IELTS Reading: Information (FAQ)

Below are answers to frequently asked questions and information about IELTS reading. If you can’t find the information you want, then post me a question at the bottom of the page.

  1. How long is the IELTS reading test? Answer
    The reading test is 1 hour in length and it comes directly after your listening test. There is no extra time given to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.
  2. How many reading passages are there? Answer
    There are three reading passages for the academic paper and three sections for the general training paper (each section might have one or two texts). 
  3. Does everyone take the same reading test? Answer
    No, there are two different tests for IELTS reading. One is the academic paper and one is the general training paper. Before your test you will decide which IELTS test you will take and this will affect both your reading and writing papers. If you don’t know which one you are taking, please follow the link to the IELTS British Council page for information.
  4. What kind of reading passages are there for the academic paper? Answer
    Each passage in the academic reading paper is long. The passages are usually taken from books, magazine and newspapers (they are authentic passages). They can often contain complicated language, academic vocabulary and sometimes diagrams, maps or some kind of illustration.
  5. What kind of passages are there for the general training paper? Answer
    The GT reading paper has three sections, each one getting more difficult. Each section might have one or two texts. The first section is relevant to everyday English life and could be factual information about a school course or some kind of service, such as a hotel. The second section focuses on work issues, such as training courses at work, resources at work, application procedures or about pay schemes.  The last reading section is longer and is the most difficult. This is based on a topic of general interest.
  6. How many questions are there? Answer
    There are 40 questions in total for your reading test. 
  7. How are the scores calculated? Answer
    You get one point for each correct answer. You do not lose points for an incorrect answer. The academic and general training papers have different scoring. Please visit the reading band scores page for a list of the scores.
  8. Do I lose a point if my answer is wrong? Answer
    No, you don’t lose a point for a wrong answer. So, never leave an empty space on your answer sheet – always have a guess.
  9. Do I have time to transfer my answers at the end of the reading test? Answer
    No, there is no extra time for transferring answers. You must write your answers directly on to your answer sheet during the 1 hour.
  10. How long should I spend on each passage? Answer
    It is recommended that you spend 20 minutes on each passage. I agree with this completely. Make sure you keep your eyes on the clock to make sure you manage your time effectively. Don’t leave yourself too little time for passage 3.
  11. What types of questions will I get in IELTS reading? Answer
    There are many different types of questions and you must practice all of them. Here’s a link to a page with a list of IELTS reading question types and tips on how to deal with them. It is an essential page to read in your preparation for IELTS reading.
  12. Can I write on the reading question paper? Answer
    Yes, you can. You can make notes, underline words and write on any part of the question paper. Only your answer sheet will be marked. In fact, it is very useful to make notes on your question paper and can help you locate answers.
  13. Are capital letters important? Answer
    No. You can use them or not as you wish.
  14. Can I write all my answers in capital letters on my reading answer sheet? Answer
    Yes, you can. Sometimes this is a good idea because usually your writing will be easier to read and also you avoid the problem with remembering to put capital letters at the beginning of proper nouns.
  15. Should I use a pen or pencil? Answer
    For your reading and listening test, you must use a pencil. so don’t forget to take an eraser with you. However, for writing you can choose either pen or pencil.
  16. Is spelling important? Answer
    Yes, it is. If the answer is spelled incorrectly, it will be marked wrong. So pay attention to your spelling of long academic words.
  17. Can I write T instead of True for the True False Not Given questions? Answer
    Yes, it’s possible to write a letter instead of the word for the True False Not Given questions and the Yes No Not Given questions.
  18. How can I improve my reading skills? Answer
    Here are some tips for improving your reading skills for IELTS. (1)  develop skills of each type of question in reading – focus on just one type of question each day to improve your technique. Follow the link to get information and tips on question types. (2)  develop your speed reading skills –  the passages are long and time is limited so you need to build your speed. (3)  develop your ability to scan – IELTS reading is not about understanding everything, it’s about locating answers. (4)  read academic articles on various topics – read the bbc news, the new scientist, the economist etc. Here’s a link to a page with useful websites for IELTS. (5)  practice – use my practice lessons to improve your techniques and skills (6)  practice tests – do practice tests to develop your concentration, test your timing and to know your band score. You should take your practice tests from the IELTS Cambridge books 1-10 because they are real past exam papers. For more tips on improving your reading, see this page:
  19. Do all answers come in order? Answer
    No, only some of the question types have answers which follow the order of information in the passage. You need to learn which ones do and don’t. Here is a link to read information and tips about the question types in IELTS reading.
  20. How can I improve my score for matching headings? Answer
    There are a number of issues with matching headings. Firstly, you need to identify the main point of the paragraph or section. The main point could be the first sentence, in the middle or at the end of the paragraph. This is testing your ability to see the difference between a main point and supporting points. Secondly, spend time looking more closely at the headings. Think of what they mean, paraphrase the words and spot headings which seem to be similar to each other. Thirdly, you don’t need to approach the headings in order. I recommend you start with a heading which is distinctly different in content to the others – it will be quicker and easier to find. Fourthly, don’t waste time, if you can’t match the heading, then move on to the next heading. There are often more headings than you actually need. Lastly, don’t just try to match key words, try to match meaning. If the heading says “A description of …”, then you need to look for a paragraph which contains adjectives and descriptive language rather than looking for the word “description”.  So, don’t just match key words, try to predict the type of language you might find in that paragraph. Follow the link to practice Matching Headings Questions.


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