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IELTS Academic Reading – What to Expect and Time Management

1 hour, 3 texts, 40 questions. IELTS reading is not easy! Being prepared for all possible question types and having a clear strategy for each of them is important. On this page you can find examples of all the question types and a few tips on how to do these kinds of tasks. At the bottom of the page, there are a few general tips on time management to remember when doing the test.

What to Expect

In the IELTS reading, you could find any of the following question types:

  • Short answer  questions
  • Completion questions: Completing sentences
  • Notes
  • A summary (with no words to choose from)
  • A summary (with words to choose from)
  • A picture
  • A chart
  • A table
  • Matching information / opinion with writer names
  • Yes/No/Not Given questions
  • True/False/Not Given questions
  • Matching lists or sentences
  • Matching Paragraphs
  • Classification questions
  • Multiple choice questions

Let’s have a look below at examples of these.

Short Answer Questions

This is where you will have a general question and you will need to write the answer with a word limit.

Using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS, write your answers to the following questions:

Example: What kind of flower bears the most fruit in Autumn?


Find a key word in the question. Here, “Autumn” or “Fruit” are good examples. Now, start from the beginning of the text. These questions will be in order in the text. So if you find an answer, the next answer will come after this one. The answer will not exactly match the question, but will use synonyms or paraphrase. Here, you are expected to scan for specific details. Read the questions first, then scan. You do not need to read the text first – this is a waste of time.

Completion Questions

Similar to short answer questions, you have a word limit but this time you complete the sentences instead of asking questions.

Use NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the text for this answer.

Example: The roots of the plan then point towards the _______________ .


This is a similar kind of question to short answer questions – scanning for information and synonyms. The difference here though, is that you are asked to find words that are in the text

Summaries, Note completion, table completion, chart completion, picture completion

You will be given a summary, some notes, a table or a chart that refer to part of the text, not all of it. You then have to complete them with words either from the text or not (READ THE QUESTION!)

Below are some visual examples:


Name Size Area Found Endangered?
Red Kangaroo 1.3-1.6m West and Central No
Eastern Grey Kangaroo 5_________ East and South 6___________
7___________ About 90cm North No
Western Grey Kangaroo 85-110cm 8_____________ No

Summary (with words)

The All Blacks were expected to win the 1991 championship __________. However, they encountered great ____________ before the tournament, when a number of the team suffered ______________. Ultimately they were ­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________ of making the final, their tournament ending in ______________________.

Happy Incapable Players
Injuries Success Difficulties
Easily Disappointment Able

Sometimes, you will see this summary with no words to help you.


With these five types of question, the important thing is to find the correct area of the text. This means you need to skim. Remember, when you find the correct paragraph, answers inside the paragraph might not be in order. If you get a summary with words question, it is often quite easy because there might be only one possible word that fits in the space. You may not even need to read the text! Can you do the exercise above?

Matching information / opinion with names

In this section, you have to match names to opinions, facts or information. The key here is to remember to read the question, as you will often be able to use each letter more than once. Look at the example below:

Match each item with its inventor.

Write the letter A-E in boxes 7-10 on your answer sheet. You may use any letter more than once.

7          Phonograph

8          Absorption Refrigerator

9          Carbon Microphone

10        Telephone

A        Thomas EdisonB        Albert EinsteinC        Alexander Graham-Bell


For this kind of question, you need to scan, not read. Names are easy to search for, because they always contain capital letters. Find all the names and circle them, then go back and read the two sentences around each name to find the answers.

Yes / No / Not Given and True / False / Not Given Questions


OK, so you get some questions and have to write Yes, No, Not Given, True or False. CHECK THE QUESTION. Don’t write “True” if it asks you to write “Yes” and don’t write “Y” either. Do exactly as the question asks you so that you aren’t worried after the test. Also, you have to forget any knowledge you have of the subject from outside the exam. Only look at the text.

Finally, be happy: these questions are in order in the text!

What is the difference between No / False and Not Given?

NO / FALSE means that there is information in the text that disagrees with the question. NOT GIVEN means you can’t find any information. Trust yourself: scan the text for the area you think the answer is from, and if you can’t find any information, write NOT GIVEN.

Matching Lists or Sentences, Matching Paragraphs

Like with matching information or opinion, you will be given some sentences that are incomplete, which you must match to sentence endings, or you will be given a list of paragraph titles which you will need to match with paragraph titles. There may be more titles than answers, so you don’t need to use all the choices.

Questions 1-5

This passage has 5 sections, A to E.

Choose the correct heading for sections B to E from the list of headings below.

Write the correct number i-vii in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet

List of Headingsi   The effect of globalisation on Eastern Europeii  What is Globalisation?

iii  Future prospects for developing countries

iv  Problems in South-East Asia

v   Solutions for Small Businesses

vi  The economy long-term

vii  The impact on urban areas

1 Example: Section A           v

2 Section B

3 Section C

4 Section D

5 Section E


Paragraph matching is possibly the fastest section you can get. The sentences that have the same information as the titles are always found at the beginning of the paragraphs, so that’s all you need to read! The paragraphs are clearly marked, so you don’t have to spend time looking through large amounts of text to find your answers. Remember here you can only use each title once!

Multiple Choice Questions

With these questions, you will be asked to choose one or two letters that answer the question correctly. Check the question carefully.

Questions 1-3

Choose the appropriate letter A-D and write them in boxes 1-3 on your answer sheet.

1          According to the text, foxgloves are

A         Endangered in Britain

B         Pink or Blue depending on the season

C         Poisonous

D         A source of medicine


These questions are in order, which is always good! Find a key word in the answers and scan the text for it. For example, if I want to check C, I will look for a word that means poisonous. Is it mentioned with reference to foxgloves?

Time Management

  • Take a watch. Instead of trying to time every question, time a section. You have 18 minutes for each section. Don’t go over! You need five minutes at the end to guess all the answers that you haven’t found. Don’t leave anything blank – you don’t get anything for nothing!
  • Practise the test before going in. This may sound obvious, but practising will help you learn which kinds of questions you find easier. I personally think that matching paragraphs to headings is the easiest task, so I would do it first. You don’t need to do the test in order. Choose the easiest question types first, or the types of question where guessing at the end is impossible. For example, sentence completion, summary completion with no words.
  • Read the questions first and decide if you are skimming or scanning, and if the answers are in order or not. Then you know how much you have to read. Don’t read the whole text first – you might not need to and it would be a waste of time.
  • Write your answers directly on the answer sheet. Unlike listening, there is no extra time at the end to transfer your answers.
  • Practise speed reading outside the classroom. Take a newspaper and read one page. Time yourself. Now do another, but set a time that’s 30 seconds faster. In your language you don’t look at every word individually – you just look at three together, or the ‘meaning’ words, skimming the grammar. Try and make yourself do this by not reading with your finger.
  • Trust yourself. When you have written an answer, move on. It’s difficult, but you have to do it.
  • Don’t get interested in the text. Don’t think about the text – think about the questions and try to be as much like a robot as you can! So don’t read the text first. You risk becoming interested and reading more slowly!

Above all, good luck. I hope these tips help you with the reading test. Remember, to get 4.5 you don’t even need to answer half the questions correctly, so be positive and practise, practise, practise!


3 thoughts on “IELTS Academic Reading – What to Expect and Time Management

  1. Great advice on the IELTS reading section!

  2. Impressive work you have accomplished.

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