IELTS Reading Tips

Manage IELTS Reading

Completing the IELTS reading test within the time allocated is very important if you want to score band 7 or 8. Unless you complete all questions, you are reducing your total possible score. So, for example, if you fail to complete the last 5 questions (something many students report to me) or simply guess them then your final score is now out of a possible 35 or so as the final passage is the most challenging and the chances of guessing correctly are reduced. Therefore to achieve band 7 in Academic Reading you cannot afford to make more than 5 errors and in General Training the situation is even more precarious – as you can only make 1 error!

Not managing your time well is a high-risk game and one that won’t really serve you. 

How can you complete the reading test within the time?

Easily, but there are three things you need:

  1. Reading ability
  2. Strategy
  3. Practice

Those students who, in my experience, get high scores consistently can complete the test in around 50 minutes and 55 minutes for a more difficult test and they all utilise these three things.

  • Reading Ability

Reading for Fun


For the vast majority of students who require band 7 and 8 that I meet and work with, reading and writing are the two areas which most often fall below band 7 and 8. However, a handful of students are actually already achieving a high score in their reading and all of them seem to have one thing in common – they are readers. They enjoy reading as a hobby and for pleasure; sometimes in English but more importantly in their own language.

Being a reader gives you a head-start in the reading test as you will have instincts about the reading process which will help you to understand how the texts are organised and how they work. This instinct works regardless of the topic or subject matter and also despite any unknown vocabulary or difficult-to-understand ideas.

In fact whenever a student meets me for the first time and has high reading scores they invariably tell me how they find the reading test easy – because they enjoy reading.

Another fact I can report is that quite often when I meet students who are struggling with the reading test – they tell me how they hate IELTS reading and how it makes them panic when they can’t find the answer. Once we have worked together for a little while they begin, in almost all cases, to enjoy the reading and find the passages interesting and informative. This shift in attitude really helps to improve skills and almost all go on to score high bands; 7.5. 8, 8.5 and even 9, in reading.

So the willingness to engage with reading generally helps to improve scores and timing dramatically.

  • Strategy

Use Good Strategies


Speed Reading is a useful skill and not one I myself possess. I am actually a ‘slowish’ reader as I like to check the detail and enjoy savouring all the words and phrases – so this is not a good strategy for IELTS. Many other students I work with tell me also that they can’t read very fast. Well, the good news is that you don’t especially need to speed read. You can use techniques that cut down the amount of reading you actually do so that you are ONLY reading for the answers.

The first strategy you need is the ability to skim and scan. These are two distinct skills: skimming is reading quickly to get the overall information and gist of what the passage or paragraph is about. Scanning is moving your eyes down the page to find a specific word, number or name. There is NO POINT in scanning unless you have something specific to find.



Skim the first paragraph at the beginning of each passage to get an overview of the topic.

Skim each paragraph also for the headings questions


Scan for all the key words you identify in the questions – once you find the right key words (and there will be 3 or 4) then you read in detail to find the actual answer.

That is all you really need to do with skimming and scanning.

The next strategy you need is to limit the time for each question. You only have around a minute per question so you have to be strict about this and keep moving.

1 Minute per Question

Students are often too scared to move on and leave a question but there is no choice – you simply have to.

If you can’t find an answer within a minute or so then leave the question and move on – you can decide provisionally on the most likely answer, make some kind of mark so you know which question to come back to and then move on to the next question. There are 3 times to come back and look again:

  1. At the end of that bank of questions
  2. At the end of that passage
  3. At the end of the test

What tends to happen if you are not vigorously searching for the question is that you stop panicking and may actually find the answer as you look for the other questions. You wouldn’t believe how many times when I am working with students on reading, they suddenly see the answer VERY clearly when they are not searching for it!!

So with this 1-minute-per-question strategy you will find (with practice) that you can complete the whole test more quickly and have time to go back and check questions you are not certain about.

  • Practice

Practice Makes Perfect

I cannot stress enough how the most important thing you do in IELTS is practice. Also, how knowing about something is just NOT ENOUGH – it is only through practice that this knowledge will improve your scores. This is true of every part of IELTS.

When I work with IELTS students it is the constant practice – followed by my correction – followed by their correction – followed by even more practice, that gets them to band 7 or 8 or 8.5. I am a hard task master!! I know that language development, like any other skill, will only improve with practice and practice of the right things – practice of the wrong things will also help improve the wrong skills and this can have a negative effect on your IELTS score.


So please make sure:

  1. That you are doing the right things to help you improve
  2. Once you see that they are the correct techniques (if they don’t improve your scores then maybe they are not), then practise them over and over
  3. You take your time to practise them – things will not happen overnight
  4. Don’t abandon them in the test – you’d be amazed how many students panic in the exam and go back to old techniques and get low scores again

In fact if you are relying on your comfort zone you are probably not doing what it will take to get you to the band that you want. You need to push yourself a little more 🙂

Twelve Top Tips for IELTS

We are now half-way through our celebration and the end of the year is coming. Tomorrow is a special day in the Christmas holiday season and also for people all around the world. It’s the time when we say goodbye to 2017 and open our arms to 2018 and what it has to offer us. Today is the time to prepare for this second main celebration of the season. It means more shopping, more food preparation and more parties!!

It’s also a time to reflect – on what has happened in 2017 – then, learn from it, let it go and move forward into 2018 – could this be YOUR year for IELTS success?

On this sixth day of Christmas, I want to give you more advice about IELTS Reading.

In my experience, reading and writing are the two areas of IELTS that cause the most problems for students. It is therefore no surprise to find that these skills are closely related to each other. Understanding the process of writing will help you with your reading and understanding how sentences and paragraphs are put together in readning will help you with constructing your writing.

This is especially important when dealing with question types such as YNNG and TFNG as well as headings – certain words in the question and also in the text can give you a strong indication about the correct answers. These words are easy to spot but are very often overlooked. Being able to identify these words can help you to improve your score dramatically if reading is an area that you are struggling with. The other advantage is that it can also help you with your own IELTS writing too!

This is a skill we teach in all our IELTS training on reading. If you want to find support for your IELTS and make sure that you get the result that you want in 2017 and move on with your life and dreams for your future then you should consider taking our intensive IELTS training.

To see if I can support you in this I’m setting up Exam Support calls at the beginning of January where you can meet me on Skype and look at the possibility of working with me and my team in January and February to make sure you get really ready for your IELTS high band score.

To get one of these Skype appointments all you need to do is complete this questionnaire:


I also have a special Christmas gift to offer – but you have to complete the questionnaire first.


Berni xx

Twelve Top Tips for IELTS

Today is the fifth day of the Christmas season and as it’s Friday many people will have already gone back to work – but not for long as another public holiday is only 3 days away! For those lucky enough to have the whole season off there is more festive cheer around in the shops – the sales have begun – and also more friends and family to celebrate with!


On this fifth day of Christmas, I want to give you more advice about something you really need to do well in IELTS Reading to get a high band.

Sometimes students tell me that their score in reading can vary a lot from one test to another. One day they will get 34/40 and the next only 25/40 – this seems strange. In actual fact it isn’t strange at all!

One question I always ask my students when I begin working with them is whether there are any types of question that they find challenging. Most people say YNNG or Headings or sometimes MCQ. I have seen tests that contained a YNNG or TFNG exercise in each reading section – that can be 15 questions so if this is a question type that you are not very good at it can, of course, affect your score massively. To have a band 7 or 8 in reading you can only afford to miss a few questions – this is the reality. Therefore the key to making sure you achieve a high band score is to be good at all types of question.

In my training I do this; we cover every type of exercise and make sure that you know and can use the techniques that go with each type. I’ve seen students who can do this fly through the reading very quickly – they know exactly what to look for and their scanning and skimming techniques are really fast – they can complete a passage in 15 minutes. Imagine what that means in the exam. Time to check the questions you are not sure about and make sure that your spelling and grammar are absolutely right – this is band 8 work.

To see if I can help you to get your band 7 and 8 I’m setting up Exam Support calls at the beginning of January where you can meet me personally on Skype and look at the possibility of working with me and my team for the next 5 or 12 weeks to make sure you are really ready for your IELTS band 7 or 8 score.

To get one of these Skype appointments you need to complete this questionnaire:


I will be giving a special IELTS Christmas gift but you have to complete the questionnaire first and book a call with me.


Reading and Writing

IELTS Reading



Many IELTS students have the belief that if you read the first sentence (or first two) of the first paragraph and then read the last two this will be enough information to answer the questions that are set. In actual fact for some passages this may just work – but it is too strict and not all passages fit into the same pattern of writing.





Take a look at this opening paragraph from an IELTS reading below:

The infamous Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in India was initiated with World Bank loans. It was designed primarily to irrigate 1.8 million drought-prone hectares in the state of Gujarat. Despite the extensive canal and pipeline work, the 20 million people in Gujarat have this year experienced their worst drought for a century.

If we read the first two sentences – as per the general ‘rule’ many students use and then go on to the questions, this is what happens.

The first question for this passage is:

Choose the most appropriate title for Reading Passage 3

A. Drought: Small Scale solutions for a Very Big Problem

B. Water: A Women’s Work

C. Dams: Providing Water for All

D. Drought: An Unsolvable Problem

This is actually a global question which means you need to skim the WHOLE passage to answer it – but using the 2-sentence rule strictly which many students do, I know (because I have used this passage many times) that most students will choose C

Now, if we go back to the first paragraph we can see that the first word in sentence 3 is Despite – this is a linking word used to introduce a contrast and so if we go further and read the 3rd sentence we can see that the answer C is, in fact, the opposite of what the paragraph is telling us namely: that this hugely expensive Dam has not solved the problem of drought. The ‘rule’ about 2 sentences has failed and this is the problem with these so-called ‘rues’ they don’t work in every case.

A word like despite, yet and but, which often occur in the middle of a paragraph, tell us that the truth is the opposite of what the first part of the paragraph tells us. This is a very common convention in writing (one you can use yourself to great effect in your own IELTS task 2) and not realising the significance of this contrast means that you will inevitably get the answers wrong.

Read carefully

This is one example of a ‘rule’ that has somehow become part of IELTS mythology and these restricted ways of working are causing many students to consistently choose the wrong answers. Another strongly held belief is that answers are chronological so you’ll find the answer to question 2 after question 1 etc. this is not always true and leads to a lack of common sense. It is far better to deal with the substance of the passage and also the key words in the questions to find the answer. Far from being ‘short-cuts’ these arbitrary rules simply stop you from really understanding what you are reading and being logical about the process.

So how can we move forward with reading if we stop applying these ‘rules’?

Firstly, spend more time reading and understanding text generally. Read widely. All students that I meet who have achieved high reading scores tell me that they read a lot and enjoy reading. This will also improve your vocabulary. Also think about how reading and writing are connected. How do you plan your writing? You will find if you analyse reading paragraphs that the same patterns emerge. It’s logical. Be systematic and don’t make assumptions which are external to the text – the question and text itself will tell you everything you need to know to get the right answer.

Secondly, notice linking words and other ‘helpful’ vocabulary. In the paragraph above there is a very interesting word that tells you something important – infamous- when I have used this passage with students many of them read this as ‘famous’ – which it isn’t in fact the word means famous for something bad and so straight away we know that there is a problem with this dam. Once we realise this then we can be on the lookout for why this dam is infamous, what are the problems with it and it gives us a whole different interpretation of the paragraph!!!

Here is another sentence from the passage which has caused some issues for students.

While I was there, the newspaper headlines announced the first human casualties.

A ‘Yes No Not Given’ question stated:

Many People have died as a result of the drought

The answer lies in the word ‘casualty’ – is this a synonym for fatality – which would be a death? Many students again put YES. Understanding the word casualty means that you would understand that it is not necessarily fatal, it could also mean injured. Therefore, as we don’t know the extent of the injuries and whether or not there have actually been deaths from the drought, (it is possible but we are not told) we have to answer Not Given.

A good understanding of vocabulary, the interplay between sentences, the role of linking words can all help to make sure that you get the right answer.

Finally, use common sense. A student recently was struggling to find the answer to a question. She was using key words and had chosen the correct ones in the question to find the answer. I could see that all of her key words were sitting in the first paragraph but she was frantically search in paragraph 3. I was a little puzzled and asked why she had started looking here. Because the previous answer was in paragraph 2 she told me so it must be in 3 and beyond. I asked her to have a look at paragraph 1 and immediately she found the correct answer – common sense not arbitrary ‘rules’.

If you need help with IELTS then complete this questionnaire and we can talk on Skype.

skim and scan

Question:  Do I need to skim and scan in IELTS reading? Answer: Yes you do. These are important reading skills which will help you to extract information quickly from a large body of text; this is exactly the skill that is being tested in IELTS reading.

It’s important to understand the difference between them and use each one to best effect. So here is an explanation and also not only how you can use these skills to help your IELTS reading but also how you can improve them to make your skimming and scanning faster and more effective.

Continue reading


To be honest there are no real secrets or ‘tricks’ to IELTS reading just good skill and common sense. However under the pressure of the exam (and in practice too) common sense seems to go out of the window and panic takes over. People look for short cuts or quick fixes to get it done fast and what happens is that the quick fix method becomes so overwhelming that the text and questions often fade into the background as students grab the first word they see or search endlessly inside a paragraph which cannot possibly contain the information. The answer is to step back and focus on the text and questions rather than the tricks.

Continue reading

Over-Confident yet under prepared
This IELTS student was a doctor. Salim was from Syria. He had been living in the UK for some time and was very fluent in spoken English. He had spent some time at school in the UK so his English skills were quite polished.

When I first met Salim he was about to take the test for the second time. He was worried about his reading and just wanted a lesson to go over some techniques. He was very confident about the exam and was certain that only the reading would be a problem. This was unusual as mostly it is the writing that people want to have checked. I asked him about writing but he hadn’t brought any to the lesson and said that he was fine. He was looking for an overall band of 7. Working on just one part of the exam is not something I always like to do unless students are already getting high scores in other parts, I like to make sure that all parts of the exam are on track as none of them work in isolation and the reading and listening impact on the writing and speaking. By integrating the study, the outcome in all parts is more assured. I was a little concerned that he was concentrating so much on this one part when his previous scores were not very high. Continue reading

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