Reading Aademic – Sessions 3 – Five Rules of IELTS Reading
The IELTS Reading tests your reading comprehension skills by asking you to answer a few questions related to a text. The more correct answers you get, the higher your score. In general, you should have no trouble understanding the texts, but you may struggle to answer the questions correctly, especially when your exam is timed (60 minutes). There are two key points to remember:
- Time management is the key. You need to use your time wisely. The 60 minutes you get must be spent reading the texts, reading the questions, answering the questions, and double-checking the answers before handing them in.
- You should spend more time reading the questions and answering them than reading the texts.
The following set of rules will help you manage your time properly and maximize the chance you get correct answers.
Rule #1: NEVER READ THE WHOLE TEXT A SECOND TIME
This rule means you should read the entire text only one time. You have 60 minutes to complete the IELTS Reading test. In 60 minutes, you must read five different texts on five different topics and answer 40 questions. In general, each part should take about 20 minutes to complete. Part 1 and Part 2 frequently have two texts, which means you have about 10 minutes to complete everything for each text (reading the text, reading the questions, answering the questions). Furthermore, you must ensure that your answers are correct, and your spellings are precise. The more time you spend reading the text, the less time you have for everything else. Reading the entire text again is time-consuming, indicating that you have missed important information, which is not ideal given the number of texts and the amount of information in the whole test.
Instead of reading the entire text a second time, focus on the section where the needed information is most likely to be found. To find the information, you must first understand what the questions are about and where the needed information is likely to be found by studying the title of the text, the subtitles, and the main ideas of each section. Detailed strategies that will help you do this are provided in Part 4: Types of Questions and Strategies.
Except for matching types of questions, the answers in the IELTS Reading exam are placed in a sequential order, which means you will find the answer to question 1 before finding the answer to question 2, as shown in the example below.
In Matching types of questions, even though the answers are not always in a sequence, you can still answer the questions with one reading. Read more about this in the next part.
In some extreme cases, the order is reversed, such as when answer 4 appears before answer 3. In these scenarios, keep two things in mind:
- Normally, the switch occurs between two consecutive questions, such as answer 6 before answer 5.
- Normally, the difference between the two answers is not large. They are either in the same sentence or two sentences in a row.
In Matching types of questions, even though the answers are not placed in a sequential order, there is a strategy to solve the questions. This will be discussed more in Heading Matching Questions (HMQs) and Detail Matching Questions (DMQs).
This rule connects to Rule #2 to help you manage your time effectively, increasing your chance of getting correct answers.
Rule #2: Answer questions one by one while reading the text
There are 2 parts in this rule.
Answer the questions while you read the text
To save reading time, you should answer the questions while you are reading. This rule has two benefits.
- Because there is information that you do not need for the answers (the distractors), you can avoid crowding your brain with unnecessary details and missing important details. While reading a section of the text, consider whether it is relevant to any questions. If yes, you can look for the answers. If not, you can easily move on.
- Because the answers are likely to be in sequential order, you can avoid missing important information. So, by answering the questions while reading, you can determine which information you have read and which you have missed.
With this rule, keep these two things in mind:
- You do not need to remember the details of all the questions.
- You only need to remember the details of 2 questions at a time, the question you are trying to answer, and one question after that. If the question is True/False/Not Given or Yes/No/Not Given, you might need to remember three questions at a time, the question you are trying to answer and two questions after that. This strategy is discussed in detailed in the next part.
Answer one question at a time
To make sure you have at least equal amounts of time to read and answer the questions, you should focus on answering one question at a time (one by one). Because the answers are likely to be in sequential order, answering one question at a time allows you to easily track the answer if you miss it. For example, if you have answered questions 4 and 6, but have not found the answer to question 5, you can easily find it by returning to the area between answers 4 and 6, or immediately after answer 6. You do not need to look at the area before answer 4 or read everything after answer 6.
With this rule, keep these two things in mind:
- Before you begin reading, make sure you understand what you should be looking for.
- The key is to remember the details of the questions so you can translate them into your language, highlight keywords, and return to reading the questions whenever necessary.
In short, you need to:
- Remember at least 2 questions at a time.
- Read and answer one question at a time.
Rule #3: Do not look for the same words, only look for the meaning
Each question contains keywords that help you understand the meaning of the question and guess what it is asking about. Keywords are words that decide the meaning of the sentence. Names and numbers are always keywords. There are two important factors to consider.
Except for names and numbers, most of the other keywords in the texts are replaced with synonyms in the questions and the language in IELTS Reading questions is often heavily paraphrased.
So, the vocabulary and grammar in the questions are not always the same as the vocabulary and grammar in the texts. While grammar plays a minor role in answering the questions, vocabulary remains the most important factor in understanding and answering them.
With this rule, if you only look for the same words between the texts and the questions, you will risk:
- Not finding the information you need because the words are not the same.
- Being tricked because when you find the same words, it might be misinformation, which leads to a wrong answer.
In Q21 above, the keywords in the questions are “provide”, and “clear”. The grammar in the question is the Active Voice.
In the text, there is no “provide” and/or “clear”. The answer is “objectives”. Instead of “clear”, it is “well-defined” in the text. Instead of “provide” in the Active Voice, it is “given” in the Passive Voice,
So if you keep looking for these keywords, you will likely miss the line where the information is provided hence missing the answer.
The meaning of the question and the text remains the same
So, no matter how heavily the text is paraphrased, focusing on the meaning will never lead to error.
The example above explains perfectly why the meaning matters the most in solving questions. Even though there are no common keywords or common grammar, the meanings of the sentence in the text and the question are the same. If you ignore the words and focus on the meaning, you will not miss the line where the answer is.
In short, when you look at the words, keep in mind that:
- Names and numbers are the same between the text and the questions.
- Other keywords may be replaced by synonyms
- The meaning of the text and the meaning of the question must be the same.
Rule #4: Do all groups at once
Part 3 usually has 2 groups of questions for one text. For example, questions 28-35 are information matching, and questions 36-40 are true/false/not given. All questions can be answered by reading a single text.
There are two factors to consider.
Firstly, the sequences of both groups’ answers can be intertwined.
Let’s look at the answers and locations of the answers in the example below. Questions 28-33 request information from all paragraphs in the text, which means that you need to read all the paragraphs, from the beginning to the end, to answer questions 28-33. And, to answer questions 34-37, you need to read the text again because you do not know which paragraphs questions 34-37 belong to. Then, you need to read the text a 3rd time to find the answers to questions 38-40. So, to answer all the questions, you need to read the whole text at least three, which violates Rule #1 – Never read the whole text a second time.
To honor Rule #1, you need to solve both question groups at the same time. It means that while you are looking for the answers to questions 28-35, keep in mind that you might find the answers to questions 36-40 along the way.
Second, you should answer questions in both groups simultaneously, but one by one.
Rule #2 states that you should answer one question at a time while reading. And, because answers 28-33 are in a sequence (28-29-30-31-32-33), so do 34-37 (35-35-36-37) and 38-40 (38-39-40) in the text, you should solve questions 28-33 one by one while also solving questions 34-37 and 38-40, one by one.
For example, while reading Paragraph A to answer question 28, you discover the answer to question 34, solve it immediately, and then proceed to question 34. This allows you to solve both groups at the same time without having to re-read the entire text.
Here are a few tips for you to follow this Rule:
- Remember 2-3 questions for each group at a time, depending on the type of questions. (See Rule #5)
- Answer one question at a time in each group.
- Mark the locations of the answers to track the missing information if any.
- The order of the answers in the entire text is not guaranteed. You can only be certain of the order of each group’s answers. This means you can’t know for sure the answer to the first question is in the first paragraph. However, once you find the first answer in a group, the rest of the answers in that group will follow.
Rule #5: Be aware of the type of questions before reading
Based on the forms of questions, there are 3 different general strategies.
- Summarizing questions require you to read the text before reading the questions.
- Detailing questions require you to read the questions before reading the text.
- Mixed questions require you to read a part of the questions before reading the text.
Not to be confused with the forms of questions, in each form, there are different types. Different types of questions require different approaches to help with time management and optimize the answers. Before you begin reading the text, spend some time looking at the questions, identifying the types of questions, and deciding on the strategy for each type. Remember that “looking at the questions” does not indicate reading and analyzing them. “Looking at the questions” is the step in which you determine the type of questions you are dealing with so that you can use the appropriate strategy. The detailed step-by-step strategies of each type will be discussed in the next part.
In short, there are a few steps to solve the questions.
- Look at the questions and determine the type of questions they are.
- Depending on the type of questions, read, and analyze the text or the questions accordingly. (See more in the next part)
- Answer the questions, one by one, while reading the text.