The Ultimate Guide To Increasing Your Reading Score

1) Read, read, and then read some more

What’s the ONE magical tip that will help you increase your reading score? Read as much as possible.

I know it’s not the quick, painless solution you were hoping for, but it truly will help. Reading articles that are of interest to you will not only improve your language skills as a whole but will also prepare you for the test. The more comfortable you are reading difficult English texts at home, the more confident you will be on test day. And confidence is important.

One caveat, however, is that you read actively. Underline important concepts and keywords. Make sure that you understand the article as a whole, not just the individual words. Check out this example:

The two stars of Alpha Centauri, along with the associated red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, are the closest stars outside our solar system — and the Alpha Centauri stars are by far the closest sun-like stars to Earth's system.  - Sarah Lewin

Even when you know all of the words you read, it can still be difficult to understand what is being said - especially when you are reading compound-complex sentences that are full of information. So as you read in preparation for the IELTS, periodically check in with yourself and make sure you fully comprehend the text.

2) Take practice tests

Become familiar with the test. Get comfortable with the length of the passages, the difficulty of the texts, the time it takes you to answer different types of questions, etc. Knowing what to expect will help you focus your studying and increase your confidence.

Time yourself as you work through the practice tests. Many websites or tutors claim to have the “secret” to time management on the reading test, but what they recommend may not work for YOU. Everyone is different. As such, sit down with a few practice tests and a timer…

Figure out how long it takes you to work through each of the passages or sections. The conventional breakdown of 20 minutes per passage/section is probably not going to work for you, as the third portion of the test is more difficult than the first. Then again, maybe it will. Figure out how much time YOU need.

Determine whether or not you are left with time at the end to check answers. Is this something you want? Plan it into your 60 minutes.

Experiment with reading the passage before the questions and the questions before the passage. Which method works better for you? Start training with this method.

3) Get to Know the Different Question Types

There are 10 question types to become familiar with:

  • Multiple Choice - Choose the correct answer from four choices
  • True/False/Not Given - Identify statements as “True”, “False”, or “Not Given”
  • Yes/No/Not Given - Identify statements as “Yes”, “No”, or “Not Given”
  • Matching Headings - Match headings to the correct section of the text
  • Matching Information - Identify the location of specific information in the text
  • Matching Sentence Endings - Choose the correct ending from a list
  • Classifying Information - Match information to the correct category
  • Sentence/Summary/Chart Completion - Complete sentences, a summary, or a chart
  • Diagram Label Completion - Complete labels on a diagram based on a given description
  • Short Answer - Write short answers to questions

Develop strategies for answering each of these question types so that you are prepared on test day.

4) Practice Underlining Key Words, Phrases, and Ideas

This is a BIG piece of advice. Consider this...

If you prefer to read the text prior to the questions, underlining will:

  • Help you remember what you read
  • Help you find necessary information more quickly

If you prefer to read the questions before the text, underlining will:

  • Help you identify the answers as you read

In both instances, this skill will cut down on the time you need to complete the reading test.

But wait, there’s more! By underling or making note of where you found the answer to one question, you will likely be able to find the answer to the next question more easily. This is because the test questions TYPICALLY go in order. So, don’t know remember the answer to a question and don’t know where to look? Don’t worry - it’s probably just after the answer to your previous question.

So, like I said, this is a very important skill to employ. As you read, read, and then read some more, practice underlining important information. This will make the process more natural and maybe even habitual come test day.

5) Skim and Scan

As you know, the test is long. Chances are you won’t be able to read all of the texts thoroughly. That’s okay! Because skimming and scanning skills are going to help you. Check back in the future for tips on the techniques.

6) Be Warned!

It is a VERY common mistake for students to think that they have the correct answer because a word or phrase in the question matches a word or phrase in the answer. This is usually not the case. Frankly, IELTS is testing your ability recognize synonyms and paraphrasing. As such, think very carefully about what a question is asking you, and find an answer that uses synonymous language or paraphrasing.

There is one problem with this: it is impossible to learn all the synonymous language that could possibly show up on the test. So what do you do? Two things:

As you learn new vocabulary words, learn the synonyms too.

Vocabulary WordSynonyms
creategenerate, produce, make, cause
explaindescribe, express, illustrate, make clear, expound
advanceproceed, progress, move forward

Become familiar with how synonyms and paraphrasing are used on the test.

The best way to do this is to take your practice tests a second time. Of course take timed practice tests, but then take those tests again at your own pace. Sit down with a dictionary and SLOW DOWN. What questions did you get wrong? Why? What patterns are you seeing in the questions with regards to synonyms and paraphrasing? Make note of all of these things and you’ll be surprised how much easier it gets to catch those tricky little synonym and paraphrasing questions.

As always, happy studying. Please do reach out if I can help in any way.


My goal is to help you improve your English language skills through helpful tips, strategies, lessons, and more. Please let me know if you have specific questions that I can help you with. You can also receive individualized coaching by signing up here.