ANYONE attempting the IELTS reading section without preparation will struggle to reach a Band 7. This part of the exam is not easy and even native speakers have challenges.
In this post we cover:
-the three types of reading
-what is active reading and why it’s useful
-a technique to get you practising everyday
-a range of preparation exercises to get the exam skills you need
THE THREE TYPES OF READING
Elementary – the most basic and deals with “what is being said”. Elementary reading is therefore the style of reading you learn first.
Inspectional – often with a time limit, and covers three points; What the text is about? The structure of the text, and what are the parts of the argument? For this we skim, and pre-read to get a feel for the text. Inspectional reading is the type of reading you will do most in the exam.
Analytical – usually the slowest type of reading, concerned with the details, usually reading every single word in the phrase, mainly for understanding and finding meaning. Analytical is also necessary for the exam but will be used to a lesser extent largely due to the time limit in the exam.
This is another vital skill I would strongly recommend mastering for IELTS success. Active reading means actively getting involved in the text by marking, underlining and drawing on the text. This extra involvement makes it easier to remember because you have now attached something from the physical world to what was previously just in your mind. Active reading helps you focus (and keeps you awake!). It also facilitates understanding because if you can express your understanding in the written form it is more than likely crystal clear in your own mind.
Here are some guidelines to help you when approach some text:
– underline and circle important phrases and words
– vertical lines next to a long important passages
– stars / asterix in the margin for dates, numbers, measurements and times (common questions in reading exams)
– use a series of numbers to signal the development of an argument or process
– write in the margins and create your own subheadings
If you have to read a lot for your studies or work I would strongly recommend this timeless classic “How to read a book“.
HOW TO PRACTICE EVERYDAY
One of the best ways to learn a new skill is through practice and repetition, and habits are the best source of repetition to harness. For example, if you have difficulty practising IELTS everyday then try and incorporate your IELTS preparation into an existing habit. So if most mornings you start with a coffee and reading some online news site like bbc.com, rt.com, or msnbc.com then start turning that routine into a practise reading session. You could choose an article and start ACTIVELY READING IT instead of just reading it the normal way. You could also engage in some of the exercises below, the point being is that soon you will start doing it every morning and you will be much less likely to skip a session. This technique comes from a great book about habits.
6 DRILLS TO IMPROVE READING COMPREHENSION
1. Pre-assessing an essay
Pre-assessing an essay involves creating a notion of what the essay holds by surveying the title, subtitles, framework and other tools used in the essay. One example would be in a page of a magazine, we can read the heading (and subheadings, if any), and take a quick look at the diagrams, charts or pictures, if any, to get a sense of what the essay is about, and so decide whether it is interesting enough for us to read or not. If the title and images provide the notion of the essay being about a particular place in the globe that you have not seen nor heard of before and you are fond of traveling, then this assessment helps in your decision making process to really read the article thoroughly.
Pre-assessment helps the mind to be open to the ideas related to the seen heading and images, which eventually provide ease in understanding the essay or article.
2. Browsing for the main point
This only requires going through the text lightly and fast to get an overall concept. We go about this by focusing only on getting the general point of the text and not really paying attention to the details. We can use this skill when for instance reading about the ingredients and how a particular dish is prepared to know whether it is good for our health or not.
Browsing in search of a main point is an essential skill when we want to obtain a comprehensive perspective or idea without needing to go deeply into the text.
3. Foreseeing the content and purpose of the text
Knowing the topic, we can use our stock knowledge to speculate about what the text will be on or what it was written for or what it is aimed to do. Let us take a flyer with the name of an amusement park and the images of the different rides and other entertainment activities that they offer, from these you can foresee that they are promoting the services offered by that particular amusement park and that the language or terms used in the flyer will be predominantly about entertainment and leisure.
Foreseeing is a good tool in understanding a text because you make use of your own knowledge and experiences about the topic to draw the ideas that will help you comprehend the complete thought of the text later on.
4. In-depth reading
In depth reading or reading completely while taking note of details involved in the text is a reading exercise that requires a little more effort. It requires more concentration and retention because here, every point must be looked into. For instance, we would like to prepare an éclair for some expected guests. Because the steps are not that simple and easy to remember, and to make sure that it comes out the way it should, not too hard nor too soft, and not too sweet nor lacking in taste, we will need to employ in-depth reading on its recipe. This means that we need to take note of the details like the exact amount of each ingredient, the level of mixing or beating required to produce the exact consistency required, and the necessary oven temperature for every phase of the baking process. In-depth reading may also involve reading the text again to ensure that we have understood or captured every detail and important information in the text.
In-depth reading is a skill that is necessary to develop because it enables us to understand exactly and completely what the meaning and message of the text is.
5. Drawing word meaning from context
It is not expected for us to know every word in the dictionary, hence, it is inevitable that we encounter some words, we have never heard of before or we have known for a particular meaning but it was used to deliver a different meaning in the text. This is why it is important to develop the skill of drawing the meaning of a word from the context of how it was used. This calls for the use of our abilities in analyzing, reasoning, and searching for relevant details. In the line, “His family gathered about him after he was knocked out, waiting for him to come around,” the phrase to “come around” is composed of two words with different meanings and when put together may mean “to arrive within a particular location close to the speaker.” But in the given line, the words, “gathered around,” “knocked out,” and “waiting” seem to give clues that the meaning of words, “come around,” was different, in this case it was “to gain back consciousness.”
Drawing the word meaning from the way the word was used in the text is a very helpful skill in enriching our vocabulary and it will be important in understanding the meaning and message of an entire text which is needed in the IELTS exam.
6. Discerning the tone of the writer
Here, we bring focus on the sentiments and viewpoints of the writer. There are texts that are better understood when the thoughts and feelings of the writer are analyzed. In the lines, “Is there hope for the youth?”we can feel that the author is concerned about the member of the younger generation and so we can expect that the text is about ways to make things better for them.
There are times when a topic can bring different, even opposing ideas. Examples would be religious or political controversial matters. This is why it is important to get clues about the attitude and perspective of the writer in order to really understand the purpose of the writer for writing the text and the different points that writer aims to draw our attention to.