statement. However, the key here is ‘long-term’. From the text, it is impossible to say whether the new jobs lasted 20 years or one day. If you don’t make assumptions it is impossible to answer the question. As a result, the correct answer should be: Not given.
8. True / False / Not given questions are by far the most difficult types of question to answer as they are designed to trick people into thinking about the answer and giving their deduction as an answer.
9. Many students are generally very good at reading tests – they are very good at spotting the keywords in a question, finding those keywords in a text, reading around the keywords and finding the answer to the question.
However, as with the listening test, in the IELTS reading test, the words in the questions are often not the words you will find in the answer. As a result, you have to look for synonyms of keywords as well as the actual keywords. Consider a word like ‘correct’ – among others, possible synonyms include:
e. Spot on
Depending on the context, only some of these synonyms might apply. You need to be aware of for these words as well as the keywords you are looking for. In addition, consider antonyms – words with the opposite meanings. A sentence like ‘It wouldn’t be wrong’ would mean ‘correct’ in certain contexts. As you can see, you will need a fairly deep understanding of vocabulary.
10. If aren’t going to finish, guess some of the answers. It is surprising how many students leave multiple choice answers blank because they don’t know the answer. If you have the choice of A, B, C or D, you have a 20% chance of getting the question right so just put one of the answers in!
11. If you really don’t know the answer to a True / False / Not given question, and you want to guess the answer, DON’T choose “Not given” – it’s the least frequent answer.
12. If a reading text is very specific in topic (e.g. the development of the computer chip), don’t think to yourself that you don’t know anything about that topic and therefore can’t answer the questions – the more specific the topic, the more factual and straightforward it will allow everyone to have a chance at answering the questions.
13. Some texts contain an opinion which you have to recognize. Remember that sentences starting with phrases like ‘While it can be argued that…’ do NOT express the author’s opinion, they are more often a statement of someone else’s opinion.
14. You might get a text with masses and masses of long, complicated words. Very often these words are key to the meaning of a sentence and therefore key to answering a question. However, equally often these words are unnecessary – they are adjectives or adverbs that provide greater description rather than play a part in meaning. If you start focusing on words you don’t understand, you will run out of time. If some words are too difficult, ignore them. Try this as an exercise – get a copy of an English language newspaper and find an article with lots of words in it you don’t understand. Physically cross all the words out and then read the article to see if you can understand it. Chances are you will be able to.
15. If you get a text with a lot of dates, circle them as you go along – chances are the dates are going to be important. If you circle them you can find them again easily.
16. Likewise with names; even if there aren’t a lot of names, circle the ones you find so you can find them again easily.
17. Don’t worry about writing on the question paper if you need to.
18. The biggest tip of all: read a lot. Every day read something. The more you read the easier it will be. Study the sentence structure and punctuation of what you read, but most of all, try to grasp the ideas in what you read. Look at a piece of writing and write down some predictions about what the reading will be about. As you read check off these predictions – which ones were right and which ones wrong?
19. If you are really running out of time leave all the True / False / Not given and Multiple Choice questions until the end because you don’t have to read anything to answer them.