IELTS Reading Tips: Getting Familiar With This Tough Test

ieltsreadingtipsThe International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized test given to non-native English language speakers in order to assess their proficiency in the language. The test may be given for university admissions, immigration purposes, or any other situation in which a non-native English speaker would find themselves having to speak and understand the English language.

No matter which version of the IELTS you take, either the General Training or Academic version, you will have one reading section, consisting of 40 questions based on 3 different texts, with the whole thing being timed at 60 minutes. The total length of the texts put together is between 2000-2750 words. The test gets progressively harder and one text may contain non-verbal materials, such as a diagram, graph or illustration. Also, a short glossary will be provided for some of the more technical terms the test taker may run into.

Tips for Success

Overall General Tips

  • Depending on how you consume information, it may be helpful to read the text first, then answer the questions or it may be beneficial to you to first look at the questions, then read the text while looking for the answers. Taking practice tests before the real thing will help you find which method works best for you.
  • Develop your ability to skim. Skimming is reading quickly by skipping over unimportant words like prepositions and ignoring difficult words that you don’t need to understand. Do this to get a general idea about a text or a paragraph or to intensively search for the answer to a question.
  • Manage your time in the exam. Most IELTS candidates run out of time in the third reading section. Each text should take you roughly 20 minutes (the examiners will tell you after 20 minutes have passed). Never spend too long on a single question – guess the answer or leave it to return to later. Also if you feel you are running out of time, tackle questions like gap-fills before doing “easy to guess” tasks like YES, NO, NOT GIVEN questions. Don’t forget you also have to have all your answers on your answer sheet by the end of the test. A good tip is to write them on the mark sheet in pencil as you go, correcting where necessary at the end.
  • Make sure you complete all of the questions on the test. There are no penalties for incorrect answers, so there is nothing to lose. Also, if you have time, double check your answers.
  • Underline useful information. It is ok to mark in the IELTS test booklet. Underlining important ideas can help you organize the text and will save you time in the exam. If you find an answer to a question, it is sensible to underline the part of the passage that relates to the question as a check and to write the number of the question next to it in case you find a better answer later. How you do this will depend on you and your style. Some people underline different types of words in different ways. Just remember that less is more: if you underline too much, it can become confusing.

Academic Reading Test

  • Because the IELTS texts are “general academic texts” (meaning they are taken from sources such as textbooks and specialist magazines and journals), you may want to brush up by reading academic texts in your free time. If you are not familiar with reading these kinds of texts in English it is essential that you start reading them in your free time so that you are used to the types of language and structure used when you meet them in the exam. Three typical sources for IELTS texts are (in order of difficulty – easiest first) the National Geographic, the New Scientist and the Economist. You find these magazines anywhere books are sold.
  • IELTS exam writers select a range of specific types of texts and learning to recognize the type of text you are reading can help you predict its structure and therefore understand it more quickly. There are four types of IELTS texts a) analytic texts, which discuss the reasons why something happened or make recommendations or explain a concept b) descriptive texts, which describe a situation, explain how something is done or categorize something c) discursive texts, in which different opinions are expressed about an issue and d) narrative texts, which explain a chronological sequence of events.
  • Learn to recognize paragraph structure. This often involves spotting the relationship between the main ideas and supporting ideas in a paragraph. Paragraphs are most frequently descending, meaning they begin with the main idea somewhere near the start and develop from there, although some, usually the first and last paragraphs of a text, are ascending – the main idea is located towards the end. This can be particularly helpful when matching headings to paragraphs.
  • Learn to spot parallel phrases. These are different ways of expressing the same idea, such as, “I like to ski” and “skiing is enjoyable”. Many questions, like YES NO NOT GIVEN questions and gap fills, test your ability to match up a similar phrase in the task with its equivalent in the text.

General Training Reading Test

  • In the reading test, good grammar and spelling are important. The grammar part is not as important as you can’t make many grammar errors in 3 words (the maximum you use in the reading test) but, if you spell something wrong or confuse singular with plural, it will be marked as wrong.
  • If the question asks for no more than 3 words, use no more than 3 words. Writing 4 words or more is wrong. You won’t be asked to do it in 3 words or less unless it is possible, they aren’t trying to trick you.

Practice Questions

Before taking the IELTS, you may want to get an idea of what to expect. Here are a couple sample questions to show you what you may be in for. Read the following notice and answer the questions below.

General Training Sample

Fancy Foods wishes to inform the public that pieces of metal have been found in some jars of Fancy Foods Chicken Curry (Spicy). The batches of the jars involved have numbers from J6617 to J6624. The batch number is printed on the bottom of each jar.If you have any jars with these batch numbers, please return them (preferably unopened) to the supermarket where you purchased them. You can also return them to the factory (Fancy Foods Retailers, Blacktown). Fancy Foods will pay $10 for each jar returned unopened and $5 for each jar already opened.No payment will be made for empty jars, which do not need to be returned. However, the Retailing Manager will be interested to hear from people who have consumed chicken curry from any of the above batch numbers. In particular, it will be helpful if they can give information about the place of purchase of the product.Jars of Fancy Foods Chicken Curry (Coconut) and Fancy Foods Chicken Curry (Mango) have not been affected and do not need to be returned.
Fancy Foods will pay a reward of $10,000 to $50,000 for information which leads to the conviction of any person found guilty of placing metal pieces in its products. If you have such information, please contact the Customer Relations Manager, Fancy Foods Retailers, Blacktown.



Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from the text for each answer.

  1. What has been found in some Fancy Foods products?
  2. Where can you find the batch number on the jars?
  3. How much will you receive for an opened jar of contaminated Chicken Curry?
  4. If you have eaten Chicken Curry from a jar with one of the batch numbers listed, whom should you contact?
  5. What is the maximum reward Fancy Foods is offering for information about who contaminated their product?


  1. pieces of metal
  2. (on) the bottom
  3. $5
  4. (the) Retailing Manager
  5. $50,000

Academic Reading Sample

The Motor Car
Section A
There are now over 700 million motor vehicles in the world – and the number is rising by more than 40 million each year. The average distance driven by car users is growing too – from 8km a day per person in western Europe in 1965 to 25 km a day in 1995. This dependence on motor vehicles has given rise to major problems, including environmental pollution, depletion of oil resources, traffic congestion and safety.
Section B
While emissions from new cars are far less harmful than they used to be, city streets and motorways are becoming more crowded than ever, often with older trucks, buses and taxis which emit excessive levels of smoke and fumes. This concentration of vehicles makes air quality in urban areas unpleasant and sometimes dangerous to breathe. Even Moscow has joined the list of capitals afflicted by congestion and traffic fumes. In Mexico City, vehicle pollution is a major health hazard.
Section C
Until a hundred years ago, most journeys were in the 20km range, the distance conveniently accessible by horse. Heavy freight could only be carried by water or rail. Invention of the motor vehicle brought personal mobility to the masses and made rapid freight delivery possible over a much wider area. In the United Kingdom, about 90 per cent of inland freight is carried by road. The world cannot revert to the horse-drawn wagon. Can it avoid being locked into congested and polluting ways of transporting people and goods?
Section D
In Europe most cities are still designed for the old modes of transport. Adaptation to the motor car has involved adding ring roads, one-way systems and parking lots. In the United States, more land is assigned to car use than to housing. Urban sprawl means that life without a car is next to impossible. Mass use of motor vehicles has also killed or injured millions of people. Other social effects have been blamed on the car such as alienation and aggressive human behavior.
Section E
Technical solutions can reduce the pollution problem and increase the fueled efficiency of engines. But fuel consumption and exhaust emissions depend on which cars are preferred by customers and how they are driven. Many people buy larger cars than they need for daily purposes or waste fuel by driving aggressively. Besides, global car use is increasing at a faster rate than the improvement in emissions and fuel efficiency which technology is now making possible.
Section F
Some argue that the only long-term solution is to design cities and neighborhoods so that car journeys are not necessary – all essential services being located within walking distance or easily accessible by public transport. Not only would this save energy and cut carbon dioxide emissions, it would also enhance the quality of community life, putting the emphasis on people instead of cars. Good local government is already bringing this about in some places. But few democratic communities are blessed with the vision – and the capital – to make such profound changes in modern lifestyles.
Section G
A more likely scenario seems to be a combination of mass transit systems for travel into and around cities, with small ‘low emission’ cars for urban use and larger hybrid or lean burn cars for use elsewhere. Electronically tolled highways might be used to ensure that drivers pay charges geared to actual road use. Better integration of transport systems is also highly desirable – and made more feasible by modern computers. But these are solutions for countries which can afford them. In most developing countries, old cars and old technologies continue to predominate.QuestionsWhich paragraphs contains the following information?
You may use any letter more than once.

  1. a comparison of past and present transportation methods
  2. how driving habits contribute to road problems
  3. the relative merits of cars and public transport
  4. the writer’s prediction on future solutions
  5. the increasing use of motor vehicles
  6. the impact of the car on city development


  1. C
  2. F
  3. E
  4. H
  5. A
  6. D