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IELTS Reading: How important is culture?

IELTS Reading: How important is culture?

Will your culture affect your performance in IELTS Reading?

Back in 1978, researchers at the University of Illinois conducted an experiment in which they asked subjects from India and the US to read two passages: one about an Indian wedding and the other about an American wedding. They then tested their reading comprehension. They found that ‘Subjects read the native passage more rapidly, recalled a larger amount of information from the native passage, produced more culturally appropriate elaborations of the native passage, and produced more culturally based distortions of the foreign passage.’

In other words, they found that your culture does affect reading performance and the way you interpret a text. 

How is this relevant to IELTS?

The official IELTS Guide for Teachers states that IELTS Academic Reading test passages ‘are taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers and are on academic topics of general interest. All have been selected for a nonspecialist audience.’

However, it is more accurate to say that they have been selected for a nonspecialist audience from the Western academic tradition. If you are from a very different academic tradition — say, Chinese, or Arabic — the Illinois experiment suggests you may not relate to the texts in the same way as your Western counterparts, that you will read the text more slowly, and that you will remember less.

How do you solve this problem?

First of all, you must familiarise yourself with the kind of text you will see in the IELTS Reading test. Luckily, this is quite easy to do because many ‘journals, magazines and newspapers’ are available free online, and topics are fairly predictable.

Firstly, here is a list of the kind of topic that one might see in the IELTS test:

  • welfare and social support
  • environmental issues
  • technology and society
  • language and communication
  • the ageing population
  • travel and tourism
  • language and communication
  • health

Secondly, you can read the sub-sections of these newspapers which target nonspecialist audience from the Western academic tradition:

  1. The Guardian, Environment
  2. The Independent, Tech
  3. The New York Times, Travel

Every day, choose an article and find some time to read it. If you have more time, look at the structure of the article. How does it start? Can you follow the argument? And lastly, is there a conclusion? And if you have a lot of time, look for vocabulary that appears more than once, note it and learn it.

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