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IELTS Reading: The Key Facts

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What’s IELTS Reading All About

Whether you take the General or the Academic version of the test, IELTS Reading can challenge even advanced speakers.

My number one tip: Don’t read everything!


IELTS test writers have designed the readings to test your reading ability, but that includes your ability to ignore non-essential information and focus on key sections of the text.

There isn’t time to read everything!

Read on to discover how to manage your time and how to know which parts contain the answers.

The Structure of the IELTS Reading Test

Both the Academic and General Reading tests consist of three sections and 40 questions.

For the Academic version, each section contains one reading and two or three question types. Texts come from books, magazines, journals, newspapers or websites.

For the General test, the first two sections consist of between 2-3 readings, and the final section has a single reading. Topics connect with the kind of things you might read as part of everyday life in an English-speaking country.

What Skills Do You Need?

The Reading component tests three skills: skimming, scanning, and reading for detail.

A good level of English, along with learning to use these three skills are the key to a good score.


Cambridge often describes skimming as reading quickly, but skimming is more than fast reading.

What is skimming?

Have you ever visited a body of water, picked up a stone, and sent it spinning over the water, watching as it bounces multiple times? It’s the same principle with an IELTS Reading. Skimming a reading means you should read the first sentence of a paragraph, underline the keyword/s which tell you the paragraph’s topic, and then bounce over the rest of the sentences.

Sometimes you have to read the second sentence before you find that key information – but you should never read any further. After you find found the topic of the paragraph, move on to the next one.

What words should you underline?

You should underline words that show you why the writer started a new paragraph. These words will act as signposts when you tackle the questions.

Mock IELTS Writing General Task 1 Model Answer - Moving House (informal) by Andrew Turner @ EnglishWithAnExpert.com

TIP: Don’t underline numbers or words that begin with capital letters. You find these words by scanning.


You scan for words that stand out from the text.

For example, if the questions ask you about 1985, then finding this number in the reading won’t be hard. Numbers stand out, and you can find them by just moving your eyes over the text without reading.

Your eyes can also pick out words that start with a capital letter since capital letters stand higher than the letters surrounding them.

Reading For Detail

Once you have found the section of the text which contains the answer, you should read it carefully before choosing the correct answer. IELTS calls this reading for detail.

Reading for detail always goes hand in hand with skimming and scanning.

IELTS Reading Question Types

Practice Tests For IELTS Reading


Cambridge publishes the best practice tests.

The tests used in the numbered series (IELTS 1-14) come from old test papers.

This link will take you to an example on Amazon.

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Mock IELTS Writing General Task 1 Model Answer - Moving House (informal) by Andrew Turner @ EnglishWithAnExpert.com