Home » IELTS Reading: Exam skills are critical to success

IELTS Reading: Exam skills are critical to success

IELTS Reading: Exam skills are critical to success


When I have a new IELTS class, the first thing I want to assess is their exam skills. So I ask them to read and complete some IELTS Reading tasks. Almost always the questions go to one side, and the candidates focus on the text and read it word by word from beginning to end. I can always see some students panicking about words they don’t know. Meanwhile the minutes are ticking away and no answers are being noted down…

In the Reading test, time is precious. This post focuses on three key strategies that can help you save time, and improve your band score.

1. Focus on the questions

It’s essential that you make the questions the priority rather than the reading passage. Start by reading the questions so that you know what information you need to look for when you turn to the passages. As you find the information, note it down straight away. That way, you are using the time available in the most efficient way. The alternative is to read the passage, then read the questions, then go back to the passage to look for the information you need — but hat doesn’t make sense when time is limited.

2. Don’t worry about unknown words

Okay, you’re into the questions and you’re doing well… Suddenly, you see a word you don’t know and you start to panic. Calm down! The key here is not to worry and not to allow unknown words to distract you. Remember that even native speakers see words that they don’t know from time to time. As long as there aren’t too many of them, they do not stop you from understanding the passage. In any case, you’re already taking the test, so it’s too late to look the word up.

Your first strategy should be to ignore the word. Can you understand the sentence anyway? For example, it is easy to understand this sentence (with the unknown word shown by XXX):

Among the animals threatened by climate change are elephants, XXX and polar bears.

Your second strategy is to guess the meaning of the word from the the other words around it. So in the sentence above, it is easy to guess that XXX is a kind of animal. If you are asked to name three animals that are threatened by climate change, it is reasonably safe to include XXX, even if you don’t know the word.

3.Move on!

If neither of these strategies works and you are still stuck, just move on to the next question and come back later if you have time. Time wasted on answers you don’t know is time lost on later answers that you might get right.


  1. Ali says:

    I would like to improve my reading score on the IELTS GT exam and was hoping to better appreciate how the section is marked as I have written the exam 3 times and received a grade of 6.5 each time for the reading section. Clarity on a specific issue will certainly aid me in improving and achieving my desired score of 7.0 in this section. Many a time, an answer to the ‘Use no more than three words and/or a number’ question type may be answered in one word instead of two words or the other way round. The dilemma is which option to go for as one may reasonably argue either way while the answer sheet only reflects a one or two phrase solution. For example, the correct answer to a question as per the answer sheet could be “various myths”, while I may have written “myths” only or the other way round. Does the marker show some flexibility when marking such candidate responses? What is the best way to handle such questions considering there is a fine line that distinguishes the value added or lost in the answer by including or omitting the phrase “various” in the example above.

  2. Rubina says:

    Don’t you think there is enough time to think? Sometimes the entire statement is changed in question with different words not only one synonym especially in True/ False and Not given type questions.
    We need time to think If you really want us to learn your language.

    Thank you

  3. Timo says:

    Great points.Achieving one’s goals is a complex matter, and you were correct to break this down into several points.Often, for me and others, it’s a combination of factors and the edges can get blurred. The one thing in common is that self-motivation and urgency will override these barriers. Therefore, I try to focus on these solutions.Thanks for sharing.

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