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This is the complete guide to IELTS reading written by a former IELTS examiner – me!

If you can’t find your question, please put it in the comments.

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The Test

“How many questions are on the reading test?”

There are 40 questions.


“How long does the reading test last?”

1 full hour with no extra time to transfer your answers.


“How many readings are there?”

There are 3 readings.


“What kind of topics are on the reading test?”

The most common topics are related to science and history. For example, astronomy, psychology, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, etc. Biographies are also very common. Some less common topics include…


“How many different types of questions are there?”

There are 14 different question types.


“How long should each reading take?”

Each one should take around 20 minutes.


“When should I write on the answer sheet?”

You do not have extra time to transfer your answers so don’t write them on the test – right them immediately on the answer sheet.


“Can I write in all capitals?”

Yes, if you want.


“Is capitilisation important?”

No, you will still receive full marks for ‘london’ or ‘London.’


“Is spelling important?”

Yes, you will be marked down for mispelling words.


“Do my answers have to be grammatically correct?”

Yes, pay close attention to the gap-fills to be sure the grammar is accurate.


“What counts as a word for the ‘no more than ____ words’ questions?”

Dates, times and numbers all count as 1 word. 200 is one word, 3,000,000 is one word, 11am is one word, 22% is one word and so on. Words with hyphens like mother-in-law are one word. For dates, 18th September is one word and a number.


“I don’t understand the test. Do you have a guide?”

Yes! Funny you should ask, I have it right here:


“Do wrong answers hurt my score more than blank ones?”

No, fill in all answers even if you are guessing. Do not leave any answers blank.


“How is the reading test made?”

It takes 1 – 2 years for a reading test to be made and every question must be approved and adjusted by dozens of people. The test is very reliable.


“How is the reading test marked?”

Usually the local staff in your country will mark them by hand before recording your scores.


“Do the readings get harder as the test goes on?”

Yes, they do.


“Should I read the questions or the reading first?”

You should skim the reading before reading the questions and finding the answers.


“Do the answers come in order in the reading?”

Sometimes. For some questions they will, like T/F/NG they will, but for other ones, like matching the heading, they will not.


“Is there a difference between the general training and academic reading?”

Yes, the topics on the general training are related to everyday life and newspapers. The topics in the academic test are … uh … more academic.


“Can I write ‘T’ instead of true?”

Yes, abbreviations are generally accepted throughout. You can write ‘T’ for True, ‘F’ for False, “NG’ for Not Given and even things like ‘Y’ for yes and ‘N’ for no. But our advice is to just write the full words to be safe. Why risk it?


“I keep studying but I can’t improve. What should I do?”

The key to reading test (and listening test) is vocabulary. There’s no shortcut to learning thousands of English words. Improve your English vocabulary and your score will improve. But this may take years depending on the score that you want!


“Should I take the computer-based reading test?”

I think the advantages are big enough that most students should. You should practice online with one first to make sure that it is suitable for you but the computer one allows you to:

  • Highlight answers
  • Copy and past
  • View the questions on one side and the reading on the other (no flipping pages!)



Test Day


“Can I write on the test?”



“What if there’s a problem?”

Tell one of the staff working at the center. They will help you.


“Should I write in pen or pencil?”

Pencil for both listening and reading.


“Can I go to the toilet during the test?”

Yes, in most countries this is OK. But you won’t get additional time.


“Can I bring a drink?”

Yes, as long as the bottle is transparent. (Be careful, in many countries there are no bathroom breaks allowed.)



Improving your reading


“How can I improve my reading?”

In general, follow the tips here: https://howtodoielts.com/the-difference-between-testing-and-improve-your-ielts-reading-score/

For specific tips for IELTS reading, check out this one: https://howtodoielts.com/the-most-important-skill-to-improve-your-ielts-reading-score/


“How long should I practise everyday?”

It depends on your level of English and the score you want. The important thing is that you do it everyday – that’s more important than how long you practice!

Now it’s your turn! Ask us a question in the comments

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