‘I don’t understand how some candidates can complete the IELTS Reading paper within one hour — there is just so much to read!’ As publishers of Road to IELTS, we often get feedback from IELTS candidates. One of the hottest topics is candidates complaining about the lack of time in the Reading test. The articles are long and difficult, and it seems impossible to complete all the questions in an hour. In this blog post, I will look at a smart way to manage your time in the Reading test.
The three sections
Before you start, try to imagine that you only have 50 minutes to complete all the questions. Yes, this seems odd — after all, we are saying that you are already short of time, and now we are cutting it further! But if you are aiming for a high band score (i.e. allowing only one to two incorrect answers), you need to leave 10 minutes at the end to check all your answers. We will come back to this later.
The first thing to be aware of is that not all of the three sections in the IELTS Reading test are equal. The first section contains a text and a set of questions which will be easier than the other two. How to approach it? Start by reading the topic sentences only. Then go straight into the questions and get a sense of where the answers can be found in the text. The first section should take you roughly seven to ten minutes to complete. Try to aim for that the next time you work on a practice test.
What are topic sentences? They are usually the first sentence in the paragraph. The topic sentence (or sentences — sometimes there are two) tells us what the paragraph is about, or introduces the topic of the paragraph.. The sentences that follow then explain the topic sentence, expand on it, or give examples.
Examples of topic sentence
Look at the topic sentences (in bold) in this text from an IELTS Reading test paper from Road to IELTS.
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Sections two and three
The second and third sections in IELTS Reading will contain more difficult questions and will require more detailed reading. The sentences in the reading will be longer and more complex, and if you are careless, may get thrown off by distractors and infer information incorrectly. In these two sections you should spend about fifteen minutes to read each article and five on answering each set of the questions. Find it difficult? Practise reading 1200-word long news articles until you can comfortably finish them in 15 minutes. Remember: a good test result always requires hard work. To test yourself try to read this article. Time yourself.
Examples of more complex texts
The sentences in texts two and three tend to be more complex. Look at this text from a practice test in Road to IELTS.
The last check
There are ten minutes left, and it is time to check your answers — and this is where most candidates get it wrong. It’s not just a simple spell-check: you will need to use that 10-minute window to read the questions again and quickly answer them in your heart. Ask yourself these questions as you go through the answer sheet:
Am I sure about this answer?
- Is this a trick question?
- Did I have doubts about this answer and should I look at the passage again?
- And don’t forget to check the answer numbers against the question numbers, making really sure the answers are in the right boxes.
A final tip
Let me finish with a tip for IELTS Reading from Steve Maginn, a respected IELTS tutor.
“Here are three tips for the Reading test:
- You have 60 minutes to answer 40 questions. That means 90 seconds per question, excluding reading time! So you must not waste time on questions you don’t see the answer to. Skip them, move on and come back to them later.
- Questions are usually in the same order as the answers in the text, i.e. you will find the answer to question 1 earlier in the text than that to question 4. Bear this in mind as you look for answers.
- The reading passages generally go from easier to harder, and so do the questions. So don’t panic if you find the later texts and questions more difficult — they are supposed to be!”
If you have read the Guardian article I linked to above, you will know that even getting an overview of the text in the time available is a challenge. But that is only half the story. You absolutely must practise reading an answering the questions in the time allowed. This means trying practice papers.
My advice is to try out the free practice paper that you can download here. Click into Academic or General Training (whichever module you are taking) and on the first screen you can download a FREE IELTS Reading test paper. So… get going and good luck!
Not sure where to find practice materials? Road to IELTS is a good place to start.