Reading section: Prioritizing!

Continuing with the ‘Managing you time effectively’ posts, this time I want to address both the time you should allocate for each task as well as the necessity, sometimes, to prioritize the order in which you complete your answers to increase your final score.

For my first example, I am using IELTS Volume 7, test 3, reading 3.images

There are 3 tasks. The first one is a T/F/NG, the second is a matching exercise and the 3rd one is a general one (multiple choice) asking for a possible title for the reading text. What should your strategy be?

  • Prioritize your answers! We know that, generally speaking, the questions follow the ‘flow’ of the text (this is not always true, especially in the more recent texts but it is generally true – I will address this issue on a different post). If you look at this text, you will see that it takes up 2 pages and it is followed by two long tasks and one last task which is a general question. The T/F/NG task probably covers the first page and the second task covers the second page. The T/F/NG task generally requires some more time because you need to find ‘keywords’, scan the text to locate them and then spend a bit more time to compare the statements with what you have found in the text. In this case, if you read through the 2 tasks you can notice that the 2nd one is definitely easier because it asks for 6 ‘resolutions’. If you then look at the 2nd page, you will find that the page begins with a reference to these 6 resolutions. If you start with this task, you are going to have more chances of answering it quite fast because it is easy to locate the information. So, there you go! The next thing to do would be to decide about your time.
  • Strategically allocate your time: If the questions are divided in this way, then it is easy to decide how much to spend on each of them. You have about 20’ for all of them and 2 tasks with an equal number of questions. So, you should spend less than 10’ on the second one since it seems easier and this will give you more time for the first one.

The last one is a question you can answer after you reflect back on the whole text, so it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to do so. Time yourself, especially when you practice at home!!

What happens if it is not that easy though? How can we make decisions about prioritizing the tasks we answer to achieve the best possible score?

If you look, for example, at Reading 2, again in test 3, same volume, you may have to make different choices. What do I mean? Here, you have to deal with the heading section in the beginning, two more tasks with tables and a general question in the end. The Headings Section is generally considered  a difficult one. So, how are you going to prioritize which one to start with and how much time to dedicate to each? My suggestions would be:

  • Decide where you will not spend time: Start with the Headings Sections because it will give you the possibility to read the text anyway. Yet, because this section tends to be more difficult, chances are that, you are going to miss a few headings anyway (unless your knowledge level is high already). In total, there are 6. The rest of the tasks count for 7 more points. Also, the other tasks offer you more possibilities to track down the correct answers easier. Why? Questions 20 and 21 in the table mention numbers, which makes it easier for you to scan the text and find them. Also, questions 22-25 mention native American names (unusual names and therefore they stand out in a text), which again makes your search easier. The last question refers back to the whole text, so, it should not take up a lot of time to answer.
  • Time yourself : So, how much time should you dedicate on each task? If you are aiming at 6-6.5 overall for the whole Reading section, I would advise you not to spend more than 10’ in the Heading Section. Try to find as many headings as possible but my guess is that, aiming for a 6-6.5, would not give you more than 3-4 correct answers. So, after these 10’, you should make sure you are already on the next tasks because these ones can ensure you a better score! So, read the Headings section, try to match the headings, but if it seems too difficult, just move on!

Concluding, if we needed to summarize our steps, we would have to say that, depending on the texts that we have in front of us, we need to:

  1. Have a good look at all the tasks we have to complete,
  2. Decide which ones will bring us a higher score in total (because of their easiness to trace when scanning your text – clear keywords, for example)
  3. Make sure you do not spend more time than you should on a task that looks already difficult. Spend your time wisely!
  4. And, of course, do not forget to combine your search between the tasks, whenever this is possible, of course!

Good luck!!


Book Review : Top IELTS Speaking Tips (Written by Jenny Bedwell and Phil Wade)

This is a new column on this blog : book/e-book reviews. The first one to review is by  Jenny Bedwell and Phil Wade


This e-book contains all the important information an IELTS candidate needs to get acquainted with the speaking section of the exam. It starts with an introduction to its format and continues with a comprehensive section about important tips regarding the 3 sections, the Dos and Don’ts and finally, mistakes that should be avoided.
All in all, this is a very comprehensive e-book and I would highly recommend it as IELTS candidates would definitely profit from it.