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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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

IELTSi – improve your skills the intelligent way

When preparing for the IELTS test, it can be hard to know what to focus on to make the best of your preparation time. IELTS intelligence, or IELTSi as it's also known, is a new digital tool to help you maximise your study time and develop your weaker skills.   Firstly, take a quick skills test with questions from the producers of the IELTS test. Simply select the skill you want to test and your target band score for that skill and off you go.  The tasks are similar to those that you’ll find in the real test, and aim to help you improve the skills you need for IELTS and beyond.  But the best part about IELTSi is that it creates a feedback report, just for you, in seconds – all from your device.    Your personalised report gives you detailed feedback for every question in the test. It even explains why all your answers were right or wrong. There are also tips and advice to help you understand the skills you need to improve.   You can use IELTS intelligence anytime, anywhere – it works on mobiles, tablets and computers. It’s a great tool to use whether you’re studying alone, or taking an English course. You can use the feedback to help you make the right choice for you about what to practise.   IELTS intelligence is delivered through Cambridge One – the online learning platform of Cambridge University Press. Once you sign up, you’ll be able to see all your content and access your tests and feedback, all in one place.  Find out more by watching the video below:   IELTS intelligence is a brand-new product from Cambridge, and we’re planning to add to it regularly. We’ve been talking to learners all over our IELTS community to find out the areas they need most help with. Right now, the first reading test is available.  So check back often to take new tests and get more feedback to help you with your IELTS preparation journey. Emily Clarke, IELTS Intelligence Product Manager Claire Gilbert, Senior Assessment Manager


15 October, 2020

Timesaver Techniques for Multiple Choice Questions

In previous blogs, we've seen that while some types of reading questions require careful preparation, others should only be read once you've completed individual paragraphs to save time and avoid confusion. When it comes to multiple-choice questions, you'll need to combine both techniques.  Therefore, you should read the ‘headline’ part of the question before you start reading the text but leave the multiple-choice answers until you’ve identified the relevant section of the reading passage.  Let me take you through my thought process in completing this example from IELTS 13 Academic (page 48) on a text entitled ‘Making the Most of Trends’. This is the ‘headline’ part of the first question: ‘In the first paragraph, the writer said that most managers’… With this kind of question, I can set an internal ‘alarm clock’ by asking: ‘What do most managers do?’ Here, I also don’t have to worry too much about identifying the passage since the text tells me where to look for the answer. I read the first paragraph quite slowly with this question in mind. As I read, I get quite excited, because the first sentence starts with: ‘Most managers can identify the major trends of the day.’ It’s now time for me to look at my possible answers and here they are: 1. fail to spot the key consumer trends of the moment. 2. make the mistake of focusing only on the principal consumer trends. 3. misinterpret market research data relating to current consumer trends. 4. are unaware of the significant impact that trends have on consumers’ lives At this stage, I’m a little disappointed, as the first sentence doesn’t actually provide me with the answer. Instead, it’s quite a typical ‘trap’ for this type of question, because the vocabulary in option A is almost identical to the question. However, the meaning is the exact opposite: can vs fail.  This teaches us that in this type of question we must pay attention to ‘little’ words such as ‘can’, ‘will’ and ‘not’ since they can change the meaning of the sentence drastically. I now check if any of the remaining answers are correct. However, in doing so I realise that all of the answers relate to problems or failures. This means that the answer is not in the first sentence. In order to save time, I don’t prepare my remaining three options in detail. Instead, I ask myself this question as I read the rest of the paragraph: What are most managers getting wrong?’  As I read on, I realise that the answer must be in this phrase: ‘managers often fail to recognise the less obvious but profound ways these trends are influencing consumers’ aspirations, attitudes, and behaviours’. I now go over my remaining three answers and I can eliminate C because data is not mentioned, and although there is a mention of research earlier in the paragraph, this is not directly linked to the idea of failure. (Similarly, the mention of trends peripheral to core markets at the end of the paragraph, has no direct link with failure.) Thus, it is absolutely vital to look for links between ideas in multiple-choice questions and establish how different ideas relate to each other. Most words/ideas are likely to be present somewhere in the text, so it’s really important that you confirm what exactly is being said about them and which one links directly to the headline section of the question in order to eliminate answers designed to confuse you.  So, the only possible answer remaining in our example is D, and as I check I’m pretty confident that ‘consumers’ lives’ and ‘consumers’ aspirations, attitudes and behaviours’ are synonymous. Be careful: Some questions might contain what I would call ‘distraction’ answers, where the information is not contained in the text at all and the answers are therefore designed to slow you down by making you look for confirmation in other sections of the text. It’s therefore really important that you confidently identify the right section in the text.  Finally, make sure that you’re able to confirm your answer from the words on the page. Sometimes certain answers are implied by the information we’re given, but the text never actually states the information itself and the option is therefore not correct.    If you found this helpful, why not check out my other blogs on timesaver strategies in the reading exam, where I take you through other types of reading questions? Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

16 September, 2020

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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Episode 1: Top 5 IELTS questions answered

In this episode, IELTS teachers Emma and Liz answer five questions they are frequently asked by their IELTS students.

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Time Saver Strategy Task – True/False/Not Given

Follow along with Sophie's blog as she answers a True/False/Not Given question from our Authentic Practice Tests series.

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