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 the 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.
In 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. Flowcharts 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 :
- First, we look at all the tasks and try to find ways of combining our search for all our 2-3 tasks simultaneously
- While scanning the text for locating the answers to task 1 , we can also scan the text and circle the nationalities for task 2
- 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
- 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!