The Reading paper is made up of three different texts, which progress in level of difficulty. There are a total of 40 questions. Candidates have one hour to complete the information, which includes the time needed to transfer answers to the answer sheet. There is no extra time for this. Each question is worth one mark.
The texts are authentic and academic but written for a non-specialist audience. Candidates must use information that appears in the text to answer the questions. They cannot use outside knowledge if they know about the topic. The types of texts are similar to the texts that you may find in a newspaper or magazine, so it is important for students to get as much reading of these types of text as possible.
The texts sometimes contain illustrations (diagrams). If a text contains technical terms a glossary will be provided.
The different task types are as follows (click to enlarge):
There are so many different types of questions in the reading test because it forces you to learn a range of skills. If there were only multiple choice questions then all you would need to practise would be choosing answers from a list. The exam tests both your reading skills and your ability to read with just one hour to complete 40 questions – so it is important to develop a strategy to maximise your chances of getting a good score.
It is important to realise that most language schools DO NOT teach students how to tackle different question types, but this is necessary in order to achieve band score 7 and above.
The different tasks are a method of asking the following questions about the passage:
- When or where did this happen?
- What happened?
- How/why did they do this?
- What exactly does this mean?
- Who said this?
- What is the main idea?
- Why did the writer say this?
- What is the cause or effect of this?
- Where is this information?
Understanding the order of the questions
The reading test questions are presented in the most logical order, so answering the different question types “in order” (sequentially) will help you to complete the test more efficiently.
Understanding where the answers can be found in the passage
In addition to having a strategy to answer each question type, students would also be aware that the answers to some questions will not be presented in order throughout the passage.
Questions which are in the same order as the passage
These generally focus on the precise meaning of one part of the passage. They are:
- Short answer questions
- Sentence completion
- Multiple choice
- True, False, Not Given and Yes, No, Not Given questions
To answer these questions, you should:
- Read the question in detail and identify keywords.
- Scan the passage for the synonyms (the information may be mentioned in more than one place).
- Skim read each part where the synonyms are mentioned to identify the right one.
- Read the part in detail to answer the question.
Questions which are not in the same order as the passage
Some sections of the reading exam are designed to test whether the candidate can find information, or select the most appropriate information from a random list. Therefore, they cannot be in the same order as the information in the passage. These are:
- Matching headings
- Matching information
- Matching features
To answer these questions, you need the same skills of scanning for key information, skim reading, and reading in detail. However, even though you may be able to find some of the same words used in the question, they are more likely to be mentioned in more than one place n the passage, and you will also need to find synonyms. So, skim reading is more important here because it helps you decide which part of the passage is most relevant to the specific question. This is a common cause of errors for some students who are looking in the wrong part of the passage and believe they have identified the right answer.
Questions which may not be in the same order as the passage
- Note completion
- Summary completion
- Diagram completion
- Flowchart completion
For these types of question, you should quickly identify the key details in the question, which could be headings, or labels in a diagram, or keywords in a flowchart or process. Then scan the passage for these details, and skim to check you have found the right information. As with all other questions, once you have found the answer, copy the exact words from the passage to the answer paper.
In the next post, we will look at what kinds of practice are best suited to IELTS reading, and tips to achieve band score 7 and above.