Approaching IELTS Reading

Nasih Ul Wadud Alam

15 July, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Approaching IELTS Reading

Recently, I sat for the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test on 21 June 2021 at British Council, Chattogram. It was my first-time. Thanks to the wonderful atmosphere that the test-centre authority had created, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I went there almost an hour before my listening test began. Then, I read English newspapers online for half an hour. After that, I had to show my passport, filled up the required forms, gave my finger prints a couple of times, and waited for a few minutes more before the beginning of the actual test. Everything was meticulously planned, and timely done. 

If you are planning to study abroad, you need to take the academic version, which is harder than the general one. Although I am not an IELTS expert, I would like to take the length and space of this column to offer you some suggestions on your preparation for the exam. In the following lines, you are going to find my subjective views, therefore my opinions might be bordering on biases. Today’s article focuses on the reading part. 

The IELTS reading part, for me, was the toughest one. At first, I read line by line to answer the questions, but it was a wrong ploy. Answering 40 questions in 60 minutes needs quick wit and plenty of instinctive thinking. Any test-taker should know that there are three academic articles in the reading part. It is generally believed that part 3 of the reading passages is the hardest.  I think each level could be hard and easy at the same time. It requires lots of practice and smart reading.

For the IELTS reading portion, we need to divide our time in equal proportion. Many youtubers suggest we read the questions before poring over each individual article, extracted from science magazines, journal articles, and newspapers. I tried it, too. But I did not receive good scores in practice exercises by following that approach. After much deliberation and some IELTS experts’ (my wife, my colleagues: Asiqur bhai and Zubair bhai) suggestions, I focused first on the topic sentence and the concluding sentence of each paragraph in the first couple of minutes. Then, I read the questions and answered them by picking important information from the passage, each of which carries some technical terms, important dates, events, quotations, researchers’ recommendations, and the author’s opinion. A reader has to highlight those pieces of information while reading the passage. This approach paid rich dividends. 

One of the common dilemmas every test-taker has is on the “True/False/ Not Given” part. If a question gives contrary information to the passage, it is “False”. However, if the information is not fully there, it is “Not Given”. And if you find your information aligning with the question that is being asked, then it is “True”. What I would request you is not to get stuck on one question. The best way is to move on to the next question. You can always come back to the question later during your review session. In case of “heading”, you will need to pay special attention to the topic sentence and concluding sentence of each paragraph. If you do not find your answers there, look into the supporting details of each part. Skim and scan quickly.  Time is your worst enemy in your exam.

IELTS Academic requires you to read a lot. Try to read English newspapers every day.  Read English books of your interest. You will find plenty of books online and offline. I bought all the Cambridge Academic versions, and the Makkars’ Books on Reading. It is important for you to improve your vocabulary. WORD SMART was extremely helpful. I read that book daily. You will find lots of unknown words. If you do not know the meanings of some words, do not panic, contextualize. Before beginning my preparation for the test, I honestly felt that it would be a walk in the park for me. Simply, I think, the mental process would not face too many hurdles. Being a university teacher, and the one with an English literature background, I was confident enough to pass the test with flying colours. However, the reality proved to be in stark contrast. When I began going through the academic reading passages, I realized how tough the test patterns are, and how much patience and determination are required to do well. Therefore, I swallowed my ego, and started my drilling patiently. 

Do not be hopeless in the reading part. During your practice tests, you will score as low as 13 on 40. In fact, I got my highest score in the real exam. Before that, I scored not more than 6, but the number jumped much higher in the actual test, to my utter surprise. My takeaway is: keep on practicing regularly. Do at least 2 reading exercises, one in the early morning, and the other one in the evening. Live a disciplined life. Relax and enjoy the whole procedure. Remember, IELTS is not the only way to judge your talent. Therefore, scoring poorly should not be the end of your life. Know what your benchmark is. And work hard towards that goal.

In my next article, I will write about IELTS Speaking.  


The writer is lecturer, department of English, Chittagong Independent University