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
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.
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