IELTS Reading – Format and Useful Tips

The IELTS General and Academic reading sections mostly have similar question types. The styles of questions, such as multiple-choice, matching information, etc., are the same for both tests. The General Reading though does not include two of the question types that exist in the Academic Reading (yes, no, not-given and word replacement).

The only major difference you will come across is the type and the number of the texts. There are three passages in the Academic Reading, which is not the case in the General test. In the General IELTS test, there will be many short and long texts related to social situations and work. These readings are usually taken from documents, newspapers, manuals, and such. 

On the Academic test, you will be given three long texts that are more of an academic style. This style is similar to that of readings you might expect at university. The Academic readings are often taken from books, academic journals, and magazines. 

The passages in the General test tend to be simpler to follow and the questions are easier to answer than those of the Academic test.

Assessment in IELTS Reading

General and Academic reading tests are assessed differently. In both tests, you should answer 40 questions. However, each test requires a different amount of correct answers for the same band. Take a look at the marking criteria provided below to understand how many questions you need to answer to get a particular score.

Academic IELTS Reading Assessment

Right Answers’ Count39-4037-3835-3633-3430-3227-2923-2619-2215-1813-1410-128-96-74-5

General IELTS Reading Assessment

Right Answers’ Count39-4037-3835-3633-3430-3227-2923-2619-2215-1813-1410-128-96-74-5

What question types are there in IELTS Reading?

There are a number of question types, each of which is designed to test different reading skills. It is crucial that you familiarize yourself with every kind of question.

Here are the types of questions you will be given in the reading section:

What skills are tested in IELTS Reading?

There are several skills you will be tested on during the IELTS Reading section.

  • Follow key arguments
  • Find specific information
  • Identify the author’s perspective
  • Tell the difference between main ideas and supporting details
  • Identify the author’s intention
  • Complete a diagram, summary or table

The reading section can become a real test of vocabulary! Most of the answers will be paraphrases or even synonyms of the question.

Tips for the IELTS Reading

Read the instructions VERY carefully

Students make so many mistakes just because they do not pay enough attention to the task they are given. It is essential to clearly understand the instructions to be able to provide correct answers. If you do not read the assignment carefully, you will either give a wrong answer or spend a lot of time reading the same sentence. This will definitely reduce your productivity. Therefore, try to be attentive from the very beginning. Not knowing the answer is one thing, but you do not want to lose important points just because you got the question wrong.

Pay attention to your timing

Every student reads and answers questions at different speeds. Some tutors may advise you to spend a fixed amount of time on each assignment. However, this will hardly be useful. The truth is, some questions are harder than the others. You may spend seven seconds on one task, and one minute on the other. The best thing you can do is to focus on your timing when practising. Try to understand what questions take you longer to answer, and what questions take you less time. It will prevent you from panicking during the exam. This way, you will be okay with spending more time on specific questions than on others.

DO NOT rely on your knowledge of the topic

The topic of the text might be a subject that you have encountered before. Even if the topic of the text is something you are very familiar with, do not try to answer the questions based on your knowledge. Whether you give correct answers or not, depends on your understanding of the text. So, for instance, the text is about psychology, and you have a degree in this subject. You still should not answer the questions based on your knowledge, even if you are 100% sure you know the right answer. Never answer any question without reading and referring to the text. Your understanding of the text is being tested, not your knowledge.

Advance your vocabulary

The IELTS Reading section is really a vocabulary test. The more words you know, the easier it will be for you to understand the text and answer the questions. Therefore, it is of great importance to advance your vocabulary. When practising, you will come across many unfamiliar words. Try to guess the words’ meaning from the context. Some teachers would say that you should write down every single new word, and learn its meaning. However, it is better to do this after you have tried to guess the meaning. This is because you will have to do the same thing during the test. After you have guessed it, you can look up the definition of the new word.

Start Easy

Many students start practising under real exam conditions from the very beginning. But it may result in a lot of pressure. If you are only beginning to practice for the IELTS, give yourself some time to reflect on your answers and analyse your mistakes. If you do the entire reading section in one hour without any help, you will miss the opportunity to spot patterns in questions and to find the most effective ways to answer them. You will also not be able to write down the important vocabulary.
Furthermore, it would help you if you understood what types of questions take most of your time, and figure out how to improve your time-management. Self-reflection is crucial for succeeding in this section. So, do not be discouraged if you are doing the test slowly at first. It might be a slow process, but it will help you get a higher score.

Transfer your answers very carefully

You may think that by answering each question, you have completed the essential part of your work, but that is not the case. Transferring the answers is the most important task you need to finish before you run out of time. Imagine doing all that hard work and losing points just because you were not careful enough when writing your final answers. So, please pay very close attention to this part and leave a minute or two to double-check everything you have written.

By the way, even if you do not know the answer, you still have a chance to choose the correct one. We recommend that you try to guess the answer and transfer it into the answer sheet. Even if you transfer a wrong answer, you won’t lose a mark. Yet, if you transfer the right answer by luck, you will get an extra point for it.

Improve your grammar

Grammar is important mostly for the writing and speaking sections because it counts for 25% of the overall score. Moreover, proper knowledge of grammar helps to succeed in the listening and reading sections as well. You will face many descriptions in the reading part of the exam. That is why you need to improve your grammar to understand what the texts are about accurately. If you are not sure what topic of grammar to start practising with, please go to the following link.

DO NOT panic!

Now, this can turn into a real problem. Under no circumstances should you start panicking. It will neither help you answer more questions nor make your time-management more effective. It is just a waste of time. If you do not know the answer, go on to the next one. And never question your knowledge. If you still think you need more practice check out our IELTS reading tips. You have practised for this, you are ready. You are good enough!

Good luck!

ALISTAIR BROWN: As a writing and speaking examiner for more than 10 years, I bring a lot of experience. I have seen the frustrations that students have with IELTS from a career where I have actively guided and corrected students’ studies. I am looking for the most effective ways to teach IELTS as I understand students’ needs.