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:
- Reading ability
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
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.
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:
- At the end of that bank of questions
- At the end of that passage
- 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.
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:
- That you are doing the right things to help you improve
- 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
- You take your time to practise them – things will not happen overnight
- 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 🙂