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IELTS Reading Tips: Strategy

IELTS Reading Techniques

The following method helps many students succeed, but takes some time to master!

  1. Spend about 3-4 minutes carefully skimming the text.
  1. After scanning, answer questions by scanning.

Skim each passage for 3 to 5 minutes before looking at the questions.

  • Read the first sentence(s) of each paragraph.
  • Skim the remainder of the paragraph, underlining key words as you go. What key words should you focus on? Look for the names of people, dates, concepts, terminology, and/or steps in a process.
  • Overall, try to get the gist of the passage as you skim.

Try to label each paragraph (2-3 words only), identifying the main topic it contains. This helps you to locate that paragraph quickly when you answer questions. It is also a good mental exercise because finding enough information to apply a basic label to a paragraph shows that you are skimming purposefully and effectively

As you skim, underline keywords in the text and write short notes as reminders in the text.

Strategies 2 and 3 work together with the skimming strategy above. Basically, the goal of “underlining” and taking “notes” as you skim is that this helps you remember what you learned when you go to answer questions. It’s very simple. Here’s what you should do:
As you skim, quickly underline each word that seems important in your Question Booklet (which contains your Reading passage). In other words, don’t just skim with your eyes. Use your pencil to underline things that stand out as you skim the passage.
Secondly, as you skim, quickly write very short notes (2-5 words) next to each paragraph with your best guess about the main idea of that paragraph. Matching Headings” questions

Study the questions, noting keywords, and SCAN the text strategically for answers

This is challenging. It can be very time consuming to scan for answers in a text of more than 800 words (that you haven’t read carefully).

The solution: Don’t answer questions in order. In each question set, some answers will be easier to find in the passage than others:

  • As you look over the questions, you might remember where a topic is discussed in the passage. Start with that question!
  • Capitalized names, dates, numbers, etc. stand out among other text when you scan. That information might be easier to find than other information.
  • When you skimmed the text, perhaps you found that the text (or a part of the text) was organized in some kind of sequence (chronological, steps in a process, etc). This can be a critical clue about where to search for an answer.
  • One of the major benefits of scanning for answers by starting with the easiest (to find) answers in the text is that it is very likely that you will find answers to other questions in the process of searching for these easy-to-find answers.

IELTS Reading: Question Types

There are several types of questions you may encounter on the IELTS Reading paper.

Multiple Choice

You will be asked to select the correct answer to a question from a set of choices. IELTS Reading Multiple Choice questions can test a variety of things. Some will focus on details, while others focus on main ideas. Look for keywords in the questions and the answer choices before you scan the passage for answers.

True/False/Not Given(Yes/No/Not Given)

True/False/Not Given questions can be very tricky. These questions consist of several statements. TRUE: if the information in the question statement agrees with information in the text. FALSE: if the question statement contradicts something found in the passage 
NOT GIVEN: If the information in the question statement cannot be found in the article (the article does not say whether the statement is true or false) 


There are a few types of Matching questions on the IELTS Reading paper. Each one has its own unique features.

Matching Headings

This type of question asks you to match a list of “headings” to each paragraph in the passage. A correct heading captures the main idea of one paragraph in the text. To get a headings question correct, you must find the heading that articulates the main idea of a paragraph. Sometimes, you can find the main idea in the first sentence or two. This is definitely a good place to look first. But don’t stop reading after the first two sentences as you try to answer these questions. Scan the remainder of each paragraph to confirm that the heading represents everything contained in the paragraph in a general way

Matching Features

This type of matching question presents you with a list of items in a box. These items will be categorized in some way. For example, they may be the names of people or cities. Of course, each item will be mentioned in the reading passage as well. Your job is to match phrases or sentences in the questions with the appropriate items listed in the box. If the box includes a list of people mentioned in the article, then the questions may ask you to match statements with the person who said them.

Matching Sentence Endings

For these questions, you will have to match two halves of a sentence. The question will provide the first part of the sentence. You will have to select an appropriate ending to the sentence from a list of options. Keep in mind, correct answers must:

  • be grammatically correct.
  • make sense logically.
  • agree with the information in the reading passage.

Sentence Completion and Short Answer

Sentence Completion questions and Short Answer questions are very similar. Sentence Completion questions ask you to fill in a blank at the end of a sentence with some words taken from the text.

The directions will state a word limit. For example, they will say you should write “NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS and/or a NUMBER” for your answer. Some questions limit you to ONE or TWO words. If you exceed the limit, you will miss the question, so pay close attention to word limits.

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