How to manage your time effectively when dealing with the IELTS Reading section

IELTS is a graded test. This is the main reason why the time to complete the reading tasks seems limited, a lot of times, at least to some students who aim to achieve a score between 5 and 6/6.5. Effective time management is of primary importance, therefore, in this particular exam. So, how can we help learners develop the right techniques?


One of these is to find ways to combine  our search for information for all or  most  of the reading tasks right from the beginning.  To the degree, of course, that  this is  possible. Reading text 1 in test 1 of the book Cambridge IELTS 8 (Official  Examination Papers from University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations) is ideal  to illustrate exactly this. The title of the reading passage is “A Chronicle of  timekeeping’.


Before starting to read the text, it is advisable to look at all the tasks first. Always!  We need to make sure we know the types of tasks that each time we are required to answer. DON’T start by reading thecambridge-ielts-8-self-study-pack-students-book-with-answers-and-audio-c-ds-2-17-728 text first! In this particular text, following it are 3 tasks : the first one asks students to identify the paragraphs that contain information similar to the specific statements that follow. The second asks students to match the statements with specific nationalities. Finally, the third one is a flow chart. So, what are the techniques we can apply which can save us time? In short, while we are scanning our text for task 1, we can also do part of the search we need to do for the other 2 tasks and save time, in this way.



cambridge-ielts-8-self-study-pack-students-book-with-answers-and-audio-c-ds-2-19-728In the first task,for example,  we need to read each statement, circle the key words and then scan each paragraph to locate the relevant information. While we are doing this, we might as well ‘partly’ search for the information we also need for task 2 and then also for task 3. What do I mean? Questions 5-8 (task 2)  involve matching the nationalities in the box with each event. So, a suggestion is that, while scanning the text for the 1st task, we can save time by circling the names of the nationalities each time we locate them in the text. Just the names of nationalities! This alone can save us about 1-2 minutes which we can use to answer one more question.  If we need roughly 20’ for each text, you can imagine what difference these 1-2’ can make!


Moving on to the 3rd one, a flowchart, we need to remember 2 facts about this type of exercise. cambridge-ielts-8-self-study-pack-students-book-with-answers-and-audio-c-ds-2-20-728Flowcharts always have headings which can help us identify easily the relevant information in the text. The heading includes a date, a number and/or a name which makes our search even easier. The 2nd fact is that the information related to the flowchart can always be found in a specific place in the text, in one or two paragraphs, usually one after the other, and not sparsely in the text. Plus, since this is the 3rd task, the information we are looking for is probably around the end of the whole text. So, it’s rather concentrated.

So, summarising :

  1. First, we look at all the tasks and try to find ways of combining our search for all our 2-3 tasks simultaneously
  2. While scanning the text for locating the answers to task 1 , we can also scan the text and circle the nationalities for task 2
  3. At the same time, using keywords from the heading of task 3, we try to locate which paragraphs contain the information we will need for the flowchart completion
  4. After these steps, we can focus on each task separately

We always need to make the best use of our time (approximately 20’ for each text). Deciding right from the beginning the ways in which we can combine our search for all tasks involved can save us valuable time which can help us in the end to answer 1-2 more questions that we wouldn’t have time to answer otherwise. Yet, we also need to bear in mind this is not possible with ALL the reading texts. Not only is the process not the same with all texts, but also it is not always possible nor easy to combine our search. Still, we should always try to find ways to organise our time wisely!


More IELTS writing task 1 & 2 topics (December 2014, Greece)

More IELTS writing task 1 & 2 topics (December, 2014) in Greece, as our students, M.K. and T.T., who have recently sat the exam, remember them :

Task 1

It was a bar chart (a drug company’s sales in 4 different countries)

Task 2

“In some countries men raise the children while women work full time”. Do you think this is a positive or negative development? Give examples to support your opinion.

Task 2

“Competition for university places is big, making it tough to enter universities nowadays.” Do you think that competition is positive or negative? Give examples to support your opinion.

New Speaking topics (December 2014)

New IELTS speaking topics (December, 2014) in Greece, as our student, M.K. , who sat the exam  remembers them :
Speaking test

Part 1
  • What is your full name?
  •  Can I see your ID?
  • Where are you from?
  •  Do you work or study?
  • How important is looking after your physical health?
  • Do you think schools should  motivate students them to take up sports?

Part 2

Describe something you have  done at some point to improve your physical fitness. Please say :

  • When was that?
  • What did you do?
  • How did it affect you?
Part 3
  • Should employers give incentives to their employees to choose a healthier way of living, for example,  by building gyms, having healthy food cantines at work, etc?
  •  Should the state vote laws that affect one towards living a healthier life?

Skimming and scanning reading texts

Today, I would like to share my experience using a lesson plan which can be both enjoyable and prepare learners for basic Reading strategies. It is not my lesson plan but I’ve used it for years with 1st year students, at AMC College (Thessaloniki) and it’s always worked very well. So, here it is. 

Teaching IELTS to 1st year College students is always a challenge because they are not required to sit exams right from the 1st year. This means they need extra motivation, a friendly as well as a playful atmosphere. Yet, they still need to be taught the basic techniques of the test and how to approach the various parts of it.

In the Reading Section, for example, Skimming and Scanning are the primary techniques students are introduced to. Every year, I use an activity that most of them enjoy and have fun with and one which, at the same time, teaches them exactly this. I have been using this lesson plan for 5 years and all of us enjoy it immensely. Its title is ‘Living in the UK’ and can be found at  ( Catherine Morley’s lesson plan – British Council, Mexico).

living-uk-lesson-plan    living-uk-worksheets

In this lesson plan,  students can read about the different countries of the UK, practise reading for specific information and guessing the meaning of words from the context. Worksheet A is basically a warmer (the Uk’s map where learners have to identify the various countries and their capitals). Worksheet B has a page with 16 questions and then 10 more pages with texts on cultural aspects of the different UK countries. Worksheet C has vocabulary tasks.

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I generally have large groups of students in the 1st year. For worksheet B , I don’t divide the students in pairs ,as the lesson plan suggests, but in groups . I always give very clear instructions about the team rules. I pick the person with the best leadership skills to be the head of the team and I explain that they are also responsible for any player who does not play fair or does not contribute enough. I suggest that they can decide themselves on the rules about how they will manage their team and their time. If I realise though that they are having a hard time doing this and it takes them time to do so, I step in and make suggestions , like : ‘divide the questions depending on the number of the team members’, ‘whoever finishes earlier can/will help a weaker student’, etc.

Before doing anything else, and once the teams are ready, they need to look at the worksheet’s question, ask about any difficult words. The next step is for them to circle the key words. They need to scan for information focussing on these key words. And they need to be fast.

I also ask them to stand up while working on this activity. The reason for this is that they need to scan read the various texts one after the other and once standing up, they are kept involved and also alert. They have to move around and look for information in one text after the other. All this while the clock is ticking! They only have 10′ to find all 16 answers.

I want the atmosphere to be competitive in a positive way but also playful. So, I let the teams ‘interact’ sometimes. They can tease each other about who’s better and who’s going to finish earlier. This brings laughs in the class but also increases their competitiveness and so they try to finish as soon as possible. Letting them a bit ‘loose’ motivates them to work fast! 1800250_871456116220360_6479170257965362559_n
The main goal is that they realise in the end that scanning for information does not necessarily require a very advanced level of language and needs not be time-consuming. I think this activity succeeds in exactly this and I hope you can enjoy it with your class, too!