Alternative IELTS Reading Tips
If you go online you will find lots of advice and information about skimming and scanning and keywords. Because everyone else has already done it, I will try my best to provide something different here. Do look it up though, you will find it helpful.
The reading section is always the most difficult for my students. It tends to be the area where they show the least amount of improvement. It is also the part that frustrates them the most, which brings us to #1.
- There’s no way around it, you have to practice. It is probably because it is the most difficult section and the least enjoyable, that my students tend to devote the least amount of time to improving their reading. Reading takes time in a second language. Fortunately your brain is an amazing machine. The more you practice, the faster your eyes and brain will recognize words and speed up your reading. Time is a vital factor in the IELTS reading exam. Speed up your reading and you will do better.
- Become an expert. If you’ve read some of my other posts you will see that I am starting to repeat myself. What helps improve your score in one skill will often help you in another area. Read up on medicine, science, urban issues, education, technology, and government. If you are familiar with the topic the vocabulary won’t slow you down as much and you may be able to answer a question or two without reading anything.
- Do whatever works for you. Your goal is to get a good score on the test however you can. For some of my students that involved spending the bulk of their time on sections one and two and guessing on section three. Other students concentrate on question types they are good at and try to get all of them correct while doing other sections quickly. Some students struggle with yes/no/not given and answer “not given” for all the questions rather than spending time looking for those answers. I encourage my students to tackle the question types they are most successful at first. There’s no rule that says you have to do things in order. That being said, reading passage one tends to be the easiest and so I advise my students to do that one first.
- The passages are not the most important part. Wait what? That’s right, you need to make sure you read the instructions and the questions carefully. Read them twice if necessary. Underline the instructions, your eyes will read the words while you are doing it. You can’t get the answers right if you are answering the wrong question. My students often miss words like “always”, “never”, “not” which change the meaning of the question. “Scientists agree” and “All scientists agree” are very different statements. Don’t get tricked by overlooking a word.
- Taking the test is not the same as practicing. Well, that’s not 100% true. You do get some practice reading, but taking a practice test really only tells you your ability, it does not do much to improve it. The next step is the most crucial, and the one my students most often skip. It isn’t enough to know what the correct and incorrect answers are; you need to know why they are correct or incorrect. The test is out to trick you if it can. If you can understand how you got tricked you will be less likely to be tricked in the future. Spend time after doing a practice test going through the answers carefully. Read the passages again.
- Give yourself time. If the test is a week away and you haven’t started studying you are not going to improve very much. I tell my students during the first week they have to laugh when they get a lot of answers wrong, in the second week they can throw the test on the ground when they are done, and in the third week they can cry if they want to. And it is usually in the fourth week when they start getting the hang of it and start improving. That’s right, three weeks for them to start improving (though it depends on how hard they have been working). If you plan to take IELTS, start reading today, and I do mean today. Something to get you started: www.scientificamerican.com