Many IELTS takers consider the Reading paper to be the most difficult on the IELTS.  This  is especially true of the Academic Reading paper, since time is extremely limited. Most test-takers have to read and answer questions very quickly in order to complete the section. The General Training  Reading paper is less challenging, but can still pose a timing challenge for many IELTS takers. No matter which version of the IELTS you will  take, developing a strategic approach to the Reading paper is crucial.

Before discussing strategy, let’s take a closer look at some features of the IELTS Reading test. Even though they differ in some important ways, the Academic and General Training IELTS Reading tests share some common features. Both take 60 minutes and contain 40 questions. Also, although some of the Reading passages are quite different between the two exams, the strategy for answering questions is actually very similar. This is because  the question types are generally the same for both versions. Furthermore, the General Training IELTS always includes one passage (the last one in the section) that is the same general length and difficulty as an Academic Reading passage. Therefore, students who plan to take the General Training IELTS exam can benefit by studying Academic IELTS Reading passages and questions.

Now let’s look at the key differences between the Academic and General Training Reading papers.

The Academic Reading paper consists of three passages. For each one, you will answer 10-14 questions. Reading passages cover a wide range of subjects, such as science, history, the environment, etc. You do not need to be an expert in any of these fields.

However, test-takers with a large vocabulary have a huge advantage. Academic IELTS Reading passages may contain some technical terms and even visual materials such as

charts and graphs. IELTS commonly uses passages from professional and academic journals, textbooks, reports, and newspapers.

Like Academic Reading, General Training Reading also includes articles from journals, newspapers, and magazines. However, the majority of the passages are much shorter, with simpler vocabulary. Additionally, the topics tend to relate to daily life. Some passages, especially towards the beginning of the General Training Reading paper, are taken from advertisements, guidebooks, magazines, notices, or employee manuals.

While each version of General Training IELTS Reading can be slightly different, you can generally expect that the exam will get more and more challenging from beginning to  end. In Section 1, there will be 2-3 very short (and relatively simple) articles related to everyday life topics. In Section 2, there will be two short texts. These are often related to work in some way, such as a job application or company handbook. Finally, as noted above, Section 3 will contain a longer text discussing a more academic or abstract topic. This is the toughest article on the General Training Reading exam.


IELTS Reading Topics

Academic Topics

There are three passages in the IELTS Academic Reading section. All three passages are educational nonfiction.

The first and second passages on the IELTS Academic Reading Test are up to 900 words long, and usually no shorter than 800 words. The IELTS Reading section then closes with a third passage that’s a little longer, usually in the 850-950 word range.

Sources for Academic Reading Texts

IELTS Academic Reading passages are usually adapted from sources such as:

  • scientific magazines and newspapers
  • informative nonfiction books
  • research reports
  • scholarly journals
  • textbooks
Common IELTS Academic Reading Topics

The passages can cover a variety of academic topics, although topics related to the physical sciences and social sciences are the most common. You won’t really see topics outside of the hard sciences and social science. For instance, there are no literature passages, nor are there passages that focus exclusively on history.

Here are some of the topics you’re likely to see in IELTS Reading:

  • health
  • psychology
  • biology
  • animal science
  • environmental science
  • engineering
  • agriculture
  • global politics
  • economics
  • inventions and technology

Another feature of Academic IELTS Reading passages is that they almost never focus on just one topic. Instead, you’ll see a combination of two or more of the topics above, all in one Academic Reading article.

For example, an IELTS Academic Reading prompt might discuss the sounds that bats make, and then talk about how these sounds are similar to human sonar technology. Such a passage combines animal science with engineering. To give another example, a passage might talk about government control of industrial pollution. A passage like that (as seen on the official IELTS website) involves national and global politics, economics, environmental science, health, chemistry, and agriculture.

General Training Topics

Let’s have a look at some of the type of texts used in each section and the topics you might see.

Type of Texts Used

The type of texts used in the IELTS Reading General Training are taken from:

  • advertisements
  • books
  • company handbooks
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • notices
  • official documents
General Training Topics You Might See

There are a variety of topics covered during the test with each section having a particular focus. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Section One

The first section contains two or three really short factual texts like notices, advertisements, and timetables, that would be important to understand in a country where English is spoken in order to conduct your day-to-day life. The texts in section one may include a number of “mini-texts” to look through, such as a series of advertisements on similar subjects.

Topics might include:

  • community education programs
  • evacuation procedures for a public space
  • product return notices
  • advertisements for foreign language centres
  • a charity cycle ride information pack (i.e. London to Brighton Bike Ride)
  • mail order products

Section Two

In this section, you will find two short, factual texts focusing on work-related issues. The texts here will be more complicated than in section one and will use more difficult language and structures.

Topics might include:

  • company policies
  • pay and working conditions
  • workplace facilities
  • applying for a job
  • staff development
  • workplace dismissals
  • job descriptions
  • job contracts
  • training materials
  • company expenses policies
  • complaint procedures

Section Three

Here, you will need to read one longer, more complex text on a topic of general interest. This extended prose will be be the most complex in structure of the three sections and the emphasis will be on descriptive and instructive texts. This third General Training Reading passage is similar to the passages found in Academic IELTS Reading.

Examples include:

  • Calisthenics Today (i.e. using only one’s body weight to increase muscle mass)
  • Understanding Bee Behavior
  • Robots At Work
  • The History of Cinema
  • Lack of Sleep

IELTS Reading Question Types

There are several types of questions you may encounter on the IELTS  Reading paper. The descriptions and tips below will help you understand each one. Make sure to study the official practice questions as well! Wherever possible, links to Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS examples are included.

Multiple Choice

This is a traditional question type with which you are probably very familiar. You will be asked to select the correct answer to a question from a set of choices. IELTS Reading Multiple Choice questions can test a variety of things. For example, some will focus on details, while others focus on main ideas.

As with other question types, you should look for keywords in the questions and the answer choices before you scan the passage for answers.

Click the following links to view examples of Multiple Choice questions:

True / False / Not Given and Yes / No / Not Given

True/False/Not Given questions can be very tricky. These questions will consist of several statements. You need to decide whether each one is TRUE according to the passage. This means that the information in the question statement agrees with information in the text. However, if the question statement contradicts something found in the passage, you must mark the answer FALSE.

A third option is also possible on the IELTS. If the information in the question statement cannot be found in the article (the article does not say whether the statement is true or false) you must mark NOT GIVEN. This is tough! It is very easy to waste a lot of time searching for something that is, in fact, not there.

Try your best not to spend excessive time on these questions. If you can’t find an answer after you’ve searched for it thoroughly in the article, mark NOT GIVEN and move on. You don’t want to lose easier points that come later in the Reading paper because you spent too much time looking for information that might not be in the passage at all.

Here is some additional information on True  / False / Not Given questions to help you   with this question type.

Yes / No / Not Given questions are almost exactly the same as True / False / Not Given questions. The difference is that they focus on IDEAS, not facts. Yes / No / Not Given questions are common for reading passages that present an author’s opinions or perspectives. Your job will be to say whether the statements in the questions agree or disagree with what the author states in the essay. If the information isn’t discussed directly, you must answer NOT GIVEN.


There are a few types of Matching questions on the IELTS Reading paper. Each one has  its own unique features.

Matching Headings Questions

This type of question asks you to match a list of “headings” to each paragraph in the passage. A correct heading captures the main idea of one paragraph in the text. Usually, there will be some extra headings in your list which do not work with any of the paragraphs. These extra headings typically do not represent the text accurately, or (commonly!) they represent a minor idea found within one of the paragraphs.

To get a headings question correct, you must find the heading that articulates the main idea of a paragraph. Sometimes, you can find the main idea in the first sentence or two of a paragraph. This is definitely a good place to look first. But don’t stop reading after the first two sentences as you try to answer these questions. Scan the remainder of each paragraph to confirm that the heading represents everything contained in the paragraph  in a general way.

This Magoosh IELTS article offers some additional information on Matching Headings questions.

And here are some official sample exercises:

Matching Information Questions

This type of question asks you to match information from a list with one of the paragraphs in the passage. Matching Information questions can be very tricky because you need to search for details. To answer them correctly, you need to find the paragraph that contains the information presented in a question. As always, this information will be paraphrased, so don’t look for the exact words in the question.

Here are some examples:

Matching Features Questions

This type of matching question presents you with a list of items in a box. These items will be categorized in some way. For example, they may be people or names of cities. Of course, each item will be mentioned in the reading passage as well. Your job is to match some phrases or sentences in the questions with the appropriate items listed in the box.   If the box includes a list of people mentioned in the article, then the questions may ask you to match statements with the person who said them.

Frequently, some choices in the box will not relate to any of the questions, and some choices will be used more than once. The directions will always tell you whether you may use an answer choice more than one time.

Try to scan the passage for answers to each question, rather than using the items in the box to direct your scanning. Since some answer choices in the box may not relate to any  of the questions, you might waste a lot of time scanning for information that doesn’t answer any of your questions.

Take a look at these official examples:

Matching Sentence Endings

For these questions, you will have to match two halves of a sentence. The question will provide the first part of the sentence. You will have to select an appropriate ending to the sentence from a list of options. Like other matching questions, it is common to have extra answer choices that do not answer any of the questions. Keep in mind, correct answers must:

  1. be grammatically correct.
  2. make sense logically.
  3. agree with the information in the reading passage.

Sometimes, you can easily determine that a few answer choices won’t work with some of the questions because they create ungrammatical or illogical sentences when combined. However, this only works to eliminate a few combinations. To get the correct answer, you will have to search for information in the text to confirm that your combined sentence agrees with the passage.

An important feature of these questions is that the answers will come in order in the passage. In other words, if you find an answer to question 3 first, you will know that the answers to questions 1 and 2 will be found somewhere before the information for

question 3 in the passage. This can be incredibly helpful if you’re confident you’ve found correct answers to a few questions! It helps you to locate more difficult answers in the text.

Here’s an example:

Short Answer and Sentence Completion

Short Answer questions and Sentence Completion questions are very similar. Sentence Completion questions ask you to fill in a blank at the end of a sentence with some words taken from the text. Short Answer questions also require you to choose some words from the text for your answer, but the words you need to fill in aren’t located at the end of a sentence. Typically, you simply need to answer a question about the text for regular Short Answer questions.

It is very important to read the directions carefully each time. The directions will state a word limit. For example, they will say you should write “NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS and/or a NUMBER” for your answer. Some questions limit you to ONE or TWO words. If you exceed the limit, the question will be marked wrong, so pay close attention to word limits.

On these questions, the answers will come in order in the passage. When you find a correct answer, you’ll know that the answer to the next question will come later in the text.

Review this example:

Summary / Note / Table / Diagram Completion

This type of question asks you to complete a set of notes, a table, a diagram, or a  summary with information from the text. Sometimes, this will be a Short Answer question. Other times, you will choose from a set of answers in a box or from a list.

Very often, the answers to these questions can be found in one portion of the reading passage, so it is very likely you won’t have to scan the entire text to fill in the necessary information.

Here are a few samples:

Reference from magoosh