Category Archives: Reading

The best way to improve your IELTS Reading skills.

reader-310398_150A very common question I get from my IELTS students is ‘How do I improve my reading skills?’

Initially I always answer this question with a question, ‘Let me ask you something, do you read or understand every word when you’re reading in your own language?’

The answer is always ‘No’ which means that you already have some reading skills and strategies in your own language for understanding a text even if you don’t read/understand every word.

All we have to do now is use these same reading skills when we read in English.  The language may be different but the skills are basically the same.

So what are these skills?

The four reading skills I’m going to discuss in this post are ‘Skimming’, ‘Scanning’, ‘Extensive reading’ and ‘Intensive reading’.


Skimming is used when we want to understand the main idea or ‘gist’.  You basically run your eyes over the text and gather the important information.  You don’t need to understand every word when you skim read.

In ‘real life’, we often skim read newspapers to get the general news.  In the IELTS Reading Test, it is usually to get the main idea of the passage as in my post Tips for answering different question task types in the IELTS Reading Test.


Scanning is used when we need to find a particular piece of information.  You basically run your eyes over the text and look specifically for the particular piece of information you need.  As with skimming, you don’t need to understand every word when you scan read.

In ‘real life’, we use scanning for timetables or a guide to an exhibition or conference. In the IELTS Reading Test, it is to get specific information required in certain task types as in my post Tips for answering different question task types in the IELTS Reading Test.

The next two types of reading are used to improve your reading skills in general.


Extensive reading

Extensive reading is usually used for longer texts for pleasure.  It is not necessary to understand every word; you are reading for enjoyment, to generally improve your reading speed and to get a general understanding.

I always tell my students to read what actually interests them in their free time.  So, sure, if you like reading novels and literature in your own language then read novels and literature in English.  If you don’t, read magazines in English or comics or whatever you read in your own language.  I’ve seen too many students unsuccessfully try to read Charles Dickens in English when they’ve never read a novel in their own language.

Intensive reading

Intensive reading is different from the other types of reading we’ve discussed in that it is important to understand each word and fact.  It is basically accurate reading used for detailed understanding. We usually use intensive reading on shorter texts to gain specific information.

We use Intensive Reading when we are checking bank statements of for reading a documents we are about to sign.


Skimming and Scanning are strategies you will actually use when doing IELTS Reading Tests.  Extensive and Intensive Reading will be strategies you will implement when trying to improve your reading skills in general.

There are varioius ways to practise these strategies.  Over the years, I have taught from many different IELTS books and I always recommend that my students purchase Adams & Austen IELTS books. These books contain so many useful practice exercises for IELTS.

Don’t forget that if you buy these books here, I will mark an IELTS Task 1 Writing and an IELTS Task 2 Writing from the book you have purchased.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

IELTS Reading and IELTS Listening Band Scores.

reader-310398_1509cp9AxocEI always advise my students to do practice IELTS tests at home so that they have an idea of what to expect when they actually sit the IELTS test.

Every reading or listening paper has 40 questions and each question is worth one point.

The list of marks to IELTS band scores below gives you an idea of your IELTS level.

Continue reading IELTS Reading and IELTS Listening Band Scores.

What’s the best way to do a practice IELTS Reading Test?

reader-310398_150When I give students a practice IELTS Reading test, either Academic or General, I follow a certain procedure in class so that students get maximum benefit from doing the practice test.  I also advise students to follow this procedure at home.

Before we start, we have to think about why we do practice IELTS tests.  One reason is to get an idea of what the test is like and of the different task types etc.  The other is the same as any other activity you do in the English language; to improve your English.  Before I talk about my guidelines, I cannot stress the importance of doing as many practice exercises as possible in order to improve your English.

Over the years, I have taught from many different IELTS books and I always recommend that my students purchase Adams & Austen IELTS books. These books contain so many useful practice exercises for IELTS, which help you improve your English, and also IELTS practice tests.

OK, so on to my guidelines for doing practice tests.

The IELTS Reading Test

  • First of all, you have to find a test to do; either from this site or from Adams & Austen.
  • Next, get yourself in ‘IELTS examination’ mode.  You may be at home, but we have to make this as authentic as possible; turn the TV off, turn the phone off, make sure you won’t be disturbed by your flatmate or your kids, have a couple of pens ready.  As well as the practice test, I suggest you also have an IELTS Reading Test answer sheet.
  • Now sit down and do the reading test exactly as instructed, making sure your note your start and finish time.  The test is 60 minutes long, don’t forget to write your answers directly on the answer sheet as unlike the listening test, you are not given extra transfer time at the end.

Now, grab a cup of tea or coffee and your dictionary; this is where the hard work begins!

  • Mark your answers against the answer key.
  • If you got an answer incorrect, look at the text again and see why it is incorrect and why the answer in the answer key is the correct one.
  • Read section 1 again, this time you may use your dictionary.  Look up any vocabulary you don’t understand and write it in your notebook.  Note how the new vocabulary is used in context.  Look for other word forms (noun, adjective, verb etc) of the word in your dictionary.
  • Repeat this last point for sections 2 and 3.  Take short breaks between the different sections.

My students have always found this method very useful both for practising IELTS and improving their English.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Best IELTS Last Minute Tips for the Reading Test.

reader-310398_150I often receive emails from readers of this site saying something on the lines of ‘Help, I have my IELTS Test this Saturday, what can I do?’

This is the second post in my series ‘Best IELTS  Last Minute Tips’. The first post was about the Listening Test.

Now, I think I always make it quite clear that I believe in starting your IELTS Test preparation way in advance of the test but  in this post I’m going to give you my best IELTS tips for the Reading Test.

  • Read the instructions carefully.  In particular, I suggest that you underline (or circle) the instructions regarding the number of words you are required to use in your answer.  Questions with a word limit do not always ask for the same number of words.

Do this all through the test as the instructions usually change throughout the exam.

  • Before you start, quickly glance at all 3 sections of the test.  We all know that the Reading Test increases in difficulty as you progress.  Although section 1 is known to be the easiest section, you may notice that the section 3 text is about a topic you know really well and you might decide to start with section 3.  I have found that a lot of my students really don’t like the ‘true, false, not given’ task type  and therefore decide to leave the section containing that task type until last.  In any case, it’s always a good idea to seize control of the test and give yourself the option of doing the section you ‘like the look of’ first.
  • A common lament I hear from students is about running out of time in the Reading Test.  Time management is crucial in the IELTS Reading Test.  You must complete 3 sections in one hour.  As a result, I strongly suggest you spend no more than 20 minutes on each section.
  • When you are ready to start, don’t read every word of the passage.  Read through quickly (about 5 minutes) and write the topic (main idea) of each paragraph in the margin, you should also underline the key words used for this topic.  Doing this will help keep you focussed when you’re answering the questions.
  • Following on from the last point, the General Training Reading Test and the Academic Reading Test are quite different.  In the General Training Reading Test, you might have shorter texts to read but there are often more of them.  This impacts on your time management and you need to ensure that you spend about 5 minutes of actual reading time for each section of the test.
  • Another point about time management is the question of transferring answers to the answer sheet.  As soon as you are satisfied with your answers to each group of questions, transfer them directly to the answer sheet (don’t forget you are NOT given time at the end to do this).
  • When reading the questions, underline or circle the key words and look for words and phrases in the passage that have a similar meaning.  Think carefully about the type of answer the question requires (e.g.  is it a number, a place, an animal).  Equally important is to think about the grammar of the answer; will it be a noun, an adjectival phrase etc.  This is particularly important in gap-fills where the answer needs to be factually correct and to fit grammatically.
  • I have found that for certain task types (that my students always complain about!) e.g. matching paragraph headings, yes/no/not given (true/false/not given), summarising, it often helps to read the questions and underline (or circle) key words before you read the text.   This will keep you focussed when you read the text.  As  you are reading  the passage, you can put a tick next to a paragraph or sentence that seems to relate to the questions.
  • For multiple choice and matching paragraph heading question task types, sometimes you immediately identify an answer as wrong.  If this is the case, put a line through it; there are two reasons for this 1) it is very satisfying (!) and 2) it makes you spend your time focussing on the other options.
  • It often happens in the matching paragraph heading question task type that you can’t decide between 2 possible answers.  I usually suggest that my students write both answers on their question sheet.  As you progress through the questions, it often becomes clear which is the correct answer.  At the end of the set of questions, if you are satisfied with your answers, but still have two possible answers for one question, then take an educated guess.  Do NOT write two answers on your answer sheet where only one is required.  You will not score a point for your answer if you write both.
  • In gap-fills and sentence completion task types, you are often required to copy a word or short phrase from the passage.  Make sure you copy the spelling correctly.  This sounds obvious but I am astounded by the number of students who make this mistake either through nerves or carelessness.

Finally, good luck on Saturday!

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Best IELTS Reading Test Tips.

reader-310398_150I always give my students this list of IELTS Reading Test tips to help them get the best IELTS score possible in their test.  These are the things that I think you should absolutely do!

Make sure you listen to the invigilator’s instructions and read the instructions on the question paper carefully.

1.      I’m going to say it again!  Listen carefully to the invigilator’s instructions.  He/She will tell you how to fill out the answer sheet.

2.      When you have been given the question paper, you should read the instructions on the front but DO NOT open it.  If you open your question paper before you are told to do so, it may be considered as cheating.   Check that you have been given the correct paper; Academic or General Training.

3.      Unlike the listening test, in the reading test, you are NOT given time at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.  You must do it as you go along.  I suggest you transfer each reading test answer as you go; don’t wait until the end.  You need to manage your time well in the IELTS Reading Test and it would be terrible to lose marks just because you didn’t have time to transfer your answers at the end.

4.      Read all the questions for a section before you read the text. If you know what the questions are before reading the text, it will be much easier and quicker to answer them. Remember that sometimes there are questions before the text, sometimes after and sometimes before and after.

5.      When you are transferring your answers, make sure you transfer them to the correct number on the answer sheet.  Check your spelling and write clearly.

6.      Transfer all the questions you have answered first and then use the remaining time to review the questions you didn’t answer/weren’t sure of.

7.      Once you’ve transferred all the answers you are sure of, you’re now left with time to review the others.  I highly recommend that if you don’t know the answer to a question, you make an intelligent guess.  Don’t leave it blank; if you leave it blank, it’s definitely wrong.  I also recommend that you review the texts in order as they get progressively more difficult throughout the test.  Deal with the easier questions first.

8.      When you hear the instruction to stop writing, make sure you do so.  If you don’t stop writing when told to do so, it may be considered as cheating.

Some of these tips really are just common sense but when we’re under pressure, we often forget our common sense.  Keep these tips in mind to help ensure your success in the IELTS Reading Test.


Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

Tips for answering different task types in the IELTS Reading Test.

reader-310398_150In this post, I’d like to give you some IELTS Reading Test tips.  I’m going to refer my tips directly to one of the practice reading tests in my post IELTS practice Reading Tests.

Passage 1.

In questions 1-9, you have to choose the correct heading for each paragraph.

Please note that each heading will fit only one paragraph.  This is a good thing as it should help avoid any confusion.

Continue reading Tips for answering different task types in the IELTS Reading Test.