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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IELTS Reading Test Practice: A recorded lesson with IELTS teacher Sophie

The We Love IELTS team have challenged me to complete a task from IELTS 13 and record the audio of how I would answer the question. I hope this will help you when answering practice questions on your own. I will be completing the task below from pages 82-84 of IELTS 13, so please do follow along with me. (Tip: press 'CTRL' on your keyboard and click to open the exercise in a new window) Start here: TRANSCRIPT: Hi everyone, it’s Sophie here. I thought today we might approach reading practice a little differently. I have in front of me a copy of IELTS 13 academic with answers and I have opened the book on page 82 which is the start of Reading Test 4. I can honestly say that I have never looked at this text before and that I do not know the answers. I will now complete the reading passage in real time talking you through my thought processes as I go along. As I do the reading, I will break the recordings into several sections to give us time to read through the relevant passages and questions. You might want to get comfortable now, maybe get a cup of tea, because I will start talking you through the process straightaway in the next recording. When you’re ready, just click on the next section.   Step 2: TRANSCRIPT: Right, are you ready? The first thing I do is have a very quick look at the title of the text ‘Cutty Sark: the fastest sailing ship of all time’. This is enough to give me a rough idea of what the text is about, namely a ship. I then turn to the next page to see what kinds of questions I need to answer in this task. The first set of questions is True/False/Not Given and the second type of question is a gap fill activity. I now turn to the first set of questions and prepare each statement quite carefully. Take a look at the questions and prepare them as you would normally. When you’re ready, start the next recording and I will talk you through my technique. (Click to enlarge) Step 3a: TRANSCRIPT: To give you time to really engage with each statement and see what I am doing, I will discuss each one in a separate recording clip. Ok, the first statement reads: ‘Clippers were originally intended to be used as passenger ships.’ So, the most important word here seems to be originally. Remember that in this type of question little words often matter, because they can change the meaning of a sentence completely. So, I’m going to underline ‘originally’. For some reason, I find it easier to find information when I have a question in mind. So, just for my own clarification I’m going to rephrase this in question form and ask myself: ‘What was the original purpose of clippers?’. Step 3b: TRANSCRIPT: For the second statement I should confirm if the Cutty Sark was given the name of the character in a poem. Now I don’t expect poetry to be a very common idea in this text because it’s about ships, so I’m going to set a little alarm clock in my head to the idea of poem or poetry or character. When I find that passage, I will return to the statement and re-read it carefully, comparing it to what it says in the text. Step 3c: TRANSCRIPT: In the third statement I am looking for information on a contract between John Willis and Scott and Linton and I’m hoping this will not be too difficult to find because names are quite easy to scan for. So, I’m going to underline John Willis and Scott and Linton and, again, when I find them together, I will look for what it says about the contract. Step 3d: TRANSCRIPT: In statement number four there are quite a few things for me to confirm because I am not just looking for clippers I’m looking for tea clippers and I need to make sure that the route John Willis designed the Cutty Sark for is between the UK and China and no other countries. So I’m going to have a look at the idea of speed and what Willis’s hopes were for the speed of the Cutty Sark. When I find the correct passage, I will just compare carefully against the whole statement. Step 3e: TRANSCRIPT: In statement number five there are two things for me to confirm, firstly, that the Cutty Sark was faster than the Thermopylae and, secondly, that the Cutty Sark was damaged in the storm. So, I set my alarm clock to the idea of storm damage and I note down the question ‘Who got back to London first?’. Step 3f: TRANSCRIPT: So, for statement number six, I am looking for the idea of the Suez Canal in order to confirm whether when it opened steamships were able to travel faster between Britain and China than clippers. To make this easier on my poor brain, I just ask myself: ‘Were steamships able to travel faster than clippers between Britain and China because of the Suez Canal?’ Step 3g: TRANSCRIPT: For statement number seven, I need to establish whether steamships sometimes travelled on the ocean to get from London to China. So, in question form that would be: ‘Did steamships sometimes travel on the ocean to get from London to China?’ Step 3h: TRANSCRIPT: For the final statement – hooray! – I need to scan for a specific name: Captain Woodget and I need to check if he endangered the Cutty Sark by risking collision with an iceberg. Top Tip: TRANSCRIPT: As you may have noticed, I paraphrase the information as I go along to make sure I am looking for the right meaning without being too closely dependent on the language in the task. If you find paraphrasing English quite difficult, you might want to think about what the question means in your own language. (Click to enlarge) Step 4: TRANSCRIPT: As you probably know all too well, one of the main problems in IELTS Reading is time. I simply do not have time to read the whole text twice, so I now turn to the second task so that when I read the passage, I can complete both tasks at the same time. The second task is a gap-fill exercise which means that, again, direct questions are probably the best way for me to remember what I’m looking for. I will take you through the questions you could ask one by one, but you might want to try this on your own before listening to the recordings. Step 4a: TRANSCRIPT: So, for number nine, the best question would be: ‘What was the main cargo of the Cutty Sark during its most successful time?’. I can also use the date 1880 to help me find the relevant passage in the text. Step 4b: TRANSCRIPT: For number 10 a good question would be “What was Captain Woodget good at?” Wow! That’s quite a tongue twister. It’s also a bit vague, so I spend a few seconds imagining what the answer might look like in the text. It might say, for example, ‘Captain Woodget was great at…’ or ‘Captain Woodget’s greatest strength was…’. By doing this, I open up my mind to the possibility that this information might be presented in a variety of ways. Step 4c: TRANSCRIPT: For number 11, I could ask: “What had caused the damage that Ferreira went to Falmouth for?” Falmouth here should help me find the passage quite easily as should Ferreira, because they are both names, and the capital letters should make it quite easy to scan for them. Step 4d: TRANSCRIPT: Number 12 is fairly straightforward as the question would be: “What was the Cutty Sark used for between 1923 and 1954?”. Dates are great, because they are very easily scanned for, so I think I will find the answer to this question quite quickly. Step 4e: TRANSCRIPT: For number 13 the question is: ‘What damaged the Cutty Sark twice in the 21st century?’. Now, here I should remember that the 21st century is everything from the year 2000 so I’m looking for something quite recent which might be towards the end of the text. Step 4f: TRANSCRIPT: Before I start reading, I quickly check how many words I am allowed to use to fill the gap and I make a note that I can only use one word in this instance. I also have a quick look again at my notes for the first set of questions and remind myself what key ideas I’m looking for. Let’s now turn to the reading passage and get ready to read the text. Step 5a: TRANSCRIPT: Now we are ready to go. I’m going to read the first paragraph now which is nice and short to see if I can already get an answer. Why don’t you do the same before clicking on the next recording to hear my thoughts. That way you can compare your ideas to mine. Step 5b: TRANSCRIPT: Okay, so this seems to be just a general introduction and we don’t really have anything about passengers or any of the other ideas I’m looking for, so I don’t need to spend too much time on this. Instead, I continue straight to paragraph 2. Remember to do the reading yourself before comparing your thoughts to the next recording.  Step 5c: TRANSCRIPT: Okay this is great: In this paragraph, I learn about passengers and I can compare the information to my first statement where I need to confirm whether transporting passengers was the original purpose of clippers. It becomes quite clear that the original purpose was transporting goods so the answer to number one is ‘False’. None of the other ideas I’m looking for are mentioned in the paragraph so I’m quite confident to move on and read paragraph number three now. Step 5d: TRANSCRIPT: So, right at the start of the paragraph I see the word ‘poem’ which rings my mental alarm bell and I can quickly check what I’m looking for. So I turn back to the statement ‘cutty sark was given the name of a character in a poem’. I realise here that I have to be quite careful because although the paragraph talks about characters in the poem ‘cutty sark’ is actually something that the character is wearing, namely a short nightdress. So, the answer to statement number two is ‘False’. I only had one question relating to the poem and the whole paragraph is focused on this idea so I can now move on to paragraph 4 without worrying that I might have missed a question. Step 5e: TRANSCRIPT: In this paragraph, John Willis is mentioned and also the idea of the contract so I just need to check what exactly it says and it says that the ‘contract with them put him in a very strong position’ so the answer to the statement is ‘True’ because ‘favoured Willis’ and ‘put in a strong position’ have the same meaning. This paragraph does not talk about speed at all, which is what we are looking for question number four, so I can move on to the next paragraph to find out about statement number five. At this stage, I quickly check if I have missed anything so far from questions 9 to 13 because sometimes the two sets of questions need to be answered at the same time. In this case there has been no overlap so far and I feel quite reassured that I haven’t missed anything, so that’s great. On to the next paragraph. Step 5f: TRANSCRIPT: Ok, the first sentence in the next paragraph draws my intention to ‘speed’ which is great because that’s exactly what I’m looking for and as I read on I learn that Willis’ company had designed the Cutty Sark to make the journey more quickly than any other ship. So the answer to number four is ‘True’. I take a quick look at the next question just to remind myself of what I’m looking for and I realise that the next key idea is the Thermopylae which is mentioned towards the end of the paragraph. So I read through this and it says here at the Cutty Sark ‘gained a lead of over 400 miles’. Then it says that there was severe damage to the Cutty Sark and in the final sentence it says the Cutty Sark ‘reached London a week after the Thermopylae’. So the answer to number five is ‘False’. So, my memory is getting quite bad as there are so many ideas in my head and that means that now I need to look more often at what idea is next so I take a quick look at number seven and I remember that I’m looking for steamships. The great news is that I have not really seen any information on steamships so far so I haven’t missed any answers and I can read on. I also haven’t read anything about what happened after 1880 so I still don’t have to worry about questions 9 to 13. Step 5g: TRANSCRIPT: So, I now look at the next paragraph which starts with steamships. This means I’m most likely in the right place for my next two questions. The first answer is presented in quite an indirect way which might make it difficult to identify. At this point I remind myself that in order to get an acceptable score in IELTS, I do not have to answer all questions and that it is more important that I read at a sustainable speed. The problem I have is that the Suez Canal is mentioned in line 2 of the paragraph and that afterwards it is referred to only indirectly. It says in the paragraph that clippers needed wind to travel which meant they could not use the Suez Canal effectively. In the final sentence it says steamships reduced the journey time between Britain and China by approximately two months. However, the way the logic developed in this paragraph makes it clear that it was the opening of the Suez Canal that led to the reduction in travel time so the answer is ‘True’. Remember that if you got a bit lost here and couldn’t figure out the right answer that’s perfectly ok, as some questions in the test are deliberately difficult and it’s quite important that you don’t stress about it. The aim is to answer the highest number of questions you can and that means managing your time well and accepting defeat for some of the questions rather than wasting a lot of time on them. Step 5h: TRANSCRIPT: On the topic of steamships, I also need to find out if they sometimes used the ocean route. In this paragraph my alarm clock in my head rings at the date 1880 because that is something I need for question number nine from the other set of questions and we seem to have moved on from the topic of steamships. So I prepare myself to answer ‘Not Given’ for number 6, as soon as I come across the name of the Captain of the Cutty Sark in connection with an iceberg, because that means that there is no answer for question number 6 as the questions within each set are in the right order. Towards the end of the paragraph it says ‘this marked a turnaround and the beginning of the most successful period in Cutty Sark’s working life transporting wool from Australia to Britain’. So, because I know this was after 1880 and I’m looking for the main cargo I realise that wool is the answer. For both questions 8 and 10, I now need to find Captain Woodget to find the answers. Because he was not mentioned in the paragraph I have just read, I confidently read on and he is mentioned in the very first sentence of the next paragraph. Step 5i: TRANSCRIPT:  From the first sentence in this paragraph, I learn that Captain Woodget was an excellent navigator. Since I am looking for something he is good at and excellent means very good, I realise that the word ‘navigator’ is the missing word for question number 10. I’m still looking for the idea of an iceberg, so I continue to read this paragraph. At this point I remember that I still haven’t had an answer to number seven, but because I have now found the answer to number eight, I can definitely say that seven is ‘Not Given’. This is great, because now I can totally focus on questions 11 to 13. So I quickly remind myself that I’m looking for the idea of Ferreira 1923 to 1954 and what damaged the Cutty Sark in the 21st-century and then I read on. Step 5j: TRANSCRIPT: I do not get an answer to any of my questions in this next paragraph, but I do notice that the Cutty Sark has been renamed Ferreira. So, to make sure I gain a little time, I quickly move on to the next paragraph. Step 5k: TRANSCRIPT: In the next paragraph, I learn that the ship was badly damaged in 1922 by a gale and that because of that she had to go into Falmouth harbour. This means the word gale is the one I am missing in question 11. Step 5l: TRANSCRIPT: We learn in the final paragraph that the Cutty Sark was used as a training ship before 1954 and we also know what happened to her before 1922 from the previous paragraph. Before 1954 the Cutty Sark was a training ship so she was used for training and ‘training’ is our missing word in question 12. For my final question, I am looking for why the Cutty Sark was damaged twice in the 21st-century and in the very last sentence I learn that the ship suffered from fire in 2007 and 2014. The dates match and I realise that the ship was damaged by ‘fire’ which is therefore my answer. Step 6: TRANSCRIPT: So, that’s it! As you can see if you follow this technique, you only really need to read the text once although you may have to slow down in places where the meaning gets difficult. It’s okay to go backwards and forwards between the questions and the text, but you should really be well prepared, so you can minimise this and you know exactly what you’re looking for. So that’s it from me. I hope you found this exercise helpful. Let me know on social media if you would like me to do this with a different set of questions. Take care, look after yourselves and good luck with IELTS once you’re ready to take the test. If you would like more blogs like this, please do let me know on Facebook or Instagram. Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

29 January, 2021

A year of We Love IELTS – your top picks for IELTS Reading

We know 2020 has been a strange year for most of us! Let's talk about the positives, with We Love IELTS launching in February, we hope we have been a great support to you on your IELTS journey. We have spoken to thousands of you and over a million of you have joined us on this new platform. We are grateful to our growing community and know many of your will be new here. We thought what better time to share your top blogs for IELTS Reading: 1. What is the passive voice? The most popular blog with our We Love IELTS community on the Reading test is from our resident expert Emma. In this blog she looks at the structure of the passive voice, why we use it and when you might need it in IELTS. It includes some useful practice exercises, so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet and find out why it’s our top blog! READ MORE  2. Time-saver strategy for IELTS Reading: True/False/Not Given At number two in our top 5 is a post by We Love IELTS expert Sophie. She looks at how to deal with True/False/Not Given questions and shares a great practice activity. It’s part of a series from Sophie that helps you manage your time more effectively in the Reading test to improve your performance. READ MORE 3. Time-save strategy for IELTS Reading: matching headings If you’re struggling with matching headings in the IELTS Reading test, then this blog post at number three is a must read. Another blog in Sophie’s popular time-saver series, this time she gives a step-by-step guide to completing this question type efficiently. It includes a great practice activity so you can practise what you’ve learned. READ MORE 4. Academic questions types in IELTS Reading In this popular post IELTS expert Liz looks at all the question types that you might see in your IELTS Academic Reading test and shares her top tips on how to tackle these questions to get the best results. READ MORE  We hope you’ve found this roundup useful.  


15 December, 2020

Improve your Academic Reading skills with IELTSi

IELTS learners often tell us that it's difficult to understand what the test is assessing, and this makes it hard to prepare for. If this is a problem for you too, don't worry - you're not alone. Why not try IELTS intelligence?   IELTS intelligence (IELTSi) Academic Reading helps you to better understand the IELTS exam, to understand and improve your own skills, and develop your exam strategy. It’s been created through lots of research with self-study learners like you. In IELTSi Academic Reading, you can test yourself with IELTS-style tasks, including True/False/Not Given, Yes/No/Not Given, Note Completion and Short Answer Questions. You’ll also get a personalised feedback report, created just for you. This report will show you the reading skills that each question was testing, why your answer was right or wrong, and give you some tips to improve your approach and focus your learning.   There are many different question types in the IELTS Academic Reading test. Each question type tests different skills in reading, so you need a good understanding of them all to be able to answer correctly. We explain these reading skills – called subskills – for each question type, so you can take charge of your own learning and get a better understanding of what you’re good at.   One of the most challenging things about IELTS Academic Reading can be the time limit of 60 minutes. There’s a lot of text to read and fully understand. It’s usually written in academic-style language too, which can be hard, especially if you’re not sure what the question is asking you to do.   The subskills we test in IELTSi are important because not only do they help you to do well in the IELTS test, but they also prepare you to read in a way that will help you when you’re in an academic setting, like university. Let’s look at the subkills in more detail: Developing the skill of understanding main ideas helps you get used to an academic writing style; particularly how texts are organised, which will help you navigate texts. This means you’ll be able to read more efficiently, by going straight to the parts of the text which usually contain the main ideas and check them against the information that you need to find out in the questions. It’s also important to recognise when finding details is what you’re being asked to do. We test this subskill using several question types, and help you understand when you should be looking for details, and whether those details are stated directly or indirectly.   Understanding sentences is also a key skill, both in IELTS and academic English. If you can understand sentences fully, this allows you to decide what the writer is trying to say or imply. IELTSi includes a number of question types that test and give advice on this skill. For now, IELTS intelligence has one Academic Reading test available, along with your personalised feedback report. It should take about 45 minutes to complete the test and read all your feedback or you can stop and start again to suit you. Find out more by watching the video below:   We’re constantly developing IELTS intelligence based on our research with learners, so we’ll let you know when new skills and tests are available.   Emily Clarke, IELTS Intelligence Product Manager Claire Gilbert, Senior Assessment Manager


19 October, 2020

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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