IELTS reading: 10 strategies for a high score

ielts reading tipsIs IELTS reading driving you crazy?

Updated:  September 2023

Did you know that the IELTS reading test is not really about reading? It’s a vocabulary test that tests your knowledge of paraphrasing, synonyms, collocations, and specific set phrases.

That’s why you should work on your vocabulary long before you take the IELTS exam. However, this takes time and there are no shortcuts so make sure you have realistic goals and expectations.

Work on developing your vocabulary

Understanding how paraphrasing works in a text is crucial to getting a good score. I recommend reading non-IELTS texts at first, something that interests you and that you enjoy, otherwise it will become a boring task.

During the IELTS reading exam, you will not understand every word and you cannot use a dictionary in the test.  Click here for a lesson about guessing the meaning from the context which may help you. For a lesson on learning vocabulary click here to see more.

Many IELTS teachers tell their students to just scan and skim the text. In fact, they are missing a key skill which is reading in detail in the area where the answer could be. This doesn’t mean reading the whole text, just the area where the answer might be.

Question Types

The first thing you should do is to become familiar with the various types of questions (there are around 14 question types in IELTS reading listed below)

1. Sentence completion
2. Table / Flow chart completion
3. True False Not Given
4. Yes No Not Given
5. Match the heading
6. Match the paragraph
7. Match sentence ending
8. Summary completion (Gap Fills)
9. Multiple choice
10. List selection
11. Choose a title
12. Decide on a category
13. Short answers
14. Diagram labelling

Make sure you are using authentic Cambridge test material when practicing as there are lots of fake materials on IELTS websites out there. You can find some authentic material online, see the links below on recommended books.

10 steps to getting a good score.

1. First, make sure you understand the instructions (for example: ‘Choose no more than TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer’ ) Then start by skimming the text to get an idea of the topic. (around a minute)

2. Read the questions carefully and make sure you understand them.

3. Circle the keywords in the questions then locate their synonyms/paraphrases in the text. This is where skimming and scanning come in handy, especially for passages 1 and 2.

4. Once you have a good idea of where the answer might be in the text, read the sentence before the keyword and after the keyword. So you have to read in detail in the area of the text where the answer could be. (With True False Not Given or Yes No Not Given, the answers come in order in the text.)

5. Be aware of how sentences and words are paraphrased. This is a very important skill to practice, especially in the IELTS reading section.

6. If you still can’t find the answer just guess and move on. Do not go through the whole text looking for the answer, you won’t have time. Don’t overthink it. Guess if you don’t know the answer.

7. Time management: This is so important, I suggest around 15 minutes for section 1 and 2 but section 3 needs around 30 minutes as you will have to read in more detail in this section. Work on your time management when doing mock reading tests, train yourself to complete the test in 60 minutes.

8. Paragraph heading questions: Read the first two sentences and the last two sentences in the paragraph. Don’t bother reading the whole paragraph. Look out for synonyms and keywords here. For True False Not Given questions click here for tips on those.

9. Do not keep doing IELTS practice tests over and over again. You need to find your weak points and work on fixing those, such as vocabulary development or time management. Do not do the IELTS exam until you have found your weak areas and fixed them. This takes time.

How would you answer these questions below?

  • Are you having trouble understanding paraphrasing?
  • Do you have poor time management?
  • Are you spending too much time on sections 1 and 2?
  • Are you losing time looking for the answer to a NOT-GIVEN question in TFNG?
  • Are you just skimming and not reading the area of the text in detail where the answer could be?
  • How are your stress levels? are you feeling overwhelmed, what can you do to calm down?
  • Have you learnt from your mistakes or are you constantly making the same mistakes?
  • Did you understand the instructions before reading? (for example: ‘Choose no more than TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer’ )

10. I advise reading a lot of non-IELTS material also such as news stories (BBC News, The Guardian, The Times, etc…….), and magazine articles (New Scientist, National Geographic, The Economist, stuff you find interesting) Work on these active reading points below.

  • When practicing reading (IELTS or non-IELTS material) make a note of new vocabulary and notice paraphrasing patterns.
  • Get to know how words collocate, collocations are key in developing your vocabulary.
  • Underline any difficult or new grammar structures you find while reading. Look them up online and practice them.

Paraphrasing is an important skill to develop


ielts paraphrasing in reading

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Don`t copy text!