Preparing for the IELTS Reading Module: Selecting Your Own Reading Materials

September 12, 2017 by Tony Rusinak

Sometimes IELTS practice materials can be boring. You end up sleeping more than studying during your important preparation time. So why not choose your own practice reading materials?

Let’s start with an analogy. Imagine visiting the library and choosing a book… with your eyes closed! There’s a very good chance you’d choose something you dislike or something not interesting. What would you do if the book was ‘how to fix your car’ and you’d never driven or owned a car? How about an article about cooking with chilli spices if you hated spicy food? What if you picked up a phone book? You get my point! When preparing your own reading materials for the exam, there are four important things to remember. First, choose something you’re interested in. Second, make sure it’s at an appropriate level. Third, try and pick a variety of texts. Fourth, choose something you can engage yourself with.


Different strokes for different folks – Everyone likes different things

As a language teaching expert, I know this is true: More interesting topics = more effective reading. A topic that readers love will not only help them focus more but will also improve the memory of the vocabulary, improve the motivation to read and be a positive experience. Considering that, then, it’s important that you find materials that interest you. So, if your hobby is flower arrangement, try and find articles about flowers. If you love soccer, read about the science of winning soccer games. You get the picture.


Set the bar – Not too easy, not too difficult

After you know what topic interests you, you’ll have to find the right length text to read. IELTS reading exams total 2150 - 2750 words. This is the total for three parts. So the exam will be roughly equal to reading three IDP IELTS Blogs.

Another consideration is the level. Your texts shouldn’t be too easy, nor should they be too difficult. The typical level of reading is for first-year university students. Try not to choose materials with too much specialist or technical vocabulary. Remember, the IELTS readings are general interest.


Variety is the spice of life – Choose a range of topics and genres

As noted above, the IELTS exam is for overall English ability. When IELTS develops its exam, they choose a wide variety of topics to include in each exam. So, when choosing your own materials, don’t simply choose texts from the same subject. True, reading 100 articles about modern architecture will improve your reading, but the vocabulary, style, and ideas may be limited to those common to that subject. So if you are an architecture student, read 20 articles about architecture, but then also read about history, news, drama, travel… you get the picture.

Check the chart below for some examples of reading list texts to look for:

Typical Texts found on the IELTS Reading Exam
IELTS Academic IELTS General

Introduction course books, e.g., First-year university textbook chapter titled The Sociology of Families

Notices, e.g., Letter with title Pet shelter needs volunteers
Academic journal articles, e.g., ESL Magazine Article titled World Englishes becoming more accepted Advertisements, e.g., Article about new store opening with huge sale and job opportunities

Magazine articles, e.g., National Geographic Article about Bee Hives

Company handbooks, e.g., How to open and close the shop

General interest articles in newspaper, e.g., Electric Cars are the way of the future

Official documents, e.g., New plan to upgrade Main Street

Descriptive articles, e.g., What life was like in an ancient Egyptian city

Descriptive Books, e.g., Travel section about New York

Analytical texts, e.g., Reasons for global economic growth with bar charts and line graphs

Magazine Story, e.g., How to keep your brain healthy

Stir it up –
Engage with your reading material

We all know that reading can sometimes make us fall asleep. That is one thing you DON’T want to happen during your IELTS exam. You’ll have to be fully alert and ready to engage with your readings as best you can. When choosing a text outside of practice tests, you should be thinking about how you’ll engage with it.

There are multiple ways you can do this. You can share your reading with a friend then discuss it, make annotations in the margins, and highlight key ideas. The list goes on and on. Below are key questions you should be thinking about while doing your reading practice with your own materials:

  • What is the gist/ main idea of the text?
  • Are you able to understand the details?
  • Who is the writer targeting and what does he/she assume you know?
  • What is the attitude or tone of the text?
  • Is there an argument or discussion in the text?
  • Are there any words that seem important? Can you paraphrase them or think of synonyms?
  • Did you read and engage for about an hour (the length of the reading exam)?

However you decide to prepare for the IELTS Reading module, make sure it fits your learning style. If you follow this rule you will surely be on the road to IELTS success.

Bonus activity: Check the bolded idioms in the article above. Try and guess what they mean then check the definitions online.

IELTS Expert

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