One of the difficulties in IELTS reading is being able to read the text quickly enough. The good news is that it is not an impossible skill to master and that there definite techniques you can learn to improve your reading speed. Here I suggest 3 different ways to improve your reading speed, all of them work – if you practise them.
How does this work in the test?
The ideas I suggest here are training ideas – something to practise before the test. The idea is that you use these ideas to build up your reading speed before the test. Once you get there you should naturally just read more quickly.
Skimming and scanning?
This is not really the same as skimming or scanning – this is just reading everything but quickly. It is a useful test skill for these reasons:
it will stop you getting stuck on hard and probably unimportant words – lots of time can get wasted that way
skimming and scanning tell you where the answer comes, they don’t tell you what the answer is normally. To do that you need to read closely but you also need to read quite quickly
Understanding why you read slowly
There are a number of possible reasons why you might read too slowly. Here are a few of the most likely possibilities:
- you want to understand every word
- you read words one by one and not in groups of meaning
- you find a difficult word and stop reading forwards
- you go back and read the same sentence twice to be sure
How to read more quickly – Use your finger
Normally, it is not good advice to use your finger if you want to read more quickly as your eye moves more quickly than your finger. Here the idea though is different. You don’t move your finger across the page, you move it down the page slowly but steadily. You should find that your eye starts moving more quickly to keep up with your finger.
- place your finger in the middle of the page at the top
- as you read, move your finger slowly but steadily
- don’t stop moving your finger when you get to a difficult word/sentence
How to read more quickly – Use a piece of paper
The idea here is quite simple: you keep reading forwards and do not allow yourself to read backwards when you get stuck. This works because one reason why you might read too slowly is that you keep going back to read something a second time. To help you read forwards and not backwards, you physically block out the words you have just read with a piece of paper.
- take a piece of paper/card
- place it on the page
- whenever you finish reading a line, move the paper to cover that line
How to read more quickly – Tap your finger and read 3 words at a time
This is another “trick” that quick readers learn automatically. The idea again is that you don’t try and read words one by one, but you try and read 3/4 words at the same time. This makes sense because your brain doesn’t store and process individual words, but words in groups. It works in practice because you are in fact more likely to understand “difficult” words if you read the other words around them at the same time.
- place your finger on the page
- move it across the page, tapping every 3rd or 4th word
- tap to a rhythm, don’t slow down if you get to a difficult word
- move your eye to follow your finger
In general, the people who read most quickly are also the people who read most. So, the very simple practice suggestion is to make reading part of your daily routine. I don’t mean IELTS reading, just reading for pleasure or information. Here is what I suggest:
- read a book for at least 15 minutes a day
- don’t allow yourself to use a dictionary at all
- how many pages can you read in that time?
- keep a record
More connected lessons
Reading is a complex skill. That means that there are several different mini- skills included in it. To learn to read well it helps to understand and practise all of them.
Learn about the different skills
A skimming exercise
Ways to scan more effectively