IELTS Reading Skills

IELTS Reading: Essential Skills and Strategies

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgBy IELTS Academic, bringing you success in IELTS™ and Academic English with weekly free content and IELTS Practice Tests available worldwide.

Do you get frustrated when you can’t understand the meaning of a sentence in the IELTS Academic Reading module? In fact, you can still get a high score in IELTS Reading without fully understanding a passage and all the words it contains! Mastering some basic skills and strategies is the key to success in IELTS Reading. Make sure you’re doing these six things.

Looking for a basic introduction to IELTS Reading first? Read IELTS Reading: Introduction.


Skilled readers quickly ‘get the gist’ (understand the main idea) of a passage by using speed-reading, sometimes called skimming. They glance quickly at titles and headings to identify the general topic. They know where to look for the writer’s main idea: near the end of the introduction and the beginning of the conclusion. When reading body paragraphs, they stop as soon as they understand the main idea. They don’t bother reading supporting sentences such as examples and quotations. If they see a word they don’t recognise, they don’t stop to consider what it means. Instead, their eyes are constantly moving across the text. This is skimming. Use skimming techniques to read more quickly and don’t spend more than five minutes reading any passage in the IELTS test.

Understanding organisation

An IELTS Reading skill that goes nicely with skimming is understanding how the passage is organised. How many paragraphs form the introduction? Where is the thesis statement? What is the main function of each paragraph? Which linking words indicate a change of topic or opinion? Effective readers underline key topic words and signal phrases, and sometimes they write brief summarising words (annotation) in the margins. Understanding how a text is organised is a critical reading skill as it helps you locate information more quickly later.


Scanning is another reading skill that you will often hear associated with IELTS Reading. But how does it work exactly? Effective scanning begins with careful study of the question. What information do you need to find? A person’s name? A year? A cause? An effect? Are there any names or technical vocabulary in the question that will surely appear in the passage? Now scan to find them quickly, without re-reading the text. There are speed-reading techniques that can help with this: for example, looking backwards through the text.

Identifying paraphrase

Most IELTS Reading questions paraphrase the original text. Naturally, it helps to have a huge vocabulary; but vocabulary size is not everything. Recognising paraphrase begins with knowing which words are most likely to be paraphrased: conceptual words like find/discover, avoid/prevent, and theory/explanation are typically paraphrased, while more technical naming words such as infectious disease, volcanic eruption, or silicon chip are likely to also feature in the text. Your study of vocabulary should concentrate on the conceptual words, many of which appear in the Academic Word List.

Guessing unknown words

I guarantee that there will be vocabulary you have never seen before in the IELTS Academic Reading module. The test writers deliberately place uncommon words in the passage to test if candidates can figure them out using contextual clues. These contextual clues can include a definition, a paraphrase elsewhere in the text, collocating words, or word parts like prefixes and suffixes. High-scoring IELTS candidates have more than just a well-stocked vocabulary; they also have the reading skills required to analyse an unknown word and guess intelligently at its most likely meaning.

Time management

By answering 30 out of 40 questions correctly, you can achieve a score of 7.0 in the IELTS Academic Reading module, which is considered good enough to enter most universities in the world. The lesson here is: Don’t spend too much time on the 10 most difficult questions. It’s more important that you allow yourself time to answer the 30 easiest questions and give the remaining 10 your best guess. As a general rule, if you’re still unsure of an answer after one minute, pencil in your best guess, move on to the next question, and come back to it later if there’s time.

Read more about How to Manage Your Time in IELTS Reading.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgBy IELTS Academic, bringing you success in IELTS™ and Academic English with weekly free content and IELTS Practice Tests available worldwide.

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