IELTS Reading Tips
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.
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’.
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I love IELTS reading!! There is nothing about it that I don’t really enjoy. I love doing it and I love teaching it. I also love the fact that when I teach it most of my students have ‘blue sky’ moments when it all suddenly makes sense and their scores shoot up. This is the best thing of all.
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.
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.
Today’s topic is a thorny one and one which many students flag up as being an issue. Sometimes a little bit of thinking needs to go into these questions to weigh up the merits of each but generally if you have the right approach you can get them all correct.
Along with IELTS Writing, IELTS Reading is the area of the IELTS exam that I find most people find challenging. The amount of text to read, the number of questions and the short amount of time to do it all conspire to create something which most students feel is impossible and create panic in many.
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
I know how hard getting the score that you need in the IELTS can be. Sometimes it can feel like trudging through the freezing snow somewhere and going uphill both ways, there and back! Studying for it is hard, you wade through all of those practice tests and read essay after practice essay. You spend so many sleepless nights going over and over and practicing until you feel completely wrung out. Finally, the day of the test comes and you feel pretty confident, but then when you get your scores they are not as high as they should be! How disappointing! How could this have happened? All that practice for nothing! Continue reading
There is so much information out there about taking the IELTS test and developing your language skills. An overwhelming amount of information. It can take months or even years to go through it all and to figure out what works for you! What if there was a way that you could get focused training to hone in on the language skills that you need? What if there was a way for you to have materials, advice, and tips presented to you that have been proven to really work? What if you could complete this training and be totally prepared to conquer the IELTS in a matter of weeks-not months or years? Continue reading
You may think you have what it takes to successfully pass your IELTS exam without any extra help. But, the Reading and Writing sections of the test tend to be the two areas people find the most challenging, which is why I’ve created a course that focuses JUST on this. Continue reading