IELTS Reading

The IELTS Reading test consists of 40 questions that cover a wide range of reading skills.

These include:

  • reading for gist
  • reading for main ideas
  • reading for detail
  • skimming
  • understanding logical argument
  • recognising writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.

There are two versions of the Reading test – one for General Training and one for Academic. Our preparation materials can help you develop your reading skills for both versions.

Below you’ll find more information about the test format and scoring, as well as top tips, free videos and blog articles, and other resources to help you understand the Reading test and achieve a high score.

If there’s anything else you would like to see, tell us on our social channels.

The Reading Test has 40 questions and lasts 60 minutes.

IELTS Academic contains three long reading passages ranging from descriptive and factual to discursive and analytical. These are taken from books, journals, magazines or newspapers and have been written for a non-specialist audience. IELTS General Training has three sections: Section 1 contains several shorter texts; Section 2 contains two texts; and Section 3 contains one long text.

Write your answers carefully on the answer sheet during the test – there’s no extra time at the end and you can lose marks for poor spelling and grammar.

Each question is worth 1 mark.

Your score is calculated by the number of correct answers you have out of 40 questions in the test. You won’t lose points for incorrect answers.

1. Read English language articles and newspapers as often as you can. Our blog content is a great reading resource.

2. Aim to skim-read 100 words in 30 seconds. (Did you know ... you can read about 100 words in 20 seconds in your own language?)

3. On test day, read the instructions carefully and make sure you follow them, especially instructions on the maximum number of words.

4. Timing is really important! Try to finish each section in less than 20 minutes. You can write on the question paper but you must copy your answers onto the answer sheet within the 60 minutes, so allow time to do that.
 

How to save time in the IELTS Reading test

In the IELTS Reading test, you will have one hour to answer 40 questions. 

If you’re worried about running out of time, find out what you can do on exam day to save you valuable minutes when you’re taking the test.

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Reading
IELTS Reading: Better vocabulary equals a better band score

In this blog, I'll be focussing on showing you how you can improve your Academic and General Training Reading band score by thinking about vocabulary. One of the skills you will need to use in the Reading test is that of paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is using different words to express the same idea. The questions in the Reading test will not use exactly the same words as in the test. They will use synonyms or paraphrases. I will look at an example text and highlight key language and the use of paraphrase. This will help you to locate the correct answer. Here’s the text: (Click to enlarge) Let’s look at the words in bold in the above text. What questions could they help us answer and why they are important to understanding the paragraph as a whole? understanding latter part will help to answer any question about when the Garden City Movement began. as a reaction to will help to answer any question regarding why it began. laid out his ideas – this helps to understand where he shared his ideas (in the book To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform) economically viable towns – this tells us something related to the economy of the new towns. From the context we can guess that this is positive in meaning. surrounded with a belt of undeveloped land - this describes the town and what is around it. We may know the meaning of belt in the context of clothes which can help us guess the meaning here. Undeveloped is the opposite of developed. gained attention and financial backing – here we get the idea that something positive took place related to attention and money. Now let’s look at meaning. Which of the expressions in bold in the text above have a similar meaning to: a. got assistance in the form of money b. outlined a concept c. the last half d. a response to e. an area of land You can find the answers at the end of this blog. Now let’s turn to look at a question based on the text above. According to the paragraph, the Garden City Movement A  came just before the Industrial Revolution B  was held back by a war and a lack of funds C  resulted in cities that were larger than they had been before D was designed to combat problems caused by modernisation Let’s look at each option in turn. A  came just before the Industrial Revolution. We know that the Garden City Movement ‘arose in the latter part of the 19th century as a reaction to the pollution and crowding of the Industrial Revolution.’ The Movement happened as a reaction to (response to) the effects of the Industrial Revolution. It didn’t come before but after the Industrial Revolution.   By understanding the paraphrase we are able to see that option A isn’t correct.   B  was held back by a war and a lack of funds. The idea gained enough attention and financial backing to lead to the creation of Letchworth… Funds is a paraphrase of financial backing (assistance in the form of money). Lack of funds means there was no money. We know that the idea did get funding (financial backing) so B is not the correct option.   C  resulted in cities that were larger than they had been before. ‘Howard believed that these towns should be limited in size and density, and surrounded with a belt of undeveloped land.’ The towns were not larger, they were limited in size and the further area around them was not developed.   D was designed to combat problems caused by modernisation. ‘… as a reaction to the pollution and crowding of the Industrial Revolution.’ As we can see, the Movement was designed to help fight the problems (paraphrase of pollution and crowding) caused by modernisation (paraphrase of the Industrial Revolution). The answer is D. By understanding paraphrase, we were able to decide which options were not correct and confirm the correct answer. To get a better band score in your Reading test it is vital you look at each of the options and think of different ways of saying the same thing (paraphrase), this will help guide you to the correct part of the text and the correct answer. If you can’t find the correct answer because you don’t know a particular paraphrase you may still be able to arrive at the correct answer by being able to disregard/ignore the incorrect options. Good luck and remember, the more you practise the easier it gets and the better you get. Liz

Liz Marqueiro

9 June, 2021

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Reading
IELTS Reading Subskill: Understanding sentences

Welcome to the final blog in the series IELTS Reading subskills: finding details, identifying main ideas and understanding sentences. Out of these three skills, understanding sentences is arguably the most difficult, as you need a good understanding of words, phrases and grammar as well as the links between ideas and between sentences.  This skill is particularly important in True/False/Not Given tasks, Yes/No/Not Given Tasks, and Matching sentence endings, but as mentioned in the other two blogs, there is a considerable overlap between the skills, and being able to understand a sentence is an important element in almost all areas of the Reading test. So, let’s take a look at the three key areas you should explore in order to improve this skill: exam strategy, language and further study. Strategy: When you have identified the right location within the reading text using the particular combination of ideas from the question or task, it is time to slow down and to analyse the information at sentence level. It is really important here to pay attention to seemingly small and unimportant words, as they often carry the crucial information you need to answer the question successfully. If you decide to sit the paper version of the test, you might want to mark and annotate the text. For example, you could underline the main ideas, circle the linking words and expressions, put question marks over unknown words and put little boxes around words that impact the meaning of the sentence, such as ‘cannot’, ‘unfortunately’ and ‘fewer’. By dividing the sentence like that, you might find it easier to compare the meaning in the sentence to the task statement or question. There is a recorded lesson which talk you through exam strategy for the Reading test. Check it out here. Language: There is a common misconception, that IELTS does not test grammar and vocabulary. While it is true that there are no separate grammar and vocabulary sections of the test, you will perform better in the test (especially in the Reading and Writing parts) if you have a good overall level of grammar and a good grasp of vocabulary in a range of topics. Many test takers make the mistake to simply work on their exam strategy and skills and focus solely on exam strategies without improving their actual knowledge of English. This not only prevents them from understanding information at sentence level, but it affects their performance beyond the test, for example at university or in their career in another country, as they have neglected to improve their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary as part of their IELTS preparation. The specific areas you should work on, in addition to your own weaknesses, are very similar to those for understanding main ideas: you need a good grasp of linking expressions, adverbs, adjectives, and qualifiers. Furthermore, you should also pay particular attention to the kind of grammar that carries its own meaning. For example, if a sentence says ‘the process used to be very risky’, the meaning is that this was the case in the past, but not anymore, this might be important for the answer you choose. Further study: In addition to using IELTS tools such as IELTS intelligence and resources that help you with systematic grammar and vocabulary review (for example IELTS Vocabulary or IELTS Grammar), you can also use freely available practice tests to identify the topic areas and vocabulary that might be useful in the exam. We Love IELTS also provide a range of blogs on how to improve your vocabulary in some of the most common topic areas within IELTS, and you should definitely aim to include daily vocabulary study in your IELTS preparation routine.   Maybe just a sentence or two a day. This will give you a much better understanding of how the English language works. In order to check your own effort, you could run the text through a translation software afterwards, but be careful: your own choices may be better than the computer generated ones, as you will really have thought carefully about the meaning of words and expressions in context and the computer has not! Of course, you may make some mistakes that go undetected, but the aim is to engage with language, and the language you acquire accurately through translation easily outweighs a few misunderstandings. Are you studying on your own? Why not check out IELTS Trainer 2 and The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS. They provide a wealth of exam strategies, language development, and study tips. Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

4 May, 2021

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Reading
IELTS Reading Subskill: Identifying main ideas

Out of the three Reading subskills, finding details, understanding sentences and identifying main ideas, IELTS test takers often think that the latter is the easiest, because they mistakenly think that it's about having a general idea of the text. Far from it! When a task involves identifying main ideas, you have to think about the main point the writer is making in a text or part of a text, not just 'what the section is about'. In order to do that, you need to recognise how ideas relate to one another – for example the relationship between a generalisation and an example. You may also need to think about whether the text contains information or opinions.  Being able to identify the main idea is particularly important in multiple choice questions, matching information, matching headings and summary completion tasks. There is some crossover in these types of task with the other two subskills, as you have to be able to understand your different options at sentence level and you will have to look at nuanced differences between them. As with the other two skills, in order to improve this skill, there are three key areas you should look at: exam strategy, language and further study. Strategy: You should identify the general area in which the particular combination of ideas from the question or task can be found. When you have found it, you should spend some time figuring out exactly how the ideas in the section relate to each other and if and how they relate to ideas in the task. So, you have to identify the main idea in each of the options or questions as well as in the text. If you would like to see me demonstrate how to deal with these kinds of tasks in the test, check out my walkthrough of a real IELTS Reading test. Language: As mentioned above, in order to understand the point a writer is making, you need to be able to understand how ideas relate to each other, so it is important to have a good understanding of a range of linking expressions. You also need to be able to identify when a writer is giving an opinion. Adverbs and adjectives can be very helpful here. For example, ‘effectively’ or ‘unfortunately’ tell you how the writer feels about a particular idea, as do words such as ‘great’ and ‘problematic’. You may also need to look at words that qualify ideas, such as ‘too’, ‘more’, and ‘fewer’ and possible synonyms for these ideas. For example, these two sentences look quite different, but in essence, they express the same thing: There were fewer students on the field trip in previous years. There were more students travelling to study animals in the wild than in the past. Let’s look at another example: (Click to enlarge) The correct answer here is C, because “the public” and “ordinary people” are synonyms here and if we remove the relative clause between commas, we get the phrase “the public that has the power…”. This, public and power are closely related in the text just as in option C. We may be tempted to answer B, because we see the word ‘ignores’ in the first line and ‘ignorance’ in answer B. However, the word ‘ignores’, does not relate to the public, but to responsibility and ‘ignores’ and ‘ignorance’ do not really have the same meaning anyway. Similarly, we have the word ‘policies’ in the original and ‘politics’ as one of the options, but these two words don’t carry the same meaning either. Furthermore, in the text, there is no direct link between stopping the current situation and political action. It is comparatively easy to discard option D, as we don’t really have the idea of education present in this paragraph at all. Further study: The list of useful language is really too long for me to go into any kind of detail here, especially as each of you will have different language issues that might impact your performance in the test. It’s therefore really important that as part of your preparation routine and further study you identify weaknesses and gaps in your knowledge yourself and address them. In other words, don’t simply do practice tests and check your results. That way, you only test what you already know. Instead, you should spend some time following up where you failed to see the right answer in order to learn new language and improve your reading skills. For example: if you failed to spot that ‘too few’ and ‘not enough’ have the same meaning and instead you chose an answer which simply included the idea of ‘not many’, you know that you need to work on so-called ‘qualifiers’. Finding out where you went wrong and developing your skills and language is quite time-consuming, and as a rule of thumb, you should spend at least as much time following up after a practice test or exercise as it took you to complete the practice. Additionally, as with the other two subskills, you could use the feedback from IELTS intelligence to help you. If you have access to a tutor, you should also make sure to ask them for specific areas of language to help you improve your reading performance in terms of finding main ideas. If you are working towards the exam on your own, you might find these three self-study resources useful: IELTS Trainer 2 and The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS and the IELTS Vocabulary series.   Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

4 May, 2021

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How to improve your Reading for IELTS

In this video, IELTS expert, Pete Jones shares four tried-and-tested ways to improve your Reading for IELTS. You may just be starting to prepare for IELTS or you’ve taken the test already, perhaps more than once, and not got the Reading band score you need; this video can help you.

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Episode 9: How to manage IELTS test anxiety

In this first episode of our second series, IELTS expert Pete Jones shares some tips on how to reduce any anxiety you might have regarding the IELTS test to help you make the most of your preparation time and perform better in the test.


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Episode 6: Top tips for IELTS Reading

In this episode, IELTS teachers Emma and Liz give some top tips on the IELTS Reading Test.


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