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Why IELTS Reading is difficult – how to pass it


You’d think that something as simple as reading couldn’t possibly be difficult. But this isn’t always the case when you’re sitting for the IELTS reading test, especially for those whose first language are not English.

Not only do you have to subvocalise the given text, but you’ll also have to read it out loud for the examiner to assess. Ultimately, it does have a speaking element to it as well, which may add to the difficulty of the reading portion.

Despite this being a key component in the IELTS assessment, overcoming this challenge is not impossible! All it takes is to understand the common mistakes made and analyse the different passages efficiently.

But first, let us help you understand why the IELTS reading portion may be especially difficult for you and how you can get a better handle on things.

Why IELTS Reading is difficult for you and how to get the score you want

1. You haven’t been reading much English

For IELTS test-takers, English may not be your first language (which is completely okay!) and you’re looking to study or work overseas in an English-speaking country.

In preparation for the test, candidates must be consuming more English reading material than usual to really get themselves ready for the massive chunks of text they’ll have to go through during the examination.

How to deal with it: Start allocating at least an hour a day, dedicated to only reading English materials.

To not be overwhelmed during the actual day, slowly start to familiarise yourself with English text by allotting at least an hour of your day to reading a variety of English materials.

Training yourself to do this would allow you to familiarise yourself with both simple and complex words, terms, and phrases, which will be useful for the actual test.


2. You need to read more widely

Adding a variety of literature to your routine can boost your chances of acing the reading portion.

While it’s good practice to consistently do IELTS reading practice tests to get familiar with the format, it wouldn’t hurt to add other forms of reading material.

How to deal with it: Start reading different types of English materials including books, journals, magazines and newspapers.

No, we’re not saying to move straight into academic tests or peer-reviewed articles. Casual reading materials such as fiction books, magazines, and even journals do a fantastic job of broadening your vocabulary in a less pressurising way than a practice test would.

Newspapers are also a good resource for reading practice and also help you with learning about current events at the same time.

While having a variety of reading materials helps candidates consume text in many ways, it also makes reading a fun and enjoyable experience!

3.You read too slowly

Even people whose first language is English still struggle with this, so you’re not alone if you find that you read too slowly.

However, given that there is a time limit component to the IELTS reading test, candidates don’t have the luxury of time to read through the given text at their own pace.

How to deal with it: Start skimming and scanning to develop your reading speed.

Skimming through text is when you rapidly go through the entire reading material at the beginning to get a general overview of what you’re working with.

On the other hand, scanning requires a bit more effort and refers to looking for specific phrases and keywords that can help you decipher and break down the text more easily.

The best practice would be to skim through the text during your first reading, followed by scanning when you finally answer the test questions. This would be the best use of your time with the 60 minutes all candidates are given for the reading portion.

Adopting these simple yet effective reading techniques will ultimately improve your reading speed and also contribute to your comprehension skills at the same time.


4. You can’t identify key information

We understand that being thrown a bunch of unfamiliar vocabulary can be overwhelming for a first-time IELTS test taker. But don’t be discouraged as finding key information in the text isn’t as hard as long as you’re equipped with the right skills.

How to deal with it: Start practising to better identify keywords and use them correctly.

As you are scanning through the text, use this opportunity to highlight the keywords that stand out to you. These can be more apparent clues that come in the form of names, dates, places, and numbers while others are more subtle.

For keywords that might not be obvious, make use of contextual clues to decipher what the keyword may be.

To get used to spotting key information more efficiently, remember to practice with the reading practice test resources available to you. 

5.You aren’t used to the question formats

In general, the IELTS assessment is not your ordinary test. It’s the most recognised English language proficiency test in the world, and thus carries a certain standard you need to be prepared for.

With that, the Reading test will be presented with a unique set of question formats that may not be easily discernible, especially to first-time test takers.

Here’s where you need to put in the work.

How to deal with it: Start practising specific task types multiple times to get familiar with the unique challenges.

You can expect a range of questions in the IELTS reading test which include multiple-choice, short-answer questions, sentence completion, and identifying information, among many others.

To be able to know all this, you can get started with various practice tests to familiarise yourself with the different task types. This practice would help you train your time management as well as to identify your weaknesses and improve on them.

At the end of it all, you’ll eventually get used to the question formats.


Materials to better prepare for your IELTS test

Sitting for your IELTS test can be difficult and tough, but with our resources, you can easily even the odds and attain the band score you desire for your dream course!

Here are some of our preparation materials for you:

Be sure to practice them and invest enough in your IELTS preparation before sitting for the test!

Develop your IELTS listening, writing and speaking skills

Having difficulty with the other components of your IELTS test? Fret not, here are our resources to help you get a leg up!

Why you find IELTS Listening difficult

Why you find IELTS Writing difficult

Why you find IELTS Speaking tough

Breeze through your IELTS Reading test with IDP

Even if English isn’t your first language, the IELTS Reading test doesn’t need to be difficult! By adopting our strategies together with ample practice, you’ll have the confidence to perform spectacularly on test day!

Now that you’re equipped with the necessary skills to ace the IELTS, all that’s left to do is book your test.

Besides being the official co-owner of IELTS, IDP offers convenient test locations and free test preparation materials to support you.

Book your IELTS test today to begin your journey.