7 Tips for IELTS Reading : Nobody Told You About

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Tips for IELTS Reading

Today, relying on old tips to find answers for the IELTS reading test isn’t enough.

Although getting a higher band score is everyone`s target, it’s not the real purpose of the IELTS reading test.

Pop quiz: What is the real purpose of the IELTS reading test?

Best Answer: To test your reading comprehension skill.

Now, you can’t typically answer all questions just by reading the passage, at least not for most questions.

IELTS reading passages are  more substantial and more sophisticated than those you are used to read from high school and college.

However, what you can do is improve your comprehension skills—even if you have to do it in the 60-minute time frame.

Ten years ago, you could get a decent band score just by mastering the well-known technique called “Skimming & Scanning.”

But now, IELTS test takers are getting delicate – you must understand the meaning of the passage to find the right answer.

No more tricks and I don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon.

People from all over the word are stumbling on IELTS as the test is going popular year after year.

And everyone is struggling with the reading test.

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That old shortcut tricks to find answers won’t collect much of anything other than wrong answers these days.

As a candidate, though, you can evolve with the times, and your tactics evolve too.

Earlier, you began to use skimming, scanning and several speed reading strategies to read and answer the passage. These are called strategies to score high in the IELTS reading …well…they help to find answers.

And it worked.

But now, almost everyone is applying them in the test & it actually work in some extend.

If you`re opting for any band score little higher than 6.5; using those tips for IELTS reading isn’t something special, two things can happen.

Either you won’t get the desired band score or you end up with a very low score, being unsuccessful, you may lose interest in IELTS or re-take it again.

The most successful candidate uses advance reading strategies that are a step above everyone else’s.

Yes, it takes some time and effort, but raising your band score can open a new horizon- like higher education or immigration opportunity- in upcoming years.

It takes some advance skill and knowledge to become a high-end reader in IELTS; which is what I’m going to teach you in this post.

By the end of it, you will know how to:

  • Understand the passage with emotion
  • Skyrocket your comprehension skills with specific tactics
  • Take your reading habit in the way beyond average candidates

While the guidelines described below are listed sequentially, you can typically apply most of them simultaneously.

You may feel awkward at first, and have to practice them very consciously the first few times. 

But they will quickly become habits, and you will notice the difference—in what you “see” in a reading, and the confidence with which you approach to answer questions.

Reading Tips #1: Engage intellectually with the passage

One of the hardest parts of being a good reader is to engage with the passage with emotion and intellect. 

Even when you think, the title and subject matter of the passage is not appealing to you.

IELTS reading passages comprise subject matters from different academic backgrounds: science, technology, social welfare, psychology, economics, engineering etc.

If you come from engineering academic background, then a passage on child psychology may not interest you.

For the sake of an example, let`s look at the passage below from Cambridge IELTS 2 (Official examination papers from University of Cambridge).

Can you build an emotional attitude towards this passage where you haven`t read anything yet in the psychology field?

You can`t simply read and extract any information from this passage if you emotionally reject to read it at first sight.

Without mental attachment, you will not find any motivation to read the passage.

This careless behavior will, in turn, bring the poor band score. You need to engage and connect with the text and evaluate it to get the most answers correct.

So, somehow you need to build a positive attitude towards the passage, you need to like it.

Let`s go through some methods of how you can love to read an IELTS passage:

Method #1

One effective method to like this is to imagine that you need to read this passage just once in a lifetime. You need to read it for the sake of IELTS. When you get the high band score, you don’t have to encounter this exam (boring) again.

It may sound so pessimistic, but if you have such a mind setting, it will help.

Method #2

Can you remember the movie called "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". This is a typical Hollywood movie where you can identify the good guys vs bad guys; where good guy won the last battle. 

The story is always same in most movies of the world where "good guys" always win.

It is a general human psychology to see the final win of GOOD after a long battle.

That`s the reason you love to see a movie- wait to see the GOOD to win. 

You can build the same attitude while you read the IELTS passage- read to see the well-being. 

Because movies are the visual presentation of text in celluloid and so is not different from IELTS reading passage.

The thing about IELTS passages is that they give you a view of an inner world that's not on the movie.

Look at this typical IELTS reading passage where you see the Good and Bad side by side.

In this passage, you can identify the words: People or Consumers as “good” side of the article and words like Politicians or Company as “bad” signals. 

When your eyes go over these words, you can ask yourself “That`s fine! Let`s see what happen next”.

Method #3

Do you know people who read often are smarter than who do not read at all.

Reading makes you sharp and insightful; enhance your ability to detect meaningful patterns from the environment and solve problems quickly.

The lesson you learn from reading passages of IELTS reading test can be helpful to solve your real life problems- not only the questions of the test.

So, for the sake of overall benefit, you need to feel good about reading IELTS passages. Apart from practice test books, you can also go through several online materials like this.

Reading Tips #2: Identify the Tone of the Passage

Research shows that IELTS candidates comprehend better when they can grasp the main idea of the passage at the beginning.

IELTS Reading Comprehension passages include topics from a variety of fields, including arts, sciences, social sciences, etc.

Understating of these scholarly essays demands you get familiar with the type of information you’re presented with.

You need to know first what subject areas the passage is covering. Is it a fiction, a scientific or a historical one?

More than 50% of the time, the main idea of a passage is stated in the title or first sentence of the paragraph- briefing you what to expect and act as a signpost to connect with further details.

When the main idea is not directly stated in the title or the first few sentences, it is said to be implied. 

Which means, main idea or topic sentence comes on occasion anywhere in the paragraph.

In that case, just read the opening and closing statement of each paragraph and ask yourself what the whole passage is about.

In the above example, you cannot find the main idea of the passage from the title: “Spoken Corpus comes to Life” or from the first few sentences of the first paragraph. But, eventually, you can find it in the first sentence of the second paragraph- Where it says: Spoken English comes to life by including them in Dictionaries.

Still skeptical about the importance of recognizing the tone, style, attitude, or perspective of  IELTS reading passages?

As a matter of fact, you can see this skill is sometimes tested by direct questions in the reading test like below.

By asking what the author's tone, in this example, a question tests your ability to analyze an author's voice or method. 

That`s why, make sure you develop this tone interpretation skill by through practice before exam day.

Reading Tips #3: Link with your personal knowledge

Can you quickly read the following letters?


Not done yet? Fine. 

Give up then, because it really does take too long.

But let’s make it easier by grouping the same string of letters like this:


Easier, right? Just five little “words” to read. 

Nope. Still too hard and still takes too much time.

Well, what if we group the letters like this:


Wow, what a difference! The letters still make up five words, but these words are so much easier to remember than the previous ones. They’re made up of the same letters, in the same order, and in the same number of “words,” but only the last grouping is different. 

And you know why?

Because all you know is:

  • UPS: A renowned parcel service.
  • FBI: Intelligence service of the United States (you may know it from Hollywood movies)
  • JFK : International Airport in New York (Your friend told you the name after visiting US)
  • NASA : US space program agency (You`ve read about it in a science fiction)
  • NATO: An alliance of countries from North America and Europe (You know it from newspaper or news channels)

Now these word groups are representing a meaningful experience from your life.

This is what makes the huge difference between the time it takes to perceive text and the time it takes to conceptually process it.

In reading the writing of others, you are not interpreting the writers experience, but deliberately unfolding your own experience.

That`s why you need to view the IELTS reading passages through the lens of your own experience.

The understanding of words and ideas of the passage is always shaped by what you already know about the particular world you are living in.

Expert IELTS reader makes connections to the texts in the passage with life experience derived from books, newspaper, television programs and films. They use previous concepts, ideas and theories to interpret the present information of the passage.

You can do the same.

This `life to text’ and `text to life` moves, enable you to understand the passage. It also permits you to make an accurate response to the question.

For an expert level IELTS candidate, reading goes beyond the text says. It involves reflecting the original meaning of the passage and analyzing each paragraph or concepts in the passage.

The best way to become such an expert level reader is to expand your reading materials.

Do not just rely on the IELTS practice books to expand your knowledge. Extend it further by building an online reading habit around diverse academic subjects. 

You can keep a note of everything relevant you have read, either in print or online, as you will need this information later for the perfect understanding of IELTS reading passages.

Reading Tips #4: Simplify the Details 

You`ll often find the IELTS reading passage involve more complex language-hard to read.

Sometimes it can be difficult for you to understand the meaning of long sentences.

Actually, certain kinds of sentence structure affect the readability of a passage

It may not be for the length of sentence, but for the use of technical or unknown words which may be unknown to you.

Look at the example below where you can see how the use of passive, compound & complex sentence structure affect the readability of the passage.

How can you solve this kind of difficulties?

Just follow the rules below:

Rule #1

First of all, it is not necessary for you to understand everything in a reading passage.

All you need to do is to answer the questions.

Then you may not need to comprehend those difficult parts of the passage in answering the questions.
So, just skip these difficult parts to save your time and energy.

Rule #2

Second of all, you can simplify long sentences by avoiding passive, complex or compound structure.

We already did it in the previous example.

Let`s do it again.

Unsimplified: Yet a host of factors pushes employers to hire fewer workers for more hours and, at the same time, compels workers to spend more time on the job. 

Simplified: Employers hire few workers to spend more time on the job for a number of factors.

Unsimplified: To make political decisions about the extent and type of forestry in a region, it is important to understand the consequences of those decisions. 

Simplified: The decision about forestry in a region must consider the consequences.

Want to know, how I`ve done this?

It`s simple. At first, identify the subject of the overly long sentence. In these examples, the subjects are “Employers” & “Decision”. 

Next, ask yourself what is the particular action on this subject mentioned in the passage (object).

Here, employers hire workers & Decision were made about the extend of forestry in a region .

Putting these subject and object together, you`ll find the simplified version of the sentence.

Rule #3

Third of all, you can make lexical simplification in sentence comprehension.

Lexical Simplification is the task of substituting words with easier alternatives so that the text as a whole becomes easier to comprehend.

In fact, what makes a sentence difficult to understand can usually be attributed to one of two factors or both: the lexical difficulty (i.e. difficult words and phrases) and/or the syntactic difficulty (i.e. complex grammatical constructs). 

I`ve discussed how to overcome the grammatical difficulties in the second step.  What about handling with lexical ones?

For example, take the following sentence:

In many cultures, long hair is a symbol of sexuality. Short hair symbolizes self-control, while a shaved head often indicates celibacy.
It is fairly clear that the rarely used verb ‘celibacy’ is difficult to understand for most of us.

Do you know what the word means? 

Maybe in a wider context you could guess the meaning (“celibacy” could be something like “self-control”), however here it is fairly difficult to work out.  

You`ll stumble upon these kinds of words more frequently in IELTS exam. 

Like the above example, it`s possible to guess something about a new word. But you can`t guess the exact meaning-which doesn`t matter to understand the meaning in the long run.

So, be patient with unfamiliar words.

All you have to do is to understand the whole paragraph. You can do it without knowing the unfamiliar words.

Reading Tips #5: Built a relationship 

Evan said: I tried so hard but just got 4.5 in IELTS reading.

Do you find this comment familiar?

Many candidates like Evan freeze in the reading, believing the passages are too complicated.

But, there is a solution!

You can understand a complicated passage by linking ideas/the paragraphs together.

In this process, as you go through the passage, you should always ask yourself- what is the relation to this part of the passage to everything else I have just read?

Remember, there are some universal structures of IELTs reading passages.

  • In the beginning, the first few sentences of every passage will give you a clue what the passage is about. 
  • As you go further, you`ll experience the writer is explaining the topic of the passages with examples, steps, logics, cause & effect.
All you have to aware of these various possible relationships. This relationship will help you to understand the passage.

Look at the following examples from Cambridge IELTS 4 student book (the key phrases are colored for quick understanding).

In this passage the writer describes how blind people use symbols to describe objects. You can see the writer sites an experimental example to support this view.

Do not afraid to link sentences like this example in your IELTS test. 

In fact, you are linking sentences for many years-and you are doing it right now-as you read this blog post.

Reading Tips #6: Pay Attention to Breaks

IELTS passages are generally divided into several paragraphs to make it easy for you to read. 

Paragraphs are kind of BREAKS of an essay- work as a partition of certain units of thought.

Generally, a series of sentences are organized in a paragraph to represent a single topic.

Imagine an IELTS reading passage without paragraph breaks -you will be lost in the jungle of information to grasp the meaning of the passage and furthermore find answers.

On the top of that, IELTS reading passages are collected from academic papers-with longer paragraphs. 

You may find it difficult to understand it as too much information clutter together in a long complex paragraph.

In this case, you can break your reading by topic and body sentences to improve your understanding.

Follow the steps below to do this.

First: Identify the topic sentence

Each paragraph represents a single notion of idea which is called the topic sentence.

The topic sentence of a paragraph usually tells us about the larger picture the paragraph is going to demonstrate.

Look at this example:

Most often, you find the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph-makes it easy for you to recognize it.

But, sometimes you may need to go through the middle or end of the paragraph to find it. Some passages can also imply the topic without ever mentioning a topic sentence.

That’s why it’s often tricky to locate the topic sentence- which is usually “more general” and talks about many things (“the personal consumer and organizational consumer” in the example).

Second : Read the body sentences

A paragraph also contains sufficient functional sentences to support the topic sentence.

Let's try this example:

The topic sentence describes two entities: Personal and Organizational consumer. You`ll obviously think: What do this mean?

That is why; the body sentences exactly explain these two types of consumer- giving the answer to your question.

That`s the exact spirit of a paragraph- giving & explaining a topic. All you have to do is find the topic and read it`s explanation to grasp the flow of ideas.

In this way, you`ll find it easy to read any long and complex paragraphs.

But, sometimes you`ll find the main ideas or topics are changing within a paragraph- making you confused.

In these cases, pay attention to linkers- they help you identify the transitional point of ideas within a paragraph.

In other words, transitional words, act as signposts that will guide you to the change of topic like below:

  • Cause-and-effect words -- as a result, therefore
  • Time words -- meanwhile, before
  • Contrast words -- in contrast, conversely, however
  • Addition words -- also, in addition
  • Emphasis words -- more important, remember
These words in sentences guide you smoothly from the topic of the preceding part of the paragraph into the topic of the next part of the paragraph. For example:

In this passage, the word “However” works as a signpost to give two opposite views of using phosphorus to produce fire matches. 

Before “However”- the part of the passage simply admires the use of phosphorus. But, later it bans the use of it- and “However”-is used to represent these contrasting ideas in one paragraph. 

Reading Tips #7: Predict the Future

IELTS reading passage is a jigsaw puzzle.

You need to fit all parts of the passage in your mind to understand the big picture.

To fit all information together, You`ll simply lose to the details in a passage.

But, most of the questions come from these details.

For this reason, you have to predict what you are going to read as your eyes pass over the passage.

Then, you need to match your anticipation with reality to make some sense of them.

You are actually using this technique on many occasions without knowing that you are using this technique

You`ll remember when you saw something in a movie-like someone is approaching a car-probably he will drive it (your anticipation)-yes? All you have to wait to see if he drives it or not.

Using this natural technique is easy while watching a movie.

But, what about IELTS reading test? Can you use this technique here as well?

Let`s use it while reading a passage from the Cambridge Practice Test for IELTS -1.

The first paragraph says about technological changes of architectural style in 19th centuries. So, you expect the next paragraphs should highlight on "technology".

The second paragraph exactly describes these "latest technology"- which are steel, glass and concrete,

Later, it says "technology" creates new problems like a slum. So, you are expecting to find-how this new problem was resolved by architecture.

The third paragraph states that “Modernism” movement of architecture actually resolve these odd conditions created by industrialization.

Like this example, predicting what you`ll about to read is helpful in unpacking the whole "story"-even though the passage contains too much information. 

It is also easier to understand the original “frame” of the passage as you apply this prediction technique.


The great fallacy of the IELTS reading is that it’s about the words themselves.

You’ll be fine and dandy as long as you know the meaning of those words and grasp how they make a meaningful sentence altogether.


As a reader, you`ll not struggle with words, but with yourself.

Ideas, emotions, logic – those are the real building blocks of great reading, and if you’re to understand them, first you have to understand yourself.

Every IELTS reading passage you ever encounter  will engage and challenge you to understand them. Assuming you’re willing to try, of course.

And most IELTS candidates aren’t. They’ll read the steps above and think, “Maybe, I’ll  try it someday.” But they won’t.

They’ll go back to their usual reading habit and forget all about it.

I’m hoping you’re different. I’m hoping you’re one of the few that’s willing to work on this and get a handsome band score.

I’m hoping you’ll one day read with such power the words will appear easy peasy upon the page.

Will you be one of them?


  1. Bravo!!

    I could simply not help myself getting drawn into reading this till completion. So simply put and effective. I hope I put these strategies in use to improve my general reading habits.

    Excellent article. Kudos to the author.

  2. Really Awesome tips have provided here ...

  3. Thank you! Namaste!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


  6. What do means in this line. I never understand. In fact, you are linking sentences for many years-and you are doing it right now-as you read this blog post. Please explain

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