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.
Don’t believe everything you read online
There are lots of ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’ bandied about online which are aimed at helping you to get a good score in IELTS reading. Some of these are helpful but some are not, some in fact restrict your reading skills so that you will not be able to improve your score easily. Another fact about many of these tips is that while they may help you to achieve band 5.5 or 6 (which are the most common scores in IELTS) band 7 and 8 require a much higher level of skill and not all tips and techniques will assist you in getting these.
For bands 7 and 8 a good level of reading skill is mandatory
This follows on from secret 1 above. To be sure of band 7 or 8 you have to have a high level of skill in reading and so rather than try out tips and tricks why not work on achieving good overall reading skills. This means having a very wide vocabulary, understanding the relationship between sentences, being able to match the question to the passage accurately and use key words effectively.
Everything you need to answer the question you will find in the question!
What I mean by this is that if you make the question your main focus you will find it easier to locate the answer in the text. Often I see students underlining multiple words and phrases in the text before they have even looked at the question and I always ask them why they do this? Unless you know what to look for then spending too much time on the text is wasting precious minutes.
Understand the difference between skimming and scanning and get good at these skills
You will find these words in every blog post, every website and every course book about IELTS reading. Do you know the difference? Can you use the techniques effectively to get the right answers? Skimming is reading quickly to get an overview of the text – you need this skill to get a general idea of the topic and also in questions like headings. Scanning is a skill used to find specific key words which you can then analyse more carefully to get your answer. You need to develop both skills in order to manage your time well and increase your score.
Learn vocabulary specific to particular topics
Having a broad vocabulary is a chief aim for anybody learning a language. IELTS demands, at bands 7 and 8, that you demonstrate a wide vocabulary in all parts of the test. If you have practised a lot of reading passages you will have seen similar topics coming up and although you may not have noticed it, a lot of the same vocabulary comes up too. It is worth spending some time learning these words so that should you get this topic in the exam you take you will be well prepared. As an example, in passages to do with animals the following words appear very often: prey, carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, habitat etc. The advantage of learning vocabulary in groups like this (animals) is that it is easier to remember them. You can also use them in writing and speaking and they might just come up in listening too.
Don’t spend more than 1 minute on any one question
I say this over and over to students but most of them find it hard to accept. The truth is that you have 60 minutes to do 40 questions so you cannot afford to waste time on one question. The questions (NOT the passage) will be trickier in passage three so you may need more time. So here is a typical scenario – you get stuck on question 6 you spend a few minutes, you are determined to find the answer – after all it’s only question 6 – you arrive at passage 3 your time runs out at question 32 you have to guess the rest – sound familiar? The fact is that now your score will be out of 32 so unless you get 100% correct there is only a slim chance you can reach your band 7 – it is simple mathematics. ‘It’s only question 6’ is a good reason to leave it, move on and come back later. If you adopt and practise this technique you will find that you have plenty of time J
People always tell me that they watch movies in English and listen to radio programmes such as the BBC, which are all great things to do, however, although these will help listening skills vocabulary and perhaps speaking (in a passive way) they will not really help your reading (or writing) skills. Doing more reading will help to improve your understanding of texts and also how texts fit together which will help you a lot in IELTS reading. Read stories for pleasure, read academic articles connected with your job or profession or read journals and newspapers for information, it really doesn’t matter what you choose here but try to read more regularly.
So 7 things you can implement straight away. My student did this and this is how the reading score was band 8.