I often receive emails or Facebook messages from IELTS test takers saying ‘How can I improve my reading?’ or ‘I am poor at reading.’ The problem is not that these candidates need to improve their reading, but that they need to do it quickly. You may be one of them. In this blog post, we will look at the foundations of reading and five key ways to improve before your IELTS Reading test.
Imagine that you want to improve your physical fitness. We all understand that you can’t achieve this in days: it takes months and sometimes years. Reading is the same.
The foundations of reading, vocabulary and grammar, take time and effort to build. To improve your vocabulary, you need to identify words to learn, memorise them, understand how they are used in a sentence, and you need to learn how to use them accurately. Similarly, grammar can be studied for years. What is the difference between ‘He stole the watch’ and ‘The watch was stolen’? Do you know? Can you explain it? Do you know why a writer might choose to use one rather than the other? You need to see a grammar structure many times in many different contexts to truly understand it.
So, if you only have a month before your IELTS Reading test, is the situation hopeless? No. There are a number of things you can do which will help you, even in the short term.
Here are some suggestions:
- Daily new words
It is reasonable to expect to learn 10 new words a day. Over a month, that means 300 new words — and that can make a difference, especially if you choose the new words intelligently.
- Practise with newspapers
The IELTS Guide for Teachers states that texts ‘have been selected for a non-specialist audience’. However, if you look at the texts you come across In IELTS Academic, you’ll find that culture is quite important. The texts you’ll see are generally topics that are of interest to an educated Western audience: the environment, language and communication, sport and leisure, health, welfare and social support, science and technology, and so on. It is relatively easy to find articles on these topics online on news sites written for an educated Western audience. Search for the relevant sections in The Guardian (UK), The Age (Australia) and the New York Times (US). These articles will be written in a similar style to your IELTS Reading passages, and this will help you become familiar with the genre and its grammar and sentence structures.
- Practise with what’s available
IELTS General Training has a wider variety of text types but is fairly predictable — this can inform your preparation. According to the IELTS: Information for candidates booklet (which you can find here), ‘Texts are authentic and are taken from notices, advertisements, company handbooks, official documents, books, magazines and newspapers.’ If you are living in an English-speaking country, pick up and read magazines in the doctor’s waiting room, take flyers and free booklets from the library and study them, read notices on the wall of the local school. If you are not living in an English-speaking country, there are other options. Probably the best solution is to subscribe to an IELTS preparation package like Road to IELTS, which will give you a wide selection of typical texts.
- Make a vocab list
In either case (IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training), print out the texts you practise with, and underline words you don’t understand. Look them up in the dictionary, and if they seem useful (i.e. not highly technical or specialist), copy them into your vocab notebook to learn.
- Online practice
Search for vocab learning apps or websites, such as memrise. These really can help — especially if they systematically repeat the words you are learning.
If you really want to improve your reading, you need to understand that it will take hard work and dedication. Aim to read at least one target text every day and learn at least 10 words. Follow the tips above and take a look at other suggestions we have for doing well in your IELTS Reading test. And finally, be disciplined: if you stick to your plan, it really will make a difference.