IELTS Essentials: How to read quickly but effectively within 60 minutes?

Time is the bitter enemy of human beings and timing may be a terrible problem for people sitting the IELTS test when it’s come to reading and writing sections. You may know some people who could read all 3 passages with less than 60 minutes but only made 1 question wrong! How can they do that???? As I said, smart people work smartly or in the other word, they drew a plan before they do anything. Today, I will show you the strategy to read quickly but still successfully.


One important thing you should remember when doing a reading test is the rule that questions will be placed in order. By saying this I mean what appears in the reading passage first will be asked first. However, there are also some exceptions including Matching heading, Matching information questions. So be careful.

This is a simple strategy which all people can apply and I will call it “5 steps to the heaven” or basically, you can call it as “Keywords technique”.

Before going further with this blog, I would like to distinguish between skimming and scanning.

According to Oxford learner’s dictionary:

Skimming is reading something quickly in order to find a particular point or the main points.


Scanning is looking at every part of something carefully, especially because you are looking for a particular thing or person.

Now, let’s get started.

Step 1: Topic-heading skimming

Many people admit that they always ignore the topic’s heading because it seems unnecessary. This is completely a wrong assumption. In fact, the purpose of reading a topic’s heading is to identify keywords. Basically, a word will be a keyword if it does not appear in topic’s heading.

Step 2: Questions skimming and keywords highlighting  

After skimming the topic’s heading, you should continue your reading by quickly looking through all the questions and highlight all the keywords you see.

The purpose of doing this is to identify which types of questions you are about to tackle in the reading passage so that you could adopt successful tactics for them. I will show you the tactics for each type of questions in later posts. Additionally, when we skim questions, we are probably aware of what will happen in the passage and may find the correct answer while reading. Similarly, highlighting keywords help us keep track with the reading passage and know where to find the correct answer.

Step 3: If the reading passage contains Matching-heading questions, do not forget to skim through these all heading and highlight keywords.

Try to remember the main idea of each individual heading as many as you can as you may find the corresponding paragraph when you read.

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Step 4: Start reading

The conventional method of reading is (1) skimming the whole passage first, then (2) reading defined keywords in questions, and finally (3) scanning through the passage which contain these keywords for names or number or reading in detail to find the answer. Some people may find this technique outdated, but for me, it is fairly effective. Skimming through the whole passage will help you get the main idea of each passage while scanning paragraph-by-paragraph will help you find the answers.

Another thing you should highlight when skimming is what called “strong word”. Strong word is usually transition word such as “However”, “but”, “although”,”therefore”, etc. These words will act as the indicators of correct answers. Most of the time, when these words appear in a sentence, it would be like they saying “Hi guys, I contain the answer, read me please!”. Hence, remember to highlight these strong words.

Step 5: Find the answer question-by-question

How do scanning paragraph-by-paragraph help you find the answers?

Remember highlighted keywords in the questions and in each paragraph when you skimming? They are keys unlocking questions when you do scanning.

Illustrative example

To make my strategy clear, I will give you an example. Do you have the Cambridge Practice Test 10 book? If yes, please turn to page 21 (Passage 2, Test 1), otherwise, you should come to my Materials library to get the ebook version of it.

Now, let’s get started.

As you can see from the first page, we will have to deal with “Matching Heading” questions. Now, let’s solve it step by step:

Step 1: Topic-heading skimming

It’s easy to recognize that the topic heading is what in bold and bigger in size: “European Transport Systems 1990-2010”. So, you can exclude “European”, “Transport”, “System” out of your keyword list. Now, let’s progress to Step 2.

Step 2: Questions skimming and keywords highlighting  

So from the beginning of the test we knew that Matching heading will be dealt with. Thus, we should quickly turn to the question page to see what other kinds of questions will be asked next. On page 24, it’s evident that Identifying information (True/False/Not Given) is also another question type. Remember to move to the next page in order to ensure you don’t miss any questions in this passage. Here we can conclude that you will tackle 2 kinds of problems only, which are matching heading and identifying information.

Now. I will skim from Q22 to Q26 and list the keywords as below (in your test book, use highlighter to do it):

Q22: need, growing, technological development

Q23: reduce, costs, industries, moved closer, relevant customers.

Q24: Cars, expensive, candidate countries.

Q25: Gothenburge, set up, 30 years

Q26: The end, decade, CO2, predicted, reach, 739 billion tonnes.

Ok, now turn to page 21 and see what heading we have.

Step 3: If the reading passage contains Matching-heading questions, do not forget to skim through these all heading and highlight keywords.

We noted that Paragraph F is matched to Heading vii so we could ignore this heading and you may not have to read this paragraph if other questions do not require you to do so.

Now, start skimming all the remaining headings and highlight the keywords:

i. fresh, long-term goal.

ii. Charging roads, improving other

iii. Changes, distances goods, transported

iv. take, steps, change, patterns

v. environmental costs, road

vi. escalating cost, rail

viii. rapid growth, private

ix. Plans, major, road networks

x. Restricting, road use, policies alone

xi. trends, countries, awaiting, admission.

I’m done with step 3. Now let’s move to step 4.

Step 4: Start reading

I will read paragraph by paragraph for main idea and underline some keywords and strong words. I will not read the sentence in italic because it will not help you answer the question.

A. Although, modern technology, reduce demand, physical transport, requirement, increase, passenger, two factors, growth in car use, next decade, further substantial increase.

When I finish reading this paragraph (P), I think the main idea of this is about the substantial use of private cars, so I compare keywords noted in this P with ones in heading. I find that heading viii has some things in common with P A. For example,  private  ~ passenger, rapid growth ~ growth in car use, substantial increase. I check other  headings and find nothing can fit the main idea of this paragraph, so I mark Q14 with viii.

B. goods, changes, relocation, industries, reduce costs, even though, sites, away from assembly plant, users

The main idea of this P seems to be about the fact that the CHANGE from stock economy to flow economy, which affects goods transport, has caused the relocation of some industries to places which far from plant and users. When I get this, I remember a heading which mentions a change impacting distances that goods are transported. That’s heading iii. Remember to check the remaining heading to ensure no one could be the potential heading of this paragraph. In terms of keywords, they also have some in common such as changes, goods, industries, users/customers.

C.  strong economic growth, candidates for entry, increase, road, traffic, although, distribution, modes, tipped, in favor of, road, road increase, rail decrease, although, higher level, existing member.

We can find that this P is about road usage tendency in some EU candidate countries and some comparison between road and rail in which road usage increased while rail usage decrease. One more thing is that the road usage level in these countries is higher than other countries in EU.

I have no idea about what heading is suitable because my memory is bad so I move back to the heading and find what is matched.We can see that only heading xi is about countries awaiting EU admission which is similar to EU candidate countries. Additionally, it also about the transport trend so it is likely that this is the heading of P C. Checking other headings which contain the words “road” or “rail’, I noted that they are all about charging, related costs, etc. so only xi is fairly matched.

D. However, new, sustainable development, adapt, common transport policy, objective, Gothenburg, environment, balance between modes, but, nonetheless, in place, 30 years’ time,

This P is about a new and sustainable development to adapt common transport policy and some environmental considerations will be integrated. It also shows an objective of what will be achieved in 2020 and 2040. They are more than 10 years so are long-term goals. When I back to the heading, I find only i could match this idea.  The word objective is equivalent to goal.

E. energy consumption, CO2, increase, 1,113, by 2020, 739 in 1990, road transport, main culprit, alternative fuel, energy efficiency, thus, ecological.

The main idea may be some things about the effect of transport (road transport is the main culprit) on environment presented by CO2 emission. This may be inferred as the environment cost of road transportation so the suitable heading is v.

G. approach, road, pricing, not accompanied by complementary measures, short term, curb growth, loading ratios, as a result of, increase, price. However, lack, measures, Impossible, sustainable modes.

So what we can conclude here is charging money on road transport as a solution without other measures in the other modes of transport. As a result, it could not be a sustainable measure. So back to heading box, there are 2 headings mentioning charging for road transport. However, heading ii says that along with charging fee, other transport methods should be improved. This does not agree with what said in the P. So only x is the correct heading as it states using charging policy alone to restrict road use.

H. approach, road, pricing, accompanied by measures, efficiency, other modes, however, not investment, nor, regional cohesion, greater uncoupling, but, lion’s share, despite, most polluting, therefore. 

This P is as easy as pie for you to know the appropriate heading. It is heading ii as I said above. The main idea is the second approach to reducing road transport is charging and accompanied measures to other modes of transport. However, this approach does not guarantee a shift in the balance.

I. approach, measures, pricing, revitalizing alternative modes, targeting investment, trans-, network, return, 1998 levels, thus, shift of balance, more ambitious, but, break, link, road, growth, economic growth, without, restrictions.

The main idea is suggesting the 3rd approach which combines pricing, revitalizing and investing to make a shift of balance. Back to the heading list, we find only heading iv is matched this main idea.

The keyword “change patterns” may be the same with “shift of balance”.

Now, we’ve done “matching heading” questions with good knowledge of the idea of each paragraph (except for P F).

Now, we turn to the next question type and solve the remaining question.

Step 5: Find the answer question-by-question

As I said before, in this type of question, questions will be asked in order. For example, if the answer to question 22 is found in P B, the answer to question 23 will not be found in P A. Now let’s start with Question 22.

Q22. Using pre-highlighted keywords to located this question into the passage. Let’s find paragraph mentioning technological development. It’s passage A with the words “modern technology”. There is also a strong word “although”, so I expect the answer can be found in this sentence. In fact, the answer is revealed in the clause” the requirement for transport continues to increase, so here we write TRUE for this question.

Q23. As the answer for Q22 is in P A, so it is more likely that we can find the solution for Q23 in P B. Using the keywords “reduce production costs”, “industries” we can find the answer in p B. Let’s find some strong words in this paragraph. to find the answer. Can you see the word “even though” ? Yes. If you see, you found 50% of the answer. Now, read the whole sentence we could know that industries relocate to places which are “hundred or even thousand of kilometers away from USERS”. “Users” means “relevant customers”. So the answer is False

Q24. Note the key word “candidate countries”, so the answer is clearly in P C. However, we scan the whole P C but found no information about the price of cars in these countries. therefore, the answer is Not Given.

Q25. Use “Gothenburg” and “30 years” to find the answer and yes, it is in P D. Now let check the correct of the information provided in P D. There is no information about the set-up time of Gothernburg European Council and the words “30 years” is a trap. So the answer is also Not Given.

Q26. It’s about CO2 emission and the number 739 billion tons by the end of this decade. The answer is False. You can check it in P E. The number 739 billion tons is the number recorded in 1990 while the correct number should be 1,113 billion tons by 2020.


You could choose to do matching heading questions first if you are good at identifying main idea. Otherwise, you should do other questions first before solving matching heading questions.

Well, I finished this post by the above illustrative example. Let’s try to practice reading using my method.

I hope you find this helpful,

See you in my next blog



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