The Complete Guide to IELTS Reading

The Complete Guide to IELTS Reading

The Complete Guide to IELTS Reading

The Complete Guide to IELTS Reading

This Guide to IELTS Reading begins by covering some basic IELTS Reading information so you can become familiar with the test. However, this post mostly focuses on IELTS Reading practice tests, strategies, and tips to help you perform better.

Whether you started preparing for the IELTS only recently, or you’re familiar with the exam already, this guide will give you the information and strategies you need to push your score even higher.

If you’re struggling to get the results you want on the IELTS Reading paper, you’re definitely not the only one. Many people find IELTS Reading to be very tough. The vocabulary alone is difficult, not to mention the wide variety of question types IELTS uses to measure your skills. Try not to get discouraged. Instead, get to work! Smart and consistent preparation can really pay off on IELTS Reading.

IELTS Reading

IELTS Reading: The Basics

There are two versions of the IELTS exam: Academic and General Training. If you don’t know already which version you need to take, check with the institution(s) to which you plan to apply. The Reading and Writing sections (but not Speaking and Listening) are quite different between the two formats. You don’t want to prepare for the wrong one!

The Academic and General Training Reading papers do share some features. For example, both take 60 minutes and contain 40 questions. Also, even though the Reading passages are quite different between the two exams, the strategy for answering questions is actually very similar. This is because the question types are generally the same on both versions.

However, the Academic and General Training Reading exams differ in some important ways. Let’s take a look at their unique features, along with some official IELTS questions for both versions of the test, so you can get a sense of what to expect.

IELTS Reading: Academic

Academic IELTS Reading passages cover a wide range of subjects, such as science, history, the environment, etc. You do not need to be an expert in any of these fields. However, test-takers with a large vocabulary have a huge advantage. Academic IELTS Reading passages may contain some technical terms and even visual materials such as charts and graphs. IELTS commonly uses passages from professional and academic journals, textbooks, reports, and newspapers.

The Academic Reading paper consists of three passages. For each one, you will answer 10-14 questions.

 IELTS Reading Tips: Keys to Success

All of the information in this section applies to both the Academic and General Training IELTS Reading exams. Let’s start with some important keys to success:


Pacing is critical in order to do well on the IELTS Reading paper. This is especially true for the Academic IELTS, but it also applies to the General Training Reading exam. Sixty minutes is not a lot of time get through all of the passages and answer 40 questions. Since each question is worth the same amount of points (1), it makes most sense to divide the 3 sections equally—spending 20 minutes per section.

Instead of reading each passage carefully, it works much better for most people to “skim” the Reading passages. I advise to spend 3 to 5 minutes quickly skimming the passage before looking at the questions. That leaves 15 to 17 minutes to study the questions and find answers in the text.

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Scoring is fairly simple on the Reading section. Each question is worth 1 point, so you can achieve a “raw” score of up to 40 points. From there, IELTS converts your “raw” score into your Band score. However, keep in mind that each version of the IELTS is slightly different..

It is also important to keep in mind that the hardest questions and the easiest questions count equally towards your final Reading score. Therefore, if you’re struggling to finish all of the questions within 60 minutes, make sure you’re not losing out on easier points because you get stuck on hard questions. Sometimes, you simply won’t understand a question or a segment within a passage fully. Other times, no matter how hard you try, you won’t find an answer in the text. If this happens, just make your best guess and move on so you don’t miss out on easier points later in the test! You can always return to a difficult question later if you have spare time at the end.


The more vocabulary you know, the easier the IELTS Reading exam will be for you. Vocabulary is very, very important if you’re aiming for a high band score. As you prepare for the exam, make sure to study new words regularly. Your goal should be to learn 15 to 20 new words each day.

IELTS Reading

Focus on the Directions

Attention to detail is very important on the IELTS Reading paper. Unfortunately, too many test-takers lose points unnecessarily because they don’t pay close attention to the directions. The directions for each task will tell you how to mark answers on your Answer Sheet. For example, some questions require numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc), while others require letters (A, B, C, etc). Short Answer questions are even more complicated. The directions may say something like, “Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage.”

Each set of questions will have its own instructions telling you how to mark your answers. As you practice, get into the habit of looking at these instructions every time. You don’t want to miss points because you didn’t notice a key detail in the directions.


IELTS Reading Tips: Strategy

The IELTS Reading exam is probably different than the English reading tests you’ve taken in school. Most of the time, reading exams involve carefully reading a passage from beginning to end, and then answering comprehension questions about it. In theory, this is also what you should do on the IELTS Reading paper.

In practice, this approach doesn’t work very well for most people. The reason is simple—there simply isn’t enough time on the IELTS Reading paper to read each passage slowly and carefully and answer all of the questions. This is especially true on the Academic IELTS, where you only have 60 minutes to read 3 long and complex passages. On the General Training IELTS, it may be possible to read each passage carefully if you are a proficient reader. Nevertheless, I still recommend a different approach. Try these strategies as you practice:

Strategy 1: Skim each passage for 3 to 5 minutes before looking at the questions.

Strategies 2 and 3: As you skim, underline or highlight keywords in the text and write short notes as reminders in the text.

Strategy 4: Study the questions, noting keywords, and SCAN the text strategically for answers

IELTS Listening: Top Methods to Improve Your Score

Good luck with your IELTS preparation, and happy studying!

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