IELTS: how to crack the Reading test

(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)

The content of the Reading component is different for the Academic and General Training testing options but the total amount of time for the completion of this component in both is 60 minutes. Candidates are presented with three passages pertaining to a wide array of subjects of general interest, drawing from work and academic contexts. In this article, the focus is on approaches that can help candidates maximise their potential and on two types of questions that candidates might encounter in the exam, the multiple choice and True/False/Not Given questions. The following teaching advice assumes that the instruction takes place in a classroom environment although it can also be put in effect in a one-to-one teaching context.  

Written by: Dimitris Kokoroskos. Dimitris is an Academic Associate at PEOPLECERT. He has seven years of experience as an ELT practitioner and materials developer for both print and digital media. He holds a BA in English from the University of Athens and an MA in English from University College London. 

Ensure candidates understand what they are expected to prove

The first and foremost element that sets solid foundations for exam preparation is that both instructors and candidates have to be fully aware of what the test actually measures. The Academic Reading component tests candidates’ ability to read for gist, main ideas and/or detail, to understand inferences and implied meaning, to recognise different opinions and stances towards issues, and to follow the development of an argument. Therefore, a wide array of reading skills are examined and candidates have to get to grips with the type of content they will face. The content is taken from authentic sources such as official documents, books, magazines and newspapers. The usage of relevant authentic materials as extra resources is integral in candidates’ endeavour to prepare for the test.

Ensure candidates know how they will be assessed

There are 40 questions in the Reading component chosen from the following types of tasks: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying writer’s views/claims, matching information, matching headings, matching features, matching sentence endings, sentence completion, summary completion, note completion, table completion, flow-chart completion, diagram label completion, short-answer questions.  

Ensure candidates understand the importance of time management 

Candidates should be aware of the time restrictions under which they have to proceed with the completion the Reading component. The total time limit is 60 minutes, thus candidates should devote approximately 20 minutes to each part. Reading the title, headings and subheadings and looking at the pictures, if any, are time-saving steps for a quick understanding of what the text is about.  It is essential for candidates to realise that any unknown words should not distract them from their overarching goal, which is to locate specific information throughout the text.

Ensure candidates know how to deal with multiple choice questions

Candidates should never be caught off guard if they are presented with a variety of multiple choice questions. It is possible that in the paper there is a multiple choice question where only one choice is correct, or where there are multiple correct answers, each carrying one mark. Candidates need to remember that reading the instructions carefully is not a cliché but a prerequisite for avoiding mistakes.

Multiple choice questions are developed in order to test not only candidates’ general understanding of the text but more specifically their ability to find the specific place in the passage which mentions the information that a question refers to. There might be more than one paragraph which mentions the information but the question always refers to information that is found in a specific place. Thus, instructors have to make sure that candidates understand when they have to skim or scan the text.  

Ensure candidates know how to deal with the True/False/Not Given questions

Candidates should always remember that they have to be careful when deciding which statements are Not Given by taking into consideration the whole statement and not just a part of it, which could be verified or falsified in the passage. If a candidate is not familiar with certain words in the statement, it is highly recommended that they try to extract the meaning from the context or try to determine whether the words in the statement have a positive or negative meaning.

We hope that this advice proves helpful for candidates to effectively approach the Reading component but it is important to make clear that by no means have we exhausted all aspects of teaching and preparing for IELTS.

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