17 IELTS reading tips to improve your score

This article shares 17 IELTS reading tips to help you improve your score.

The academic as well as general IELTS reading section of the exam both last 60 minutes and tests your reading skills. Each has 40 questions. The 60 minutes includes the time you have to fill in the answer sheet.

This tutorial covers IELTS reading tips and advice to help you pass your IELTS exam.

Here are the most common types of reading questions you can get on your reading test:

  • Sentence completion
  • True false, not given
  • Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion
  • Multiple choice
  • Short-answer questions
  • Matching sentence endings
  • Diagram label completion
  • Matching information
  • Matching headings

Before preparing for your IELTS exam and learning different strategies and tips, it is VERY important to: change your mindset, focus and understanding of the test.

The IELTS reading tips that you will read in this chapter will work and must be applied with ALL question types, no matter what exam you are taking.

Reading tips

Remember these IELTS reading tips to increase your score:

1. It's always paraphrased.

This is the most important IELTS reading tip:

It’s always paraphrased and the text can tell you if your answer is right 100%.

What does it mean and how does it work?

It means that for ANY correct answer will need to choose from the options, there is ALWAYS a paraphrased fragment in the text that says absolutely the same.

The IELTS reading test is designed to test your understanding of language complexities.

It will assess your ability to understand the same (or similar) ideas hidden behind different wordings and expressions.

 2. Skimming 

If you read in the usual slow, relaxed way you will not pass the IELTS test.

Learn to skim and scan. These reading techniques use rapid eye movement and keywords so that you are able to move fast through text.

Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. Here is an overview:

  1. Read the first paragraph attentively to get an idea of what the text is about.
  2. Pay attention to the first few sentences of every paragraph, this will give you the main idea of the text.
  3. Always read the last paragraph thoroughly as this normally contains the summary.

 3. Scanning 

Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts.

The questions in the IELTS reading test will often include dates, names, numbers, new terms that are part of your answers.

When you are scanning be sure to :

  1. Always underline important specific information and numbers. You do not need to read every word. Look out for information like names, dates, figure, statistics etc
  2. From the question, identify the keyword and then scan the text for it, and possible synonyms. This will help you find the answer more quickly.

It is important to be fast, focused and alert. You can’t allow yourself to be slow and relaxed.

You should spend no more than 3 minutes skimming the passage for your test.

4. Focus on the ideas, not the words.

Re-read, and then rephrase it in your own words.

Explain to yourself what you have just read.

This mini-analysis helps you to focus on the ideas, the message rather than the words in front of you.

This is extremely important because the answer you are looking for has definitely been rephrased too.

5. Test different exam strategies, then choose a winner.

Every site, tutor, and former student will have a guide for you to pass the reading exam.

Try these strategies, but measure which one works best for you.

Some students find reading the questions first and then the text is the best way. Other students do the exact opposite.

Try both methods on different practice exams, the technique that brings in the most points for you is the winner.

6. Try our reading exam strategy.

Read the text first to focus on the information. This way you keep one piece of information in the brain.

Your brain will most likely struggle to keep the question in mind AND search for the answer at the same time.

But if you skim the text part rapidly, discuss what you had just read in your head and THEN go to the question and its options, you should get the answer easier.

7. Find proof in the text, underline and number.

  • Find the exact location of the rephrased answer in the reading passage. Compare it to the key words in your answer and rest assured that it is the ONE. That is the proof.
  • Then underline that rephrased line in the passage.
  • Then write the number on top of the question that is answered by that line. As simple as that.

You should do this to avoid relaxing and guessing during the reading test. This gives you the certainty that you have made the  correct choice.

And yes, there’s always only ONE correct answer. Despite what many may think, there are no options. This is how the tests are designed. That is precisely why there is a very definite location of the correct answer in the text.

8. Don’t panic over unknown words. Use context.

Try to look around the new word. Maybe the content of the sentence can help you deduce whether it’s positive or negative, a person or a job, an animal or a feature.

Prefixes can help, un- means cancel an action, and re- means repeat, or -wise means referring to something.

Grammar will also help, if it comes before a noun, it might be describing how this noun is.

Remember to do background work on expanding your vocabulary and understanding of prefixes and suffixes for your reading test.

If this doesn’t help either just don’t panic. Move on to the next question, and later return to the confusing part.

9. Don't leave any questions unanswered

Never leave any box unanswered. When you know there’s no time left, just guess and write something.

Why? You won’t be penalized for incorrect answers. If you leave the cell in your answer sheet blank, you will get zero points. For sure.

But what if you strike lucky and manage to guess it! You will have at least one more point that could get you from band 6.5 to 7.0 in your reading test.

That’s why you should guess when out of time.

10. Improve your reading speed

To make the best of the 60 minutes you have to complete your IELTS reading exam, you have to improve your reading speed when you are preparing for the exam.

Here is a brief guide to improving your reading speed.

1 - Increase your reading gaze to include three words at a time, rather than bouncing from one word to the next. Catch three at a time and aim to expand it to about five words in each glance.

2 - Use a pointer to increase speed. The pointer will land between every three words. Moving it quicker through the text you will progress faster.

3 - Make sure not to sacrifice comprehension for speed. It’s very easy to speed read through an article and then recall nothing. Avoid this by using your new speed reading skills in online reading comprehension tests (see tip 15).

Here is my favourite speed reading guide online. 

11. My favourite reading tools 

A great tool to help increase your reading gaze is ZapReader.

Make sure to use the free web-based tool, no need to buy the software.

To use it, just load up the text you want to practice and then start chunking it out into three-word blocks.

The Amazon Kindle is a fantastic resource for students, you can highlight any word you don’t understand, and get a definition immediately.

It then saves your words as flashcards and you can test yourself later. I use this all the time to expand my own English vocabulary and especially to improve my Spanish skills.

Audible is another fantastic resource, I usually buy the audiobook version of the current kindle book I’m reading. This helps me learn the material deeper, and ensures I didn’t miss a concept in the text version.

12. Choose your material carefully

Although using past IELTS reading exams is a great idea, they can quickly become boring and laborious.

I suggest choosing subjects you have an interest in. This way you are far more likely to stick with the book and read more. This will build your language skills rather than your exam skills, so it’s more of a long term strategy.

Also, consider the level you are reading at. In English, I read War and Peace by Tolstoy, and I wanted to re-read it in Spanish but it was far too complex. I soon abandoned the novel and went for the Spanish versions of Harry Potter!

13. Don’t sacrifice retention for speed

When improving reading speed it is common for retention to fall as we blaze through the text.

To avoid this try applying the six questions words to each chapter or paragraph. Ask yourself:







Another technique when starting, is to ask yourself: What do I want to get out of this chapter / paragraph / book? Asking yourself this makes it easier to identify the useful information when you are reading.

14. Organise your reading time to improve focus

Countless students, myself included, struggle with staying focussed while reading. Unless the material is truly captivating I find myself wandering to check reddit, email, the fridge and other time wasting activities!

How do we solve this?

  1. Set a timer and read for that duration of time, 30 minutes is a good time to start with.
  2. Allocate a reading time and space. Your focus will be infinitely stronger working from home with the phone in airplane mode and headphones on. Rather than reading a book at the train station.
  3. Headphones. Block all the distractions. I listen to rain sounds to increase focus.

15.  Improving reading comprehension

As useful as all the IELTS reading tips are to improve your IELTS score, practice is one of the most important keys to a successful IELTS reading exam. There are many different IELTS practice tests that you can take online to help you prepare, take a look at these resources:

If you have exhausted the free materials online, try the other available ESL tests. I would aim for anything Cambridge publishes. They are responsible for the testing material for IELTS so you can be sure their standards are high.

A more fun way to test your comprehension is to open a book at a random page, read it, then write a summary after.

16. Active reading 

This tip is more for students taking the paper-based test. When reading actively mark your test paper.

Underline any important phrases that you see in the text that helps you understand the passage or sums up the context of the reading.

Circle keywords, and add asterisks in the margin for valuable fragments.

These will act as references when you are searching for answers.

17. Resources for practice

Take a look at some more useful tutorials that will you prepare for your  Reading Test

If you need more help with your exam preparation, have a look at our IELTS online courses to help you pass IELTS!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How to practice for IELTS reading?

Kindle is a great way to learn new words. With a Kindle, you can instantly check the meaning of the words.

You can find free IELTS Reading practice tests here.

How to improve your IELTS reading score?
  • Read the text first and then answer the questions.
  • Look at the questions first, and then read the text with those questions in mind.
  • Pre-assess the essay
  • Browse for the main point
  • Foresee the content and purpose of the text
  • Draw word meaning from context
  • Discern the tone of the writer

Read this post for more details.

Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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