How to improve your Reading Test skills

How to improve your Reading Test skills


  • What is active reading?
  • What is passive reading?
  • Skills for active reading

What is active reading?

Active reading is when you are actively taking steps to learn the material you are studying. Taking notes for example when watching a TV program, instead of simply watching it, is a form of active engagement. Or reading an article and adding vocabulary to your notebook is active learning.

What is passive reading?

Passive reading is when you read over a text but you don't take any steps to learn what you are reading, you simply let it wash over you. The same can be said for example when you are listening to the radio, or a chosen podcast, and you listen without any form of capturing the speech.

What skills can I use to actively read a text?

  1. Highlight words that pop up which you don't know
  2. Add these words to your vocabulary book
  3. Make a small note at each paragraph and summarise what the main idea is (i.e. if a paragraph is talking about where someone grew up, you could add the word: 'childhood', beside this)
  4. Using arrows or another code of your choice, make connections between paragraphs to link ideas together- i.e. has this idea of childhood been visited elsewhere in the text?
  5. Always have a pen in your hand when reading- this alone will propel you to be active in your reading
  6. If you are studying with someone, you could review the text together and ask each other what you thought it was about, what interested you, what words were new, the order of ideas, etc.
  7. Create a flowchart to track what the text discusses and when. This is a form of visual learning, and can be very useful
  8. Check words in a dictionary
  9. Break your reading into manageable chunks. You don't need to necessarily read the whole article/text/blog/chapter, all at once. Take a more methodical approach and read parts more slowly, so you have an accurate understanding.
  10. Highlight where you see a linking word- it useful to see where these occur in sentence structures so you can improve your understanding in how they are used grammatically

The context method

The context method is very simple. It is a given that we cannot know every single word in a text, and native English speakers also won't know every single word in a text. So there can be small gaps in our overall understanding of a text.

So what happens if you come across a sentence and there is a word, or two, that you don't know. (this is likely to happen and it isn't anything to panic over)

You read around these words and figure out what the sentence is saying, through application of context


With so much of our image-saturated culture stemming from the dominance of European painting and the gender and class roles it has perpetuated, would women in charge mean a more balanced, more nuanced society, with women no longer always the object and men not always the author?

Cited here

Applying the context method:

  • If 'saturated' poses a problem, look at what is around it- 'image' and 'culture', as well as the intensifier 'so much'- we can now more clearly see how the sentence is just talking about how image absorbs our society
  • If 'stemming' poses a problem, we can look at the preposition 'from' and see that 'stemming' really just means to come from. Here you can also apply visualisation techniques where you imagine the stem of a plant, and how it supports the plant
  • If 'perpetuated' poses a problem, connect it to the word 'dominance' and the topical words of 'gender' and 'class roles', and we can begin to see how perpetuated means that something is in existence, indefinitely- such as gender and class roles
  • If 'nuanced' poses a problem, we only need to look at 'more balanced' to understand the sentence, as it is saying- 'would women with more power result in a more balanced society'. You could go further and understand 'nuanced' through its following example- object and author- in other words, these are stereotypical, over-done, saturated models of gender- and therefore the writer is asking for these gendered roles to be less obvious and expected, and more subtle.

The context method itself is a form of active reading because you are seeking and looking for meaning, and not letting something that you may not know, pass you by.

How to actively engage with pronunciation

This practice would take place when listening to language being spoken. This might be in an interview, a radio show, a podcast you subscribe to. Try to listen to a sample where there is a transcript with it.

  1. Pick a sentence that strikes interest (if you can pause the recording, then you can have a closer inspection of its language)
  2. Identify the following features:

Intonation- when does the speakers voice rise and fall? Place an arrow going upwards when it falls, and an arrow going downward when it falls.

Do you pronounce these words with similar intonation? Try saying them out loud naturally, and see if there are any similarities

Linking words- how often do they use these? What sort of function do the linking words have between the sentences?

Stress- what syllables are stressed in certain words?

Where can I find the best sources?

Using IELTS samples occasionally is recommended but avoid over-doing this. It's important to practice with a variety of language samples from a range of sources. This will improve your acquisition of language overall.

  1. TedTalks
  2. Podcasts (choose to listen to something that you genuinely enjoy)
  3. Audio books
  4. Amazon kindle
  5. YouTube

Where to get real IELTS practice resources

  • The British Council
  • IDP
  • Cambridge