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The IELTS Reading Test

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We have lots of free videos that will help you improve your English and also advice and tips that will help you in English proficiency examinations like TOEFL and IELTS.

ELTS Reading test lasts for 60 minutes. Students are given an Academic Reading test, or a General Training Reading test. Both tests consist of three sections, and are in order of increasing difficulty

How to approach the IELTS reading test

Narration: To improve the speed at which you can complete an IELTS reading test, it is important that you have a clear plan about how you are going to approach the test. The skills you need to effectively answer the questions have just been mentioned - skimming, scanning and reading for detail. However, how you use these skills will determine how effective they are.

When the test begins, you should first look at the title of the reading passage if it has one, and any illustrations that may be given. These may give you an indication of what the passage is about. Next, skim the question types - you are not aiming for a 100% understanding of everything, just enough to know what type of questions you will need to answer. Third, skim the reading passage. Again, you are not looking to understand the entire passage - just enough to answer the question 'what is it about?'. Then you go back to the questions, use the skills we will present in this course for each particular question type and then scan for the answers using keywords, synonyms or rephrases.

Once you have found the relevant section of the passage, you then need to read for detail to confirm your answer. The only exception to this rule is headings questions, where you should skim each paragraph a second time. This will be explained in more detail in the Headings lesson. It is very important that between now and your test, you practice using this approach so that it becomes natural. You will find that with practice, you will be able to complete the reading test in less time.

Reading skills for the IELTS test - skimming and scanning

Narration: One of the biggest problems in the IELTS reading test is time. You have one hour to answer 40 questions, which means that you will have to be able to get the information you need quickly. There are three different skills you will need in the test. Skimming, scanning and reading in detail.

Skimming means looking quickly at the passage to get a general idea of what it is about. Scanning means looking at the passage for specific information. Reading in detail requires you to carefully read the section of the passage you are looking for the answer in. Here are some common situations in which you have probably already used these skills. You might skim a newspaper article to see if you think it is interesting enough to read. If you were looking for a telephone number in a directory, you would scan, looking for the specific information you need. If you are assembling a complicated product, you would need to read the instruction manual carefully to make sure you understand all the details of what you have to do.

Skimming and scanning skills will help you find the right section of the reading passage to answer the question. Most questions will then require you to read the section you have found in detail in order to get the correct answer. You should not try to read the entire passage in detail or you will run out of time.

IELTS reading - understanding unknown vocabulary

Narration: A common difficulty in the IELTS reading test is when you find a word that you do not recognise. Many candidates make the mistake of spending some considerable time reading the word and the sentence it is in trying to understand what it means. This, of course, takes valuable time and may not necessarily improve your result. However, there are seven different points that you could consider to help you deal with unknown vocabulary.

The first point is that, on occasion, you will find that the reading passage has a glossary at the end, describing two or three of the key words. If there is a glossary, then you should make sure to read it carefully, as if it was important enough to give you a glossary, then the words are probably required for one or more of your answers.

If there is no glossary or it doesn't explain the word you were looking at, another point to consider is whether it begins with a capital letter or is in italics. If it starts with a capital letter, then the word is probably a proper noun, for example a place or a person's name. If the word is in italics, it is probably a technical word which you are not expected to know. Here are some examples.

The third point is that often in the IELTS reading test, you are given a word or words which are immediately followed by a definition, so make sure you read the complete sentence. Here is an example.

If the points covered so far have not helped you understand the word, then see if you can find the word root. For example, the word 'disabled' is actually a combination of the prefix (dis) the root word (able) and a suffix (the 'd'). Focussing on the root word only, then considering how the prefix changes that root, can often help. There is a list of prefixes in the Skimming, scanning and reading in detail lesson.

Another technique you could use is to work out a general meaning logically. Consider this example. What is most likely to have killed climbers who were trapped in a snowstorm? It is logical that the answer is something to do with the temperature.

Sometimes looking logically at the sentence is not enough, but you should also look out for contrasting statements. Consider this sentence. The word 'yet' tells us there is a contrast, and that Maori is being brought back into daily life. Therefore the opposite of that is not brought back into daily life, to be disappearing. Moribund actually means to be on the point of death, or almost gone.

The final technique you could apply to new vocabulary is to consider the word group. This may not help you find a definition for the word, but sometimes it helps to know if you are looking for a verb, noun, adjective or adverb. In this example, we can tell from the grammar of the sentence that the word is a noun because it follows 'a'. So we have a noun of Chinese students. The word contingent actually means group.

The final point to remember is that having applied the seven techniques, if you still have no idea what the word is or means, then you should consider whether it is actually worth spending more time on. Remember that not every word in the reading passage is relevant to finding an answer, and even if you need this word to answer the question, if it takes you 5 minutes to answer you will have to rush the other questions.

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