What's tested on the IELTS Reading Section

What’s tested on the IELTS Reading Section

The Reading module consists of 40 questions based on three passages, with a total of 2,000 to 2,750 words on average. You are advised to spend 20 minutes on each passage and its questions, and there is no time at the end to transfer your answers to the answer sheet. Answers must be written on the answer sheet within the 60 minutes given.

The IELTS Reading module tests a range of skills, such as skimming and scanning, understanding main ideas, reading for detail and understanding opinion and attitude. The passages come from books, magazines, newspapers and journals and are non-specialised. At least one passage contains a detailed argument. Although the texts are representative of reading requirements for undergraduate and postgraduate students, they are not discipline specific. The passages are usually presented in increasing order of difficulty. Each passage has 13–14 questions, usually broken into two or three sets of different question types.

There are 11 main question types in the Reading module; you may see any of them in a given test paper, but you are unlikely to see all of them in a single test paper. The ninth type combines several similar formats into a single question type; in the Strategies course, we will consider examples and strategies for these individual formats. The table below breaks out the different question types, and whether you are expected to write a letter, word(s) or a number.


Question TypeForm of Answer
Multiple ChoiceLetters
True/False/Not GivenWords
Yes/No/Not GivenWords
Matching InformationLetters
Matching HeadingsRoman numerals
Matching FeaturesLetters
Matching Sentence EndingsLetters
Sentence CompletionWords and/or a number
Summary, Note, Table, Flow-chart CompletionWords and/or a number
Diagram Label CompletionWords and/or a number
Short AnswerWords and/or a number

Academic vs. General Training Reading Modules

While the types of questions on the Academic and General Training Reading Modules are the same, the types of reading passages differ. The Academic Module will usually contain at least one passage organized as a logical argument, while the readings in the General Training module are likely to be more descriptive or instructive. The organization of non-argumentative texts may vary, but common organizational themes are categories, chronological description and describing a process.

The Academic Reading module involves reading three passages, with one passage per section. Texts come from books, magazines, newspapers and journals and are non-specialized. At least one passage contains a detailed argument.

The General Training Reading module involves reading three or four passages grouped into three or four sections. Section 1 usually deals with social survival – for example, public information leaflets. Section 2 focuses on subjects related to general training and usually consists of two texts which, for example, give information about a university or college and services or facilities provided. Sections 3 and 4 each consist of one longer text related to general training; these may test general reading comprehension on almost any subject.

Although the kinds of texts differ slightly, the types of questions in both the Academic and General Training Reading modules are the same. Therefore, Part Three features examples from both tests. The skills which you will learn in Part Three will help you to confidently answer questions about any type of text that you read.

Reading Strategies

In the IELTS Reading module, you need to read each of the 3 passages and answer the accompanying questions in 20 minutes. There is no extra time to transfer answers to the answer sheet.

1. If you take one minute to answer each question, how long do you have to read each passage? Hint: check the number of questions for each text in the Module Overview above.

2. You must read each passage quickly but thoroughly. Skim for the main idea and key details in each paragraph. Make a passage map – a note of a few brief words that summarises the topic or main idea in each paragraph. You might also underline the topic sentence, and circle or underline key words or phrases. You MUST practise so that you can skim and ‘passage map’ any text in 5 minutes or less on Test Day.