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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Top tips for the IELTS Academic Reading test

We’ve got top tips for IELTS Academic Reading from an ex-IELTS teacher and examiner. Find ideas, advice, and insights you don’t normally find in test resources.

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Sixty minutes and forty questions – that's a lot of quick reading and answering. Many students find it difficult to finish the IELTS Academic Reading test and answer all the questions. This article aims to give you top time-saving tips and advice on how to do your best in one of the most challenging parts of the IELTS test.  


First, let me tell you about what this article will not do. It will not talk about the types of IELTS tests available, nor will it focus on how to prepare for IELTS reading,listening, writing and speaking. There are plenty of articles on that already. My years in teaching, examining and IELTS test materials writing have given me insights that I’d like to share with you here today. 


General advice 

Read in English every day. Yes, every day! Read anything and everything, even English subtitles in movies. Watch TED talks and read the transcript as you listen. Read online news, magazines, articles, blogs, everything. Read about topics you’re interested in, but also about topics you don’t have any interest in.  


Doing this every day will help with the Reading test, expand your vocabulary and give you examples of different grammar structures. The more you read about different topics, the more vocabulary you will have to write and speak about the topics given in the IELTS Writing and Speaking tests.  


Do you hate reading? Then start small, just a paragraph to begin with. Do this for a week. Then add another paragraph each week or every couple of days.  


Don’t try to understand every word you read. Try to understand the general idea (gist) first. This is a key reading skill that you will need in the test. Work your way up to full texts over time.  


When you’re reading, try to identify the following in a text: 

  • a reason 

  • a cause 

  • an effect 

  • a conclusion 

  • an account 

  • a reaction 

  • a description 


The questions in the test will often ask you to answer a question related to these.  


Top tips about Timing 

There are three reading sections, forty questions in total and 60 minutes to do it all in. Here’s some top tips for how to use your time wisely. 

  • Take 20 minutes only for each section. 

  • 3 minutes – read quickly. Read the whole introduction paragraph, the first and last sentence of each paragraph and the whole conclusion paragraph. This will give you a good idea of what the text is about and what information you will find in each paragraph. 

  • 1 minute – read the questions in that section and highlight key words. 

  • 12-13 minutes – read in more detail, highlight and make notes, and answer the questions. 

  • 3-4 minutes – check your answers and write them in the answer section (transfer your answers if it is the paper-based version of the test). 


Key tip: Paraphrasing and synonyms  

Paraphrasing – This is expressing the meaning of something in different words. It's a key academic writing skill that will help you in the Reading test. 


Synonyms – these are words or phrases that mean the same or nearly the same thing as the original word. For example, synonyms for the word ‘important’ would be – vital, critical, essential, significant.  


Why is it important that you know about paraphrasing and synonyms for the IELTS Academic Reading test? Well, if you have the word ‘important’ in the question, you will NOT find the word ‘important’ in the text. Or, if you did find the word ‘important’ in the text, it would NOT be the answer to the question.  


Matching vocabulary in the question with vocabulary in the text will NOT work. This is called a ‘distractor’, students with lower band scores will match the same vocabulary, but stronger students will use synonyms or paraphrase in the text to find the correct answer.  

Here’s an example:  

Question: What does the writer identify as her most important achievement? 

Text: Although writing the book was undoubtedly important for my reputation in the field, gaining the award was vital in advancing my career and led me to where I am today.  

Answer: Although the word ‘important’ is in the text and is linked to ‘writing the book’ the correct answer can be found in these key words: Although / gaining / award / vital / advancing my career / where I am today. 

You arrive at the answer (gaining the award) by using paraphrasing and synonyms.  


Top tips for question types 

True / False / Not Given questions – these focus on facts in the text. ‘False’ means the information contradicts (is the opposite of) the facts in the text. ‘Not Given’ means that there is no information whatsoever in the text about that fact.  

Yes / No / Not Given questions – these focus on the writer’s views or claims. ‘No’ means that the information contradicts (is the opposite of) the writer’s opinion. ‘Not Given’ means there is no information about the writer’s opinion in the text. Often the text will express more than one point of view. Use paraphrasing and synonyms to find the one that completely answers the question. 

Matching paragraph headings – Read all the headings first and highlight key words. Focus on the whole idea of each paragraph and don’t try to match vocabulary in the headings to vocabulary in the paragraph (see above section on paraphrasing and synonyms).  

TWO WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER – When you see this instruction in the reading test, this means your answer could be:  

  • one word 

  • one word + a number 

  • two words 

  • two words + a number 

ONE WORD ONLY – Where you are asked to use one word only from the text, a hyphenated word (check-in, self-service) is one word only. If you include any extra words such as an article (a, an, the), it will be marked as a wrong answer.  

Short-answer questions – The questions and answers follow the order of the text. Make sure you copy the words correctly. If you make a spelling mistake or any other mistake, you will not get the point even though you have identified the correct word.  

Summary completion – The questions and answers do NOT follow the order of the text.  


I hope you’ve found these tips useful. There’ll be further top tips for the Academic Writing, Listening and Speaking tests. We've also got some information on how to book your IELTS test when you're ready.  


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