IELTS Academic Reading Test

The IELTS or International English Language Testing System measures a candidate’s English proficiency. In the test, English language ability across the four language skills are measured. These language skills are listening, reading, writing and speaking.

The IELTS has two modules- the Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. The one to take depends on a candidate’s purpose.

If you wish to pursue higher studies in an English-speaking country like Canada, the Academic IELTS may be the right choice. It may also be the right IELTS test to take if you plan on working in a regulated profession in Canada.

What distinguishes the Academic module from the General Training Module are two sub-tests.

One such test is the reading test.

If you want to know more about this part of the IELTS exam as well as how to increase your chances of getting your goal score, this article is for you.

Read on to know more about the IELTS Academic Reading test and some tips and tricks you can use on the day of your exam.

What Is The Format Of The IELTS Academic Reading Test?

The IELTS test is available in both paper-based and computer-delivered formats. Examinees who take the paper-based IELTS can expect their results to arrive 10 to 14 days after the exam. For those who take the computer-delivered IELTS, the results can arrive in as little as three to five days following the test.

The Academic Reading test takes roughly 60 minutes. It consists of 40 items.

The test contains three reading passages on which the questions are focused. These passages are sections that are all articles. The subject matter of these articles vary but cater to generalist readers. 

These passages or articles are written in different styles. Some are argumentative. Others may be discursive. Some of these passages may also contain pictures and diagrams. All passages in these sections are fact-based articles and are often the focus of about 13 to 16 questions.

In 60 minutes, test-takers are expected to read and answer all 40 questions. You can expect different question types to appear in the reading test.

Who Is The Academic IELTS For?

The type of IELTS you ought to take for Canada will depend on your intentions for entering the country.

The Academic IELTS may be the one you have to take if:

You Are Applying For A Study Permit

One of the requirements set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is a language test result. For study permits, one test that IRCC accepts is the academic IELTS.

In Canada, all universities and post-secondary educational institutions recognize and accept the IELTS as proof of English proficiency. In line with IRCC’s minimum language requirement of CLB 7, the minimum score for the IELTS is 6.0.

If you are applying for a study permit to pursue post-graduate studies in Canada, the minimum language requirement may be a bit higher. According to the International Development Programme, you may have to get 6.5 in the IELTS.

You Plan On Working In A Regulated Profession In Canada

In Canada, some professions are considered regulated. About a fifth of all jobs in the country are regulated. Regulated professions or occupations are professions that require registration with a regulatory body in Canada before being practiced. Examples of these professions are nurses, doctors, and pharmacists.

Immigrants who plan to work in these types of professions also need to take the Academic IELTS. The minimum requirement for most occupations like pharmacists is 6.0. For foreign-trained nurses and physicians, the minimum scores vary and are higher.

Nurses need to get an overall IELTS score of 7.0. No score should go below 7.0, except for the reading test score which should at least be 6.5

Doctors need to get 7.0 across all sub-tests.

What Are The Different Question Types In The IELTS Academic Reading Test?

types of questions in ielts for canada

In the IELTS Academic Reading test, you can anticipate 11 different question or task types to appear. Each one measures an aspect of comprehension of written English. Some are meant to gauge your ability to “read between the lines” whereas others measure your ability to spot details and determine main ideas.

Here are the 11 types of questions in the reading test:

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions appear at various parts of the reading test. In the reading test, you may have to select the best answer from a list of possible correct answers. However, be aware that this may not be the case at times.

Sometimes, the instructions will require you to select more than one choice from a list of possible answers.

The choices may either be answers to questions or may be missing words that complete a sentence.

This question type is present in the reading test as it measures how well a test taker spots details in a text. It also helps determine a candidate’s ability to spot main ideas. Both are vital reading skills at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

True-False-Not Given

For this question type, test takers must determine whether a set of statements support or refute the statements of a reading passage. In other words, this is a classic iteration of the true-or-false question type.

To challenge a candidate’s critical thinking, the creators of the test added “not given” as a possible response for statements that neither support or contradict a passage. As a result, this question type challenges a test-takers ability to recognize information in a text.

Yes-No-Not Given

This question type is otherwise known as “Identifying an Author’s View”. For yes-no-not given questions, a set of statements are presented to the examiner. The task of the examiner is to determine whether these statements were mentioned by the author in the passage or not. As well, “not given” is the response for statements the author did not mention.

Due to the format, this question type tests the same area of comprehension true-false-not given questions do. The strategy for answering questions under this type is also similar to the approach taken for true-false-not given questions.

Matching Paragraph Headings

Test-takers need to match the right headings to the appropriate paragraphs of a passage. Headings are enumerated on the question sheet as Roman numerals. The paragraphs in a passage are often designated by letters.

In the test, the instructions for this question type could look like this:

This is a question type meant to assess your ability to determine the main ideas of written passages.

Matching Specific Information

For this question type, a candidate will find an enumerated list of statements. He or she would have to match these statements to the lettered paragraphs that contain the exact information in the enumerated statements.

The mechanics for this question type are similar to those of matching paragraph headings. However, searching for more detailed information instead of the main ideas, examinees are tested on their ability to scan for keywords.

Matching Features

Test-takers need to match certain pieces of information from the passage to the right options in a list.

The list of options may contain a range of things. The list may contain people, nationalities, and countries. Certain information from the passage needs to be matched with these options.

Sentence Completion

For sentence completion, test-takers may be shown a short paragraph. In this paragraph, some words are missing. A list of possible words is usually below the paragraph.

Your task for this question type is to complete the sentences by selecting the appropriate word from the choices.

In some cases, there may be no choices. Instead, you may have to fill in the words yourself based on what you have read in the passage. Often, there is an instruction about how short the answers should be.

You might see an instruction that says “No more than two words”. A word could be:

  • One word in any form (e.g. verb, noun, adjective, adverb)
  • A hyphenated word (e.g. third-largest)
  • A number written numerical or spelled out

Matching Sentence Endings

This is similar to sentence completion.

The questions for this type appear as the first halves of sentences. You need to select the right phrases that would complete these sentences. These are provided as choices.

Completion (Table, Flowchart, Note, Summary)

Somewhere in the test, there may be a table, note, or flowchart that has annotations. These annotations are often incomplete. Hence, you need to fill in the missing words depending on what you have read from the passage or text.

As with sentence completion, the number of words you could write will be in the instruction. Often, your answer should be no more than two words long.

The following can be considered as one word:

  • One word in any form (e.g. verb, noun, adjective, adverb)
  • A hyphenated word (e.g. third-largest)
  • A number written numerical or spelled out

Diagram Labelling

The mechanics for labelling diagrams in the reading test are similar to those of completing flow charts or tables.

Following a passage or section, an image or drawing is presented. You need to write the names of the parts of the object in the diagram.

In most cases, you may need to keep your answers down to about two words.

The following can be considered as one word:

  • One word in any form (e.g. verb, noun, adjective, adverb)
  • A hyphenated word (e.g. third-largest)
  • A number written numerical or spelled out

Short Answer Questions

For these types of questions, answers need to be less than three words.

Sometimes, you may need to keep your answers down to two words. It is also possible for the instructions to require responses be kept to one word only.

How To Prepare For The IELTS Academic Reading Test

Here are some ways to get ready for the IELTS Academic Reading test:

Determine Your Reading Pace

Some read quickly. Others have a relatively slower pace. Your reading style will depend on your pace as a reader.

If you read quickly, reading an entire text before answering may benefit or suit you. If not, you may benefit more from skimming and scanning.

Knowing what type of reader you are can guide how you prepare and go about the actual IELTS academic reading test.

Practice Skimming And Scanning

These two are skills and like any skill, these take practice to hone.

Practice with the use of sample tests. Try to get accustomed to reading topic sentences first and guessing the main gist of the main paragraphs from there. Also, you could practice the accuracy of your “scanning” with the help of these tests.

Work On Vocabulary

The IELTS Academic Reading test is a test of comprehension. Reading comprehension is often the result of one’s vocabulary.

As you practice skimming and scanning, there may be situations when some words do not “re-appear”. This is because the words in questions or statements are paraphrased. If your vocabulary is broad enough, you will be able to determine which words mean the same. This can help you answer questions and match ideas and statements better in the test.

Having a wide vocabulary can also help you with True-False-Not Given questions.

Some Tips On The Day Of The IELTS Academic Reading Test

To get a score of 6.0 in the reading test, you need to get at least 23 items correct.

Nevertheless, it would be even better to get a higher score than that especially if you are coming to Canada to work in a regulated profession. You may also need a higher score than 6.0 if you want to earn your post-graduate degree in a Canadian university.

Here are some strategies that could help you reach these outcomes:

Skim And Scan

skim and scan tips to ace ielts for canada

Even for speed readers, skimming and scanning have their benefits. As a test-taker, this can help you with time management.

You can skim by quickly going over the paragraph to get the gist or main idea. This can already help you with parts of the test that require identifying main ideas.

To scan, you could start by looking at the questions after the passage. Once you get to the reading passage, you might notice some recurrent words. These are the keywords which are often the answer.

Read The Topic Sentences First

Ideally, it would be better to read the entire paragraph. However, this could take time. Instead, you could get the main ideas of paragraphs by looking at the topic sentences.

These sentences can usually be found in three places:

  • In the beginning of a paragraph (often)
  • In the middle
  • At the end

This can help you get the main ideas of paragraphs without taking too much time reading. This is especially helpful for answering questions that involve matching paragraph headings.

“False” Or “No” Does Not Mean “Not Given”

This tip is specific to parts of the test in the following question types:

  • True-False-Not Given
  • Yes-No-Not Given

A statement can be considered “false” or “contrary” (no) to the passage if it contradicts what was in the passage.

For instance, let us look at this sentence:

“The school is trying to raise money to feed orphans”

Now let us look at this sentence to see if it refutes the statement:

“The school is attempting a fundraiser to give food to starving children of single-parent households”

In this example, we see that the sentences involve a school raising funds to buy food.

However, in the original sentence, the food is meant for orphans or children without parents.  In the statement to which we need to answer “true”, “false”, or “not given”, the food is meant for children who have only one parent. This contradicts the first statement so the answer is “FALSE”

“Not given” is for statements that neither support nor refute the original statement or question. Using the same example above, we could answer “not given” to the statement below:

“The school uses much money to feed orphans.”

Nothing about how the school allocates money was mentioned in the original statement. Hence, the answer to this would be “NOT GIVEN”.

Follow Instructions

This does not just apply to the reading test. This also applies to the IELTS listening, speaking, and writing tests.

The IELTS reading test is a test. Like any other test, part of how you succeed is following instructions. For instance, if the instruction requires you to write answers that are “no more than two words”, write your answers in two words or less.

Avoid Fixating On An Unfamiliar Word

One of the ways you might take too much time with one paragraph or passage is by focusing too much on an unfamiliar word.

If you encounter such a word, it may be a good idea to skip it. Besides, by skimming, you can already guess at main ideas regardless of many words in a paragraph.

Technical words that are industry-specific or field-specific may appear. However, this does not have to concern you. For these words, a special glossary at the end of the passage is usually provided.


The IELTS Academic Reading test measures a test-taker’s ability to comprehend written English. In the test, different question types test and challenge different aspects of a candidate’s reading comprehension.

The passages are fact-based and written to appeal to a general audience. This audience includes students, graduates, and professionals. As such, the style and tone with which the passages are written mimic how texts in a university setting appear.

If you prepare and put some of the suggestions in this article into practice, you can get yourself one step closer to your desired band score.

Feeling confident? Good luck with your IELTS Academic Reading test!

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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