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How to speed read to improve your IELTS reading score

lots of candidates find timing to be a challenge with the reading paper

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Do you have problems with timing in the reading test and find it difficult to finish the reading paper or answer all the questions in 60 minutes? Well, you are not alone, lots of candidates find timing to be a challenge with the reading paper, as you only have about 90 seconds to answer each question. They either run out of time and leave questions blank, or don’t leave enough time at the end to check they have spelt their answers correctly, and lose marks. However, if you train your brain to read more quickly by using speed-reading techniques, it is possible to finish the paper with time to spare to check your answers and potentially get a higher score.

However, speed-reading doesn’t mean reading every single word more quickly, in fact it’s about using techniques to pick out the important words and phrases in a text, so you can actually understand the main ideas in the text more quickly. Developing your speed-reading skills, will not only help you with the IELTS test but will be valuable in other areas of your life, as anyone who has ever studied or worked in an environment where they have to assimilate large amounts of information, will tell you.

The first thing to understand is that the way you read a passage for the IELTS test is not the same as when you read an article or a novel in English; here you would normally read slowly and methodically, maybe stopping to look up a new word or to record new vocabulary in a notebook. Reading like this will help improve your vocabulary and your English in general but it won’t help you finish the paper in time. Advanced students often make the mistake of spending too much time reading the text, trying to understand the meaning of every single word, believing this will help them answer the questions, only to panic when they see the clock ticking down! Also, some candidates unconsciously read the passage aloud in their head, pronouncing every word, which means they also end up reading much more slowly than they realise.

One aspect of speed-reading is ‘skimming’ which simply means reading a long text quickly, in order to get an overall understanding of its content and structure. You do this by focusing on the key words, or content words, and ignoring all the extra ones. This is actually something we do a lot in everyday life, whenever we scroll through the messages on our phones or ‘flick’ through a newspaper, deciding what article or news story is interesting enough for us to want to read it more closely.


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