Are you about to take the IELTS Academic Test? IELTS Reading worries you the most because you know nothing about it? So what do you need to know to master IELTS Reading? This article presents key facts about IELTS Academic Reading, essential tips, and skills to get a high IELTS Reading score.

Key facts about IELTS Reading

Ordinal number Key facts
1 Your task
  • Read 3 long texts
  • Answer 40 questions on the question booklet
  • Transfer your answers onto the answer sheet
2 Source of texts
  • books, journals, magazines and newspapers.  
  • The texts:
    • have been selected for a non-specialist audience
    • appropriate for people entering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration
    • are of general interest
3 Styles
  • narrative, descriptive, factual, discursive/argumentative, analytical
  • At least one text contains detailed logical argument.
4 Non-verbal materials Diagrams, graphs or illustrations
5 Technical terms A simple glossary is provided if texts contain technical terms.
6 Timing 60 minutes (No extra time for transferring the answers onto the answer sheet)
7 No. of questions 40
8 Question types There are 11 typical types of questions:

  1. Multiple choices
  2. Identifying information
  3. Identifying writer’s views/claims
  4. Matching information
  5. Matching headings
  6. Matching features
  7. Matching sentence endings
  8. Sentence completion
  9. Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion
  10. Diagram label completion
  11. Short-answer questions
9 Answering procedure
  • Read the first text
  • Answer the questions by writing your answers on the question paper/ question booklet as you read.
  • This procedure is repeated for the next two sections.
  • Transfer your answers on the answer sheet because at the end of the test, you won’t have extra time. Everything you write on the question paper won’t be marked. Remember to write answers on the answer sheet as carefully as possible, because poor spelling and grammar are penalized.
10 Marking
  • You get 1 mark for each correct answer.
  • You will NOT lose a mark if your answer is incorrect.
11 Band Score
Correct answers Band scores
39-40 9
37-38 8.5
35-36 8
33-34 7.5
30-32 7
27-29 6.5
23-26 6
19-22 5.5
15-18 5
13-14 4.5
10-12 4
8-9 3.5
6-7 3
4-5 2.5
12 How IELTS Reading is marked
  • Your Academic Reading test is marked by certificated markers monitored to ensure their reliability.
  • It is then analyzed by Cambridge Assessment English.
13 Skills tested
  • Ability to read for gist
  • Ability to read for main ideas
  • Ability to read for detail
  • Ability to skim
  • Ability to understand logical argument
  • Ability to recognize writers’ opinions, attitudes, and purpose
14 Pen Use a pencil to write your answers on the answer sheet. Don’t use pens.

14 IELTS Reading Essential Tips

1. Employ different strategies to different question types

As mentioned above, there are around 11 basic types of IELTS Reading question types. Your mission is to apply the right strategies to each type of questions. Moreover, each type has its own requirements. Therefore, you also need to read the instructions carefully.

IELTS Reading instruction
Example of Sentence completion question type – Instruction and question (Source: IELTS Cambridge Academic 11 – Test 1 – Reading – Reading passage 1 – Question 1-7)

2. Do not try to understand the whole text

Remember, you are given only 60 minutes to answer 40 questions. What you need to do is skim the text for main ideas, and them scan it to locate the points you need. Your mission is to find and understand the sentences containing the information you need for your answers.

3. Find keywords in the questions

Keywords are words that tell you about the main idea or the subject of the text, and/or the questions. Finding keywords in the questions help you to identify what you are being asked, and what answers you should look for. Read the questions carefully, find the keywords, and underline them

How to spot out keywords? Some are quite obvious and easy to be recognized. Those usually are names, dates, numbers, age, addresses, technical terms, definitions, places etc. Some other keywords are harder to notice. Moreover, it is recommended for you to check if the keywords in the questions are paraphrased so that they become other words in the text and vice versa.

Practice IELTS Reading as much as possible, and you’ll soon get a sense of recognizing the anchor words. Read the text and then work with the answers and their key in order to identify the right keywords.

4. Enrich your vocabulary

What to do with new words in a reading passage?

In IELTS Reading, you’ll have to deal with a wide range of new words because texts are selected from various types of sources including books, journals, magazines, and newspapers. Although the texts are chosen for non-specialist audience, specialized terminologies might be used. If you meet these terminologies, and you don’t know their meanings, then there are two options for you to choose from:

  • Ignore the technical terms if you don’t need them to answer the questions
  • Guess the meanings of technical terms if you need them to answer the questions. You can guess by reading the surrounding words, phrases, and sentences. Pay attention to phrases like “that is”, “which means”, “refers”, etc. These phrases help clarify the terms’ meanings.
Guess words' meaning IELTS Reading
Source: IELTS Cambridge Academic 11 – Test 1 – Reading – Reading passage 3

How to build your vocabulary effectively?

However, it’s better to know and understand the terms before taking the IELTS Reading exam. So, how can we memorize a term for a long period of time? The key is understanding. You need to understand a word to remember it, and it is not only about understanding the meaning, but you also have to actually know how to generate a sentence with it. You ought to know different elements relating to that word like parts of speech, collocations, usage, synonyms, antonyms, etc. Moreover, it is essential for you to know when you can and can’t use that word, how to paraphrase it, etc.

A suggestion for you to expand your vocabulary is to read English materials as much as possible. Highly recommended sources for reading are CNN, BBC, The Guardian, etc. However, the problem is it usually costs you a considerable time whenever you meet a new word because you have to open another tab to search for its meaning and then note it down in your notebook. Many people have complained about this complex process because they might lose the track of reading. And unfortunately, you might be one of them just because you don’t know about other better ways to learn vocabulary.

And one of the most amazing tools for you to deal with this complicated problem is eJOY Extension.

Look up and add words eJOY Extension
Source: IELTS Cambridge Academic 11 – Test 1 – Reading – Reading passage 3

With eJOY extension, you just need to highlight new words, and their definition, transcription, and examples will immediately appear. Furthermore, you can click +Add to add new words into your Wordbook in order to play games with them later in the Game Center. Learning through play doubtlessly helps you to vividly remember new words, and know how to use words correctly. Download free eJOY Extension right now to start your own incredible journey!

5. Correct grammar

In IELTS Reading, there are two question types which are Summary Completion and Short-answer Questions requiring that the sentences must be grammatically correct when you put your answers in the black space provided. This means grammar can be a helpful tool for you to spot the precise answer. Just remember that poor grammar will be penalized.

6. Practice

Practice is a must if you want to succeed. The more you practice, the more you become familiar with the test. You should practice regularly to understand the structure of an IELTS Reading test, and to master the skills needed. Moreover, you should practice doing IELTS Reading Test in 60 minutes, under exam conditions so that you can train your reading skills. Try to learn how to control your feelings, your breath, and heartbeat.

In addition, you should also spend time rereading the IELTS passages. This will help you to actually understand the texts, and learn vocabulary.

After taking the IELTS Reading Test by yourself at home, try to mark your own test performance. In addition, you should check why your answers are wrong by looking at the answer key, having some research on the Internet, or asking friendly IELTS learners from the Make IELTS Fun facebook group.

7. Familiarise yourself with long, difficult passages

IELTS Reading tests your reading skills by providing 3 passages and asking you to answer 40 questions in 60 minutes. These passages are usually lengthy and contain difficult technical terms. It is advised that you definitely should get used to complicated passages on various topics. It would be a wise choice for you to read newspaper, research, and novels. You should also learn how to apply the right reading skills to deal with those texts.

8. Identify your weaknesses

Whenever you have a wrong answer, try to figure out why your answers are wrong in order to find the suitable solutions, to know which points could be improved. If you answer incorrectly because you don’t understand the passages due to your lack of vocabulary, then you should try to learn new words. If you answer wrong because you can’t locate the information in the texts, or don’t understand the questions, or run out of time, then you might have problems with reading skills.

9. Answers should be written in CAPITAL letters

You can write your answers either in lower or upper case, but it is suggested that you should write them in upper case. The reason for this is that if you write every answer in upper case, you won’t have to remember to put capital letters at the beginning of proper nouns.

10. Read the instructions very carefully and pay attention to the word limit

Remember to read the instructions thoroughly. Pay attention to the word limit given, such as ‘NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER.’ It means that you can only write the answers with 1, 2, 3 words and/ or 1 number… You will be penalized for writing more than the stated number of words. ( Word limit requirements will vary, so you should check them carefully for each task.

Instruction - IELTS Reading
Source- IELTS Cambridge Academic 11 – Test 1 – Reading – Reading passage 2 – Question 20-26


  • Contracted words will not be tested. (For example: don’t, hasn’t, isn’t, etc.)
  • Hyphenated words count as single words. (For example: up-to-date is 1 word, etc.)
  • A compound noun which is not hyphenated such as “full moon”, is considered 2 words.
  • A year “2018” is considered one number.

11. Remember to bring a pencil and an eraser

You have to write your answers in pencil, and if you want to edit them, use your eraser. Therefore, never forget to bring at least one pencil and one eraser with you

12. Stay focused!

Bear in mind that you must stay focused for 60 minutes. It’s normal to get nervous whenever sitting an exam, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t deal with it. Always remember, it’s just a test. Although IELTS Reading is significantly important, it’s however just a test. You can take the test as many times as you like as long as you comply with the IELTS regulations. Therefore, just free your mind from worry. Relax and concentrate on doing your best.

13. Try to familiarise yourself with different types of IELTS Reading questions

Practice doing all 11 types of questions.

  1. Multiple choices
  2. Identifying information
  3. Identifying writer’s views/claims
  4. Matching information
  5. Matching headings
  6. Matching features
  7. Matching sentence endings
  8. Sentence completion
  9. Summary, note, table, flow-chart completion
  10. Diagram label completion
  11. Short-answer questions

You need to acquire different strategies for each type of questions. Follow our blog to get more tips for each question type.

One of the most important tactics for IELTS reading is “Practice – Practice – Practice”. By practicing as many question types as you can, you will find yourself calm and confident in tackling difficult IELTS Reading questions.

14. Remember to write the answers on the question booklet as you do the test

Many test takers are too “lazy” to write answers on the question paper. Don’t make the same mistake. Always remember to write your answers on the question booklet so that you can track them when you need. You should also need to make sure that the answers are transferred to the answer sheet.

IELTS Reading Essential Skills

1. Skimming and scanning

It is crucial for you to learn how to skim and scan because you need these skills right after you start the reading session…


Skimming is reading for the general idea of the whole paragraph. Therefore, it is recommended that skimming should be used FIRST before facing the questions. Skimming is not about reading every word to totally understand the passage. Skimming is about reading to get a sense of the topic and structure of the text. You should spend about 1 – 2 minutes to skim the whole text.

Do not be confused with IELTS Listening. In the Listening test, you should read the questions before listening to the tape. However, in Reading session, remember to spend your first 1-2 minutes on skimming before reading the questions.

Nevertheless, there is an exception for Matching Headings question type – Question will come first, before the reading passage. Therefore, you can read the Matching Headings questions and scan for the keywords in the questions, then skim through the passage.


Scanning is reading for details. Scanning means you have to read through the text quickly to locate the information you need. Do not read every single word. Do not try to understand the whole text.

You should only scan the passage after you have scanned the questions and got the keywords in mind.

Below is a suggestion for the steps that you should follow in IELTS reading test:

  1. Read the instructions of the questions carefully
  2. Skim the passage in 1-2 minutes
  3. Read and understand the questions
  4. Identify which type of questions it is
  5. Identify and underline keywords in the first question
  6. Locate and underline those keywords or their synonyms in the passage to answer the first question
  7. Answer the first question
  8. Go back to identify and underline the keywords in the second question. This process will be repeated until you finish the test.

2. Speed reading

Always bear in mind that you only have 60 minutes to accomplish your mission. And the mission is to complete reading three long texts and answer 40 questions. Therefore, you should spend 20 minutes on each section. It is undeniable that responding to all 40 questions in time is challenging due to the strict time limit. That is the reason why developing speed reading skill is doubtlessly crucial if you want to locate the answers quickly.

Note: According to Wikipedia, “Speed reading is any of several techniques used to improve one’s ability to read quickly.”

3. Time management

Remember that you only have 60 minutes to deal with 3 passages. Therefore, you should spend 20 minutes on each passage. One of the common mistakes is spending too much time on the first two passages. Don’t make the same mistake if you want to finish the 40 questions. Manage time effectively so you won’t lose any mark.

4. Identifying keywords

Keywords are words that tell you about the main idea or subject of something.

How to identify which words are keywords? The trick is to focus on information such as name, and technical terms. You should read the questions carefully, underline the keywords in the questions. Then, you need to find those keywords in the passage, or their synonyms in case if they have been paraphrased. This skill will help you avoid losing track, stay focused, and understand the paragraph better. Keywords can possibly be the answers. So practice identifying keywords.

Example of an IELTS Reading test

Below is the example of an IELTS Reading test, also an example of a question booklet.

A sample of Reading Passage 1 in an IELTS Reading test.

The passage comes first, then the questions.

IELTS Reading question - passge 1
IELTS Reading question – passage 1

A sample of Reading Passage 2 in an IELTS Reading test.

IELTS Reading question - passage 2
IELTS Reading question – passage 2

A sample of Reading Passage 3 in an IELTS Reading test. Here comes first the Matching Heading questions, then the passage.

IELTS Reading question - passage 3
IELTS Reading question – passage 3

Suggested materials for English reading practice

CNN (Cable News Network)

CNN is an American pay television news channel and a subsidiary of AT&T’s WarnerMedia. It was founded in 1980.

CNN is one of the most reliable sources for you to read news and update information worldwide. Reading CNN news helps you to expand your vocabulary of various topics such as sport, politics, entertainment, technology, health, travel, etc. Moreover, you can practice reading for main ideas, specific details, and opinions. These are among the skills needed for IELTS Reading

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

BBC is a British public service broadcaster, which has the headquarters at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London. Noticeably,  it is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organization and also the world’s the largest broadcaster by number of employees.

BBC provides you with a variety of information on diverse topics such as Earth, food, arts, sport, business, technology, etc. Reading BBC news regularly will help you to learn the informal and formal language, and know how to use words in different circumstances. In addition, extending your vocabulary on different topics is one of the major steps to make your IELTS Reading easier.

The Guardian

The Guardian – a British daily newspaper, is part of the Guardian Media Group, owned by the Scott Trust. Basically, reading news on The Guardian helps you to build essential vocabulary for sports, culture, and lifestyle. On The Guardian, you can read international news about science, global development, technologies, business, etc. Moreover, there are many interesting news about books, music, art and design, films, game, etc. In addition, if you are a housewife managing to take good care of your family, then The Guardian is absolutely the right place for you to visit. You can get the news on food, cooking recipes, or health and fitness, etc. Thus, you can definitely widen your English vocabulary for wide-ranging topics, and practice your reading skills like speed reading, or skimming and scanning.

The Economist

Founded by James Wilson in September 1843, The Economist is a weekly magazine-format newspaper. On The Economist, you will primarily read news about economic issues. This helps you to learn technical terms and update the latest news on the worldwide economy. It is truly significant to study technical terms because they might appear in the IELTS Reading test.


Duolingo is an app for learning English which is highly recommended for beginners. Basically, you will improve your English by spending twenty minutes a day for completing the lessons teaching you seven new words based on a specific topic. Extend your vocabulary is one of the most important steps to make your IELTS Reading easier.

eJOY Extension

eJOY Extension is one of the most amazing tool for English learners. You can read news or watch videos on different websites and learn new words with just one click. Everything you need to do is to highlight the word, and its definition, transcription, and examples will appear immediately. Moreover, you can click +Add to add the word into your Wordbook and play games with that word later in the Game Center. This method will assure you to learn English vocabulary in a fun way, read English news quickly, and definitely save your precious time. Getting higher IELTS Reading score with eJOY Extension now!

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