IELTS study plan part 3: reading…

Following on the previous posts, now let’s turn our attention to reading, and once again it’s a two part strategy, reading in general and reading to understand the difference between the question types and the techniques you need to answer them. Also, you need to read to learn new vocabulary, and to steal/copy ideas for the essay tasks, etc.

Reading…to be fitted in every day. 

The main reason reading is so vital is several fold, the obvious reason is to develop your vocabulary. As we know the criteria for both writing and speaking calls for you to display a knowledge of topic specific language, if you don’t use such language then you won’t get a very high score as far as Lexical Resource is concerned. Consider if you were writing/speaking about the environment, and you failed to mention “greenhouse gases, global warming, co2 emissions, etc”, you wouldn’t get a very good score for that.

Another reason is ideas, a lot of students tell me that they have trouble in thinking of ideas for the essay task, especially if it is an unfamiliar topic. This goes for speaking also, although the IELTS questions are supposed to be on topics which the average educated person could speak about. One point regarding this I want to mention is that some of the topics are very “Western-centric”, one of the essay qs asks about “What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a year off between high school and university”, a gap year in other words. Well, for many parts of the world this is a nonsense idea, some of my students from Asia had no idea what this question referred to.

So, to avoid this, as with all sections of the IELTS, a complete and thorough knowledge of possible topics and question types will serve you well.

First step then, as with the listening plan, you need to read more. What a surprise. Well, not really, what you can do is to read widely if you like, books, blogs, whatever, you are spoiled for choice online these days, or to focus on the kind of topics you might expect in the test, education, crime, technology, etc. A good resource for reading material is the Guardian newspaper from the UK, the articles are about the same length as the reading in the academic IELTS and the authors are generally very well educated, also the Guardian has different sections, travel, science, education, for example, you can browse through for some suitable articles. The Economist is very similar in this regard, both available online at the links below. I have written more about reading, good online tools, and about developing vocabulary in my other book, how to record it, etc, which if you don’t have it, you can download here.

Second stage, again, as with the listening plan, you need to know what the different reading questions are (matching headings, true/false/not given, etc) and know the techniques for all of them, such as skimming and scanning, close reading, etc. For that, as I don’t the time to make lessons for such things, I recommend the following websites.

Now, in terms of developing topic specific language and ideas for the essay task, and also for some part three speaking questions which are more general and sometimes feature similar topics as for writing. As you may know, there are around 10 to 20 common themes which tend to crop up every year, such as crime, education, transport, health, etc. As a general strategy it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with these, what are the possible questions, (easy to find online), think of some ideas from your own research (google the essay question keywords and see what comes up), copy some ideas and language from sample essays (many available online), and put all this information together into your lexical notebook.

How to use this information: firstly, as mentioned above, topic specific language is crucial, if you fail to include relevant vocabulary then you will lose marks. For example, as I mentioned above if you write (or speak) about Environment, and you don’t use use specific language such as “global warming, greenhouse gases, co2 emissions”, etc, then you will most certainly not get a high score.

You therefore need to develop a vocabulary list for every topic, if you identify 20 topics, then you need to cover one of these everyday or every couple of days. You can do your own research, or check the links below for topic specific vocab lists. Then, you need to review this language every few days, review and revisit.

You also need to focus your practice within these topics, your reading and listening should be based on these themes. When you study, it should be within these common topics, such as when talking on Skype to a foreigner, then talk about one of these issues. “Hello, John, I hear the education system in your country is a bit rubbish, what do you think?”. So instead of just reading in general, although any reading is good for you, read about education, transport, crime, and all the rest.

For a list of the common topics and sample answers that you can copy for your notebook/ideas book, see below.

For topic specific vocabulary, see below.

To summarise then, read about the general topics likely to be found in the reading section (this will also help for your writing and speaking), read about and become familiar with the different question types, focus on the possible essay questions, research language, ideas, and sample answers for them, practice within these themes, put all this information into your notebook, and review and revisit it often.

That’s more than enough for today, as always, any questions, feel free to write and ask at