The reading section of the test takes about 60 minutes to complete, including transfer time. The structure of the test is different for the Academic and General versions of the exam.
The IELTS reading test is a race against the clock. With 60 minutes to read 5 passages and answer 40 questions about them, you must work fast. You have approximately one-and-a-half minutes per question. The biggest problem that candidates face is not having enough time to finish the reading completely.
The key to success is to develop fast reading skills, including skimming (to understand the main idea), scanning (to find the location of the answer) and detailed reading (to understand the information well enough to answer the question correctly).
If you were taught in school to read every text slowly and carefully until you understand every word, you must break this habit!
Here are a few videos that we recently put together on IELTS reading.
Do not start by reading the whole text. This will waste valuable time. Instead, you should start by skimming the text to get a general feel for its structure and main ideas. By doing this step, you will save yourself time when finding the location of each answer after you read the questions.
Read with your pen and work quickly. You should spend no more than 1-2 minutes on this. Read the first paragraph for an introduction to the topic, and then quickly underline the first sentence in each paragraph. Don’t be tempted to read further in detail! If you can, quickly write a note in the margin next to each paragraph to help remind you later what’s in the paragraph (eg. you might write ‘causes’ or ‘history’).
Remember, when viewing the text quickly you need to see the main words and phrases rather than all the individual words.
By making this road map, you will get a good feel for where things are in the text – which paragraph is about health effects, which paragraph is about solutions, etc. You don’t yet need to know what the health effects are, or what the solutions are – just where they are! This is an important time-saver when you move on to look at each question and have to scan quickly find the section of the text which contains the answer.
Important! This is not a natural skill for many readers. It takes lots of practice, but you can practice on almost any text. Make it a habit!