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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Academic question types in IELTS Reading

Do you want to see all the IELTS Reading tasks at a glance? Today, I'm sharing the questions types in Academic Reading to help you understand the different types of questions that come up.  The Academic Reading Test has: 3 different texts of about 900 words each 40 questions to answer 1-hour time limit What is it actually testing?  The 40 questions are testing a variety of reading skills including your ability to: identify the writer’s overall purpose (why has the writer written this text?) follow key arguments in a text identify opinions and attitudes find specific information tell the difference between the main idea and supporting detail take information from the text to complete a diagram, summary table or notes.  Each passage or section has 13 or 14 questions. These are divided up into two or three different question types. Confused? Here's two examples:     As you can see, questions 1 - 8 are a note-completion question type, while questions 9 - 13 are a True / False / Not Given question type. 13 questions  2 question types   Question types  Note / summary / table / flow chart completion This question type requires you to understand the organisation of one part of the text. You have to: scan read the whole text to find the part you need  look at the notes in the questions – these paraphrase the words and ideas in the actual text. (Paraphrase is using different words with the same meaning so you will NOT find the exact same words in the text.) find the paraphrase find one or more words and / or a number in the text and copy them into the space. For more information about summary completion read: Time-saver strategy for IELTS Reading: Summary Completion blog   True, False, or Not Given This type of question requires you to identify and compare information given in statements with the information in the text.  You have to: read statements that are in the same order as the information in the text scan read the text to find the part that you need decide if the information in each statement: agrees with the text – TRUE,  contradicts (is different from) the text – FALSE  or  if the information in the statement does NOT appear in the text at all – NOT GIVEN.   For more information about True, False, Not Given read: Time-saver strategy for IELTS Reading: True/False/Not Given blog:   Yes, No, Not Given Unlike the question type above, here you must identify the writer’s views / claims.  You have to: read the text quickly to get a general idea of the content and the structure read the view/claim in the first question (questions follow the same order as the information in the text) use the key words to help you find the correct part in the text. For example, if the view or claim says ‘negative views’ then look in the text to locate those ‘negative views’ read the part of the text carefully and compare it with the question look for paraphrases and synonyms. decide if the view/claim in the question agrees with what the writer says in the text – YES, disagrees with what the writer says in the text – NO or if there is no information on this in the text – NOT GIVEN.    4-option Multiple Choice This question type requires you to choose one answer from choices A – D.  You have to: read the first question and the 4 options A – D find the correct part of the text and read it very carefully (questions follow the same order as the information in the text) the text will NOT have the same words as the options so look out for synonyms and paraphrases there will be parts of the text that mention something from all four options but they will not all be correct choose only the one option that is correct follow the same procedure for the rest of the questions.   Matching Headings This question type requires you to choose the correct heading for each paragraph of the text.  You have to: read the whole text focus on the content of each paragraph read the list of headings (there are more headings than paragraphs) choose the heading for each paragraph that summarises ALL the information in it.  In the list of headings, you should highlight the key words and phrases that would reflect the content of a paragraph in a text. So if we take the matching headings task example above, the key words to highlight would be:   i For this heading you would need to find a paragraph that mentions more than one complaint about the impact of a specifically named approach.  ii For this heading you would need to find a paragraph that talks about more than one fundamental belief that is wrong.  iii For this heading the paragraph would need to talk about the first recommendations that talk about business activities. And so on. As with all things Academic Reading, you will be looking for synonyms and paraphrase of the highlighted words. You would not expect to see the highlighted words themselves.    For more information about Matching Headings read our Blog: Time-save strategy for IELTS Reading: matching headings    Sentence completion This type of question requires you to complete a sentence with a suitable word or words from the text within the given word limit.   You have to: scan read the whole text to find the part or parts you need. The information may be in one paragraph or over a longer part of the text.  highlight the key words in the sentences to help you locate the correct place in the text find the paraphrase find one or more words and copy them into the space.   Top Tip: remember to use the words from the text exactly as they are written in the text. Make sure that the words fit the sentence grammatically.    Label the diagram This question type has a diagram and a description of a process.  You have to: scan read the whole text to find the part you need  carefully read the part of the text that describes the process find one or more words (again, this depends on the instructions) and copy them into the correct part of the diagram.  Again, remember to use the words from the text exactly as they are written.   I hope you’ve found this blog on the different task types for Academic Reading useful. They offer an overview of what’s required and what you have to do. Make sure you are familiar with all the different task types and practise them as much as you can. Happy Reading! Liz  

Liz Marqueiro

22 August, 2020

IELTS Reading: Using word forms and questions to complete gapfill tasks

In my last reading blog, I looked at how you can manage your time while completing gapfill tasks by searching for synonyms and by approaching the task in the most time-effective way. Today I want to share two more tips to help you get to the right answer, even if you don't know all of the vocabulary in the sentence. These two techniques work particularly well if the gapfill task is quite short, or you are trying to find an answer you have missed on reading the text for the first time. My first tip is to consider what type of word is missing in the gap. This is, of course, not particularly helpful advice if your knowledge of word forms and syntax (arrangement of words in a sentence) is generally a little shaky, but I would really recommend that in that case you do some grammar revision. You could use Grammar for IELTS to do this.  I work with a lot of university students who still struggle to use verbs, nouns and adjectives correctly and who have to spend a lot of time re-writing their work and correcting mistakes as a result. So, if you invest some time in revision now, you’ll not only perform better in all four parts of the IELTS exam, but also have less work to do in your future studies and career. If you already have a solid understanding of word forms and word order, you’re ready to apply this technique. My second piece of advice is to simply ask a direct question instead of trying to keep the sentence in your mind. It’s really interesting that my students can usually remember if I ask them “What was the question?”. However, when I ask them “What did the article say?”, there is usually a lot of rustling of paper, scanning for the right paragraph and reading of the answer involved. For whatever reason, our brains seem to find it easier to deal with questions than with chunks of information and we can make good use of this fact in the exam.  So, how does this all work in practice?  Let’s look at some examples:    For the first gap, we see that the gap happens right after an adjective (colourful) and before a verb (was created). Both of these facts tell me that the word I’m looking for is most likely a noun. To make absolutely sure I pick the right answer, I can now form a question: “What was created (by rubbing the ochre against pieces of quartzite)?” (You don’t need to remember the bits in the bracket as you read, but they will help you eliminate ideas later on.) In reading the relevant passage I spot this sentence: ‘First, the pieces of ochre were rubbed on quartzite slabs and crushed to produce a red powder.’  I’m pretty sure that this is the right sentence, since it’s the only place where the word quartzite occurs. I may not know the words ‘ochre’, ‘quartzite’, ‘slab’ and maybe not even ‘rubbed’ or ‘crushed’, but I do know that ‘produce’ means the same as ‘was created’ although the grammatical form is a little different. The key part of the sentence is thus ‘produce a red powder’. The answer to my question “What was created…” is ‘a red powder’. I don’t need ‘red’, as I already have the synonym ‘colourful’ in the given words and I am only looking for a noun. I am also only allowed to use one word for each of the gaps. So, the correct answer is ‘powder’. Let’s do one more example:  In the second sentence, I see ‘were’ right before the gap. This is tricky because this could just be the verb ‘be’ followed by an adjective, adverb or a noun, or it could be ‘half’ of a passive. So, I need to look a little more closely at the rest of the sentence. The use of ‘and then crushed’ shows me that it is indeed a verb in the 3rd form (past participle) as ‘were’ relates to the missing verb and to ‘crushed’. Now I could ask a question like this “What happened to the animal bones (in addition to being crushed and added)?” In the text I find the word ‘bone’ in this sentence:  ‘This was combined with ground-up mammal bone, the traces of which show signs that it was heated before being ground.’ Looking at this as a teacher, I would guess that a lot of my students probably don’t know the words, ‘ground-up’, ‘mammal’ and ‘traces’, but we can actually ignore that fact, as we’re looking for a past participle to complete the sentence. I can see three of them in the sentence: ‘combined’, ‘heated’ and ‘ground’. If I look at my question now, I see that added (combined) and crushed (ground) are already part of the question, so the only remaining (and correct) answer is ‘heated’. Well, I hope you have found this useful. Let me know on Facebook or Instagram if there is anything IELTS-related you would like me to cover in one of my upcoming blogs!  Sophie  

Sophie Hodgson

17 July, 2020

Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading

The IELTS Reading Test is only 60 minutes long with 40 questions to answer from multiple texts, so reading and finding answers quickly is essential. Check out this page on our website for a summary of the test format for Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. Let's look at some ways you can do that.    Listening Practice: Listen to Emma read skimming and scanning in IELTS Reading   Skimming and Scanning Have you ever wondered what skimming and scanning actually means? Teachers and textbooks often use these words, but sometimes learners are left wondering what they mean and how they can learn these mysterious skills. Today, I’m going to explain these important reading skills so that you can relax and get on with using them.  Think for a moment about how you read a piece of text in your own language. Do you slowly read each individual word and think about what it means? Probably not. Instead you read through it quickly, getting meaning from keywords to see what it’s about, or if you’re trying to find specific information you look for the particular words. What you are doing is skimming and scanning, just like in the IELTS Reading test. So, this is not a new skill to learn, just old skills you need to apply to this new situation. In the IELTS Reading test there is limited time. You must answer 40 questions on 3 texts in only 1 hour. Skimming and scanning are two techniques to help you speed up your reading, so if you practice these skills before the test you should see your scores improving. Put simply… Skimming is reading quickly to find the general overview of the passage. Scanning is reading quickly to find specific details within the passage.  Skimming tends to happen before you read the questions, where you focus on the overall message, while you can use scanning to locate relevant parts of a text when answering a question. Skimming When you are skimming a reading passage, always read the major parts such as the titles and headings carefully. This will provide the main idea of entire readings, sections, or paragraphs of reading passages. When you skim a text, you read the first and/or last sentence of a paragraph, this usually provides enough information to get a general overview of a paragraph. This will help you to quickly answer questions such as heading match questions and title match. You use skimming when you are: pre-reading the text for the overall meaning. quickly checking that you have located the correct part of a text once you have scanned for a keyword or idea when you are answering questions. Scanning Scanning is all about keywords; it helps you find specific details. Vocabulary such as proper nouns, dates, numbers, and times is what you are looking for when scanning text. So, when scanning a reading passage, you need to know what the keywords are in the question in order to find the keywords in the passage. Don’t forget that IELTS loves a paraphrase so chances are you will not find exactly the same word or phrases from the question. You need to think about what other words might appear in the text.  I find that following my finger or pencil while I scan a text helps me to stay focussed and not get distracted. We are all different though, so have a go and see if you find it easier with or without your finger!  So, you need to look at the questions to find out what information you are looking for, and then you can scan the text to identify where the key words are. Once you’ve found the right part of the text, read the sentences before and after to check that you have the right place to find the answer.  Circle or underline the keywords within the reading passage, that way you can go back and find it easily again and you can jump between the question and the text without wasting precious time. This allows you to check the question again and know that you have not made any mistakes. You might even put the question number in the margin.  Download this activity sheet and go through some questions with me.  Worksheet download I hope that this has helped you to understand what books and teachers mean when they talk about skimming and scanning a text. During the IELTS Reading test you probably won’t read the texts closely from start to finish, instead you might use a combination of skimming and scanning to get a general idea of the text and then jump in and out looking for the answers to the questions. This is OK, you are allowed to do this! Good luck!  Emma  

Emma Cosgrave

18 June, 2020

Introduction to the IELTS Reading Test

IELTS teacher and author, Pauline Cullen provides a short introduction to the IELTS Reading test.

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