IELTS Reading Tips and Techniques to Increase your Reading Speed

ielts reading speed reading tips

One of the challenges in IELTS reading is speed reading. Each IELTS reading test comprises around 900 words (with 40 questions in an hour) so many IELTS candidates fail to finish the IELTS reading test because they have slow reading speed and poor exam techniques.

While taking the IELTS reading test you need to find out how you are going to improve your reading speed and get your desirable band score. You have to keep in mind that while taking a reading test you will have more than 1000 word content to be read and you will have only 60 minutes to read the particular content, you will not have sufficient time to understand every detail. therefore, it is important to practice the test before actually taking the IELTS test so that you get a hold on it.

The good news is that there are definite techniques you can learn to improve your reading speed. Here I suggest some tips and techniques which will help you to improve your reading speed. All of them work if you practice them regularly.

This article will discuss:

  1. Exam summary
  2. Golden rules for IELTS Reading
  3. Why some people read more slowly than others
  4. Techniques for developing reading speed
  5. Skimming (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced Skimming Techniques, and seven skimming tricks)
  6. Scanning.

IELTS Reading Exam summary

  • The academic reading module takes 60 minutes.
  • There are three reading texts with a total of 1500-2500 words.
  • The texts can be on a range of different topics. At least one of the texts will contain a detailed logical argument. The texts become progressively more difficult to understand.
  • There are usually 40 questions. These questions become progressively more difficult.
  • The reading component is weighted. The standard is the same on each test day. However, to reach a specific band, the number of correct answers required is different in each exam.

Golden rules for IELTS Reading Exam

  • Answer the questions quickly and accurately. If you can’t do a question quickly,  leave it and back to it later
  • As the passages are long, you don’t have to read them in detail. Skim and scan them to find the relevant information.
  • The level, the texts, and the tasks become progressively more difficult. Therefore, do the earlier questions as quickly as possible, to give yourself more time for the difficult questions.
  • You have roughly one and a half minutes for each question.
  • Do not panic if you are able to do just three questions out of seven. Go through them again and again, but quickly.
  • When you finish one passage, check your answers and try to fill any gaps.
  • The questions generally follow the order of the information in the text. However, the questions in one section can overlap another and they may be jumbled.
  • The questions are usually paraphrases of the text so look for the meaning in the text, not the exact words.
  • The questions test your general understanding (G) and specific detail [S]. The detailed lessons about each type of IELTS Reading questions will be updated.
  1. Matching headings [G]
  2. Multiple-choice questions (G and S)
  3. Summary/flow-chart/table completion (G and S)
  4. Classification (G and S)
  5. Matching sentences from a suitable list (G and S)
  6. Answering Yes, No, Not Given (G and S)
  7. Answering True, False, Not Given (G and S)
  8. Matching stems to sentences endings [S]
  9. Sentence completion [S]
  10. Short answer questions [S]
  • Some question types are used to see how you deal with specific information and general meaning. For example, a multiple-choice question can test for detail or understanding of a whole text.
  • The questions do not test your knowledge of English, but your ability to use your English. The exam is testing whether you can use your English to find your way around a written English text

Why some people read more slowly than others?

There are a variety of possible reasons why you might read at a slow pace. Here are a few of the most likely possibilities:

  • You want to get to know every single word
  • You read words one by one and not in groups of meaning
  • You read and say the words quietly at the same time
  • You go back and read sentences two or three times to make sure you completely understand every word and sentence
  • You think about the ideas too deeply or in too much detail

You can also check more IELTS reading materials 

How to improve IELTS reading?

In general, we read at a faster pace when we are getting the general meaning of the text (skimming) or looking for specific words or phrases (scanning). Using these skills is very important, but if we just use these all the time, we will miss important details and get the answers wrong. Let’s learn to use the following techniques separately, to switch automatically and to use several at one time:

  • Skimming: Skim the text to obtain general information. Think about the general information and not the detail. Don’t underline.
  • Scanning: Scan for specific detail only: don’t concentrate on the meaning of the text. If you start to read, or even to skim, you will find it more difficult to locate your words.
  • Skim and read: Skim a text, and stop at particular points to take at the meaning. Use the questions to guide you around the text.
  • Scan and skim: When you scan a text for a specific word, your eye touches the other information lightly. Because your focus is on the scanning, your eye skims the text naturally and does not slow you down. You need to practice to build your confidence


Bask skimming techniques

  1. Skim the title and the questions.  They give you a summary of the passage
  2. Skim the content words only, i.e. the nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Do not look at words like the, a. in. is. etc. Underline the content words in a few paragraphs. Then read them again.
  3. Skim only the basic structure of the sentences/clauses: the subject, verb, and the object (if there is one). Don’t look at adverbs and adjectives.
  4. Without reading the text, mark the connecting words, e.g. moreover, in addition, however, etc. Practice until you can see the connecting words automatically when you look at a paragraph. Then you do not need to mark them.
  5. Skim so that you recognize common types of paragraph organization, like effects, causes, methods, etc. See Matching headings to paragraphs on page 12.
  6. Skim only the nouns in the text to give you a general picture. Be clear about the differences between a noun, verb adjective, and adverb. Learn to recognize them and know what their function is in the sentence.

Intermediate skimming techniques

  1. Read the first sentence of a paragraph and then skim the beginning of each sentence in the paragraph. This will show you the general theme of the paragraph.

See the text organization below. For example:

His career was rather chequered, spanning a period of 30 years. He … After resigning, he … Not long after he … Van Damme then ….

The referring word he carries the information through the subsequent sentences.

  1. Ignore and do not underline words you do not know. Focusing on words you do not know will slow you down.
  2. Skim the verbs in each sentence. This shows you if the content of the text is changing
  3. Start at the verb in each sentence and look at everything after that. The verb usually marks the beginning of new information in the sentence.
  4. Cover the left hand or right-hand side of a text and skim. This stops you from concentrating too hard on the meaning.
  5. Skim a text to understand a theme. This can be factual or ideas. For example, skim a text line by line without looking at the meaning and pick out words that form a pattern/ picture or that have something in common. As you skim, remember writers have to avoid repetition so they have to use synonyms to create a theme.

Advanced skimming techniques

  1. Skim the text forwards or backward and note words which form a general picture: airports, passengers, lounge, fly.
  2. Locate the focus of the paragraph. It is not always at the beginning.
  3. Use your own knowledge of different types of sentences and paragraph organizations to predict and move around the passage.
  4. Look at a central point in a paragraph and then allow your eye to wander around the paragraph skimming the nouns, verbs for the general idea
  5. Use the questions to help you navigate the text.

Seven skimming tricks

  1. Use a pencil to help you skim. This helps train your eye.
  2. Skim each sentence from left to right.
  3. When you develop confidence, skim left to right and then right to left and so on.
  4. Move a pencil vertically down through the center of the text forcing your eye to look quickly at the text on either side.
  5. Skim diagonally through the text – top left to bottom right. You could also go backward diagonally or vertically.
  6. Jump in different directions through the text. Then stop now and again and read
  7. Skim the ends of sentences. A sentence is basically divided between information which refers back to the previous sentence and information which is new. Information that refers generally comes at the beginning and new ideas at the end. Skim the end of the sentences.

Example: A man walked into a shop. The man picked up a newspaper. The newspaper …

  1. At all times try not to get caught up in the details.


Choosing scanning words in the questions

  • Choose your scanning words carefully. For example, with True, False, Not Given, read all the statements and look for words that occur frequently. These are likely to be the general subject of the passage, so they will not help you scan.
  • Look for words that relate to the general subject. They can be nouns, names, dates, etc.
  • Keep in mind the basic structure of a sentence: Subject Verb Object. Anything extra qualifies the sentence, e.g. additional clauses, adjectives, adverbs, negative words, comparisons. These words/phrases help you understand the focus of the statement. For example, you should notice a negative word like ignore immediately. It is probably not a scanning word, but a word that tests your understanding of the text
  • Look for words and ideas that help you navigate the text. This is a very efficient tool. Look at the questions together and not in isolation. The questions can often be subdivided: two relating to one area of text; three to another, etc. Connect the questions, group them and use this to help you to jump around the text.

How to scan slowly? reading technique tips

  • Scan from left to right, left to right. You must look only for your chosen scanning words. If you do not, this will be a slow and ineffective technique.

How to scan quickly?

  • To stop yourself from reading every word, start at the end of each line or paragraph.
  • Scan from right to left, right to left backwards through the text. This prevents you from reading the text.
  • Alternatively, scan diagonally through the text from bottom right to top left, or vertically, from the bottom to the top.

  • Move through the text in a zigzag backwards. This stops you from reading. Move faster each time you practice.

  • You can also scan forward, but you must stop yourself from reading the text.

  • When you have gained confidence, scan forwards left to right, right to left and so on. You do not have to waste time going to the beginning of a line each time! reading technique tips scanning skills

  • Very efficient readers can look at the center of a paragraph and do not allow their eyes to move. They then take everything around the central point. If a paragraph is long, do it in stages.

  • You will pick up the meaning as you scan. You are then becoming an efficient reader!

How to mark the text when you skim or scan?

  • Use a pencil so you can rub out mistakes.
  • Only underline keywords: scanning words from the questions and organizing words.
  • Underline as little as possible. Too much underlining makes it difficult to find essential information. Remember more is less.


The effects of lack of investment can be seen dearly in the state of the trains and the stations. The carriages are old-fashioned and generally in a bad state of repair, factors which put people off using public transport. People are often frightened to travel at night because there are no guards on the trains and the stations deserted…
The effects of lack of investment can be seen clearly in the state of the trains and the stations. The carriages are old-fashioned and generally in a bad state of repair, factors which put people off using public transport. People are often frightened to travel at night because there are no guards on the trains and the stations deserted…

Completing the answer sheet

  • Fill in the answer sheet carefully. Use a pencil.
  • Mark the end of the first two passages on the sheet with a short line. Aim to complete one stage at a time.
  • Fill in the answers directly onto the sheet and in the correct order.
  • Write clearly. Give only one answer unless the instructions require more.
  • Write in the correct spaces and keep within them.
  • Check your spelling, especially common words and follow the word limit.
  • Do not copy words from the question stem or paraphrase from the text. The answer will be marked incorrect.
  • Skim/check your answers when you finish. Choose answers at random to check, or check them backward. Also, check your answers against the questions to make sure the grammar is correct.

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