The Basic Steps to Follow on IELTS Reading (to Read Faster!)

The Basic Steps to Follow on IELTS Reading (to Read Faster!)

These are the 6 basic steps for IELTS reading that you will be taught about in every course and will help you to read faster!

I’ve been teaching and examining IELTS for years and this is the first lesson I do on reading every time. These are the building blocks.

Once you know these steps then you can start focusing on question types and the ways to actually improve, not just test, your reading skills.

Let’s get started!



Step 1: READ THE TITLE (5 Seconds)

Don’t spend too much time here thinking about it. Just read it, get an idea of what you will be reading about and get started.

This is a reading from Cambridge IELTS 12 (real past test papers).

For this one the title is ‘The Risks Agriculture Faces in Developing Countries.’

You can imagine that the article will be scientific, that it will talk about specific poor countries, about agricultural methods and why these countries have problems with agriculture sometimes.

IELTS Reading Steps

IELTS Reading Steps




This is the most important step – in fact it is the most important skill in all of IELTS reading.

To skim means to read quickly for the overall meaning of the passage, not just the specific details.

It is like drawing a rough map of the passage, without all the street names filled in.

You should skim an IELTS reading (2000 – 3000 words) in 2 – 3 minutes. The reason why it has to be so fast is that you want it to stick in your short term memory.

When you read the first question you should still have that rough map in your head – you don’t want it to fade. If it takes longer than 3 minutes then it will start to fade and won’t be as useful.

So how exactly do you skim?

To skim you should read:

1. The topic sentence of each paragraph. Read this slowly. It is the most important sentence.

2. The keywords. Read the rest of the paragraph faster, skipping words and details and focusing on some keywords (nouns and verbs).

You should ignore:

1. Words that you don’t know. There is no time to figure them out now (hopefully it is not too many – if it is too many then you are not ready to be studying IELTS yet.)

2. Small details like names, years, and places – you can easily locate those later!

3. Small grammar words like: is, are, of, the, a, to, etc. If you take those out of the sentence you can still understand it because they have very little meaning – ignore them for now!

It’s important for you to remember that skimming is an IELTS skill ONLY. It does not make you a good reader – just the opposite: it makes you a bad reader. But it is useful for the test so you should improve this skill to be able to do the IELTS reading quickly.

The best way to practice is with practice tests or by reading the news everyday.

Practice skimming this passage by focusing on the topic sentences and keywords (should take you 2 – 3 minutes):

IELTS Reading

IELTS Reading

IELTS Reading

IELTS Reading



This one is obvious! But the more practice tests you do, the faster you can do this on the real test because you will already be familiar with the different question types.

IELTS Reading Steps


IELTS Reading Steps

This is also obvious. Don’t read all the questions – you’re not trying to impress anyone with your memory.

Read the first question and then you can scan for the answer. It will be easier and faster to scan if you did a good job skimming before.




Scan for the answer just means to read quickly to find the answer.

Locate the keyword in the question and look for it in the reading.

Sometimes you will be able to find the keyword. For example, you might see ‘lack of demand’ in the question and then find the same phrase ‘lack of demand’ in the reading like a landmark to find the answer.

But it is more common for the keywords to be paraphrased. For example you see ‘lack of demand’ in the question and then find ‘a relatively undeveloped domestic market’ or ‘few people want to buy.’

The biggest mistake that a lot of students make is they either just look for the keyword or direct synonyms. Both of these are rare. Look for something paraphrased that means the same thing with totally different words.

Underline the keywords but don’t spend time thinking of synonyms. Instead follow your map to the part of the text where you think the answer is and read very carefully and slowly.

For most questions, the answers come in order in the reading so that will help you find the general area where the answer is.

Here are the rest of the questions if you want to do some practice now:

IELTS Reading Steps


Would be a shame to forget this step! Make sure that you write on the answer sheet and not on the test – you will not get extra time to transfer your answers from the test to the answer sheet!



What if I want to do the reading a different way?

This is the best way, in my opinion, for most students to manage their time on the reading test.

But there are some other ways. These are some of the other ideas I have heard from my former students:

‘Read the question first and then skim afterwards. If your vocab and memory are really good then this can be faster.’

‘Spend more time skimming – about 5 minutes. Then you know the text really well and it is much easier to find the answers.’

‘Don’t read it at all – just take a look at the paper of the person next to you…’

Practice and figure out which way works best for you!



Here are the answers for the reading above which is from Cambridge IELTS 12:

Reading Answers


Here is a summary of the steps from our Instagram and Facebook pages:

Reading Steps

Reading Steps




Comment below – what score did you get on IELTS reading?

‘When I took the test, I got…’

‘I haven’t taken the real test yet, but I’m usually around a ____ on practice tests.’

‘I keep getting the same score…’

Practice your IELTS Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking with The Avengers

Practice your IELTS Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking with The Avengers

First of all, let me apologise: IELTS is supposed to be boring. Sometimes I can’t resist making an interesting lesson about IELTS.

In this post, you’re going to do some practice and learn some tips for IELTS speaking, listening, reading, and writing (while talking about The Avengers).

For speaking, we are going to learn about Part 2 with two different sample answers.

For listening, we are going to focus on Part 1 of IELTS listening and writing down names and letters.

For reading, I’ll show you how to deal with True/False/Not Given questions.

Finally, we will take a look at a possible Writing Task 2 question and writing your main ideas for it.

Let’s go! Here is the full video – watch it and then read the analysis below:



In the speaking I focused on Part 2 Speaking.

The question was:

Talk about a superhero you admire. You should say:

Who it is

Why you admire him/her

Other heroes you admire

Here is my full answer:

The superhero that I want to talk about is Batman and the reason that I admire Batman is because he doesn’t have any superpowers. So in the last movie he was in was the Justice League – he has to come together to protect the world to bat– there’s a battle between good and evil – a threat has come out and they have to try to fight it together. So he needs needs Wonder Woman’s help and he has to go get all these other superheroes to work together to fight the evil threat and again the reason I admire him is cuz he has no superpowers – he’s just a normal kind of crazy, angry, violent man but really amazing because all the other heroes they’re fighting and they’re not gonna die – they’re fine you know, even if they lose they won’t die – just all the people in the world will die but for Batman it’s different he could actually die – all the other superheroes it’s like it doesn’t really matter. Worst case scenario: the other people die, the whole world dies but least they are okay. But Batman it could actually be him who dies.

admire (verb): look up to or respect. “I admire Elon Musk because he dates a lot of celebrities.”

come together (verb): work as part of a team. “If we come together on this, we can accomplish anything.”

a battle between good and evil (noun phrase): a fight between the good guys and the bad guys. “Every Hollywood movie basically boils down to a battle before good and evil.”

threat (noun): Something that could harm or hurt you. “The threat of prison prevents most people from committing crimes.”

work together (verb): work as part of a team (same as above). “If we work as part of a team, we can accomplish anything.”

actually (adverb): in fact or really. “I’m not into superhero movies. Actually, I hate them.”

doesn’t really matter (expression): it is not important. “It doesn’t really matter how long you practice, you’re going to end up with the same score.”

worst case scenario (expression): the worst thing that could possibly happen. “Worst case scenario we will have to find a new place to work.”

I also gave a second example answer for the same question:

I want to talk about another superhero from the Marvel movies and his name is Captain America. Now I’m an American – that isn’t the reason why I like Captain America but it doesn’t hurt. So I like Captain America because in fact actually before the last Avengers movie I didn’t like Captain America he was my least favorite and that was because he’s always on his high horse – he always thinks he’s the best and he’s so self-righteous. He thinks he’s such a good guy and I always hate characters like that. I like characters more like the polar opposite – like a Tony Stark Iron Man – guys who are full of themselves and arrogant and fun but in the last movie I did feel that the actor who plays him – his character – because he’s got so much conviction he believes what he says so much that that I started to respect his character – I even liked his character more than the other characters.

on his high horse (idiom): feels superior/smarter/more ethical that everyone else. “Don’t get on your high horse with me.”

self-righteous (adjective): consider yourself to be right all the time. “Don’t get that self-righteous attitude with me.”

polar opposite (noun): completely different, 100% opposite. “We’re polar opposites – we can’t agree on anything!”

full of themselves (verb phrase): thinking very highly of yourself, arrogant. “My boss is so full of himself – I can’t stand him!”

arrogant (adjective): thinking very highly of yourself, full of yourself. “I’m not arrogant – I’m very humble!”

conviction (noun): believing strongly in something. “One of the key qualities of a leader is conviction.”


I recommend that you take the time to record, write down, and keep practicing your part 2 speaking answers until they get better!

You can also try practicing with my answers to build up your confidence.

Get some help from the Avengers on IELTS!



In part 1 of the listening test, you are being tested on 1 simple things: you ability to listen and write.

The vocabulary is simple so it won’t be a big problem in this part. There also aren’t many distractors or synonyms (which you will find in listening parts 2, 3, and 4(.

If you are trying to get above band 6, you probably need to get all the questions in part 1 correct.

Luckily, it is the easiest section to practice for! Just practice listening and writing.

Here are some ideas for how to practice:

1. Use the video above. Listen and write down the names that I spell out. Remember that the key to listening is repetition.

2. Find another video on YouTube (I recommend BBC One Minute World News). Listen and write down the key words. Listen repeatedly. Or listen and write all the nouns or verbs. Try different ways – just make sure you are listening and writing something.

3. Use an IELTS practice test – but don’t do the whole test! Listen to section 1 again and again. Then read and listen to the tapescript. Focus on the ones that were hard or you got wrong. Figure out why you got it wrong and then practice that. For example, if you always miss the letter ‘s’, listen to a YouTube video and write down all the words with ‘s’.


In my experience as a teacher and IELTS examiner, students struggle the most with True/False/Not Given questions (actually, even native English speakers struggle with them!).

Here’s the same example from the video above:

Avenger’s 4’s first weekend at the box office was the highest grossing for any film ever.

True/False/Not Given?

1. Avenger’s 4 made more money than any other superhero movie in its first weekend.

2. Avengers 4 is a popular film.

3. Avengers 4 has made more money than any other film.

The answers are:

1. True

2. True

3. Not Given

The first one is true because if it made more money that ANY film, that also includes other superhero movies, even though it didn’t mention other superhero movies you can infer this logically.

The second one is true because if a movie makes a ton of money then it has to be popular. This is also logical (common sense).

The third one is not given because even thought it may become true later, it is only talking about the opening weekend – not the total amount of money made.

For True/False/Not Given you need to be careful of: questions that are almost true – but not quite. Those are going to be not given.

Let’s try one more example of a question that is ALMOST true – but not quite:

Dave was an IELTS  examiner.

True/False/Not Given

1. Dave worked for the IELTS department at either BC or IDP.

2. Dave is still a current IELTS examiner.

3. Dave also teachers IELTS.

Number 1 is true because BC and IDP are the only two places where you can take IELTS and to do IELTS you obviously have to work for the IELTS department.

Number 2 is false because it says that I was in the past. If it was still true it would say ‘Dave has been an IELTS examiner for years.’

Number 3 is not given. You can assume it is true but it doesn’t actually say it – so false. These are the ones you have to be most careful of – that ones that are ALMOST true.



Here is the question from the video above:

Some people think that governments should have authority over superheroes. To what extent do you agree?

Based on the movie Captain America: Civil War, there are two main sides – what Iron Man (Tony Stark) thinks and Captain America (Steve Rogers).

If Iron Man were taking IELTS he would agree 100% because he thinks governments are elected by the people and the people should have power of the decisions of superheroes.

If Captain America were taking IELTS he would completely disagree because he doesn’t think governments can be trusted and superheroes are more responsible and ethical.

If you were doing it – well why don’t you tell me!

Write your own sample answer in the comments below (using my main ideas or your own). I will give band scores for free for anyone who comments a full sample answer!

‘What’s My Current English Level and IELTS Band Score?’

‘What’s My Current English Level and IELTS Band Score?’

To be honest, you can’t really know your IELTS band score without a qualified teacher.

Wait, don’t go! I’m not wasting your time!

You won’t be able to get a completely accurate score but it is possible to figure out within a band score what you should be getting for each part of IELTS.

I’m a former IELTS examiner so I know the band scores well.

Read below to learn how to test yourself, figure out your score, and afterwards be sure to also check out my sister post on How Long it Will Take to Get Your IELTS Score.



How to Figure Out Your IELTS Speaking Score

This will take some time and effort but if you follow my instructions you will have a good idea of your speaking score without having to overpay a teacher!

This is Nguyen, the first ever customer for our Band Scores and Writing Corrections Service and a current employee. She lived in Australia for years and her speaking (and overall) scores on two recent tests for speaking were 7.5 and 8.

She uses tons of natural language, accurate vocabulary and has a nice accent.

To figure out your speaking level you are going to compare yourself with her.

Here is the Part 2 Speaking question she will be talking about:

Describe a sci-fi film that you watched.

Practice and record yourself answering the question above for about 2 minutes. Keep the recording – you will need it.

Listen to her response (In this video she speaks for more than 2 minutes. That’s not what will happen on the real test – it is just for you to get as much practice as possible!)

If you can understand 80 – 100% that doesn’t mean you are a band 8 – it just means your listening skills are good. You can’t always use all the language that you understand.

Now it is time to compare your response and hers. Some of the hesitations, repetition, and grammatical mistakes in this answer could bring her fluency and grammar down and make this a 7.5. Her level in this video is 7.5/8.

I’m a former examiner so let me show you exactly what is going through the mind of the examiner when he is listening to you speak.

Examiners always have the band descriptors out and look at them before and after the test. In their small heads with their tiny brains, they are highlighting them to get an idea of your score.

Here are Nguyen’s scores (which are mainly from Band 8 with some parts from Band 7):

Her score might go up or down depending on the part and part 2 speaking is usually full of the most hesitations. If she uses more complex structures and hesitates a little less she should be able to get an 8.

Most examiners would give her a 7.5 based on this section of the test because of hesitations and the grammatical mistakes.

Here is some of the good vocabulary that she uses:

had a chance, basically, astronaut crew, revive, dead alien cell, in the end, just a few days, full-grown octopus shape, manages to break free, at this point, horror, gory, killing spree, prevent, reaching earth, threat, human race, locked himself in, eliminate, back into space, for some reason, take control of, twist.

Use your recording to make a list of the vocabulary that you used. You don’t know exactly how accurate or good the vocabulary that you used is – that’s OK. Look it up in the dictionary to check what you can.

Here are some of the different types of grammatical structures that she uses:

Past Simple: had a chance, killed

Present Simple: the movie is about, they succeed, he manages to, the movie turns out to be, etc.

Passive Voice: the astronauts are being killed, the astronauts are killed

Present continuous: are trying, driving them

‘Will’ for future: there will be

Here is the full transcript (the bolded words are corrections):

Recently I had a chance to watch a sci-fi movie called ‘Life.’ Basically the movie’s about an astronaut crew living in space and they were trying to – they are trying to revive a dead alien cell. And the succeed in the end and they name the cell Kevin. And Kevin grows so fast that its size increases incredibly after just a few days into a full grown octopus shaped creature. And Kevin tries to escape from the cage where he was kept inside for so long for the experiments. And in the end he manages to break free. And at this point, the movie turns out to be a horror film and a gory sort of movie because Kevin goes on a killing spree. And the astronauts are being killed slowly, one by one. And the astronauts’ mission now is to survive and prevent Kevin from reaching Earth because they believe that Kevin is a dangerous threat to the human race. After the chasing and the killing I think all the astronauts are killed and only one manages to survive. And I think in the end, he locks himself into a space capsule with Kevin and tries to eliminate Kevin by driving both of them back out into space instead of going back to Earth. But then somehow Kevin manages to take control of the spaceship and both of them land on Earth. And the movie ends there. So I think there will be a part 2 (sequel) for the movie. ‘Did you enjoy the movie?’ It was a good twist at the end and I’m kind of excited to see what will happen next.

Use your recording to make a list of the grammar that you used. When talking about a movie you can refer to it in the past or the present or use a combination. Nguyen smartly sticks to present simple to talk about the events of the film.

Check out one of these grammar sites to see how accurate your grammar is:

If there is a grammatical mistake in every sentence you will not be getting above a 5 or possibly 6 for your grammar score.

You should now have a general feeling how her response compares to yours. Are you at Nguyen’s level? Lower? Higher?

Now try searching for some band 6 and 7 speaking tests on YouTube and repeating the same method.

You can also try this same method with another of Nguyen’s tests here (subscribe to our YouTube channel here):



I recommend practicing that same technique with as many speaking tests on YouTube as you can find. Here is another example with Minh who also got a Band 8 for IELTS speaking:


After watching a few and recording your own responses you should know your score to within 1 full band.

If you are still not sure, you can comment below and I will message you and we can work out another way to know your speaking score.



How to Figure Out Your IELTS Listening and Reading Scores

This is the easiest one to do. Without too much trouble you can figure out what both your listening and reading scores are!

Buy the past Cambridge Practice Tests. You can get the latest one here: or take a look and see if they are available at the local bookstore in your country.

These are all past tests. Don’t worry about which number book. Anything from 7 to the most current one is fine (ones before 7 are also OK, there are just some small ways in which the test has changed).

Do it under real test conditions. The listening test is 30 minutes and the reading test is 1 hour.

Check your answers in the back of the book and use this guide to roughly figure out your score (scores vary slightly based on the difficulty of the test that week):

IELTS Listening

IELTS Reading (Academic)

IELTS Reading (General Training)

Band score

Raw score out of 40

Band score

Raw score out of 40

Band score

Raw score out of 40

























Don’t just do 1 test! It might not give you an accurate score (maybe you were lucky or unlucky with the topics).

Do at least 3 listening and reading tests. If the scores are similar that is your level – now you know before you go to the real exam.

If the scores are very different each time, keep doing them until the scores become more similar – it shouldn’t take too many practice tests for that to happen.

Here are the 6 Basic Tips You’ll Learn in Every IELTS Course and here is The Most Important Skill for the Reading Test.



How to Figure Out Your IELTS Writing Band Scores

For writing, there are a number of services online that you can use to get a very accurate Band Score estimate. Well actually, there’s only 1 that’s very accurate because it comes from former examiners.

You can trust and rely on the marks we give you. We highlight the band descriptors and give a report on each category to ensure complete accuracy and transparency.

For $9 (for that price in April only!) you can get your band scores for your Writing Task 1 or 2!

IELTS costs between $200 and $300! If you use our service, you can figure out your score and won’t waste as much money later.

If you also want to get complete writing corrections along with your band scores that is more expensive ($29) but could end up making a huge difference for you!



Using the CEFR to Guide you

There’s one other way that might help you know your English level and IELTS band score.

The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is the most important, internationally recognized system for defining English ability.

Here is how it defines each level:

Beginner (A1): You can interact in the most basic ways if the other speaker talks slowly and is helpful. You can introduce yourself and others and can ask and answer questions bout where you live, people you know and things you have.

Elementary (A2): You can understand some sentences and frequently used expressions related to personal and family information, shopping, local geography and the environment. You can communicate in simple and routine tasks on familiar topics.

Intermediate (B1): You can deal with most situations while traveling abroad. You can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Upper Intermediate (B2): You can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers possible without difficulty for either part.

Advanced (C1): You can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. You can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic, and professional purposes.

Master (C2): You can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. You can express yourself spontaneously, very fluently, and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations. You understood this paragraph easily.

Here is how those levels compare with IELTS according to their official website. Most examiners would say these scores are a little low. As an Intermediate you should be able to get up to around a 6, for example.

I hope that is helpful but I fear you might just be guessing. That’s why I strongly recommend that you take some time and try the tips I talked about earlier in the post so that you get a more accurate idea of your current level.

Now let’s move on to the big question – not where you are – where you are going


‘How Long Will it Take Me to Get to Band ____?’

It’s really hard to say. So hard that I wrote a whole other post about it: ‘How Long do I Need to Study to get my IELTS Score?’

Best of luck!

Oh and if you’re still reading don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube or even all 3 if you’re a fanatic!


Comment below: What’s your current level?

Here’s some help starting your comment:

I think my level is probably around…

On my last test I got …. but I think I have improved to a …

I’m not sure but it isn’t below …

I still don’t really know. The band score I need is …

Should you Watch the Subtitles on Movies and TV when Learning English?

Should you Watch the Subtitles on Movies and TV when Learning English?

This is a question that students and friends ask me all the time on our Facebook and our Instagram. When watching a movie or TV show or YouTube video: ‘Should I watch it with English subtitles? Subtitles in my language? Or no subtitles at all?’

‘Just watching and learning is most important,’ I say to avoid thinking about the question. But there are actually good reasons for trying all 3 methods.

But let’s look at the reasons for all 3, based on 10 years of teaching experience and IELTS examining!

And head over to our YouTube Channel to practice if you have time!


Should you subtitle when learning English?



Why English Subtitles are Good

The main reason that it is good to use the English subtitles is that your listening ability is probably not as good as your reading ability.

By watching and reading the subtitles you will be able to match together what the characters are saying with the actual words.

Not only that but the images and story will make some of the vocabulary clearer.

This is very similar to the way that you learned your native language as a kid.

But there is one big difference – as a kid you learned without subtitles and your listening and speaking probably improved faster than your reading and writing.

The big drawback to this approach is related to your listening and pronunciation.

Your listening may get worse because you may become dependent on the subtitles and not improve your listening. This might not happen, but if it does, you could end up with poor listening skills.

Your pronunciation could also get worse. That’s because in English words are not always said the way they are spelled. We don’t say ‘Sit down’ as two separate words – we say ‘Si-down,’ we don’t even pronounce the ‘b’ in ‘comb’ or the ‘k’ in ‘knight’!

Reading the subtitles may focus you too much on the spelling and hurt your pronunciation.

In conclusion, watching with English subtitles is good for improving your language skills (vocabulary, grammar, etc.) but it may hurt your listening and pronunciation.

You can practice it with the live lessons on our YouTube channel which all feature subtitling.



Why Native Language Subtitles are Good

I have a lot of friends who swear by this method.

One teacher I know, who spoke completely fluent English despite only beginning to learn at age 12, used to watch cartoons in English and figure out from the subtitles in Romanian what the words meant.

There is also a lot of good research to suggest this can be effective.

It works because a clever and active listener can link together the meaning they already understand from the subtitles.

This is supported by research that shows one of the best and most memorable ways to learn English is by making comparisons between your native language and English.

However, there are two very serious drawbacks.

The first one is what happens in the majority of cases: people just read the subtitles in their language and mostly ignore the English. Lots of people even turn down the volume and just read the screen!

The second one is that it encourages you to translate from English back to your language.

This might later hurt your listening comprehension: instead of listening and understanding you will listen, translate and understand.

If you carry over this habit to speaking and writing it will also slow you down. You don’t want to be translating every single word when speaking or writing – it should flow out more naturally.

This might not happen – but you must be very active practicing with the vocabulary that you learn to make sure you don’t end up like an old slow smartphone that takes 5 minutes just to load up Google!



Why No Subtitles at all are Good

This is the way that you learned your native language.

You listened to your parents, friends and teachers. You watched TV shows and movies without subtitles.

This is the most natural way to learn English.

When you learn this way, your pronunciation will be good because you only focus on the sounds, never the spelling of the words.

You will develop excellent listening skills because there will be no help from the subtitles.

However, because this way requires you to be completely independent, it is also much harder.

For a long time it will be confusing and difficult (maybe too difficult!) and you might give up.

Only use this method alone if you are already confident with English, you have lots of free time or you enjoy challenges.


Aristotle said this.

How to Combine Different Ways of Using Subtitles

Aristotle’s quote means that the best method is not at either extreme, but somewhere in the middle – moderation in all things.

Jumping in without any subs at all is a huge challenge – you might give up.

Using just one approach has advantages but also disadvantages. You will end up with one skill – listening or vocabulary – stronger than the other.

You should combine the approaches to make sure that your skills are well-rounded – moderation in all things.

Here are some ideas for how to combine these approaches (all Netflix programming has subtitles and you can also check out this YouTube playlist I made! (be sure to hit the CC button for some of them to turn on the subs!)):

  1. No Sound: Try watching a video on YouTube or Netflix with no sound first. Pay attention to the body language. Try to guess what they are saying. Write down some ideas. Then listen. Take some notes of words they said. Then watch with subtitles and check again. Then watch again with no sound and no subtitles and try to remember what they said. Keep trying variations of this until you know the whole scene by heart!

  2. Native Language First: Watch with subtitles in your native language first so that the meaning is clear. Then make notes on some of the English words used. Try to rewrite the whole thing in English. Keep watching until you fully understand the English.

  3. Eng Subs First: Watch it with English subtitles first. How much can you understand? Make notes in two columns: things you understand and things you don’t understand. Watch it a couple of times with English subtitles and try to move everything into the understand column. Then watch it with your native language subtitles and again try to move everything to the understand column.

  4. No Subs First: Watch it without any subtitles. Write down the things you can and can’t understand. Keep watching it until you understand as much as possible. Then put on the English subtitles and keep watching it. Finally, use your native language subtitles to understand it totally. Watch it from the beginning with no subs again and see the progress you have made!

  5. Switching Throughout: The above 4 ideas work best with short videos that you watch repeatedly. That might be boring. Watch a whole show or movie. But don’t just use one technique. Keep your brain active by changing it up: sometimes no subs, sometimes native language subs and sometimes English subs. Try to enjoy it as well!

  6. Review, Review, Review: All the above ideas will work – my personal guarantee as a teacher and former IELTS examiner. But the most important thing to make real progress is to review. Studying without reviewing is like working out once a week – you won’t see a big difference. Drag yourself back to the gym to exercise again and again and you’ll get stronger. Review the same scenes, movies and shows over and over again until you are confident you understand everything. Then begin to practice using the language you learned. That is the essence of language learning – now stop reading this and just go do it!

Now it’s your turn! Go watch a video and post the link to it in the comments!

How to Read the News and Improve your IELTS Reading Score

How to Read the News and Improve your IELTS Reading Score

It gets pretty boring trying to improve your reading everyday using practice tests – reading the news is a great way to work on your IELTS!

Your life is already pretty boring so let’s see if we can find some ways to make it slightly more interesting.

The news used to be boring too, but now that Donald Trump is president it is better than watching an action movie!

Let’s take a look at how you can use the news in a structured way over a long period of time to improve your reading skills and do better on the test (these tips apply to books and other online articles as well – not just the news).

You can get more tips and reading materials from our Facebook group, too!

Here are the basic steps for IELTS reading if you are interested as well!



Tip #1: Know your Websites

Here are my favourite websites for reading the news, including a mixture of American and UK sites: Takes the top headlines from hundreds of newspapers and websites. Also allows you to personalize and search news all over the world. This magazine has been around for 160 years and employs some of the best writers and journalists in the world. The best and most popular blog for reading music news. The gold standard for UK news, publicly funded and 100% impartial. Often considered to be the pinnacle of professional journalism. LIberal-leaning and the most famous news organisation in the world.


Tip #2: Read lots of Related Articles

Let’s take an example. You find this article on politics from the Atlantic:


Here are two of the related articles at the bottom:


Make sure that you read articles from the same topic. Since both articles are related you will be able to review a lot of the same vocabulary.

Some of the common vocabulary in both articles includes: administration, white house, democratic, campaign, conceal, institutions and many more!

This is how you learn a language: you read the same words over and over again in slightly different texts and over time understand the word fully.

You don’t learn words with vocabulary lists and translations from L2 to L1 (or even from dictionaries!). That is superficial.

This method of learning slowly as you read a word over and over again encourages deep, meaningful learning, not simple memorisation.


Tip #3: Keep a Journal for Vocab and Ideas

The difference between successful and unsuccessful IELTS students is how active they are.

Don’t just read. Read and DO SOMETHING.

Here are some images of good note-taking (from our Instagram page):

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Tip #4 Practice Activities

Besides taking good notes, you should also try to do some meaningful practice with what you read.

You don’t have to be in the classroom with some old, ugly teacher to do practice activities.

Here are some activities you can do all by yourself:

1. Read the article and write a short summary (1-2 sentences long). Then go back the next day and re-read the article and add more detail to your summary.

2. Write your opinion of what is happening in the article.

3. Write a prediction for what will happen in the future related to the article.

4. Record your favourite quotes/lines from the article. Try to memorise them.

5. Add an extra sentence to every paragraph in the article.


Now it’s Your Turn! Post a link to a news article about Donald Trump below:

The Most Important Skill to Improve your IELTS Reading Score

The Most Important Skill to Improve your IELTS Reading Score

Skimming Helps you Climb the Vocabulary Mountain

I get questions all the time about how to improve IELTS reading. The short answer is: vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary.

But the short answer takes a long time – years and years and years to build up your vocabulary to get a good score. You know better than me how long it takes – how long have you been learning English for already?

The vocabulary journey is like climbing Mount Everest.

The shortcut is one skill that is by far the most important for the test.

If you improve this skill you can improve your reading score, even without improving your vocabulary much.

You won’t get to the top of Mount Everest practicing this skill, but it’s like a secret staircase to get you halfway up the mountain.

The skill is skimming.

Skimming means to read for the main idea or gist of the whole reading.

When should you Skim?

Let’s look at exactly when you should do this in the reading test. The basic breakdown for IELTS reading is:

Step 1: Read the title (5 seconds)

Step 2: Skim (2-3 minutes)

Step 3: Read the instructions

Step 4: Read the question

Step 5: Scan for the answer

Step 6: Write the answer on the answer sheet

Why skim?

Skimming is the most important step because if you can skim well (under 3 minutes and understand the main points of the reading) you will be able to find the answers more easily later.

You skim to scan faster later. That’s the whole reason it is important.

Skimming is like making a map in your mind of the reading. Then you just follow the directions (the questions) to the destination (the answers).

The most important part of skimming is the time.

This means if it takes you 5 minutes to skim you may have forgotten the beginning of the reading when you start reading the questions. It won’t be in your short-term memory anymore!

But if it only took you 3 minute to skim, then the beginning of the reading will still be in your short-term memory and when you see the question you will be able to quickly identify where the answer is.

Then you should read very slowly to make sure you get the correct answer.

So that’s what you need to do in order to improve quickly for the reading test – use practice tests to get better at skimming!

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

Help out other people in the community by putting a link to an interesting article for skimming in the comments section below

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