The IELTS reading test lasts for sixty minutes and assesses how well you can understand the type of texts you will find in the course of your studies.
The question booklet contains three reading passages (sometimes illustrated with graphs, tables or diagrams) and each passage has accompanying questions. The texts, which tend to increase in difficulty throughout the paper, vary in length, and so does the number of questions on each passage. The passages are usually from 700 - 1000 words long for the academic module and shorter in the general training module. There is a total of about forty questions. Sometimes these come before the reading passage and sometimes after.
There is a wide range of different question types. You may be asked to:
- fill in gaps, for example in a passage of written text or in a table
- match headings to written text or to diagrams or charts
- complete sentences
- give short answers to open questions
- answer multiple-choice questions
Sometimes you will need to give one word, sometimes a short phrase and sometimes simply a letter, a number or symbol.
It is important that you control the time on each reading passage. If you spend too long on one, you may not leave yourself time to complete the others. This is true of individual questions too. You will have to work very quickly; if you cannot do a question, leave it and go on to the next. When sixty minutes have finished you will have to stop writing immediately.
How to do it
1. You must identify what the question requires, find the information quickly and answer accurately. You will not have time to read every word of the passage slowly and carefully and should not try to do this.
This means you must learn to read quickly and efficiently. The first thing to do is to survey the passage, to look over it very very quickly, to see what it is about in very general terms. Knowing the general subject will help you to look for detailed information later.
2. Afterwards you will have to analyse the questions. Ask yourself 'What is the purpose of this question?'. (Is it asking about the general theme? about a time? an activity?) Knowing what exactly the question is asking will help you to find the answer quickly. This also means that you must read it carefully to see what form the answer should be in (one word? three words? a number?)
3. When you have analysed the questions, you need to go back to the text to look for the answers. Do not read every word and do not worry if you do not understand everything. Remember you are reading for a purpose. Be clear about what information you need to find and just look for that information. You will need to do this quickly.
4. Finally you must allow yourself a short period of time for checking your answers. Look again at any answers you are not sure of. Read all the instructions again and make sure you have followed them exactly.