A Comprehensive Guide to Elevating Your IELTS Reading Practice

A Comprehensive Guide to Elevating Your IELTS Reading Practice

I am using a text posted on the British Council site for today's practice.

In this post, I will be going through how to answer questions for a reading test (academic).

To remind ourselves, let's list below the task types you can expect on the reading paper:

  1. multiple choice
  2. identifying information
  3. identifying the writer’s views/claims
  4. matching information
  5. matching headings
  6. matching features
  7. matching sentence endings
  8. sentence completion
  9. summary completion
  10. note completion
  11. table completion
  12. flow-chart completion
  13. diagram label completion
  14. short-answer questions.

I'd like to point out now, which you already may have noticed, that some of the tasks seem quite similar. And they are. Instead, the tasks can be categorised into; completion, answering questions, matching, multiple choice, summarising and identification. The most useful part of your practice is to become excellent at each of these skills, regardless of how they may differ slightly.

For today's practice, we will be going through the task types that are in bold from the list above.

Sample text

A bar at the folies (Un bar aux folies)

A One of the most critically renowned paintings of the 19th-century modernist movement is the French painter Edouard Manet’s masterwork, A Bar at the Folies. Originally belonging to the composer Emmanuel Chabrier, it is now in the possession of The Courtauld Gallery in London, where it has also become a favourite with the crowds.

Shorter: A Bar at the Folies is one of the world's most famous paintings and is a popular painting that resides in London.

B The painting is set late at night in a nineteenth-century Parisian nightclub. A barmaid stands alone behind her bar, fitted out in a black bodice that has a frilly white neckline, and with a spray of flowers sitting across her décolletage. She rests her hands on the bar and gazes out forlornly at a point just below the viewer, not quite making eye contact. Also on the bar are some bottles of liquor and a bowl of oranges, but much of the activity in the room takes place in the reflection of a mirror behind the barmaid. Through this mirror we see an auditorium, bustling with blurred figures and faces: men in top hats, a woman examining the scene below her through binoculars, another in long gloves, even the feet of a trapeze artist demonstrating acrobatic feats above his adoring crowd. In the foreground of the reflection a man with a thick moustache is talking with the barmaid.

Shorter: The painting is set in a Parisian nightclub. The subject is a barmaid at the centre of the painting. She looks out looking quite sad and not making eye contact with anyone. Most of the activity takes place in the mirror's reflection behind the barmaid, there lies a busy scene full of people that are blurred figures. At the front of the picture is a man talking to the barmaid.

C Although the Folies (-Bergère) was an actual establishment in late nineteenth-century Paris, and the subject of the painting was a real barmaid who worked there, Manet did not attempt to recapture every detail of the bar in his rendition. The painting was largely completed in a private studio belonging to the painter, where the barmaid posed with a number of bottles, and this was then integrated with quick sketches the artist made at the Folies itself.

Shorter: The painter created the painting by privately sketching the model and incorporating his own sketches from visits to the bar.

D Even more confounding than Manet’s relaxed attention to detail, however, is the relationship in the painting between the activity in the mirrored reflection and that which we see in the unreflected foreground. In a similar vein to Diego Velazquez’ much earlier work Las Meninas, Manet uses the mirror to toy with our ideas about which details are true to life and which are not. In the foreground, for example, the barmaid is positioned upright, her face betraying an expression of lonely detachment, yet in the mirrored reflection she appears to be leaning forward and to the side, apparently engaging in conversation with her moustachioed customer. As a result of this, the customer’s stance is also altered. In the mirror, he should be blocked from view as a result of where the barmaid is standing, yet Manet has re-positioned him to the side. The overall impact on the viewer is one of a dreamlike disjuncture between reality and illusion.

Shorter: Manet uses the mirror to play with our perception about what is real and what is not. At the front, the barmaid looks lonely, but in the mirrored reflection she is leaning forward and having a conversation. This also effects how the customer in the painting is viewed. The overall impact is a dreamlike quality about reality.

E Why would Manet engage in such deceit? Perhaps for that very reason: to depict two different states of mind or emotion. Manet seems to be conveying his understanding of the modern workplace, a place – from his perspective – of alienation, where workers felt torn from their ‘true’ selves and forced to assume an artificial working identity. What we see in the mirrored reflection is the barmaid’s working self, busy serving a customer. The front-on view, however, bears witness to how the barmaid truly feels at work: hopeless, adrift, and alone.

Shorter: Why would Manet create such confusion? To show two different states of mind or emotion. Manet might be showing his view of the workplace which for him is about alienation, where workers don't feel their 'true' selves and take on a different identity. The two views show the barmaids different work personas.

F Ever since its debut at the Paris Salon of 1882, art historians have produced reams of books and journal articles disputing the positioning of the barmaid and patron in A Bar at the Folies. Some have even conducted staged representations of the painting in order to ascertain whether Manet’s seemingly distorted point of view might have been possible after all. Yet while academics are understandably drawn to the compositional enigma of the painting, the layperson is always likely to see the much simpler, more human story beneath. No doubt this is the way Manet would have wanted it.

Shorter: Ever since the painting was shown for the first time, art historians have been debating over the positioning of the barmaid. Some have even re-created the scene to judge whether Manet's point of view could have been possible. Although academics are drawn to this mystery, non-scholars are likely to see the human story.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

  • The key here is to highlight what words in the statement are leading you to the answer.
  • Do this as your first action when presented with statements.
  • In italics besides each paragraph, is a shorter version/summary of the paragraph labelled 'Shorter'.
  • Bear in mind that the answers will not necessarily go in the order of the paragraphs. So it is a good idea to highlight key words in the statements, and summarise the paragraphs so you can distinguish between them.

1. a description of how Manet created the painting- C

The answer is C because paragraph A only discusses who painted the picture and where it now lives. Paragraph B describes the details of the paintings, but does not actually tell us how the painter created it. Paragraph C is correct because it uses the opener 'Although' which indicates it is going to be different from the previous description and lead us onto a new point. And because it reads 'The painting was largely completed in a...', telling us how Manet created the painting, rather than what the painting looks like/is comprised of. And finally, if you think about it logically, this information will be early on in the passage.

2. aspects of the painting that scholars are most interested in- F

The answer is F because of the use of 'art historians' which is a similar term for scholars, in the context of Art. This scholarly notion is furthered with 'reams of books and journal articles' that depicts their interest and the debate had around this painting.

3. the writer’s view of the idea that Manet wants to communicate- E

The answer is E due to a few reasons. The way it starts is important. With a question followed by an answer. The writer says 'Why would Manet engage in such deceit? Perhaps for that very reason: to depict two different states of mind or emotion.' This shows us the writer is sharing his view and evaluating the painting. The use of punctuation is important as well. The colon helps to set the reader up for the answer, as if the writer is in that moment presenting his view. He then goes on to explain this further with a more detailed evaluation of his perception of the picture.

4. examples to show why the bar scene is unrealistic- D

The answer is D because the paragraph takes you through why the painting can be perceived as confusing, and for the bar scene to be 'unrealistic'. A sentence to help solidify this is 'Manet uses the mirror to toy with our ideas about which details are true to life and which are not'. The verb 'toy' fits in with the idea of something being manipulated and its reality perhaps altered. What follows is also important, 'true to life and which are not', showing a contrast. So we have the idea of something being toyed with/altered, and a contrast to follow- both meeting the idea of something being unrealistic. The paragraph closes with the sentence 'The overall impact on the viewer is one of a dreamlike disjuncture between reality and illusion.' Again, there is a connection to the bar scene being unrealistic, if you look at words such as 'disjuncture' and 'illusion'.

5. a statement about the popularity of the painting- A

The answer is A because the first paragraph gives some brief context of the painting, and uses sentences like 'One of the most critically renowned paintings of the 19th-century modernist movement', where 'critically renowned' shows its importance and continued relevancy overtime. Paragraph A also closes with 'favourite with the crowds', which has clear connections to its popularity.