Do you know how many words you will have to read on the IELTS reading test? About 900! When you think about having to answer 40 questions, in an hour, in a foreign language, it seems impossible. Don’t worry, there are lots of ways you can improve both your exam technique and reading skills, so that you will not only finish the exam, but also do really well.
Many students fail to finish the IELTS reading test because they read at a very slow pace. The two main reasons for this are poor exam technique and slow reading speed.
This article will discuss:
- the problems reading slowly can cause
- why some people read more slowly than others
- advantages of speed reading
- when to read fast and when to read slow
- how to read more quickly
- exam tips
Why is reading slowly a problem?
Reading slowly is sometimes required and very important, but at other times it can cause problems, such as:
- not finishing the text and/or exam
- making yourself more nervous because you are running out of time
- wasting time on parts of the text that do not give you the correct answers
- taking too long to read a text when you are practicing reading before the exam
Why do I read slowly?
Most people read slowly for one or more of the following reasons:
- reading every word individually
- stopping every time they read a word they don’t know
- reading and saying the words quietly at the same time
- wanting to completely understand every word and sentence
- reading sentences two or three times
- thinking about the ideas too deeply or in too much detail
Advantage of Speed Reading
Just like any other skill, speed reading can be learned and perfected with practice. When you learn how to read faster you will enjoy the following advantages:
- You will be able to understand the general meaning of the whole text and each paragraph much more easily and quickly. This will help you find the correct answers more effectively.
- You will enter the exam with more confidence than you did before. Confident candidates don’t feel as nervous as those who don’t believe in themselves and tend to perform better.
- You will have more time to think about your answers and make sure they are the correct ones. You will also have time to check your answers at the end.
- You will be able to quickly read a wide variety of articles before you do the test. This will not only improve your reading skills, but your overall level of English.
Should I always read quickly?
Being able to read quickly is very important on the IELTS test but exam technique is equally important. Sometimes it helps us to read very quickly, but sometimes it actually stops us getting the correct answer. We therefore need to know when to read slowly and when to read more quickly.
In general, we read at a faster pace when we are getting the general meaning of the text (skimming) or looking for specific words or phrases (scanning). Using these skills is very important, but if we just use these all the time, we will miss important details and get the answers wrong.
Often when we are establishing the correct answer, we need to take our time and read every word carefully.
There are several different kinds of IELTS reading questions and each requires a different technique and a different mix of skimming, scanning and reading carefully. I would highly recommend reading each of my lessons on each question type to help you improve.
Don’t just read for the sake of it. Make sure you have a purpose every time you read in the exam. For example, if you are just trying to find the general meaning of a paragraph, just quickly read the first and last sentences of that paragraph. If you are looking for a particular word or phrase, just scan the text quickly instead of reading the whole thing carefully. When you get to finding out the correct answer, your purpose becomes reading the text more slowly and in greater detail.
Did you know that your brain does not process words individually? Instead it processes them in groups of 3-5 words together. These are sometimes called ‘chunks’. Unfortunately, many of us are taught at school to read each word individually. Also, when reading in another language we often read and think about the meaning of every word.
The answer to this is to practice reading words in groups.
Let’s look at one of the previous paragraph as an example:
Did you know that /your brain does not process/ words individually? Instead it processes them /in groups of 3-5 words together. /These are sometimes called ‘chunks’./ Unfortunately, many of us are /taught at school to read /each word individually/. Also, when reading in/ another language we often/ read and think about /the meaning of words individually.
Try reading the paragraph above, not as individual words but as groups of words. I’ve added slashes in between groups to help you.
This might seem unnatural at first, but with practice you will be able to do it very naturally and increase your reading speed dramatically.
Try spending 10-30 minutes a day reading with this method. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word, just keep going. Don’t let your eyes rest on one word and don’t worry about words you don’t understand.
Make a note of how many words you can read in 5 minutes and after a week or two you will see a significant improvement.
The other big advantage of this is that you will really improve your grammar and vocabulary because you will notice how words and phrases group together. You will begin to see patterns and collocations and this will help you improve, not just reading, but your overall level of English.
I should say again that this takes lots of practice, but well worth the time and effort.
- You don’t have to read the whole text for every question. Only read what you need and then move on.
- Don’t worry if there is a word you don’t understand. If you do see one you can either guess what it means from the other words and sentences around it or ignore it. There will always be a number of words that even native speakers won’t understand.
- You have 90 seconds for each question but some questions are easier than others and some take more time. Don’t stick to the 90 seconds per question rule; spend less time on the easier ones and more on the most difficult.
- I did just say spend more time on the more difficult questions, but not too much time. Some questions are there to separate the band 8 and 9 students and if you can’t find the answer to these questions after a minute or two, then move on.
- In general, the easier questions are at the start of the paper and the more difficult are toward the end.
- If you say words silently or say them very quietly when reading, stop this. It increases the time it takes for you to process a word.
- If you keep going back and reading sentences more than once, try reading with a sheet of paper and move the paper over the words you have just read. After time, you will stop going back and forth and read in a more efficient way.
- Read the questions before you read the text. This will help focus your mind on what you are looking for.
- Use the title and look at any pictures to help you predict what the text will be about.
I hope you found this useful. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments below or on the Facebook page.