Students who are learning English might feel nervous about taking the IELTS test, especially if they are aiming for a higher band score, however, thorough preparation and practice can make the difference between an average score and a great one.
We’ve asked our colleague Theresa to compile some helpful tips, to aid your IELTS exam preparation!
#1 IELTS Reading test
Some students find the reading section of the IELTS test quite challenging, but with these tips and plenty of preparation, you’ll be well on your way to a great score.
Don’t try to understand everything
The good news is that you can’t fail the IELTS test! But you are probably reading this because you want to improve your reading score. IELTS uses a band system, which means that the reading test includes questions set at varying levels of difficulty. It’s completely normal to not understand everything and you’re not expected to, so don’t worry! However, you don’t lose points for wrong answers so try and write something for every question - you might just get it right. What you need to become good at is finding the required information. You may have to learn some new study habits to do well in your IELTS reading and these tips will get you started.
Use a variety of reading skills
The reading skills you need for IELTS are skimming (reading quickly through a text to get the gist) and scanning (reading through a text looking for specific information). It’s not a good idea to just start reading the first text in detail. Take just a couple of minutes to skim the text, paying attention to the topic, the format (can you see a table or diagram, numbers or headings?) and organisation of main ideas. Next, look carefully at the questions, underlining keywords in the task. When you know what you need to locate, you can return to the text and scan it to find the answers.
Remember that IELTS is not testing subject specialist knowledge but your English language skills. You need to understand the requirements of the question and then use your reading skills and vocabulary knowledge to find the answer. Often the first sentence in a paragraph gives you an idea of what’s coming, but you will sometimes need to identify key phrases or look closely at the words and sentences around the answer to check if you’re correct. Like any skill, your reading will get better with training!
Understand what you are being asked to do
There are several question types in the IELTS test and you may be asked to:
Match headings to text or diagrams
Answer multiple-choice questions
Match or categorise information
Decide if information is true/false/not given
Fill in gaps in a text, diagram or table
Provide short answers to questions
Make sure you have completed each of these question types several times before you take the IELTS test. Even if you are a good reader, you need to work on IELTS strategy. When you feel more confident, you can practise under timed test conditions but it is also important to take your time when you begin studying. Give yourself the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Follow the instructions in the questions carefully. For example, if you are asked to write two words, don’t write three!
Read as much as you can
Extensive reading will expose you to a range of topics. If you are taking the IELTS Academic test, you should read a range of non-fiction texts in English and get used to reading without a dictionary or translator. Read science articles, travel brochures, lecture transcripts, newspapers, textbooks, history magazines and more. For the IELTS General test, include travel websites, business blogs, timetables, instructions and texts related to daily life and work. When you are reading, think about the types of questions you might be asked about a particular text.
Reading for pleasure should also be a part of your IELTS preparation! Reading regularly, even if only for a short time, can really help train your eye for the IELTS test. It will also improve your speed, which is essential for IELTS success. Whether you are reading a romantic novel or a sports website, look away from the text sometimes and think about the main points of the paragraph you’ve just read. Can you find the keywords? Challenge yourself to quickly point to these!
Build up your vocabulary
It is important to improve your vocabulary knowledge for IELTS so you should also practise intensive reading at a slower pace. This means looking at a text in more detail. What linking phrases are used to connect paragraphs? How are the sentences constructed, what types of words are used and how do these words fit together? Intensive reading also means making a note of new vocabulary.
It’s a good idea to write down whole phrases, rather than words in isolation. Make a note of words in the same family and useful collocations (words that go together), as well as words that mean the same or opposite. Group them by topic in a notebook or try using a spreadsheet or an app. Put new vocabulary in a sentence to help you remember it more easily. For example:
The IELTS reading test has 40 questions and lasts 60 minutes, so you don’t have time to read everything in detail. You do need to work quickly though. You have three texts to read so aim to spend roughly 20 minutes on each, including writing your answers on the answer sheet as you go along - don’t leave this until the end as it takes longer than you think! If you don’t know an answer, don’t waste too much time trying to find it.
It’s normal to feel nervous when you open the reading paper but, if you have prepared well and practised the IELTS tasks, you will know what to expect and will find it easier to focus on the day of your test.