Read faster and score higher

or how to improve your reading

How do you read? Do you read word by word or do you skim through? Do you skip pages or even chapters only to go back to them later? Do you read the ending before the end? Do you write things down on your books? Do you turn down the corners of a page to bookmark it?

When you are reading for fun, it doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it. You have all the time in the world – potentially. But when you take an exam, what and how you read will impact your score.

Here are FIVE tips to help you gain time and increase your reading score on IELTS, CELPIP or Cambridge.

  1. Find purpose

Remember, we always read for a purpose. When talking about tests, we read to find the answers. So start by reading the questions before you dive into the text itself. You will, then, know what you are looking for.

In order to improve your chances of success, underline, circle, write down keywords and brainstorm a couple of synonyms or phrases that might have the same meaning. This is because you are also being tested on your vocabulary range.

  1. Scan and skim

Now that you know what you are looking for, scan the text in search of those keywords from the questions. Once you find the word, read the surrounding phrases to understand the context and answer the question.

If you decide to read the whole text, prefer to skim through it rather than read it in detail. The only parts you really need to focus on are the ones that contain keywords.

  1. Manage vocabulary

Chances are you will come across unknown words or expressions in the text and it is perfectly fine. How you handle unknown vocabulary, however, will determine how successful you will be.

Look at the bigger picture and try to infer meaning through context. What is the general idea of the passage? Can you replace the word you don’t know with other possible words that you do know? Keep in mind that there will be more words that you do know than that you don’t. Rely on that.

  1. The order of questions

The questions are usually in the same order as the answers appear in the text. This means, the first answer will come before the second and the third and so forth.

With that in mind, start scanning the text from the beginning and read on looking for the keywords of the first question. If the first clue you find relates to any other question that comes after, it means that you have missed something.

After you answer the corresponding question, go back to the beginning and try to find the first clue but try not to dwell on it for too long. Remember, the clock is ticking.

  1. Time management

Being able to complete the tasks within the timeframe is part of the test. You should allocate a portion of the allotted time to each section of your test. If you have 60 minutes to read three passages, allow yourself to spend up to 20 minutes on each.

Try not to get stuck. Some texts might be harder than others, some tasks might be more complex than others. If you are taking a paper-based test, like IELTS or Cambridge, you can go back and forth. Take advantage of it and tackle the easier sections first.


These five tips can be applied to pretty much any reading test out there. Stay tuned for test-specific strategy tips for IELTS, CELPIP and Cambridge.

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