How to Speed Up Reading in IELTS (Answered!)
Speeding up reading in IELTS is about unlearning subvocalization and reading in word chunks instead to increase your speed. You’ll need a good grasp of speed reading techniques and a great deal of practice in IELTS-specific reading tests.
IELTS tests are designed to test proficiency in the English language through:
- listening tests,
- reading tests,
- writing tests,
- and speaking tests.
If you are getting ready to sit for an IELTS Academic or General Training Test, you must target a high reading score to perform well. Speed reading skills can help you answer specific questions within a given timeframe. They will help you retain as much information as possible while reading under time pressure.
The IELTS reading exam has three reading segments for the Academic exam and five reading segments for professionals, and the test runs strictly for just one hour. So, reading at high speed while retaining information is critical.
This article will cover how to speed up reading in IELTS, essential tips for speed reading, and the best practices for a high IELTS reading score in one exam sitting.
Here are the best IELTS reading tips for reading passages.
Skim the questions first
Skimming questions in the reading section before actually reading the text helps you know what information you should be looking for. This will help you achieve a more purposeful reading, recognize trigger words, and spend less time figuring out the important details.
Reading three to five passages in a limited time, although short, can expose the brain to lots of information at once. This is why it’s important to recognize and prioritize crucial details. The best way to do this is to understand what the examiner wants you to use this information for.
Some peer-reviewed studies have also revealed that skimming a text before reading it can increase good understanding.
So, before reading each text, skim through the questions under it. Notice what type of questions they are and what they are supposed to test.
This isn’t complex; the IELTS reading test typically checks for
- ability to choose the correct answers (multiple-choice),
- ability to identify information given in texts,
- ability to identify the writer’s views or claims without bias,
- match information, headings, sentence endings, and features,
- ability to complete sentences using words from the passages,
- understanding of summaries, notes, tables, diagrams, and flowcharts
- ability to write out short answers that display comprehension.
The matching headings questions are often revealed before the texts. With the questions’ purpose in mind, it becomes easier for the brain to categorize information accordingly when you finally dive in to read. You’ll shift from passive to active and purposeful reading, which will multitask your brain.
Multitasking can improve reading focus. When reading to gain specific information, you will likely stay on task without feeling distracted. This can reduce your reading time and also help you avoid rereading.
Skim the text first
Skimming texts means moving your eyes quickly over the pages of a text to understand the main idea or concept. You’ll pay attention to highlights like bullet points, images, bolded words, and italics and detect what’s most important to you.
Skimming questions and skimming texts work together. First, skimming questions gives you an idea of what you should look out for or what the main idea may look like. Then skimming the text helps you pick out that idea and recognize the keywords on the page.
This is where trigger words come in. When reading, you can recognize the words that preclude key points. You’ll be able to automatically activate a sharper focus when your brain detects where vital information is embedded in a passage.
However, skimming is not the same as speed reading. While skimming is like fishing for information, speed reading is about reading the whole text faster. You can’t skip the details.
Skimming an IELTS academic exam text should typically take 2-3 minutes, and you can mentally underline keywords as you skim read. You don’t need to understand the words. Instead, just identify information.
Tips for improving skimming skills
Skimming is a skill you can learn and improve before sitting for your IELTS. Here are some tips you can work with:
- Read vertically and horizontally. Be greedy with grabbing as much information at once as possible.
- Use textual clues like titles, subtitles, capital letters, italics, inverted commas, and numbers.
- Read the opening paragraph and the first sentence in each paragraph.
- Think like the author. Knowing the author’s main point can help you detect what’s fluff and what’s real.
- Read sentences and drop them halfway if they don’t convey a tangible point.
Start reading in groups of 3 – 5 words
The good thing about chunking is that you can read a group of words at almost the speed of one and get the same idea. Chunking means covering words in groups to read your IELTS passages faster.
This isn’t a strange concept. Even the brain can store information in chunks. We are naturally wired to process words as chunks. However, when we were little, we were taught to process words one at a time to help us identify letters and improve reading faster.
The problem is many people didn’t unlearn this as they grew older. However, the reading demands of an adult need word grouping. This is especially important when writing a time-based assessment like the IELTS. An essential skill of the game is the ability to read fast.
Instead of subvocalizing every letter or word and reading at a 150 words per minute pace, you can group words and achieve as high as 400 words per minute. You can start by reading two words simultaneously and slowly expanding to three to five words before the exams.
How to group words/ chunk effectively
Chunking requires practice, as it can be a bit challenging if you are unfamiliar with it. The tips below can help you improve in just a few hours.
Start with the 2-fixation technique
The 2-fixation technique is about reading two words at a time. It’s also about grouping words in a line into two and reading them together. For complete beginners, the first is often the most effective approach.
Start by internalizing two words at once, and increase to three to four words when you master it. At this point, you can then begin to view lines in two-word chunks. The aim is to read the first half as one and the other half as one. However, you can adjust to three fixations if you have longer lines.
It’s best to use physical reading materials with a low difficulty level on your first few attempts.
Expand your eye vision
Expanding your eye vision means training yourself to view the space between a group of words instead of reading specifically. This technique involves abandoning the left-to-right reading for a center gaze that allows you to gobble up words as a cluster.
Expanding your eye vision makes reading a group of words faster. It removes the mindset of subvocalization. If you need help approaching this, you can check out how to use your peripheral vision here.
Practice word hopping
You’ll be surprised how many words your brain instinctively fixes and recognizes without your knowledge.
Word hopping means skipping one or two words in a sentence while still internalizing the general idea. The aim is to exercise the brain and pay less attention to individual words when reading. This minimizes the effort and time reading takes.
For example, you can read “I love to go to football practice every afternoon” as “I love football practice.” Word hopping helps you naturally skip filler words that don’t add to the meaning of a phrase or sentence.
AccelaReader is a smart speed reading tool that helps you read faster. You can copy any text of your choice into the reader, and the system flashes words one at a time for you to read at any pace you set. You can also adjust the number of words blinked on a screen simultaneously.
You can set the chunk size to 2-3 words and try to read those words at a low speed. Then slowly increase the speed and see if you can still catch up. Then, increase the chunk size and speed as you improve.
This tool is free and easily accessible, and you can record tremendous progress within a few days of practice.
Practice in 15-minute blocks
Chunking can be pretty daunting, especially if it’s new territory. So, practicing for just fifteen minutes at a stretch in the earlier stages is best. After every fifteen minutes, you can take a twenty-minute break for activities that are easier on the eyes and do not require heavy brain function.
With time, you can slowly increase your practice time as you feel more confident. The most important thing is not to overcrowd your brain when you first begin, as this can have adverse effects.
Skim during your first reading, then scan when answering questions
The proper order when answering IELTS questions is to skim first and scan when searching for answers to specific questions.
Scanning means going over a text to find a specific answer. Scanning a text means you have an intent and a particular information you want to find. Like skimming, there’s no regard for comprehension, and the approach is hurried.
Rather than reading over an entire text each time you have to answer one question, scanning lets you browse as fast as possible, using mastered techniques, and finding the context where a question was used within the passage.
The alternative to scanning will be reading the text repeatedly per the 40 questions in an IELTS reading segment and spending an unforgivable amount of time. Chances are you won’t be able to complete the exercise.
What scanning does is cut that time significantly. You won’t get distracted by exciting information or any aspects that arouse you. Instead, you have a mission from the get-go and dive into the body of the text to find it.
Our brains already engage in several scanning activities a day. For example, when looking through a list to find something, running your eyes over a crowd to find someone, or searching your closet for a specific outfit for the day.
Therefore, scanning when reading is relatively easy, even in high-tension environments like an IELTS exam. Still, it’s best to practice locating information before you sit for an exam.
Get familiar with and read various texts similar to the tests
If you still have time before your test, you should widen your reading horizon and the range of texts you can read. Going through different texts and topics will give you a feel of how you perform on each type.
The IELTS test format usually includes the following:
- instructional materials (General Test)
- employment terms (General Test)
Unfamiliarity with a text type can slow you down, especially if it contains words outside your usual learnings. So, if you are only used to reading books, you may struggle with passages from journals, which tend to be more technical and formal.
The best way to overcome this is to practice reading all the text types and complicated passages. You can easily access journal sites and find newspapers and magazines online. You can also try textbooks, biographies, and fictional books to be sure nothing out of your reading range comes up.
The aim is not to have read the specific materials where the texts will be picked. Instead, it’s simply to be able to read faster in familiar territory. Cambridge books are usually very helpful. This will also prepare you for IELTS writing.
Another reason you should practice reading a wide range of texts is that it tells you precisely what text type you struggle with. Even if you still struggle with it after practicing, you’ll know what text or passage to pay more attention to and manage your time effectively.
Improve your vocabulary to speed up comprehension
Improving your vocabulary is a good strategy when prepping for IELTS. It means learning the meaning of words, where to use them and where not, synonyms, and antonyms. Sometimes, it means knowing the context and niche in which a particular word is most often used.
Most people who write IELTS exams have a different primary language. The general assumption is that these non-native speakers know fewer words than native users. This is why IELTS exams often test vocabulary and sometimes have words that may not appear in everyday contexts. But even native speakers may have difficulty with some of these terms.
Also, when you come across a new or unfamiliar word, you are likely to fixate on it. This can significantly slow your reading speed, especially if such difficult words constantly appear in the texts.
This is why it’s important to improve your vocabulary. It would help if you read voraciously and check up on the meaning of unfamiliar words that you come across. Also, you can reflect more on the words you constantly use.
Sometimes, “common” words have different meanings or contextual uses in your country from how the natives may use them. So, it’s important to double-check the meaning of words whenever possible to ensure you have the proper contexts for their use.
However, you may not be able to avoid unfamiliar words altogether. But don’t worry. If you have a good grasp of language and are good at reading in chunks, your brain can often offer accurate clues about what some words mean.
So, if you come across a word that seems unfamiliar, try out these tricks:
Try to recall a different context where the word has appeared or where the same word clusters have emerged with another word. You’ll need good retention skills for this.
You can check out our maximizing memory course here. This course helps you improve your memory with well-formulated practical techniques. Not only is this good for recollecting words, but it will also sharpen your ability to recollect answers from skimming or reading the IELTS texts just once.
Reread with context and keywords
Rereading with context means going over the line where an unfamiliar word is used to pick out the general message. You’ll usually have to sacrifice word understanding for the thematic subject of the sentence.
Our brains are pretty impressive. Even if an important word is entirely new, you’ll sometimes be able to get the meaning if you don’t read it in isolation.
Avoid rereading the words
Even though rereading in the clear case of vocabulary difficulty is encouraged, rereading words can be a bad habit that will slow you down.
Rereading is a product of fixation. When you reread, you often backtrack and spend a long time reviewing texts. This might be really unproductive in IELTS. Instead of this, train yourself to read a few lines and recollect before moving on to the next.
You may have been taught early to understand the meaning behind each word before moving on to the next. While this was good at the time, it can hinder efficient reading. Constantly rereading to understand each word individually is counter-productive.
Sometimes, not understanding a sentence is fine. It may be unimportant in the large scheme of things. So, you should combine the pre-hand knowledge of the questions from skimming with skimming the text itself.
You’d know exactly what information you need instead of spending significant time rereading things that only waste your time and make you rush through your answers.
Manage your time better
Improving your reading speed is a collaborative skill. Sometimes, you need better time management skills to achieve it.
Managing your time better means increasing your overall personal productivity. This will reflect in several ways:
- You’ll see an overall improved efficiency in processing information. This includes your reading skills.
- You’ll free up more time to practice for your exam.
- You’ll be more analytical in approaching the questions and managing your 60 minutes properly.
If you need help managing your time better and increasing your efficiency, you can check out our personal productivity course. This course will help you manage the double demands of being a busy student or professional and preparing for your IELTS efficiently.
You’ll learn great productivity techniques to navigate new experiences even after you pass your IELTS.
Exam hack: Treat each text as a separate exam. Spending excessive time on the first texts may waste your time and prevent you from answering the last text questions, where you may be able to gain more marks. Instead, give each text near equal opportunity and complete all your answers.
Takeaway – Improving your IELTS reading speed is all about technique!
The IELTS reading segment tests your proficiency in reading and digesting materials. This is an important segment for anyone looking to migrate to an English-speaking country for school and work purposes.
Improving your IELTS reading speed is no easy task. You’ll need to master skimming and scanning texts, manage your time better, and increase productivity. You’ll also need to expand your vocabulary and reading range and perfect the art of word grouping and chunking.
You’ll also need to take IELTS practice tests. Then go over your answer sheet, check out where you got the answers wrong, and then the questions to pinpoint your areas of weakness.
All these techniques, combined with a good mastery of speed reading skills, will help you get a good to expert range certification. Speed reading skills will help you feel confident and master focus before you take your exam.
At Iris Reading, we offer a Speed Reading Foundation Course that will help you be better prepared for IELTS. It will also come in handy for any other reading and research in your academic or professional journey.