The IELTS Reading Paper

The IELTS academic and general training reading papers each include 40 questions over three sections, and the total timing is one hour (unlike the listening paper, no extra time is allowed to fill out the answer sheet). All questions are awarded one point, and all are factored equally into the sectional score of 0 to 9 (in half-point increments). The academic and general training reading sections differ mostly in the subject matter and number of reading passages.

IELTS Reading Paper Passages

IELTS academic test-takers will answer 12-14 questions each on three reading passages. These texts are academic and they may be either descriptive or argumentative (some passages contain illustrations). Specialized knowledge of the subjects covered is not required to successfully answer the questions, and according to IELTS, these texts are similar to what might be found in newspapers or magazines. The reading passages are not separately timed, but the test instructions suggest that students spend about 20 minutes on each. Although some passages are longer than others, the average length is approximately 700-800 words. General training students will see a larger number of passages. Part 1 may include up to five short texts that are factual, such as advertisements. Part 2 includes two longer texts that are related to common work issues, such as employee safety. Part 3 is a single passage that is more difficult and lengthier than anything that appears in the first two parts (such as an account of a historical event). General training reading passages are primarily descriptive rather than argumentative. The length of individual passages varies considerably, but the total wordcount for all general training passages is between 2000 and 2750 words. It is recommended that students spend 17 minutes on part 1, 20 minutes on part 2, and 23 minutes on part 3.

IELTS Reading Paper Question Types

The IELTS academic reading paper consists of 11 tasks, or types of questions: multiple choice, identifying information, identifying writer claims, matching information, matching headings, matching features, matching sentence endings, sentence completion, chart completion, labelling a diagram, and short-answer. Mutiple choice questions will have either four, five, or seven answer options, for which there will be one, two, or three correct answers respectively. Identifying information and identifying writer claims questions will present three answer choices: true, false, or not given. Matching question types require the test-taker to link answer options presented in a box to the indicated paragraphs, statements, or sentences. Sentence completion and chart completion questions involve choosing a suitable word from the text to correctly fill in the sentence, chart, table, or graph, while diagrams are labelled with answers from the text or in a box. For short-answer questions, students must use words from the text. The general training reading paper includes all of the question types listed above and an additional category: multiple matching. In this category, test-takers should match information in the questions to the correct short text.

IELTS Reading Paper Skills

In order to receive high scores on the academic or general training reading paper, students must be able to demonstrate a broad set of skills. Among the most important of these are identifying and locating factual information within a text, understanding author opinions, and discerning writer claims. Most of the questions on the IELTS reading paper draw on one or more of these abilities, regardless of the question types. Students are also encouraged to practice skimming passages for the most significant information, the type of text, and the structure of the reading. Test-takers should be able to skim or speed-read about 200 words per minute. The best practice for the IELTS reading paper is with a large group of texts from many different subjects and of varying lengths.

IELTS Reading Paper Score Requirements at Universities

Few universities have specific requirements for the IELTS reading paper, but total and sectional score expectations can and do vary by institution or degree level. The University of Oxford's Saïd Business School and the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School, for example, are two of the most selective graduate business programs in the United Kingdom. Both institutions require a total IELTS band score of 7.5 or higher, with no individual section score below 7. The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University "seeks applicants with individual section scores of 7.5 or higher." In general terms, students should assume that they must receive reading paper scores that are commensurate with the selectivity of the degree programs in which they wish to enroll.

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