The IELTS General Training Reading Test is quite a lot to do in an hour, but, if you concentrate hard and are used to the tasks set through practice with good IELTS practice tests, then it can be done without too much difficulty.
The Test Format
The IELTS General Training Reading Test has 3 sections. You have 60 minutes to complete the test. There is NO extra time at the end of the test to transfer your answers to the answer paper (you get 10 extra minutes in the listening test only); your answers must be on the answer paper at the end of the 60 minutes. The test has 40 questions based on a series of texts. The total length of all the texts put together will be between 2000 and 2750 words. As in all the different parts of IELTS, the IELTS General Training Reading Test gets progressively harder through the paper. Possible formats of texts could be: notices, advertisements, newspapers, instruction manuals, leaflets, timetables, books and magazines. Getting used to the types of questions by using IELTS practice tests is an important strategy to doing well in this section of the test.
Section 1 will normally have 2 or maybe 3 "texts" with 13 or maybe 14 questions to answer in 2 or 3 sets of differing formats. We will look at the types of question that you will meet later. Section 1 tests the candidate on "social survival" in an English speaking country. The questions usually involve the candidate finding and providing factual information from a variety of texts. Texts in section 1 are relatively short and there may be a number of "mini texts' to look through, eg: a series of advertisements on similar subjects.
Section 2 again usually has 2 texts with 13 or maybe 14 questions to answer. Section 2 concentrates on the context of training and welfare in an English speaking country. The texts here will be more complicated using more intricate language and structure.
Section 3 will have 1 text with 13 or maybe 14 questions to answer. Section 3 tests candidates' ability to deal with longer pieces of writing. The reading passage will again involve more complex language than the 2 previous sections.
There are 40 questions in the IELTS General Training Reading Test and 1 mark is awarded for each correct answer. There are no half marks. Your final mark out of 40 is then converted to a band from 1 - 9 using a converting table and this band is then averaged with the other 3 parts of the test to give your final IELTS band. Band scores for the reading test and the final band are given as a whole band or a half band. The converting table used to change your mark out of 40 to the band out of 9 changes with every test. However, below you can see a rough guide which you can use to assess your practice. This is no guarantee that you will perform the same in the real test itself as the test converters vary with each test, but it can be a guide to your progress. You can also grade your results in IELTS practice tests with the scale below.
IELTS General Training Reading Test Marks, Bands and Results - Rough Guide Converter
1 - 2 1
3 - 5 2
6 - 11 3
12 - 17 4
18 - 25 5
26 - 33 6
34 - 37 7
38 - 39 8
Below is a list of the types of question that you could meet in the IELTS General Training Reading Test. It's useful to read the list of course, but the only way to really be familiar with the types of question is through practice with IELTS practice tests.
Multiple choice questions
Short answer questions
Completion questions: Completing sentences
Completing a summary (no word bank)
Completing a summary (with word bank)
Completing a diagram
Completing a flow chart
Completing a table
Matching a bank of headings to identify paragraphs or parts of text
Matching a bank of writers' views/claims/information with the writer
Identification of information in the text: yes/no/not given questions
true/false/not given questions
Some Tips for the IELTS General Training Reading Test
Don't spend too long on a single question as that will lose you time for answering questions that could be easier for you. Sometimes leaving a question and coming back later can help you answer it too. Leave any questions that you have spent too long on, and come back at the end of the test if you have time. Sometimes, if the question has a yes/no/not given answer, the answer you are looking for does not exist as it could be a not given. Be aware so you don't waste time looking for something that isn't there.
Read the questions and instructions so you don't make a silly mistake. For example, people often will mix the yes/no answers with the true/false answers and write yes as an answer instead of true or vice versa. Strictly speaking you are wrong although you have understood the question and answer.
If the question asks for one answer then give one answer. Giving two is wrong as it asks for one and you will be marked wrong. The type of question where this could happen would be: Give one example of... Writing two examples, to show you really understand, is wrong.
If the question asks for no more than 3 words, use no more than 3 words. Writing 4 words or more is wrong. You won't be asked to do it in 3 words or less unless it is possible so don't worry; it can always be done.
One area that students don't like is that, in the reading test, good grammar and spelling are important. The grammar part is not as important as you can't make many grammar errors in 3 words (the maximum you use in the reading test) but, if you spell something wrong, it will be marked as wrong. People think, quite rightly in my opinion, that the reading should test whether you understand what you read and not how you spell something but these are the rules. So, be careful about your spelling!
One constant discussion I have had with students is whether to read the questions first and then read the passage, or read the passage first and then the questions. From my experience with many students my conclusion is that there is no correct answer for this. It depends on a number of variables.
It can depend on the types of question and how difficult the questions are. It can depend on how good and fast a reader you are. It can depend on the length of the text and how much time you have. Let's look at these variables.
If the question type is difficult and asking something which is hard to answer then reading the text first can help. Just a quick read through using a technique called skimming (see below for an analysis of skimming) can give you the knowledge of the text that will help you find the answer more easily.
If you are a good, fast reader, then you can read the text quickly, getting good knowledge of the contents without using up too much precious time. This can help you answer the questions better.
If the texts are short then it doesn't take long to quickly read through them. On the other hand, if the texts are short it is easier to find the answers so you may not have to waste time reading the texts to find the answers quickly, especially if time is short.
If time is short then it doesn't matter how complex or long the texts are. You need to get some answers on the answer sheet as quickly as possible. So, you can see that there is not one answer to the problem of whether to read the texts or questions first. What I tell students is to experiment in your practice and see what suits you for the different types of question in different situations. As usual practising your techniques is the key, so get some IELTS practice tests and see which techniques work best for you.
Time management is an important thing to be aware of. You have a number of texts to read and 40 questions to answer in 1 hour. If you spend too long on one part, you may find that you have not enough time to finish all the questions and some of those questions could be ones that you could answer quite easily. As I said above, don't spend too long on a difficult answer but also keep an eye on the clock. It's a good idea to have your watch or a small clock on your desk so you know exactly how long you have left in the test at any given time. In addition to this, keep control on how long you spend on each section.
Remember the IELTS General Training Reading Test gets more difficult as it goes on so you will probably need more time for the questions at the end than for those at the start. Maybe a guideline could be:
17 minutes on section 1.
20 minutes on section 2.
23 minutes on section 3.
(If you can do things more quickly all the better as that will give you time to look at questions that you skipped and to check on your answers)
With experience and practice on IELTS practice tests you will soon know how long things take you and be able to manage your time well.
As I just said, if you have finished the exam with time to spare, DON'T just sit there!! Check what you have done. If you have time after the check, check again. And so on....
Reading Techniques - Skimming and Scanning
Skimming and scanning are the two main techniques that people use to read and answer IELTS reading tests. It's not a question of using one or the other but you will need both methods in doing the test. Let's have a look at the two techniques in turn.
Skimming is reading fast to get the "gist" or the general idea of the text. There are different techniques of doing skimming. You can run your eyes over the text getting the general meaning, not stopping at words that you don't understand as this will slow you down.
The important thing with skimming is speed. Another way to skim is to just read the first and last paragraphs of a text and summaries as well. You could also just read the title, subtitles and illustrations if there are any. I prefer for IELTS the first way - reading it all quickly to get the general meaning, but of course it depends on your reading speed. If you are a slow reader in English, you really need to practise to improve.You can practise with any English texts, but, nearer the exam, you should do your practice on IELTS practice tests. To start with though, you don't need IELTS specific texts for this. A good English newspaper is fine. Get one every day and read the articles as quickly as you can. Do this with as many articles as possible every day and your speed will quickly improve. But, don't forget to use IELTS practice tests nearer the exam, so you can be used to the style of texts and the types of question.
This is another very important technique for the IELTS Reading Tests. This is the technique that you use when you are reading a telephone book or a dictionary. You are not starting at the top and reading every line back and forth as you would read a novel.
You are moving your eyes around the text, back and across and up and down. You are searching for some specific information: a word or name. This is an important technique in IELTS reading as you are often searching for some specific information. You read the question and then you search for key words or ideas associated with the question.
This is a bit more difficult to practise than skimming. You get long texts (from newspapers, magazines or other sources) and get a friend to read it and then ask you to find key ideas or words as quickly as possible.
Again, if you do this frequently, your speed will quickly improve.
If you want to improve, there's no secret. Practice. Practice. Practice. You won't get better sitting and doing nothing. Even good English users need practice for the IELTS exam. It could make all the difference between your getting the band that you need, and getting half a band less than you need and having to do the exam again.
Finally, there are no correct answers or methods. Here I've given you some ideas to guide you and hopefully to help you but the questions can be answered well in different ways. Good luck with the IELTS General Training Reading Test. I hope that this free tutorial has helped you.