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IELTS Academic Reading Overview - Article

Updated: Feb 17

Brief overview of reading test

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Academic Reading test is a part of the IELTS Academic test, which measures the English language proficiency of non-native English speakers who want to study or work in an English-speaking academic environment. The IELTS Academic Reading test assesses your ability to understand academic texts and passages written in English.

The IELTS Academic Reading test consists of three reading passages with a total of 40 questions. The passages are taken from academic books, journals, newspapers, and magazines and are typically written for a non-specialist audience.

The following are the different question types in the IELTS Academic Reading test:

Multiple Choice Questions: You are given a statement and three or four options to choose from. You must select the option that best answers the question.

True, False, Not Given Questions: You are given a statement and you must decide whether the statement is true, false, or not given according to the information in the passage.

Matching Headings: You are given a list of headings and you must match each heading to the most appropriate section of the passage.

Matching Information: You are given a list of information and you must match each piece of information to the correct part of the passage.

Sentence Completion: You are given a sentence with a blank space and you must choose the correct word from the options given to complete the sentence.

Summary, Note, Table, Flow-chart Completion: You are given a summary, note, table, or flow-chart with blank spaces and you must fill in the gaps with information from the passage.

Labeling a Diagram: You are given a diagram and you must label the different parts of the diagram with information from the passage.

It's important to note that the questions become increasingly difficult as you progress through the test and the passages get longer.

IELTS Reading Test Overview
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How am I assessed?

The IELTS Academic Reading test is weighted, which means that the standard for each exam is the same, but the number of correct answers required to achieve that standard will vary from exam to exam. The minimum number of correct answers required to achieve a certain score band will depend on various factors, including the difficulty of the exam, the level of competition, and the number of questions.

However, as a general guideline, if you are aiming for a score band 7, you should aim to answer approximately 9 to 10 questions correctly from each passage over three passages, which is equal to a total of 29 to 30 correct answers. But it's important to keep in mind that actual performance may vary in exam conditions.

It's crucial to prepare well for the IELTS Academic Reading test by practicing with a variety of passages and question types, and also by improving your reading speed and accuracy.

How much time should I spend on each reading passage?

The IELTS Academic Reading test is a timed test, and you are given 60 minutes to complete all three reading passages and answer all 40 questions. This means that you have an average of 20 minutes for each reading passage. However, the exact amount of time you should spend on each passage will depend on your individual reading speed and the difficulty of the passages.

Here are some general guidelines for how you can allocate your time:

First Skimming: Spend 2 to 3 minutes skimming each passage to get a general idea of its main topic and the type of information it contains.

First Reading: Spend 8 to 10 minutes carefully reading each passage and answering the easier questions.

Second Reading: Spend 5 to 7 minutes re-reading each passage and answering the more difficult questions.

Checking and Reviewing: Spend the remaining time checking and reviewing your answers.

It's important to note that these are just general guidelines and that you should adjust the amount of time you spend on each passage based on your individual needs and strengths. The most important thing is to pace yourself and not to spend too much time on any one passage, as this will leave you with insufficient time to complete the others.

Always be aware of:

Answer the questions quickly and accurately. If you can't do a question quickly, leave it and come back to it later.

As the passages are long, you don't have to read them in detail. Skim and scan them to find the relevant information.

The level, the texts and the tasks become progressively more difficult. Therefore, do the earlier questions as quickly as possible, to give yourself more time for the difficult questions.

You have roughly one and a half minutes for each question.

Do not panic if you can only do maybe three questions out of seven. Go through them again and again, but quickly.

When you finish one passage, check your answers and try to fill any gaps.

The questions generally follow the order of the information in the text. However, the questions in one section can overlap another and they may be jumbled.

The questions are usually paraphrases of the text so look for the meaning in the text, not the exact words.

Techniques to increase your speed reading

Here are some techniques you can use to increase your speed and improve your performance in the IELTS Academic Reading test:

Skimming: This technique involves quickly scanning the text to get an overall understanding of the content, main ideas, and structure. This can help you save time and identify the relevant information you need to answer the questions.

Scanning: This technique involves looking for specific information in the text, such as numbers, dates, and names. This can help you quickly find the answers to questions that ask for specific information.

Predicting: Before you start reading, try to predict what the text might be about based on the title, headings, and any other information you can gather. This can help you focus your reading and speed up the process.

Mental summarizing: As you read, try to summarize the information in your own words in your mind. This will help you to retain the information and make it easier to answer the questions.

Active reading: Engage actively with the text by underlining keywords, phrases, and sentences, and making notes in the margins. This will help you focus and make it easier to review the information later.

Practice: The more you practice, the faster and more efficient you will become at reading. Try to take regular practice tests and time yourself to see how you are improving.

Using these techniques can help you become a more efficient reader and improve your performance in the IELTS Academic Reading test. It is important to remember that these techniques take time and practice to master, so be patient and persistent in your efforts.

How to skim

Skim the title and the questions. They give you a summary of the passage.

Skim the content words only, i.e. the nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Do not look at words like the, a, in. is, etc. Underline the content words in a few paragraphs. Then read them again.

Skim only the basic structure of the sentences/clauses: the subject, verb, and object (if there is one). Don't look at adverbs and adjectives.

Without reading the text, mark the connecting words, e.g. moreover, in addition, however, etc Practise until you can see the connecting words automatically when you look at a paragraph. Then you do not need to mark them.

Skim so that you recognise common types of paragraph organisation, like effects, causes, methods, etc.

Skim only the nouns in the text to give you a general picture. Be clear about the differences between a noun, verb adjective, and adverb. Learn to recognise them and know what their function is in the sentence.

Intermediate skimming techniques

Read the first sentence of a paragraph and then skim the beginning of each sentence in the paragraph. This will show you the general theme of the paragraph.

Ignore and do not underline words you do not know. Focusing on words you do not know will slow you down.

Skim the verbs in each sentence. This shows you if the content of the text is changing.

Start at the verb in each sentence and look at everything after that. The verb usually marks the beginning of new information in the sentence.

Cover the left hand or right-hand side of a text and skim. This stops you from concentrating too hard on the meaning.

Skim a text to understand a theme. This can be factual or ideas. For example, skim a text line by line without looking at the meaning and pick out words that form a pattern/ picture or that have something in common. As you skim, remember writers have to avoid repetition so they have to use synonyms to create a theme.

Advanced skimming techniques

Skim the text forwards or backwards and note words that form a general picture: airports, passengers, lounge, fly for example. Locate the focus of the paragraph. It is not always at the beginning.

Use your knowledge of different types of sentences and paragraph organisations to predict and move around the passage.

Look at a central point in a paragraph and then allow your eye to wander around the paragraph skimming the nouns, verbs for the general idea.

Use the questions to help you navigate the text.

Skimming advice

Use a pencil to help you skim. This helps train your eye.

Skim each sentence from left to right.

When you develop confidence, skim left to right and then right to left, and so on.

Move a pencil vertically down through the centre of the text forcing your eye to look quickly at the text on either side.

Skim diagonally through the text - top left to bottom right. You could also go backwards diagonally or vertically.

Jump in different directions through the text. Then stop now and again and read.

Skim the ends of sentences. A sentence is divided between information that refers back to the previous sentence and information which is new. The information which refers to generally comes at the beginning and new ideas at the end. Skim the end of the sentences. Example: A man walked into a shop. The man picked up a newspaper. The newspaper ... At all times try not to get caught up in the detail.

Scanning: choosing scanning words in the questions

Choose your scanning words carefully. For example, with True, False, or Not Given, read all the statements and look for words that occur frequently. These are likely to be the general subject of the passage, so they will not help you scan.

Look for words that relate to the general subject. They can be nouns, names, dates, etc.

Keep in mind the basic structure of a sentence: Subject, Verb, Object. Anything extra qualifies the sentence, e.g. additional clauses, adjectives, adverbs, negative words, and comparisons. These words/phrases help you understand the focus of the statement. For example, you should notice a negative word like ignore immediately. It is probably not a scanning word, but a word that tests your understanding of the text.

Look for words and ideas that help you navigate the text. This is a very efficient tool. Look at the questions together and not in isolation. The questions can often be subdivided: two relating to one area of text; three to another, etc. Connect the questions, group them, and use this to help you to jump around the text.

Completing the answer sheet

Fill in the answer sheet carefully. Use a pencil.

Mark the end of the first two passages on the sheet with a short line. Aim to complete one stage at a time.

Fill in the answers directly onto the sheet and in the correct order.

Write clearly. Give only one answer unless the instructions require more.

Write in the correct spaces and keep within them.

Check your spelling, especially common words, and follow the word limit.

Do not copy words from the question stem or paraphrase from the text. The answer will be marked incorrect.

Skim/check your answers when you finish. Choose answers at random to check, or check them backwards. Also, check your answers against the questions to make sure the grammar is correct.

Listening & Reading Answer Sheet
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