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 Subskill: Finding details

In order to improve your chances of doing well in the Reading test, there are three key skills you will need to develop: finding details, identifying main ideas and understanding sentences. There is no clear-cut distinction between these different skills, and often, you will need to demonstrate more than one of them in order to answer a question correctly. However, these subskills are a useful tool to structure your studies and measure your progress. In this blog, we will take a closer look at finding details. This skill is particularly important in note-completion tasks, sentence completion tasks, short answer questions and matching information. Finding details means identifying a specific word, number or idea in the text, but it also involves reading a text closely for ‘small’ words that might have a significant impact on the overall meaning of the sentence, so there is some overlap here with the ‘understanding sentences’ skill. In order to improve this skill, there are three key areas you should look at: You should consider your exam strategy when faced with a ‘detailed’ question, you need to think about the kind of language you are likely to encounter, and you should think about what further study you need in order to develop this skill and prepare for the exam. Strategy: By definition, you will not be able to get the answer to this question by just skimming the text. So, you should read the question carefully to identify the general context you are looking for and what detail you need to find. This means that before you can demonstrate your ability to find details, you will need to show that you can also identify main ideas. (So, again, there is some overlap between the skills here.) Then, you will have to find the relevant section and then you really need to slow down and analyse it very closely to arrive at the correct answer. If you would like to see me demonstrate how this is done in the test, why not check out my walkthrough of a real IELTS Reading Test, where I show you exactly how I approach each type of question. Language: Most of the tasks that require you to find details, are easier to complete if you have a good understanding of syntax and word forms, because this allows you to identify in advance, what type of word you may be looking for. You may also want to look out for words and expressions that drastically change the meaning of sentences, for example negatives and comparatives as this may help you select the appropriate detail for your answer and for words and expressions that show the relationship between ideas. This is helpful in narrowing your section down to the particular phrase, word or number you are looking for. Here is an example: (Click to enlarge) QUESTION: “The huarango tree was a crucial part of local inhabitants’ __________ a long time ago.” Just by looking at the question, we can see that we are looking for a noun, as the apostrophe at the end of the word ‘inhabitants’ ’ indicates what we call a possessive: “inhabitants’ …” = “… of the inhabitants”. Crucially, we get the information that we are looking for was the case ‘a long time ago’. In the text, we get “ancient people’s diet”, so we have a connection between a long time ago = ancient and inhabitants = people, we see that the missing word is diet (noun). Further study: There are a number of ways in which you can identify the best steps to take in order to make a further study plan: You could use the feedback from IELTS intelligence to help you. Another good way of identifying areas for development is to do a practice test and to see where you went wrong. Both IELTS Trainer 2 and The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS are really useful here, because they actually explain the answer rather than just telling you if you’re right or wrong. They are also full of great exam strategy tips. So, if you repeatedly drop points because you wrote a verb instead of a noun, you should revise word forms. If grammar generally isn’t your strong point – and you’re certainly not alone in this – you may want to spend some time reviewing those aspects of sentences you generally struggle with. Here, I can recommend IELTS Grammar, because it approaches grammar in an IELTS context, which makes it a lot easier to see how grammar can help you perform well in the test and you get exposed to ‘IELTS vocabulary’ at the same time, which further helps with your reading skills.   If you found this helpful, check out my blogs on the other IELTS intelligence Reading subskills, identifying main ideas and understanding sentences. Sophie

Sophie Hodgson

4 May, 2021

Avoiding distractors in the IELTS Reading test

Why might you get an answer wrong in the IELTS Reading test? You may not understand the text or question, you may not know where in the text to look for the answer, you may not have enough time or lose concentration, you may make a spelling mistake or write too many words for a particular answer. There’s also another common reason IELTS test takers get answers wrong in the Reading test: Distractors! Distractors in the IELTS Reading test A distractor is when a word from an incorrect answer is included in the text. For example, in the following multiple choice question from IELTS 15, there is a word from an incorrect answer in the relevant part of the text. Read the following extract of the text about protecting sea turtle eggs and answer the multiple choice question below. (Click to enlarge) If you chose answer B, it may be because you saw the word ‘scientists’ in the same sentence as ‘flatback turtle’ in the text. Here, the word ‘scientists’ is a distractor and is included to check you really understand this part of the text (not to check you can match a word from the question with one in the text). The answer is A and you can download the explanation from the IELTS 15 answer key here. This doesn’t mean every answer that includes a word from the relevant part of the text is wrong. What it does mean is that you need to read the relevant part of the text carefully (and maybe more than once) so that you understand as much as you need to. So, now that you’ve seen an example of a distractor, how can you avoid choosing answers that contain them? How to avoid distractors To avoid distractors in multiple choice questions like the one above, follow these three steps: Find the relevant part of the text by looking for a word or words in the question (not the answers) that will be easy to find in the text. For the question above, look for ‘flatback turtle’ in the text rather than ‘scientists’ from answer B or ‘IUCN Red List’ from answer D. Read the relevant part of the text carefully (and maybe more than once) to find the answer to the question before reading the possible answers. Read the possible answers and choose the one closest to your understanding of the text. To put this into practice, download this IELTS Reading text and questions from IELTS 15, follow the three steps above to answer the questions, and then compare your answers with the explanations given at the end. If you prefer to read the text for the main ideas and to see how it’s organised before looking at the questions, then do this before Step 1 above. When you start answering the questions, remember that multiple choice questions are in the same order as information in the text, e.g. the answer to question 35 will be before the answer to question 36 in the text. If you get an answer wrong, it’s important to recognise whether you chose a distractor and why you chose it as this may prevent you from making the same kind of mistake again. If you found this post useful, check out my post ‘How to avoid distractors in the IELTS Listening test’. Pete

Pete Jones

27 April, 2021

Finding the right words from the passage

In the IELTS Reading test, there are several types of questions that ask you to write a word and or a number from the passage. These include short answer questions along with sentence, note summary, flow-chart, and diagram completion tasks. So, let’s have a look at these types of questions and how to approach them.   So how do you approach this kind of question? Here are the steps that I suggest to my students: 1. Read the instructions carefully These tell you how many words and/or numbers you can use. Underline or highlight the information so that you don’t forget! 2. Read through all the questions So you have an idea of what information you need to find in the text. 3. Predict what kind of word or words you will be looking for e.g. a date, an adjective, a name, etc. for each question/space. 4. Use keywords to help you skim the text quickly to find the information Expect to find synonyms being used in the text so think about what other words might be used. 5. Remember you have to use words from the text rather than your own Even if you have a good idea of what the answer is you must find the words from the text and use them exactly as they are, you cannot change the words at all. 6. Read the section of the text where you know the answer is carefully To see which words will answer the question. 7. Check that your answers make sense grammatically If the words you have chosen from the text don’t make sense you have not got the correct answer. So, now you have the steps you need to tackle questions in IELTS Reading that require you to use words from the passage, here's a worksheet that I have created for you to try.   Worksheet download Good luck to all of you taking your IELTS test in the coming weeks. Don’t forget to check out our Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for more IELTS preparation resources. Emma

Emma Cosgrave

12 April, 2021

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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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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