How To Improve Your Reading Skills

In this post, we will take a look at the reading skills you need to be successful in the IELTS Reading Test and how you can improve your skills.

There are 7 main reading skills you will use during your preparation for the IELTS Reading Test;


When you preview a text you look at the headings, the layout and any images to get an idea of what the text is about before you decide if you want to read it or not. For example, when you look at an article in a newspaper or a magazine, the headline and images give you an idea of what it is about. Previewing is an important skill to have because it helps you to foresee the content and this makes it easier to understand the text.

TIP >> Next time you read an article think about the headline, subheading and the images and think about the following questions – How do they draw you in to read more? How do they tell you what the article is about? 

Predicting Content And Structure

This is when you use your knowledge and guess what a text is going to be about. For example, if you see an advert about adopting animals or donating to animal shelters, you would be able to guess the purpose of the text and the image(s) was to make you want to adopt an animal or help the shelters by donating money, therefore the vocabulary used would be related to this. Predicting is an important reading skill because you can make sense of a text when you already know about the topic. 

TIP >> Practice by looking at adverts you see in magazines, online (blogs etc) and look at the vocabulary used and think about the following questions – How does it relate to the topic? How does it tell you about the purpose of the advert?



When you skim read a text for the main idea, you read the text quickly to get the general idea of the main topic. When you do this, you are looking for the main idea – not the specific details. For example, you may skim read the back cover of a book jacket to get an idea of what the book is about before you decide to read/buy the book. Skimming is an important skill because in the test you are time conscious, so you need to skim read texts in order to get the main idea, before locating specific information needed to answer questions. 

TIP >> Practice skim reading by reading articles, reviews and summaries to get the main idea. Choose content that interests you, not only IELTS practice materials. 

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When you scan a text to find the information you also do this quite quickly to find what you need. You normally use this skill when you are looking for facts. For example, if you are looking for a train time or the departure gate you need at the airport, you scan the board’s looking for the information. Therefore, you use this skill every day when looking at times, dates or places. 

TIP >> Practice scanning by looking for information in timetables, the TV guide etc and find facts you need quickly. 

Intensive Reading

When you read a text carefully and study the information, this is intensive reading. You do this when the content is important. For example, if you had to fill out some important forms, like renewing your passport or filling out a tax return, you would read the instructions carefully, before filling out the forms. You need to read carefully for more detail when you need to understand the writer’s meaning. For instance, when reading a tv show review, you might want to read it intensively to find out the details to see if you want to watch it or not.

TIP >> Read reviews and other texts you find interesting and study the content. Think about how detailed the information is, do you understand the writer’s meaning? 

Look at the review below of the TV Show ‘American Gods’ – How does the writer tell you what they think about the show? 

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Guessing Words From Context

When you are reading and you come across a word or words you don’t know, you can sometimes guess the meaning from the context they are in. If not then you will have to look up the meaning in a dictionary (although this is not allowed in the test). For instance, if you were reading a book and you saw a word you did not know, you might be able to work out the meaning from the context of that sentence or paragraph. 

TIP >> When you read – keep a dictionary and a notebook with you and write down any words you do not know the meaning of. Alternatively, you can do this easily if you use your smartphone or Ipad. If you have an e-reader, the built-in dictionary will show you the meaning of the words once highlighted. This is so useful for learning new vocabulary.

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Understanding Opinion and Attitude

When you read a book, article etc, you should be able to understand how the writer feels or thinks about a subject. For example, in an article or blog about travelling, you may read views on certain places and how they feel when going there. This can help you to understand how they explain their opinions and views through the language they use. Understanding attitude and opinion are important skills because writers do not always clearly state how they think or feel. 

TIP >> Read reviews or opinions from opinion sections of newspapers like The Guardian or The Washington Post. Think about how the writer shares their opinion – is it obvious? What language/vocabulary do they use? How can you tell what they are thinking or feeling?

Look at the opinion piece below from The Guardian – how does the writer share his opinion about the topic?

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Tips For Everyday Practice

Read more – Read as much as you can in English, choose anything that interests you – not just IELTS practice materials. Read novels, magazines, news articles, blogs and anything else that holds your attention. Reading really helps with your writing, as you learn new vocabulary, grammar and understand how structures work. 

Make a note of any new words – Write them down and look them up – this will help you to remember the words and their meaning.

Take note of the grammar – Think about the structures used, look at the sentences, the tenses and the punctuation. 

Idea development – When reading news articles think about how the writer leads you through the information, how do they develop their ideas? How do they structure the writing? Where do they put the facts? The opinions? 

Opinions – How do they share their opinions with the reader? What kind of language and structure do they use to do this? 

Schedule some reading time – when you are travelling on your commute to work, lunchtime, before bed – try to fit in some reading. 

We hope you found this post useful in helping you to study for the IELTS Test. If you have any questions please let us know in the comments below or on the Facebook page.

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If you need help preparing for the IELTS Test, join the IELTS Achieve Academy and see how we can assist you to achieve your desired band score. We offer an essay correction service, mock exams and online courses.

1 thought on “How To Improve Your Reading Skills”

  1. Saule

    Thank you so much for creating these helpful resources!!!

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