- Work to a guideline of the average time you spend on each question, block of questions and each text
- You may spend time reading the whole text
- Some questions are harder than others!
- Look at the type of questions
- Develop a time management strategy for blocks of questions and individual question types
The main advice is:
No extra time to fill in the answer sheet
The first point to remember is that there is no extra time at the end to fill out the answer sheet. A relatively common mistake for people taking the test first time around is to think that they have more time at the end – you don’t.
Another related mistake is to leave some questions – or blocks of questions – until the end believing you’ll have time to complete them. Very often it happens that the clock ticks too fast and some questions are left unanswered. The moral: fill out the answers as you go.
The basic calculation – only a starting point
It looks easy:
one and half minutes per question
20 minutes per section
This I suggest though is only a starting point. In practice you’ll need more time for some questions than others and you might not spend exactly 20 minutes on each section. Read on to find out why.
Spend 20 minutes on each text – approximately
There are 3 texts and 60 minutes. What does this mean? It means that you should spend approximately 20 minutes one each text. A very common mistake is to get stuck on one text and find there isn’t enough time for the last one.
Consider leaving time to check your answer sheet
You should at least consider doing this and you need to do it during your 60 minutes. This should only take a minute or so but you should check:
- all the answers are filled in
- your spelling is good
- you have answered in the correct form i.e. writing True if the question asks you write True of False or Not Given
Consider giving yourself mini breaks between each section
You’re not a machine. The reading texts are hard and your brain will get tired. It really can make sense to give yourself 20/30 second breaks between each section. Just relax and go again. You will almost certainly work more efficiently this way. At least try it. I explain this a bit more here when I discuss stress.
Using strategy to focus on 2 sets of questions only
I discuss this in a bit more detail below.
If your English is less good you may decide to concentrate on just two texts and make guesses on the third. I have had students where this strategy works. It can be dangerous though. Another solution if you want to “cut corners” is to think about different question types and guess some and not others.
One a half minutes per question – a very rough guideline
Think about skimming the whole text – that takes time
This is the method I first introduce to my students – to see if it helps them. The idea is that you look at the whole text first to understand not just what it is about but also to see how it is structured. How does this help? Very few questions ask about the meaning of the whole text but:
it can help you to make sensible guesses – something almost everyone needs to do.
it can help you decide which part of the text to read to find the answer – I explain a bit more about this here
it helps with some question types that ask you to look at large parts of the text – especially paragraph matching questions – something I talk more about below
Not all questions are equal – some are just harder – think about average time per block of questions
Here’s something else for you to consider. Some questions are much harder than others and you may need to spend more time on some questions than others. This is where you need to work out your own system. If you’re able to answer some questions very quickly in 30 seconds or so, then that means you can have more time for other questions. Here is what I suggest:
don’t spend too long on getting one question right – it may be just very hard. Move on when you can’t find an answer. A general guideline is 2 minutes is the longest you should spend on any question.
work out a maximum amount of time you can spend on one question
don’t think about individual questions but groups of questions – the questions come in blocks of 4/5 normally. Decide how long you spend on average on each block of questions. This is just sensible. If you do this you’ll stay on schedule and give yourself the chance to spend less time on easy questions and more time on harder questions.
Learn to think about blocks of questions – develop a strategy
This point is slightly different. Each time you come to a new block of questions you need to start again and you may spend more time than the average time on some questions. Why?
you need to work out which part of the text to focus on to get the answers. You’ll do this much quicker if you have skimmed the whole text first
the first questions in each block are typically the hardest to find and may take longer. Why? Two reasons. 1. You’re looking at a new part of the text. This makes finding the first answers harder. In contrast the last answers can come quicker as you are now familiar with that part of the text. 2. With some question types you can work out the last questions much more quickly because you have already deleted some answers earlier.
Consider having a marking strategy – some questions you look at twice
Here’s another idea for you to consider. Some questions you look at once briefly and then move on without answering. You then come back to that question at the end of the block. How does this work?
A good example is paragraph matching questions. First time around you can’t quickly find the answer to question 3. It could be either paragraph A, C or E. You don’t spend too much time worrying which one. You mark down a,c,e on the question paper and move on. You then find that the answer to question 4 is A and question 5 is C. This means the answer you need must be E – you can fill in the answer very quickly.
So even if you look at a question twice, you’ll not just move more quickly but also be more likely to get the right answer than if you had divided the time equally between questions.
This is an approach that needs practice but it can work very well. To use it you need to ignore the general guideline of spending the same amount of time on each question.
Think about different question types – some may take YOU longer
The main idea is that you spend roughly the same amount of time for each question or block of questions as they all count equally. But.
The “but” is that sometimes – and this especially true for people around band 6.0 and lower – it may make sense to spend more time on some question types than others. The one question type that causes most candidates bother is the T/F/NG type. The questions here are harder but you have a much better chance of guessing (part of the reason why they’re harder of course).
Be careful how you use this strategy but you may find it works for you to spend less time on T/F/NG and multiple choice questions – simply because you ahem a greater chance of guessing answers there. This leaves you more time for paragraph matching and find three word type questions where guessing is much much harder.
To make this work it really helps to look at all the questions before you start. If for example you see T/F/Ng you may decide that you’ll spend less time on those questions. If you see paragraph matching you may decide you want a bit more time for those questions.
Experiment – find out what works for you
As I say the suggestion is that you spend 20 minutes on each block of questions. That’s almost certainly the place to start. But what happens if that doesn’t work for you. Easy. Try something different. Try for example spending more time on one set of questions and less time on another. This can work for some candidates.
A possible approach
Text 1 – 20 minutes
Text 2 – 23 minutes
Text 3 – 17 minutes
How can this work? At the start of the test you have lots of energy and you should be working quickly. Then as your brain gets tired you may start working slightly more slowly and need more time to find the answers. So for the second text you just give yourself more time. By the time you get to third text you’re probably slightly tired and are likely to make mistakes. If so, then it can work to guess most on the third text and use less time.
Does it work?
It can do. Just make sure it works for you – keep a record of your scores. Make sure that your results improve by getting better scores in texts 1 and 2.
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