How to Approach the Reading Test


Hey guys!

Today's lesson is all about how to begin each section of the reading test. This sounds simple, but it's very important because it can help you organize your thinking, and finish the test faster.

Let's go.


So What Should You Do First?

When you start one of the three sections on the IELTS Reading Test, what do you usually do first? Do you read the article? Or do you skip ahead to the questions first? What is the best way?

The answer is: neither of these is good. Reading the article first means you might read a lot of unnecessary text, which slows you down because you don't know what you're looking for yet. But we don't want to rush to the questions before we know what the article is about!

At IELTS Boost, our Reading Approach Strategy is simple:

STEP 1: Read the title of the article and the first couple of sentences in the introduction.

STEP 2: Read the first set of questions. Underline/circle key words.

STEP 3: Answer the questions.

That's it. Now let's look at these steps in a bit more detail.


STEP 1: Read the title of the article and the first couple of sentences in the introduction.

This step is very simple! Our goal here is just to get a general idea about the text and what to expect. This will help us understand the questions.

Don't take more than half a minute to do this. We just want to give ourselves a quick impression of the text, and then we go back to the questions.

It also helps here to pay quick attention to any pictures or subheadings.


Step 2: Read the first set of Questions. Underline/circle key words.

Now that you know what the article is all about, it will be easier to understand the questions. Read through the first set of questions for the section (including the instructions!) and circle or underline key words that can help you find answers.

You will need to do this quickly! Don't worry; when you practice it a lot, it shouldn't take more than a minute.

Make sure you underline or circle key words. Remember, some words are a lot more important than others, and if you know what to look for, you can get a higher score. There are two types of key words you need to watch for:

  • Important details that can tell you what kind of information you’re looking for. For example, if you read the question: “Which two man-made items were discovered at the site?”... you should circle "two" and "man-made"! These words tell us that we are looking for two things, and that they are artificial. This makes answering the questions a lot easier.
  • Some words can be SCANNED FOR. This is very important for saving time! Scanning means quickly looking at a text and just searching for a specific thing (like a number, or a name). Now, remember that most words and phrases used in the questions will be heavily paraphrased in the article, so scanning won't help us for those. Luckily, though, some types of words will never be paraphrased! These words include numbers, dates, names, and technical words. If you see these types of words in a question, circle them! They are really usefu! They can sometimes help you find the location of answers really quickly on the reading test. 


Here is an example of what a question might look like after you have circled/underlined key words:

scanning for details


In this question, you should underline names in the left column – these are very easy to scan for. You should also underline numbers and dates, which are very easy to scan for. And, for #9, we have underlined “despite”, to remind us that we are looking for information that contrasts this object being in “excellent condition”.

Doing this should only take you a few seconds, and it will help your time management a lot – it will focus your mind on important details, and give you words that you can scan the text for to find answers.

For more information about Scanning for Details on the IELTS Reading Test, see our lesson on Scanning for Details.


Step 3: Answer the Questions!

So now you’re ready to start reading and answering questions. Remember that you can write all over the test, so it helps to highlight or circle/underline certain sections and words in the text, so you can keep track of what you're looking at.

Remember that you don't have to read everything! Your job is just to answer the questions. Don’t get stuck on difficult vocabulary or sections you don’t quite understand, unless you really need them to answer a question.

And finally, keep an eye on the time! There is always a visible clock on the wall, and it will be your responsibility to keep track of time.

So that's it. Every time you begin a new section on the reading test, you should do all three steps:

STEP 1: Skim the article.

STEP 2: Read the first set of questions. Underline/circle key words.

STEP 3: Answer the questions.

Remember that Steps 1 and 2 should only take you a minute or two! Again, this might seem simple, but how you approach the test can make a big difference in your overall score and your time management.


Let's Watch Someone Using These Steps to Approach an IELTS Reading Test: