This IELTS Reading post is more of an experience sharing than providing solutions for different Reading problems. Here, I’ve shared my story/ journey to achieve an individual band score of 8.0 in IELTS Reading. I hope this post helps all the candidates of the IELTS exam who want to achieve a higher grade quickly.
This is my story of getting 8.0 in IELTS Reading:
I appeared in the IELTS exam twice; first in 2007 and then in 2013. I scored 6.0 in Reading in my first attempt and 8.0 in my second attempt and I thought I should share my experience of the IELTS Reading exam with you all. I shall try to categorize both scores of 2007 and 2013 according to the pitfalls I faced and how I overcame them. I’ll also present some diagrams so that the comparison gets easier for you to follow.
Let’s start with my first attempt in 2007. I wanted to apply for a student visa in the UK. The course I wanted to apply for required at least 5.5 in Reading module. I joined the IELTS Advanced Preparation Course in British Council for my IELTS prep. I should consider myself lucky as I had a very short amount of time preparing for and BC provided one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever got. My trainer was a Scottish Lady who became one of my idols in English Language Teaching. Sorry that I can’t disclose her identity here.
Anyway, when I learned about the IELTS Reading exam format in detail in my first few classes in that course, I initially thought that I had probably done the greatest mistake in attempting this exam. However, I didn’t let myself down. I always try my level best to pull myself up in any challenging situation.
I talked to my trainer about the problems I was facing in Reading and she suggested some solutions such as reading newspapers and books that contain topics that are common for IELTS. She also told me to appear in some partial tests to check how I was progressing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to do some in-depth practices and I appeared in my IELTS test soon after I completed the course. I scored an overall band score of 7.0 with 6.0 in Reading. I wasn’t very happy about my exam result!
In the meantime, I had developed a habit of reading English books and newspapers which, I believe now, had helped me a lot to get more skilled in Reading.
Then, in 2013, I thought to recheck my English language skills and started preparing for my next IELTS exam attempt.
Here are the things that I did before my final exam:
1. Learn the IELTS Reading core curriculum:
I took a visit to www.ielts.org to have a clear idea about the core curriculum of the IELTS test and as the Reading module became my hunting ground, I looked at it in a special manner.
Here is a link where you can learn about the complete IELTS test format in details:
2. Make a routine and follow it intently:
An effective routine is sometimes considered as a doorway to success and yet it varies from man to man. Your own life and timetable has a typical rhythm which won’t match at all with me, and so your study plan will always need to correspond with this clearly.
I produced a routine all by myself to practice different modules of IELTS in different ways. I think that routine became one of the prime factors of my success in IELTS Reading.
Here’s the routine that I created. Remember, this is not applicable to all. It’s best for you to make your own routine.
Always consider the following points when devising a routine for yourself:
- Your IELTS Prep routine should have a purpose/aim/goal.
- This routine should never conflict with your main job (as a student/ an employee/ a businessperson).
- The routine should serve you properly to achieve a good band score.
- You must focus on the problems you are facing; for example, if you face problems in Matching Headlines in the IELTS Reading module, focus on that and include related exercises on your routine.
- This routine has a complete test day on each weekend (Friday); make your own weekend your test day.
- Remember, you cannot take your own Speaking Test, so hiring an expert or fluent English speaker is always a great idea.
- Show your writings to an expert; do not compromise with this because an expert can only show you the real problems that you are facing or mistakes that you are making.
Now, let’s have a look at the study plan/ routine that I followed. This should work for you too. Remember to jot down your study plan using this model. It needs not to be exactly like this one.
The next few steps are already included in the study plan yet I feel an explanation on each of the activities is required for your better understanding.
3. Build up a habit of reading English books:
Though it was always my top hobby, I started reading English books more after my 2007 IELTS exam because I did some research about reading books to improve reading skills online and here’s what I found:
The following are the outcomes of reading books. When you read different books at a regular basis, you:
- Gather knowledge
- Decrease pressure
- Understand reference
- Learn vocabulary
- Become a better writer
- Discover yourself
- Learn about differences among customs and cultures
- Practice and develop all sorts of skills like skimming, scanning, previewing etc.
- Get mental stimulation
- Learn to focus your attention
- Become more social
Being a student of English Literature and Language, I had a short collection of books and I started reading 4/5 pages every day. After a month, I discovered that the habit led me to read 10/15 pages, then 25/30 pages every day, even though I didn’t keep a record of it. Later I found out, reading became my best friend. I hope to continue this till death!
Now, the question that you are fighting with right now is ‘Which book should I read first and will this be beneficial for my IELTS Reading?”
Just pick a book and start reading! It can be your nephew/niece’s 5th grade Cambridge Primary English book. Don’t be shy if you have problems with reading. Children’s books are the best way to start as they have very easy grammar structures.
I started with ‘Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone’ in 2009 (became an English Teacher by that time! Seems funny, isn’t it?). Gradually I completed each and every book of that series. However, I didn’t restrict myself there; I read books of various kinds. Here’s a shortlist of my most favourite books. You can order them by clicking on the books’ names:
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.”
— J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)
“It is never too late to be wise.”
— Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe)
“Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.”
— Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
— Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)
“By its very nature, history is always a one-sided account.”
— Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)
“Nothing captures human interest more than human tragedy.”
— Dan Brown (Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon, #1)
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
— Karen Blumenthal (Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different)
“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.”
— Mario Puzo (The Godfather)
“When you strike that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.”
— George Bernard Shaw (Arms and the Man, Act III, p. 51)
“If I see my city as beautiful and bewitching, then my life must be so too.”
— Orhan Pamuk (Istanbul: Memories and the City)
“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
— William Golding (Lord of the Flies)
“A loss that can be repaired by money is not of such very great importance.”
— Anonymous (The Arabian Nights)
“Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.”
— E.M. Forster (A Passage to India)
“There is no story that is not true, […] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”
— Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
“Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.”
— A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (Wings of Fire: An Autobiography)
“The collection of hadiths are to Muhammad what the Gospels are to Jesus: descriptions of the actions and sayings of the Prophet.”
— Maurice Bucaille (The Bible, the Qur’an, and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge)
“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”
— Trevor Noah (Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood)
You need to start with any books dealing with the subjects that attract you. Gradually, you can expand your ideas and start reading books on more diverse topics. Just start reading, please; you won’t regret it if you start now.
4. Read newspapers/magazines:
Reading newspapers or magazines can benefit you in many ways for IELTS prep. As you know that all of the reading passages or sections are taken from the latest blogs, newspaper reports or magazine articles, it is always a good idea to get habituated with the languages, sentence patterns, and tones used in these resources. When you read any report or article, you can practice your reading skills like skimming, scanning, predicting and summerising.
To do an effective practice from newspapers and magazines, I followed the subsequent steps:
- My IELTS course trainer gave me a list of subjects that are common for IELTS. You should make such a list for yourself. Here is a shortlist for you that I feel extremely essential:
- Modern technology
- Robots and robotics
- Natural disasters
- Environment pollution
- Pastime activities and hobbies
- Health and health-related problems
- Case study of different diseases
- Rise and collapse of ancient/early civilizations (Egyptian, Mayan, Assyrian, Aztec, Sindh, Babylonian, etc.)
- Discoveries and scientific inventions
- Biographies of different significant people of the world
- Cosmology/ outer space/stars and planets around the earth
- Space exploration
- Common problems of the world
- Global warming
- Crime and justice
- Travel, excursion, tourism and tourist spots
- Art and culture
- Customs, traditions, and cultures around the world
- History of the world: Wars and their outcomes
- Museums and their impact
- International aids
- The internet
- Domestic and wild animals, zoos and animal rights
- Identity crisis
- Languages and evolution of languages around the world
- Games and sports; international events
- Music and concerts, musical instruments
- Geography of different parts of the world
- The next thing she told me to do was to select some common topics that I loved to read or found interest in. I choose scientific topics, geography, and history or historical events because I always love to read topics on these niches.
- She gave me instructions to read a report or article and write down a short summary of the report or article. It was quite challenging for me at first but I did not lose hope. I continued to write summaries of different topics. At the end of the course, I found out that I wrote around 55 topic summaries and doing that I became stronger, faster and more precise in Reading skills like predicting and skimming. It also increased my knowledge in different topics which gave me an added advantage in Listening, Writing and Speaking modules.
These are the IELTS Reading skills which you need to find your answers easily:
- Predicting words from their context
- Comprehending opinions and attitudes
- Concentrated reading
5. Understanding all IELTS Reading question types:
Another work that helped me improve my Reading score was understanding and learning all the different question types of the IELTS Reading test. I wanted to get used to any kind of question that I get in the final test. As you know, there are 13/14 question types:
- Matching headings/headlines
- True, False, Not given / Yes, No, Not given
- Matching paragraph information/ Identifying information
- Summary completion
- Sentence completion
- Multiple-choice questions
- List of words/ names/ information selection
- Choosing a title for the passage
- Matching sentence endings
- Choosing a category for different information
- Completing table
- Completing notes/diagrams
- Flow chart completion
- Short answer questions
I took a close look at each and every question from different IELTS Reading passages from the Cambridge IELTS Book series. I got used to the layouts and instructions of the questions so that I could easily recognise them in the real-exam situation and this activity really paid off in my next attempt when I scored 8.0 in Reading.
6. Categorise all the questions according to difficulty level and the reading skills needed:
Though it may vary from person to person, we need to categorise all the Reading question types according to their difficulty level and the reading skills needed to find the answer quickly.
Remember you are unique, you are not like me, and so your use of different skills may be different from mine. There’s no problem with that. However, you need to understand that most of the question types mainly need two of the reading skills; skimming and scanning. Previewing, predicting, comprehending and concentrated reading helps candidates with excellence in Reading, or frankly speaking, excellent in English Language.
I found out that skimming and scanning were doing the tricks for me in most cases. Here’s how I categorised the questions according to the reading skills:
When I listed all the question types according to the reading skills, I could easily apply them to each type. This made me more habituated and comfortable with the questions.
Again, the list might not work for many but it worked for me.
7. Practice Reading passages using a timer:
If you have minimum knowledge on IELTS, you know that IELTS is all about timing. Using your time; or if I say precisely, utilizing your time in a skillful way gives you the opportunity to improve your Reading Band score rapidly. I did this fun activity of using a timer to read a set amount of text or texts. I used to think that I was in a competition and I had to beat my imaginary competitors. I always used IELTS Reading passages from different IELTS books from Cambridge University Press to do this activity. This helped me to improve my speed-reading which reduced my time in completing the questions in a reading passage. You can use any analog clock, a wristwatch, a cell phone clock, your smartphone’s timer or stopwatch; anything to keep the record of the time you are spending in reading. Keeping this record for a month or two will show you some motivating results, I can guarantee that!
8. Learn some vocabulary every day:
I learned 10/12 vocabulary each day I did different activities for IELTS. I had a notebook and I designed it in a way that went with my style. It was somewhat like this:
9. Arrange short mock tests/ mock exams and keep records of progression:
Now that I was ready with the test format, practicing timing and different reading skills and understanding all the questions types, the time came for me to check how I was in an exam situation. As I told you my main resource was Cambridge IELTS Series books, I started taking my own tests. However, those tests were not complete tests of 60 minutes. Initially, I started getting used to some short tests like Reading Passage 1 or 2 or 3. I did not attempt for full test because I wanted to check my basic abilities first. I kept a record of the progress which you guys can keep too. Here is a sample record of how my performance improved:
You can buy some books on Recent IELTS Mock Tests from the following links.
1. Official IELTS Practice Materials 1 with Audio CD
2. Official IELTS Practice Materials 2 with Audio CD
10. Sit for complete mock tests/ mock exams:
After successfully completing a good number of short/ partial tests and being satisfied with my progress, I sat for some mock tests. As far as I can recall, I appeared in 10 mock tests before my exam in September 2013 and all of them were between June and August 2013. I kept a record of my scores in each module which also showed an overall gradual progress.
That’s it! That’s how I got an individual score of 8.0 in IELTS Reading module. I hope you’ve got the general picture and become inspired by reading about my style of preparation and my experience.
If you have any more questions regarding IELTS Reading prep, knock me in the comments or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also share your story of success here so that others can get inspired from you.