Struggling with IELTS Reading? Here`s is Only 5 Things to Make it Work!

Friday, February 26, 2016

ielts reading tips

Are you worried about your IELTS reading test?

May be you do.

Because, you have to read and answer total 3 different passages in 60 minutes.

The total word containing these passages would be about 2150-2750.

So, you are supposed to read staggering 2500 words (average) in 60 minutes.

It may sounds easy. But, these passages are written in academic context and are not easy to read.

On the top of it, time is your great enemy in reading test.

You have to read and re-read (while answering the questions) these 3 passages within 1 hour limitation.

Moreover, you also need to give at least 39 correct answer of 40 questions to get a 9 band score.

Sounds impossible?

Keep reading this post about IELTS reading tips and I will share step by step things you need to do to overcome the impossible burden of reading.

As I said, you are suppose to read 3 long passages and answer 40 questions in just 60 minutes.

Well it seems, time constraints is a great enemy of IELTS reading test, I’m going to show you precisely what you need to do exactly to read and answer fast.

What You Will Learn

You’re going to see ‘behind the curtains’ of how you can plan to read all passages, along with everything need to give correct answer to all questions:

  • How to get whole picture of the passage in short time
  • How to use your human shortcomings  to understand the passage
  • Advanced guide to comprehend each passage faster
  • How to speed read and grasp the meaning of the passage at the same time.

So let’s start at the very beginning.

The very first question would be....

Why you are struggling with Reading?

It`s a surprising question.

But I`ll tell you why you are struggling.

Resource Link:

Our new home-preparation book--How Not To Fear IELTS Writingcracked the most effective shortcut techniques of IELTS writing preparation that many students had  been struggling for years to find. Click here for free download

Keep reading.

It is now difficult to imagine a world without reading. We are reading books, newspaper, websites everyday..

Although Sumerian invented Writing around 3200 BC; most people of the world could able to read only 600 years ago.

In fact, the popularity of reading exploded after in the invention of printing press in 1400 AD.

Since then the amount of reading material available continued to grow and the ability to read faster became increasingly desirable.

At present, we are living in the era of information technology revolution.  Information is no longer expensive or difficult to access.

Due to the massive amount of information available by the internet, reading skills are becoming ever more important.

This means that regardless of the issues you may seem to develop reading skills for your IELTS exam...............the new era you are living now requires your ability to read.

As our history of reading is only 600 years old, we are still struggling to read and comprehend faster.

The evaluation  (genetic & behavioral) still continues and may take a mature stage in near future.

But, for now, most of the people even in USA have reading skill of 5th grade level.

Can you imagine why we are running behind?

Here are some sad reading statistics.

Although the numbers are staggering, they are unfortunately not that shocking :

US Population Reading Habit

  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college students never read another book after college.
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been to a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.
  • Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased. 
OK. That`s the situaition in USA.

What about you?

You can now simply imagine why you are struggling with reading IELTS passages.

However, with regular training you can able to increase your reading speeds from an average of 150 words per minute (5th grade level) to an average of 400 per minute (the post-graduate student’s level).

Having said that......

Should You Read Faster for IELTS?

Let me first ask you a question.

How much time does it take you to read 3 IELTS reading passages?

Remember that the average adult reads 200 words per minute.

At this speed you should take 2500/200=12 minutes to finish all passages.

However, you are allowed full 60 minutes to read and answer all passages.

Sounds impressive? Just 12 miniutes reading in 60 minutes exam.

What do you need to worry about?

But, how long would it take you to increase reading speed to two hundred words per minute?

Actually it is not a very difficult task to reach that speed where a 5th grade student can read at 150 words per minute rate.

There are some popular speed reading tricks floating around us during past few decades:

  • Trying not to verbalize
  • Widening your eye span
  • Using your finger as a pacer
  • Making fewer eye stops per line
  • Practicing moving your eyes faster
You may have get benefited from using these techniques. You can “read” at astonishing speeds—but the fact is, you usually don’t understand what you’ve read in this process.

So, besides this time debate, there is another part of the equation, which is- a comprehension skill.

What you really want is to be able to understand what the author is saying in the passage in the least amount of time.

So, you`re not just trying to finish the passage faster; you are trying to collect ideas, to collect experiences, and to collect information and knowledge.

So the real question is…

“How can you understand faster?”

Here, the key word is “understand fast”; not “read fast”

To find this answer, you need to know:

  • How to increase the speed of transferring ideas from the text to your brain?
  • How to pay more attention to your reading?
If you only want to know how to understand faster, I can tell you in just a few seconds.

Here is the list of 5 ultimate IELTS reading tips (method) to transform your skills from band 5 to band 9 level.

Method #1: Find Meaningful Chunks

Learning to read simply involves learning how to recognize words.

But words are practically meaningless without the context of their surrounding words.

Words may have definitions, but real meaning is determined by the way multiple words are put together.

In fact, the information from a single word is so small and vague that it is usually difficult for your minds to know what to do with it before we connect it with its neighboring words.

That`s why a meaningful word-group though is much easier and quicker to imagine and understand.

As an example, consider this sentence:

“I don`t know how to read faster”.

You normally view this as word by word, "I — don`t — know — how — to — read — faster".

But, this sentence is actually better understood as clumps of ideas, "I  don`t  know — how to — read faster", where each clump adds a specific and meaningful block of information to the sentence.

The meaningful pieces of text could be called “phrases,” “word-groups,” “clauses,” “units of meaning,” or “thought-units.”

But regardless of the label, they consist of any groups of words which represent whole ideas you can visualize or conceptualize.

Do you get this?

When you first read a passage in your IELTS reading test, this is the first thing you need to do – identify the group of words that represent the whole ideas of the paragraph.

For instance, look at this example taken from Cambridge IELTS 4 student book ( Tests-1, Reading Passage 1)

Adults and children are frequently confronted with statements about the alarming rate of loss of tropical rainforests. For example, one graphic illustration to which children might readily relate is the estimate that rainforests are being destroyed at a rate equivalent to one thousand football fields every forty minutes – about the duration of a normal classroom period. In the face of the frequent and often vivid media coverage, it is likely that children will have formed ideas about rainforests – what and where they are, why they are important, what endangers them – independent of any formal tuition. It is also possible that some of these ideas will be mistaken.

The original paragraph has 107 words. It will take you at least 1 minute to read.

Now let`s read it again (only looking on meaningful word groups).

You will read like:

Adults and children — confronted — about— loss of tropical rainforests. Rainforests- are destroyed —at a rate equivalent to — one thousand football fields every forty minutes. Children formed ideas— about rainforests  — why — they are important, what endangers them . Some— ideas will be mistaken.
The total word count is now 42 words.

So, it will take only 30 seconds to read this paragraph instead of 1 minute.

That`s a huge difference between this two reading technique  saves half of your time.
When you apply this technique, the actual number of words will be almost irrelevant when you concentrate in finding Meaningful Chunks.

But wait, there’s more!

How can you identify meaningful word groups from a large number of texts.

The answer is simple: by identifying main subject & object the paragraph.

The meaningful portions will tend to jump out at you like friendly faces in a crowd.

Do you forget what is subject & object means?

Let`s take this example: “I read book”.

Here, “I” is the subject; “book” is the object of the sentence.

In our previous example, you can identify “Children” as the subject and “Rain forest” as the object.

All you have to do now is to find these two words in the passage and look around the words around them to find meaningful word chunks.

So, you have to concentrate on finding the meaningful word-groups while practice IELTS reading passages.

Also be aware that even though some word-groups may be more obvious than others, all these clumps of information will be easier to see when you are actually actively seeking ideas to visualize.

Trying to learn this skill for the first time can be mentally overwhelming.

But although there is practice required, I promise you`ll not waste your time with a bunch of strange and impractical method of practice.

Method #2:  Visualize information

Do you know, "Human brain can understand Visual information 3000 Times More Faster Than Words".

ielts reading-visual learning

Sounds overwhelming?

Our primitive stone Age ancestors didn’t have to remember things like lists of facts, or names, dates, and numbers. All they have to do is to recognize the edible plants and animals at a glance and collect it.

Since reading was only developed a few thousand years ago, perhaps our human brain still does not evolved yet.  That means, we are reading with prehistoric brain- good at recognizing visuals than words.

Need a practical prove? Then, here it is.

There is almost 98% possibility that you imagine something like the following picture when you read the word “rainforest” in our earlier example.

Similarly when you read the phrase “Rainforests- are destroyed”, you might imagine like next picture.

That means somehow your human brain is constantly converting words into pictures when you read any passage.

This visualizing doesn’t interfere with thinking (reading speed) about what you are reading, because it is thinking about what you are reading.

Visualizing is just your own natural way of rapidly understanding large amounts of information in a short time.

So, use it.

This does not mean stopping at each sentence to draw a detail image.

Instead, think more in terms of rapid movie frames flashing through your mind, each idea going by in an instant.

Some of these ideas are complex, because, you can`t simply imagine every “meaningful chunk of words” as a picture,

In that case, you have to rely on conceptual visualizing.

Without any visual image, this type of information requires more imagination and mental effort to process.

For example, let`s think about what comes in mind in reading following sentence.

“Rainforests- are destroyed —at a rate equivalent to — one thousand football fields every forty minutes.”

Rainforest destruction Rate = 1000 field ÷ 40 min

Here, you`re conceptualizing the sentence with the help of a mathematical equation.

In this way, using Mental Imagery/Conceptualization help you to understand and remember what you`ve read.

But although conceptualizing information takes more effort, it is one of the abilities which make you uniquely human! Chimps, for example, cannot effectively conceptualize complex information, meaning they have very little ability to reason about unobservable things.

However, it takes practice to learn to “see” ideas as you read, and at first this process may slow your reading.

You need to practice this "conceptualizing" and "visualizing" for IELTS reading passages regularly.

You`ll see your reading come more alive with the course of time and you`ll see the larger conceptual nature of the ideas you are reading.

That means, you`ll reach an autonomous stage when you can read with accuracy and efficiency with much less concentration.

Method #3: Built a Logical Sequence

You know the 80/20 Rule? How 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities?

That means, 80% of your normal reading activities are vague.

If you want to accelerate your reading and comprehension skills… you should eliminate most of them, tweak a couple, and get awesome results?

One of this time killing activities you`re doing in this 80% stage is called regression.

Regression is the process of re-reading text that you’ve already read.  It goes by other names including back-skipping, re-reading, and going back over what you’ve read.

This habit can eventually waste about a third of every hour you spend reading.  Yes that’s right – about 20 minutes out of every hour!

What happens when you take a different approach?

Regression is more likely cause of reduced comprehension skills which interferes with the understanding and flow of passage meaning.

It happens like, your chain of comprehension becomes broken when you skip a piece of information, and you go back and read the information again.

But, as you aware of now, you need to stop doing this pointless thing which would not actually help you during IELTS reading test.

One of the effective ways to do this is to notice connections among Paragraphs.

This understanding of connections will increase your reading efficiency by encouraging you to concentrate on the conceptual thought-units rather than trying to memorize the words and details.

All paragraphs of a reading passage exhibit some kind of Information Attachment.

Each of these meaningful paragraphs will attach to the prior and next paragraphs, and your comprehension will depend on these bonds.

Therefore, your reading should be a smooth stream of comprehension, with each piece fitting into its neighbors in a continuous flow of information in context.

At first, you`ll become slower as you collect this context and then accelerate as the information becomes more meaningful and the larger ideas emerge.

Regression will stop automatically when you conceptually understand the ideas and make meaningful connections to the information you are reading.

Look at the screenshot below where I`ve highlighted the meaningful chunks, conceptualize each paragraph and find a logical flow among these 3 paragraphs.

Logical Flow-IELTS Reading

In a nutshell,

  • The first paragraph talks about “the students’ misconception about the destruction of rain forest”.
  • The second paragraph talks about “these misconceptions can be corrected”.
  • The third paragraph says “School teachers should take strategies to overcome these misconceptions among students”.

You can see how the logic flows spontaneously; like:

Students misconception>> need correction>> by the school teachers.
Beware that, it takes discipline and effort to conceptually build a logical flow of what you are reading in the IELTS test.

But, it will take your reading come more alive as you begin seeing the larger conceptual nature of the ideas you are reading.

So, instead of the brute force method of simply trying to push yourself to read faster, real reading power can be achieved by concentrating on techniques to learn to read text as a flow of ideas rather than a string of words.

You need to write down these ideas by the side of each paragraph (as I have written down in the example above).

This is very important while reading IELTS passages which I am going to elaborate next.

Method #4:  Concentrate on what matters most

You have just finish reading the whole passage and write down the gist of each paragraph in the question paper.

Now it`s the time to read the passage again to find each answer.

As I have just told you this (reading again), you are thinking like: “a-ha..” to “oh shit”.

How come I can re-read the passage to find the answer of every single question within such a short period?

Suppose you have average 13 questions to answer for each of 3 reading passage (13*3=39).

Say, each passage needs 5 minutes to read with my above mentioned techniques.

Then, you need (13*5) = 65 minutes to re-read each passage to answer all 13 questions.

It is not an impossible task, but the time limitation of 60 minutes would not allow you to do so.

So, what you can do now?

Here, you can apply the technique called skimming:  concentrate on what matters most.

Skimming means to skip the reading quickly.

It helps you to skip those areas of the passage where there is least probability to find the answer of question.

For successful skimming you have to first identify what you are looking for- answers.

But to find an answer, you cannot find the exact sentence (as it appears in the questions) in the passage.

So, what you can do is to identify keywords in questions that give a hint about what you need to find in the passage.

Wonder which words of the questions can be keywords?

Key words are the nouns and the verbs of the sentence.

By looking for these key words in IELTS reading passage, you will quickly grasp the answer of the question.

As for example, look at question below from our previous IELTS reading passage about “rainforest destruction”.

Keywords-IELTS Reading

Look at the keywords I`ve identifies here

  • Children
  • Mistaken Views (misconceptions)
  • Pure Science

Now looking the summary of each paragraphs (at the right side), you can easily identify that the question comes from second paragraph as the summary indicates the word “misconception”

Now, you have identified the particular paragraph (the second paragraph) where you need to look for the answer.

That does not mean, you have to read every word again to find the answer.

Because , if you read the whole 92 word of the 2nd paragraph, it is going to take a long time.

But, time is shorter in IELTS test.

In this case, you have to rely on the technique of scanning.

With this technique, you do not have to read and understand every word to answer the questions.

Just look for the keywords you have identified earlier.

For example, in the first sentence of 2nd paragraph:  you can find the keyword “pure science” where is says: “students harbor misconception about pure curriculum science”

So, the answer to the question is “TRUE”.

In this way, you can then go back and re-read the sections that are of relevance to each questions. At the end, just find the answer by scanning the relevant section of the passage.

Method #5:  Just Focus

Knowledge is not power—but actually it is only potential power.

Power requires effort. All reading and comprehension takes mental effort, and trying to read and comprehend faster will obviously require an increased effort.

Most of this additional effort will be directed to paying more attention; which involves an increase in concentration and focus.

In the 1960s, psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner described the three stages of acquiring a new skill.

The first phase is the "cognitive stage," wherein you consciously think about the task.

The second phase is the "associative stage," wherein you improve your accuracy and efficiency and the task requires much less concentration. The third phase is the "autonomous stage,”

ielts reading skill building

This is true whether the skill is typing, driving, playing a sport… or practicing IELTS reading.

This final “automatic stage” can also be considered a plateau, because once you’re good enough to no longer think about a skill, the skill no longer improves.

This is exactly what happens for Band 8 scorers in IELTS reading; they accidently reach the plateau and no longer practice.

Some few candidates, however, manage to surpass this plateau—continuing to improve and becoming true experts in reading and score 9 in the reading test.

Because, somehow they find a way to avoid the plateau; this “way” is the process of deliberate practice.

These top achievers (Band 9) make a mental setting to consciously stay away from that third, "good enough" stage.

That means if you want to achieve band 9 in reading, you should avoid self satisfaction- continue restless practice up to the exam day.

But remember, practice does not make you perfect. Only focused practice makes you perfect.

“Focus” is tuning out internal or external distractions in order to narrow your attention to the IELTS reading material.

Increased focus is like looking at the passage through a magnifying glass, by avoiding any distractions.

Here are the few typical examples of distractions:

  • You are watching TV  while reading
  • You are listening a song while reading
  • You are in a hurry to go somewhere while you practice IELTS reading.
All these additional activities will lose your concentration and reading may seem challenging.

Training your brain to handle complex information of IELTS reading passage is a challenging task.

So, do not engage your brain in other activities while you read. New discoveries about the neuroplasticity of the brain have demonstrated that the brain actually restructures itself to meet new cognitive demands while we make focused attention into something.

That’s why you need to practice with focus to your brain to handle more and more information faster from the IELTS reading passages.


Remember the days when you learn to read in Grade 1. You learn the letters and then also learned how the letters made different words. .

It was all pretty confusing at first—a lot for a little kid to take in—but eventually you learned to read.

It didn`t happen overnight-but instead it happened gradually-you began to recognize words at a glance.

At that point, reading became automatic; you could read words without thinking about how you did it.

That’s about as far as your reading education went; you could read words.

Today you’re no longer reading about bed time stories.

You’ve got a lot more to read now, and that reading has gotten a lot more sophisticated and complicated in your IELTS exam.

It’s frustrating to take forever to read a single passage of IELTS reading test, and it’s embarrassing to give wrong answer for most questions after such struggle.

All you have to do is finding word-groups, visualizing, sequencing, concentrating and focusing.

With regular training on these five techniques, you`ll be able to increase your reading speeds to comprehend and answer the passage at lightning speed—the difference between the band 9 and band 5 candidate.

I know the lament: "Who’s got time to follow these 5 method sequentially?" Of course we’re all so busy, and reading takes SO MUCH TIME!

But, for the sack of your IELTS test, you need to go through this long practice stage to score higher in the final exam.


  1. So appreciated! Reading has been always my major concern in the IELTS. Though I am used to reading books and articles, I find it pretty challenging to get he right answers in the exam because of the time limits and the tricky questions. Your guidelines are so useful

    1. Thanks Siham. Even though you find this guide useful, I am opting to publish more useful reading guide soon.

  2. Great article! Still struggling but i will not quit practicing

    1. Glad to hear it, Max. Hit me up if you have any questions.

  3. Great ideas , practicing the way you elaborated and hoping to achieve required band score.

  4. Thanks for your feedback, Paruthi. You’re right: this is the type of stuff that will help you to hype the reading band score this year.

  5. amazing i must appreciate the techniques given by you for all of us these techniques will surely help to score band 8 or 9.

  6. There is one question as abouve you mention 13*3=39 then can you pls tell we should first read question which will take at least 3 min then whole passgae it will take good 9 to 10 mins then need to go to do my question nut i just have now 7 mins only . how to start then??

    1. You are absolutely right Disha. Reading questions first is an absurd idea where you`ve no clue about the subject matter (the passage).Therefore, use that 3 minutes for reading the passage just to have a bird's eye view on the subject matter of each paragraph of the passage. Then, you can roughly guess where to look for to find answers of any specific question.

  7. Great technique. Thank you so much for sharing. I will follow these technique to improve my reading skill.

  8. A bunch of superb strategies! Thanks a lot for sharing.

  9. Thank you so much for these great ideas. I was struggling for Ielts reading...

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  11. Im really amazed.. excellent and useful grateful