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IELTS Reading Skills: General & Academic

Questions or text first?


When I ask IELTS students and candidates do they read the text or questions first, over 90% reply “Questions first” and they have never tried to start with reading the text first. 

Each section of the test has 3 to 4 different reading question types that require a different strategy for each one. The vast majority of question types involve locating specific information. If you read the questions first, then you can find yourself re-reading sections or paragraphs of the text in order to locate the answer.

An alternative approach is to start by reading the text first and summarizing the information in each paragraph. Start by speed reading (skimming) the text in 3 – 4 minutes. Aim to skim/speed read 100 words in 30 seconds. Make notes on the question paper or screen for CD IELTS that summarize the main idea / information of the paragraph. 

Then, read the questions and you should already have an idea where the answer is located. After that, scan the appropriate paragraph to locate the answer and then slowly and carefully read the section to confirm it.


To my knowledge, there’s no proven better approach. However, try both approaches of reading the questions first and text first before deciding which one to adopt. Whatever approach you use, depends entirely on what works best for you.

Skimming and Scanning

When reading in our own language, we use skimming and scanning skills without even thinking about it and these skills should also be applied to the IELTS Reading test. 

Skimming is reading a text quickly for general understanding / gist. The ability to skim or speed read a passage is an important skill in the IELTS Reading test since there is a strict time limit. 

Speed reading: The skill of speed reading will have a positive effect on your ability to understand the main ideas of a text, enable you to locate answers quicker and manage your time more effectively.

You can expect to read between 2150 and 2170 words in the test so time management is very important. Many students say that when they are trained to read in English, they “should read the text slowly and try to understand every word”.However, the brain actually processes 3-5 words together in “chunks” which we do when reading in our own language.

Speed reading techniques are...

  • Not trying to understand every word you read. 

  • Not silently mouthing the words. When kids read, they often say each word silently. This slows the reading process considerably.

  • Not re-reading words and sentences several times. When we don’t fully understand what we’ve read, we often re-read it again. This is particularly time consuming.

  • Not thinking too much about ideas contained in sentences and paragraphs. When we are reading and we don’t fully understand, we often pause to think about the ideas contained in sentences.

  • Not following the text with your finger or pencil as you read. This is also a popular technique amongst kids but, in reality, it slows down the reading process. 

  • Reading to understand the “gist” or the main idea of a section or paragraph and not analyzing the vocabulary or grammar and not over thinking the ideas expressed in the text.

When practicing for the Reading test, try skim/speed reading the text first and make notes of the main ideas contained in each paragraph. You should aim to read about 100 words in 60 seconds. 

Scanning is reading quickly to locate an answer such as matching a date or name from the questions. Scanning can help you find the location of the answer but you should be careful of the use of synonyms and paraphrase.

Once you have scanned and found the location of an answer, you should then read carefully and slowly to confirm it.

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