Learn the best tips + do a free practice question in the IELTS Academic Reading
As an IELTS teacher and course designer, I have had a lot many test-takers ask me about the IELTS Academic Reading. So, here I’m going to go through a few of the most common questions I have come across and provided you with best tips and strategies to apply to some of the trickier IELTS Academic Reading questions.
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Do I have to read the whole passage from beginning to end?
The answer is NO! The IELTS Academic Reading section has three long passages and they become increasingly more difficult as they go. That means, that the first one will be a bit easier than the second and that the last one will be more difficult than the second one. This means that if you spend too much time on the first passage (a mistake many candidates make their first time), you will likely run out of time before you get to the third and final passage. So, you don’t have to, and nor should you, read each passage from beginning to end. By now you’re probably asking, how do I answer the questions if I don’t read the whole passage? Well lucky you asked because that’s the next question!
Can I answer the IELTS Academic Reading questions without reading the entire passage?
Yes! I’ll let you in on a little secret: You can answer the questions without reading the passage from top to bottom because as you know, you will not have enough time to do this with all three passages. So, instead of doing that, you can apply certain skills and strategies that will help you.
The two most important reading skills to know are skimming and scanning. You then use these skills to strategically answer the IELTS Academic Reading questions.
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Let’s look at each one of these and apply them to a practice question.
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Skimming is running your eyes over the text, or surface reading. You’re not looking for details, but just getting a general idea of what the passage or paragraph is about.
Let’s try it with the Matching Heading question. Skim the passage below to find the general idea of each paragraph. Doing this will help you choose the correct heading.
Which paragraphs contains the following information?
Write the correct letter A-C next to questions 1-3 below
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A. Many people enjoy swaying along to the music in a nightclub. For these extroverts, a night spent dancing and talking to friends is a fun evening. But for introverts, this is the stuff of nightmares. Small talk, dense crowds and loud music can be terrifying. Even partying at home with a group of friends, though fun, can be draining. Some people would much rather be tucked up in reading a book. This is a primary difference between extroverts who on the one hand who feel energised from stimulating environments and interaction, and introverts on the other hand who feel drained and low in energy as a result of such situations.
B. Why do introverts and extroverts react so differently to the same situation? The answer has to do with some key differences in the way their brains are wired. One major difference between the brains of introverts and extroverts is related to their response to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards like earning money or attracting a mate. It creates a sensation of pleasure as a reward for success in these endeavours. When dopamine floods the brain, both introverts and extroverts become more talkative and motivated to take risks. Introverts have the same quantity of dopamine present in their brains as extroverts. The difference is in the functioning of the dopamine which is more active in the brains of extroverts. Extroverts thrive on the dopamine-charged good feelings created when they engage the sympathetic side. Introverts rely more on a different neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Like dopamine, acetylcholine is linked to pleasure; the difference is that acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time. It also helps explain why introverts like calm environments; it’s easier to turn inward when we’re not attending to external stimulation. When an introvert is lounging at home in quiet solitude, lost in a book or watching Netflix, they are basking in the pleasant effects of acetylcholine
C. Another piece of the introvert-extrovert puzzle has to do with the nervous system. Both introverts and extroverts use both sides of their nervous systems at different times, just like they use both neurotransmitters. But extroverts tend to favour the opposite side of the nervous system; the sympathetic side, known as the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ system. This side mobilises us to discover new things and makes us active, daring, and inquisitive. The brain becomes alert and hyper-focused on its surroundings. Blood sugar and free fatty acids are elevated to give us more energy, and digestion is slowed. Thinking is reduced, and we become prepared to make snap decisions.
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Section A (iv) Section B (i) Section C (iii)
Without reading the whole passage in detail, but just skimming the surface, I was able to gather that paragraph A compared the difference between extroverts and introverts so the heading Introversion vs. Extroversion (iv) would be the most appropriate heading. I could also see that the first few sentences in section B mention the brain and brain chemistry, so I can safely assume that the heading It’s all in the Brain (i) would best capture the main idea of that paragraph. Finally, section C mentions the nervous system. Heading (iii), All About those Nerves best summarizes that idea. Remember, a paragraph heading is a one-phrase summary of the paragraph.
Another important reason to skim is that you don’t have time to read the entire passage, and skimming familiarises you with the passage and where information is located. This is important because when you are looking for the answer to a question, you will know where to look! This will make sense when we look at the next reading strategy – scanning.
Watch more: Academic Reading – section 1 practice test